By OBINNA EZUGWU
Booksellers in Nigeria, through their national body, Booksellers Association of Nigeria (BAN), have asked the federal government to recognise the book sector as an industry and avail it of necessary support, such as financial assistance through grants and low interest loans via the Bank of Industry, since finance constitutes a challenge to the sector.
The demand was contained in a communique issued at the end the association’s 20th edition of the Nigeria International Book Fair (NIBF) conference held at the Harbour Point Event Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, with the theme: “Awakening the Giant in Women for the Growth of the Book Ecosystem.”
The booksellers also charged the government to, “recognize booksellers as providers of social service and thus give them support through privileged forex allocation, among other support schemes.”
In the communique signed by BAN president, Mr. Dare Oluwatuyi, the booksellers regretted that book piracy remained a major challenge and charged the authorities to put more effort in tackling the menace, just as it recognized and commended the efforts of the Nigerian Copyright Commission at the moment in this regard.
The Conference, which was followed by presentation of the 2021 edition of Nigerian Booksellers Directory and Annual General Meeting of the organisation, offered an opportunity for stakeholders in the book business to appraise the role of women in promoting the reading culture in Nigeria and Africa in general, and advocated for more involvement of women in the sector.
In his opening address Mr. Oluwatuyi, emphasised the need for opening up the playing field for more women participation in the book industry, as according to him, “The participation of women in the book sector is very strategic.”
Oluwatuyi said women play important role in nation building, noting that having more women on board, would vastly improve reading culture, given their roles in the homes and the society.
“As we have seen in relation to another strand of our national demography, the youth, it is important that society is organised in such a way that would best guarantee a proper sense of inclusion for all segments,” he said.
“It is in this wise that I am gratified that we are here discussing how well our women have fared in the bookselling arena this far and what more we should do to ensure an even more level playing field going forward.
“Indeed, the truth about this is that more women in critical places in the bookselling industry would invariably translate to more goals realisation, more fulfillment of organisational and industry objectives and more value for the broader national business and economic environment.”
In her own remarks, chairman of the occasion and CEO of Sterling Books Nigeria Limited, Hon. Mrs. Folashade Shinkaiye, regretted that there are too few women in the book sector despite the strategic role of women in education.
Mrs. Shinkaiye said that there are much more men than women in the book industry, and called for conscious efforts to be made towards bringing more women into the sector.
She advocated for 40 percent affirmative action, noting that such is needed to accommodate more women, but emphasised that such should be streamlined and not done at the expense of merit.
“Going forward then, it is still very possible to have many more women rise to the cream of the bookselling profession in Nigeria,” she said.
“A consciously streamlined ‘affirmative action’ of sorts may however be needed to help accelerate the numbers in relation to the need to get more women to the top of the ladder in the sector.
“Such a programme should however not be done at the expense of merit and performance. For example, it is possible to introduce measures that encourage nursing female booksellers to come to work with their infants and/or permit them to take some work home particularly in cities like Lagos where traffic tends to generally build up at certain hectic periods.”
She also called on the government to pay more attention to the book industry, noting that, “Government should encourage the industry by providing finance by way of low interest loans.”
She argued that the book sector is a whole industry of its own and should be recognized as such, with players in the industry availed of Bank of Industry’s low interest facilities.
Mrs. Shinkaiye asked that government recognize book business as social service, with policies channeled towards encouraging the sector, such allocation of forex to booksellers and other players in the industry.
She regretted that piracy has continued to constitute a huge challenge to the sector, and called on relevant authorities to double effort towards checkmating the menace, while commending the effort of the Nigerian Copyright Commission in this regard.
She said there are vast opportunities in the book trade, which according to her, will continue to grow as population and literacy rate continue to grow, and as financial institutions come into the sector. She also called on booksellers to take advantage of the opportunities the internet has provided to grow their businesses.
Equally speaking, the Executive Director of Laterna Ventures, Pastor Oluyinka Morgan, said there was need to revive the book culture in the country, while calling on parents and other stakeholders to make conscious effort to encourage children to read books.
She pointed out that women have been critical stakeholders in the book sector, with several women authors in the country, including Funke Felix-Adejumo, Ibukun Awosika, among others, playing key roles in the promotion of books.
Mrs. Morgan, one of the discussants, emphasised that readers are leaders, noting that knowledge are acquired through reading. She emphasised that the women who have attained success in their respective careers, did not do so by accident, but through persistent knowledge acquisition by reading.
According to her: “It is experience and knowledge garnered through reading that people share at workshops, conferences,” among other events.
In her own remarks, Mrs. Olo Okaisabor, CEO, Chapter Books Ltd., who said she has been in the book business for nearly two decades, advised women in the book business to strive to carve out niches for themselves, and to be problem solvers.
According to her, women in the book sector should always endeavour to be themselves, and be their own booksellers, as that way, they can make a difference in the industry.
She emphasised the need for improvement in reading culture in Nigeria, noting that the women can drive the push by playing more active roles in the book sector.
Similarly, Mrs. Edith Obieke, CEO, High Flyers Educational Services Ltd, said it’s important to involve women at the grassroots to help revive reading culture in the country, emphasising that when you educate a woman you educate a nation.
She encouraged players in the book industry to work with governments at the local levels to set up libraries, as well as make books available to primary schools and displaced persons camps.
“We should get into our communities, work with local governments to provide books to the less privileged kids in local schools and IDP camps,” she appealed.
The conference was followed by the presentation of the Nigerian Booksellers Directory, 2021, compiled by BAN president, Dare Oluwatuyi and publisher, Richard Mammah.
Mr. Oluwatuyi, in his opening remarks during the presentation, noted that the publication of the directory was informed by the need to know those involved in book selling in Nigeria.
“When we assumed the leadership of the Booksellers in Nigeria two years ago, a challenge that we faced was not only how to go out there to know more and more of our members and bring them into the fold, but to also begin to place our finger on what the statistics were concerning the overall size and worth of the composite bookselling complex in Nigeria,” he said.
Oluwatuyi described the Directory as “An important piece of documentation. Given its potential for aggregation, it stood out as one way of beginning to address these issues. And so for us therefore, it soon became one of the first things to do. And I am glad that we have it to present to you today.”
He particularly paid tribute to Mr. Gbadega Adedapo, the immediate past President of the Nigerian Publishers Association, MD/CEO of Rasmed Publishers Limited and current Chairman of the Nigerian Book Fair Trust Council, whom he said, “So graciously undertaking to sponsor the printing of the Directory being presented today.
“Equally noteworthy is the immense support from Mr. Adegbola Adesina, Deputy Managing Director. CSS Bookshops Limited. He has indeed been a most diligent “burden bearer.’”
He explained that the e-edition of the Directory was presented a few months back, “but as we know with data gathering in our environment, it is not over until all is done. Between then and now, we have received more valuable information that has presently been incorporated into the current text being presented to you today.
“And this is in addition to our expressed commitment to continue to annually update the e-version of this publication so as to continue to reflect changes, developments and further information within its span.”
Chairman of the occasion, Mr. Lanre Damion Adesuyi, CEO of Havilah Group, in his address, said the 2021 Directory stands out as a very significant improvement over all previous publications.
“This quality of detailed publication though long overdue, has come at the most auspicious time in the history of the book trade in Nigeria, being an invaluable resource publication to give booksellers a strategic sense of belonging because of their roles in the book value chain,” he said.
“Although this is not an occasion to trace the history of bookselling in Nigeria, it is apt to state that the success of actors in this segment of the book chain is anchored on the tenacity of Booksellers who against all odds remain dogged to keep the book alive and meet the yearnings of the reading public for knowledge, which is crucial for national development.
“Obviously, without the booksellers littered in the nooks and crannies of our vast country, it would have been somehow impossible to get the books.”
Also speaking, Mr. John Asein, Director General of Nigeria Copyright Commission, while commending BAN and Mr. Oluwatuyi for a job well-done, noted that booksellers needed to do more.
He called on BAN to register with the NIPC and develop an action plan to use the directory to make life unbearable for pirates in the country.
The book reviewer, Dr. Olayinka Oyegbile, journalism, media and culture studies expert, in his review, noted that the Directory answers the question as to where to go and buy books to avoid pirates.
He said the compilers did a commendable job, given the paucity of data in the country. According to him, “BAN has done a great service to the book industry. The directory has given information on booksellers and Nigerians now know where to and buy non pirated books.
“The directory should be made available to all educational institutions and libraries, because it has information.”
He praised the Directory for being well-written, noting that he could not find any grammatical or typographical error in it, but noted that it’s not comprehensive enough and can be improved upon.
The Directory was presented by Mr. Lukman Dauda, CEO of Evans Brothers Ltd, who noted that booksellers are now confronted with a number of challenges, one of which is the fact that many publishers now sell directly to schools.
He called on publishers to end the practice and return to the original pattern of reaching end users through booksellers, even as it called for collaboration among booksellers to tackle the practice.
Dauda equally called on booksellers to do more to encourage publishers by always remitting funds to them as at when due.
AGM/ Business Meeting
The last item on the day’s agenda was annual general meeting and business meeting of the organisation. In his presentation, Mr. Henry Ituama, BAN general secretary, said upon election in 2019, the exco set out to rebuild BAN towards regaining its past vibrancy, which, according to him, makes booksellers worthy partners in efficient book publishing and distribution in Nigeria.
He said, with the little funds raised after BAN election in 2019, the association embarked on membership drive with the president’s visits to Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Abuja and Kano, to build cordial relationship with sister stakeholders like NPA, CIPPON, NLA, ANA, NCC and so on.
The exco members were returned unopposed, following a motion for their continuation moved by Mr. Dayo Alabi, and seconded by Mrs. Ronke Orimalade.