From Magnus Eze, Enugu
Recently, the director-general of the Centre for Research, Information Management and Media Development (CRIMMD), Dr. Raphael James, was moved to tears by the parlous state of things in the book sector in the country.
James, whose organisation has been in the forefront of reviving reading culture in Nigeria through various creative means, including donation of books to schools and individuals, lamented that people no longer have interest in reading, even as pupils and students who are willing to read do not have access to books.
It was for that reason that CRIMMD has so far donated 41,436 books to schools and individuals.
James said that heart-rending photographs of a bookstore, which served as ‘library’ in a primary school in Ebonyi State, made him understand the enormity of the problem at hand and he immediately pledged to donate 200 books to three primary schools in Mgbom N’Achara community in Ohaozara LGA, where the terrible photographs had emanated from.
He then appealed to public-spirited individuals and organisations to help in building shelves and libraries for the needy schools in the Ebonyi community.
Dying reading culture in Nigeria was also on the front burner as the Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA) marked this year’s World Book and Copyright Day with the theme “Share a Story,” on April 23 in Enugu.
The publishers lamented that Nigerians no longer read to improve knowledge but to earn certificates and pass their examinations.
Describing books as “veritable tools for human and national development,” the body stated that the quality of books in a country was equal and direct representation of its quality of education, stressing that no educational system could rise above the quality of its books.
President and chairman of NPA, Uchenna Anioke, who spoke on the topic “Book and national development: Prospects and challenges,” said Nigerians’ inability to read had greatly shrunk audience target in book publishing and would impede national development in the long run.
He stressed that Nigerians must return to a viable reading culture to build an enduring nation.
Highlighting the importance of books to human development, he stated that humanity and books have a relationship that dated back to antiquity, adding that, if the relationship were not productive, both parties would have parted ways long ago.
“Again, without books, the quest for knowledge and education will go into extinction. We need to bring within the periphery of our consciousness that science is cumulative in nature. This means that no scientific study stands or walks alone. Every bit of innovation is a pile-up of previous existing body of knowledge. Books are the custodians and warehouse of these bodies of knowledge.
“Books play important roles in the people’s socialisation process. Babies are the weakest in the animal world. They cannot eat or do anything by themselves, but a child can differentiate a doctor from a lawyer in paintings in a book even at very tender age.
“By this, children are gradually socialised into professions and how to behave towards each profession. The same plays out in other human endeavours like politics, commerce and sports.”
According to Anioke, books can only achieve these noble objectives if there is a high level of literacy of citizens, coupled with a sound reading culture.
He was saddened that Nigerians were not drinking from the deep well of information stored in books on every area of human endeavour. He lamented that poor reading culture, finance, piracy, epileptic nature of government policies, infrastructure decay and illiteracy have continued to challenge books and the publishing industry in the country.
“Nigeria is lagging behind in the production of machines needed for book publishing. Publishers import almost all the machines they need to aid them in production of books and the deplorable condition of the naira when compared to the likes of dollar and pound sterling is not helping matters,” he added.
Anioke also identified piracy as one of the greatest factors militating against the survival of publishing industry in Nigeria.
Daily Sun recalled that 30 containers of pirated books from China were in 2017 impounded in Aba, Abia State, in what was described as the biggest incident of piracy in Nigeria. Eight persons are still facing trial over the case.
“Piracy is perhaps today the most vicious obstacle facing the book industry in Nigeria. This has sent many publishing houses into involuntary liquidation. Most booksellers now offer top selling books at absurd prices as they are made with inferior materials and copied ideas by pirates.
“This has improved the sales of pirates while publishers are left with little reward for their works. The government’s failure to find solutions to piracy even with established regulatory agencies is affecting publishers. The copyright laws are grossly outdated and inadequate to handle the menace of book piracy in Nigeria,” Anioke said.
The NPA president called on the Federal Government to devise measures of tackling the ugly trend by ensuring that copyright laws are adequately implemented. He called for pirates be treated as intellectual ‘armed robbers.’
He listed the dearth of paper mills in the country as another major challenge confronting publishers. The collapse of Nigerian Paper Mill, Jebba, established in 1969, Iwopin Pulp and Paper Company, Ogun State, set up in 1975, and Nigerian Newsprint Manufacturing Company in Oku-Ibokun, Akwa Ibom State, built in 1986, was a big blow to publishing in Nigeria. The three paper mills were valued at over N100 billion and they had collectively provided jobs for over 300,000 persons.
Anioke also lamented the intense capital requirements of the publishing business, noting that the nation’s dwindling economy would not allow most banks extend loan benefits to publishers, as they consider it extremely risky. He urged Nigerian publishers to embrace digital publishing, which entails electronic printing, as a measure of remaining in business.
Also, immediate past dean, Faculty of Law, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus (UNEC), Prof. Joy Ezeilo, had at the 55th annual conference and general meeting of the NPA in Enugu, December last year, identified poor reading culture as the major challenge facing publishing and education industries in Nigeria.
Ezeilo, who said that policymakers were not helping matters, also expressed dismay over poor investment in the educational sector by government.
Speaking at the annual conference, Prof. Bankole Sodipo of Babcock University had urged the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria to, as a matter of urgency, provide Nigerian publishers with special intervention funds to mitigate the pangs of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also asked the NPA to partner with Nigerian libraries, universities and education ministries in order to influence government policy on books, and international agencies for financial support.
Interestingly, Anioke, Ezeilo and Shodipo all admitted that digital publishing was the way to go but stressed that conventional publishing and e-publishing could complement each other.
Moving forward, they advised publishers to engage in dual publishing, a method that enables them to sell e-books while also printing hard copies to satisfy local peculiarities.