By Simeon Mpamugoh
Miffed by the need to fill the huge knowledge gaps in the global trade industry in Nigeria, banker, publisher and author, Dr Obiora Madu, embarked on writing books. Today, he has written over six books, with more to come in the months ahead, which chronicle competency-based learning opportunity in the area of global trade, logistics and supply chain management.
The Chief Executive Officer, Multimix Academy, Lagos, who began his career in banking, was enthused to write when as a staff of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the apex bank instructed all banks to set up export desk.
Speaking to The Sun Literary Review in his Surulere office, Lagos, he recalls how his journey to being an author and publisher began, “I was working in the import desk when CBN gave the directive to start an export desk, and I was among the three people selected, which was, actually, the first desk set up by any bank in Nigeria in 1984. It was quite a task, because it was new, and people did not understand how to go about it.”
He was to midwife the first export academy in Nigeria, going round Nigeria teaching and running programmes on export. “At some point, I felt posterity would judge me on the wrong side if I were not able to put something down in a book format. But I kept postponing it until I had an accident on my way to University of Ife, where I was collaborating with the university at that point in time,” he recalls sadly.
Afterwards, he presented his first set of two books, followed by additions of books. He adds, “I have two new books in the press and a revised edition of Export Financing, into Export Chain Financing. There are also Warehouse and Inventory Management, and Fundamentals of Logistics and Supply Chain Management.” These books will be presented to the public at his 60th birthday lecture this year, including the title, My Story.
“I believe that one cannot be everywhere, but books can travel. I get calls from people across the world telling me they’ve read my books. I don’t know where they may have bought them, but I know the books are in the bookshops. One good thing about authors is that they don’t die. People like Chinua Achebe would never die. Because one would either keep seeing, meeting or reading their books,” he says.
He observes that self-publishing is the way to go for Nigerian authors, because the protocols involved in the publishing company are such that no private sector person has the patient for it. “It is my company that publishes my books. When the manuscripts are ready and edited, we go get the International Standard Book Number (ISBN), then to press. It is faster and less stressful,” he says.
The adjunct lecturer of University of Port Harcourt Centre for Logistics and Transport submits on the battle between digital book and hardcopy, “My thesis is in digital platform. The hardcopy is selling for 49 euro. We can print and send to anyone who wants it. You know technology has changed everything; you can get it in 30 minutes. I think hard copy books cannot die, no matter how digital books thrive. This is because a lot of people are more comfortable reading hard copy books.
“But I don’t know how long that is going to last, because everybody is carrying smartphone that can turn the books in different forms and give different views; everything, including the Bible, is in a smartphone. On the go, the digital books are quite exciting, but it would take a long time before it can take hardcopy books out. Again, the advantage of digital books is prizing. It is not printed, so nobody is going to charge so much.”
While the hardcopy of the aforementioned book sells for 49 euro, the digital copy probably goes for 20 euro. “So, you can see the difference,” he echoes. “The cost is also going to be one of the factors that would make digital books overtake the hard copy format. I have two of my books online, and currently working on having all of them on digital platform.”
The author, who launched three titles at a go few years ago, explains what he had in mind writing them was to enlighten people, because international trade has become knowledge intensive such that what you do not know can hurt you badly. “And success in international trade is step by step,” he adds.
Obiora, however, canvasses more investment in the publishing industry, adding that the challenge with publishers was that “we don’t read”. He further says, “I don’t envy them, because that is why they say, ‘If you want to hide anything from a Blackman, do so inside a book.’ So, publishers will have a hell of time recovering their cost of production and, at the same time, record profit on investment.
“Today, people think twice before going into publishing. I’m sure there are many of the publishing companies that had folded up as a result of not been able to break even. There is need to generally encourage investors. All the great minds in this country read. If you want to write, you must be reading other people; that is how you build your vocabulary and writing style; but, again, our people don’t read. There is no useless book. No matter how useless a book looks, if you read it, there is something to learn from it.”
He is disappointed that, “In Nigeria, we have monetised everything such that books and knowledge don’t matter again; it is all about how much money one has in his bank account. A young man would tell you, ‘With all the books you have read, how much do you have to show for it.’ This is equally affecting our children when they are asked to read their books. Some of them would be quick to remind you of those who had graduated many years ago without a dime in their pocket.”
Infrastructure, he says, is key if we want to develop the publishing industry, while pointing out that our national economy isn’t competitive because of infrastructure. He explains, “There is so much cost being expended on power yet technology has made a lot of things easier. For instance, Amazon is no longer concentrating press in one place. I understand they plan to site a press in Nigeria so that if you need a book and pay for it online, they’ll contact their people and in 48 hours, you have your books.
“The infrastructural requirement is no longer as heavy as it used to be. In one room, one can actually have a press. We need to look into the new technology. Digitisation has made book publishing easy that it is no longer print and store on shelf; it is now print-on-demand. Such technologies need to be considered by operators in the industry.
“It reduces investment, because, now, publishers print and hang and, if they don’t sell, it is gone; but, if they have the capacity to sell to their clients; they will deliver in 48 hours or less, and the person would be glad. So, modern technology, in this direction, needs to be introduced in the industry. Even those who have the big old press in the country need to rethink their art.”
But one thing that gladdens his heart is that almost everyone who reads and speaks to him commends the style and arrangement of his books. “This means that the purpose we had in mind writing them has been realised,” says Obiora, fondly called Mr. Export.