With the emergence of Mr. Dare Oluwatuyi as the new President of Booksellers Association of Nigeria (BAN), the association is poised to reach a new height. Oluwatuyi is also the Managing Director of the CSS Bookshop, reputed to be the oldest bookshop in the country and West Africa. In this interview with DAMIETE BRAIDE, he speaks on how BAN will collaborate with government and corporate organisations to improve reading culture in the country, the symbiotic relationship between booksellers and Nigerian Publishers Association, piracy and CSS Bookshop’s 150 years anniversary, among others.
As the new president of Booksellers Association of Nigeria, much is expected from you. Without trying to premeditate your plan of action, how does your association intend to collaborate with government or corporate organisations to revive reading culture in the country?
One of the problems that caused the friction between booksellers and publishers is that we were not working together, and this has negatively affected the reading culture in the country. Although government policies play a vital role, as booksellers and other stakeholders in the industry, we will work together to influence government policies that will ensure reading culture is encouraged and given the rightful place in the society. In recent times, we have done things together with other stakeholders where we donated books to people in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, and, if the government can give us the enabling environment, we can donate more books to libraries that will encourage reading culture.
People actually want to read, but when they go to public libraries, there are no books to read. Some of the libraries are not equipped with modern books. The buildings may be beautiful, but that doesn’t make a library. What makes a library is the level of books found there that will attract people’s attention to read. In recent years, there are some state governments that renovated buildings of libraries and also provided bookshelves, but they are not stuffed with have books on them. In situations where there are books, such books are outdated. If government can provide buildings and furniture, we can assist by donating books to these libraries. We can also supply books to libraries at subsidised rates which will increase the reading culture in the country.
More public libraries should be established and well-funded with qualitative staffs and books and other online materials provided for people to read, with all these, it will improve the reading culture.
Fighting book piracy is becoming something of a losing battle, as your members continue to lament. What are you going to do about it?
If my members are complaining about pirates, then, who are the pirates? Some members of Nigerian Publishers Association believe booksellers are the pirates, but that is not the truth. Yes, there could be some few bad eggs even among the publishers themselves, who are also pirates. We are going to have qualitative membership, and we admonish all booksellers in Nigeria to come and join the association. When they do, the activities of pirates will be monitored.
For example, when we observe that some members are not doing the right thing, we will identify them, read the riot act to them, and, if they don’t change, we expel them from the association and report them to relevant authorities for them to be prosecuted. We are going to sanitise the association so that publishers will have confidence in the association, and piracy can be reduced to the barest minimum in the country.
We will give publishers our list of booksellers that they can do business with. If a bookseller does not belong to the association, and a publisher finds some of his titles on his/her shelf, then that bookseller will explain how he/she got the books in his possession.
We will work together with Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) in ensuring that government policies are obeyed while pirates only in the book or creative industry are eradicated. We will provide them with necessary information and support. We urge the government to strengthen the laws against piracy and make it very stringent that will deter pirates from their activities.
Some books published in the country are badly written with poor graphics and designs, what are you going to do concerning the quality of books being sent out to the end-user?
I am a member of Booksellers Association of Nigeria and not Nigerian Publishers Association per se; however, those that publish such books are not publishers. There are some people who sell second hand books in the streets. I am not saying that they cannot sell books, but such people equally call themselves booksellers, which they are not. Whoever engages in poor quality of books is not a publisher, and those are the people that encourage or are engaged in piracy. Frankly, members of Nigerian Publishers Association are doing good job, and they are improving by the day. They are trying their best and they have improved tremendously over the years. Today, you will find Nigerian publishers producing books that can compete favourable well with their foreign counterparts and, when you put them side by side, you will hardly find the difference.
What the foreign publishers have that Nigerian publishers do not really have is adequate research for authors to bring out quality works before it is printed out. Some authors in Nigeria want to be booksellers, publishers at the same time, and such people cannot bring out good jobs. When authors know that there are vibrant and good publishers in Nigeria, they will be confident to bring their works to booksellers to publish and give the book to booksellers to sell and distribute rather than do all of them at the same time.
What should Nigerians expect in next Nigerian Book Fair?
Next year’s book fair will be better than previous editions. Discussions are on-going with representatives with members of Nigerian Book Fair, and we will bring in new innovations that will be attractive to Nigerians.
Has the fair increased the awareness of books in the country?
The Nigerian Book Fair Trust that organises the Nigerian Book Fair has contributed immensely in creating awareness for reading culture in the country. The Trust has worked under some unfavourable conditions with or without government support. Despite all the challenges, the book fair has taken place every year, which is a good thing.
Every year, there are exhibitors from Nigeria and outside the country in attendance, and they have increased, which goes to show that the book fair has contributed immensely to the growth of books in the country. During the book fair, schools bring their pupils to visit the various bookstands, and they are happy with the number of books they see during the fair, which has increased their interest in books. One major advantage of the book fair is that visitors attend the book fair without paying gate fees which is not the same in developed countries.
You are the Managing Director of CSS Bookshop and now the President of Nigerian Booksellers Association. With your tight schedule, how do you hope to combine both effectively?
I qualified to be the President of Nigerian Booksellers Association, because I am also working in the industry, and am working with CSS Bookshop. I am at the helms of affair at CSS bookshop. You will recall that CSS Bookshop is the oldest bookshop in Nigeria, if not in West Africa. CSS Bookshop is 150 years old this year, and the task within the company is enormous. But, as a member of the Booksellers Association for over 27 years, they believe in me, and that is why they elected me to lead the association, which I accepted. I am going to put in my best. Despite my schedule at CSS Bookshop, I am going to ensure that the association does not suffer in terms of readership, programmes and projects that will bring the association to limelight once again.
Is there is any similarity between Nigerian Booksellers Association and Nigerian Publishers Association?
There is what we call the book chain, which comprise the authors, publishers, booksellers and the end users (readers, corporate organisation, schools, etcetera). Without booksellers, the books cannot get to the end users. The booksellers take the books from the publisher to the bookshops, display them for people to come into the shops to buy. They also take some of these books (curriculum based) to schools to review and adopt for their subjects. While the publishers take the books to Ministry of Education Curriculum Department to review the book, and, if it meets the requirement, they will adopt it for a particular state for a number of years before they do another review.
When these books are adopted by the state, each school then takes that list and adopts it for their academic year. Then the booksellers will make these books available in the bookshops or at book exhibitions for students to buy. The similarity between booksellers and the publishers is that we have a symbiotic relationship that is beneficial to both parties. Some booksellers are big enough that they have publishing outfit and they belong to both associations.
CSS Bookshop celebrating 150 years
This year, we are celebrating 150th years anniversary. We have done so well and we are one of the leading players in the book industry. As a way of celebrating our anniversary, we will give back to the society in various ways as part of our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to ensure that reading culture is encouraged. Nigerians want to read, but when the books are not accessible or affordable, coupled with the adverse prevailing economic situation, we will make our books affordable to the Nigerian populace to read.
Any other thing your new executive intends to tackle?
As the new president of BAN, my executive members have identified projects that we will embark on during our tenure. We wouldn’t want to identify them on the pages of newspapers, because some of the projects are before the executive members, and we are working out modalities on how to execute them.
However, one major thing that we intend to do is to strengthen the association through qualitative membership. There are numerous booksellers in the country, but not all of them have the integrity to called booksellers; but, with the support of members with integrity, we will be able to achieve that aim.
Also, there has been no cordial relationship between the Booksellers Association of Nigeria and Nigerian Publishers Association, and we are in discussion with NPA’s president to work together, resolve our differences and become united to promote the objective of the book industry. Also, with the cordial relationship, we will take the book industry to an enviable height in the country.