The pinnacle body for Nigerian writers, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), held the 18th edition of its Writers and Authors Day during the 2019 Nigerian International Book Fair at the University of Lagos, Akoka.
Each year, members of ANA gather to celebrate themselves, as well as proffer solutions to issues confronting the literary community. There are medleys of presentations by selected writers on the panel.
This year’s event, which had in attendance authors, writer and literary enthusiasts, was themed, “Pushing the Writers’ Craft and Business in the Age of ICT”. It featured 11 selected writers –Akeem Lasisi, Henry Akubuiro, Folu Agoi, Eriata Orhibabor, Taofeek Olatunbosun, Lola Akande, Dagga Tolar, Oladele Medayese. Tolani Salawu, Abigail Ohiero and Dickson Ekhaguere and ANA National President, Denja Abdulahi. They viewed how technology could forward their cause as writers, the role of government and parents, and how to nip the monster –piracy.
In his keynote address, Ugo Okoye, the founder of Bambooks, disagreed with the aphorism that Africans don’t read. Rather, he blamed the situation on lack of access to books, which, he stressed, digital technology was best addressing. The future of reading, he said, lay on mobile; unfortunately, as he noted, African literary contents is not celebrated on mobile on platforms like Amazon. His motivation to bridge this gap, he continued, saw the birth of Bambooks, an indigenous digital library.
“People are becoming more technological savvy. Writers and authors need to look closer to take advantage of the trend. Nigerians like local contents. We are seeing that a lot of Nigerians are always on their phone, and a few are willing to pay for the content.
“Writers and authors have to meet their customers where they are, and have to treat their contents as business. Nigeria is a viable market –that is a reason the foreign guys are here. We need to educate more Nigerians to know that they have to pay to read. If it is priced right, Nigerians will pay for digital content.
Highlighting the impact of promoting the African story, Eriata Orhibabor, a poet and promoter of poetry, expressed that the more Africans read their African stories, the more they would get connected to their culture. But the impact would be negative if African focused on reading only the foreign contents. Hence, he pointed that there was need for balance.
The group blamed the lack of structure and poor government support as some of the issues militating against the growth of the literary industry. Abigail Ohiero, in particular, tied the reign of poor leadership in Nigeria to inability to read – “the leaders don’t read.” She added, “Leadership is about how much we are reading as a people. If leaders are not creating a policy that makes the literary industry attractive and economically viable, we will lose our story and our history.”
While expecting government to take needed actions to grow the industry as the Gambian government did with The Root to boost their economy, she advised parent to create a reward system capable of making children know the reward in reading. She noted that cultivating the act of reading in children was important because they were the leaders of tomorrow.
Mr. Henry Akubuiro, the author of Prodigals in Paradise, emphasised that parents have a great role to make their children to read. He encouraged parents to stock their homes with books to spur reading habits in their children. The Arts Editor of Daily Sun Newspaper, Akubuiro recounted that his father’s habit of stocking their home with books ignited his interest in books and, consequently, in writing.
Dickson Ekhaguere, a playwright, added that African writers should come together to study the African readers’ psychology thereby promote reading and making the business viable like entertainment counterpart, Nollyhood. In his words, “We do not need big authors. What we need are strong institutions and systems. Government will just play lip service.” He voted for authors to work together to push the industry forward like their Nollyhood counterpart.
Akeem Lasisi, a poet and journalist, also acknowledged that the best model for pushing the African story forward is the internet particularly the social media. Folu Agoi, a lecturer, who outlined the challenges faced by writers, including epileptic power supply, feared that piracy would increase with the trend of information technology.
His fear was doused by the Director General of Nigeria Copyrights Commission (NCC) Mr. John Asein, who said the commission was on its toes to tackle piracy even on digital platforms. According to Asein, the online service providers must have their own monitoring system and would be held liable for piracy activities carried out on their platforms. To this end, he had initiated meetings with the various stakeholders to ensure the growth of the commission for the benefit of the book industry.
He advised the writers to bring together creativity and business. One of such ways, he noted, was for writers to not sign away all their rights in a contract, no matter how attractive the offer was, for there were always a better tomorrow for the value of their works.