By Yusuf Mohammed
A conference convened by Nigerian publishers has listed imperatives for reviving the book sector in Nigeria.
At the session, stakeholders in the book trade in Nigeria called for urgent steps to be taken to restore the traditional value chain in the sector as a first condition for properly growing and rejuvenating it.
This indeed was the consensus of views at the 2019 edition of the Annual Conference of the Nigerian Publishers Association, NPA, that took place on Tuesday at the Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos.
Speaking as a panelist at the session, the President of the Booksellers Association of Nigeria, BAN, Mr. Dare Oluwatuyi called for a return to the good old order in the book chain where there was specialization and authors wrote, publishers published, while booksellers sold.
Going down memory lane, Oluwatuyi recalled the strong symbiotic historic relations that had existed in the book sector over the years and maintained that indeed its revival would be a win-win for all parties; noting that ‘in the final analysis, we are indeed inseparable.’
His view was backed by the President of the Chartered Institute of Printers, CIPPON, Mr. Malomo who stated that should any wing of the book value chain be permitted to go under, it was really only going to be a matter of time ‘before the sharks would come in for the rest of the industry.’ He opined that the coming of CIPPON had made regulating the printing industry a much easier task to handle saying that deviants that other stakeholders noticed should be reported to CIPPPON for appropriate disciplinary measures even as stakeholders should continue to support the printing industry by giving out jobs to local printers to handle.
In his remarks, Chairman of the occasion and Director General of the Nigerian Copyright Commission, NCC, Barrister John Asein tasked stakeholders to find a way around the challenge of the ‘mangled book chain.’ In this wise, he committed the NCC, the Nigerian Education Research and Development Council, NERDC and other agencies in the book sector to find ways of ensuring that structured benefits from the government to the sector get first to the genuine stakeholders within the system before trickling down to others.
On steps being taken at the governmental level to address the challenge of piracy, Asein noted that there was now evolving greater networking and cooperation among agencies involved in tackling counterfeiting and piracy. He reminded the audience that the task of combating piracy was one for all and called for greater synergy and collaboration across board towards ensuring victory in the fight. Asein equally encouraged publishers and other stakeholders to make a robust case for greater government support for the book sector.
His view was also corroborated by the erudite book sector expert and Vice Chancellor of Westland University, Iwo, Professor Okwilagbe, who affirmed that there was indeed a lot that was not working in the book trade as at today and that stakeholders needed to work assiduously at fixing them.
According to the don, the industry was suffering from a plethora of less: less innovation, less creativity and less engagement. He said the industry ran a closed system that essentially focused on school books and that this situation was also not being helped by the fact that the NERDC which is supposed to be a regulator of the industry had itself become a participant.
He called for a new approach that would be data and research driven, saying that this was about the only way to redress the crisis of capacity in the sector that manifested in such traits as authors who do not fully understand the functioning of the book chain and publishers and printers not having proven capacity to churn out all of the book needs of the nation.
Presenting the keynote address at the session, Director General of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Segun Kadir, represented by the body’s Director of Economics and Statistics, Dr. Segun Osindipe, who affirmed that publishing has the potential of helping to boost Nigeria’s national production output however reported that one of the grave burdens staring publishing and indeed about every other industrial sector in Nigeria in the face at the moment was the imperative of putting the house in order ahead of the already scheduled full take-off of the operational phase of the landmark African Continental Free Trade Agreement, AfCFTA in July 2020.
‘AfCFTA surely does have its benefits and opportunities but these are going to be tapped by those that are ready. And without any regrets, I will say that we really are not ready at the moment as a nation,’ he pointed out most bluntly.
Noting that the situation was most unfortunate given that the nation is well endowed in terms of its intellectual output, population size to have even overrun all of Africa before now, he however noted that there were far too many bottlenecks clogging the system that had over the years continued to militate against the development of the sector and indeed the overall national economy.
He then called on publishers and other players in the book trade to urgently commission research into the critical areas of the book trade that need to be firmed up, if not outrightly protected, and that they should also commit to making spirited advocacy to government on this. He noted that one point to focus on in a direct sense and at the least, may be for the industry to target the critical 10 per cent window of activities that the AfCFTA treaty still permitted that individual countries could yet protect even after the treaty had swung into its full operational phase.
In his welcome remarks, Chief Host of the session and President of the Nigerian Publishers Association, Mr Gbadega Adedapo had called for more support by the government for the sector given that it ‘plays a very significant role in our national life.’
Some of the other participants at the event included the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Education Research and Development Council, NERDC, Professor Ismaila Jinaudu, Chairman of Literamed Publications, Otunba Olayinka Lawal-Solarin, former lawmaker and ex-President of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Dr Wale Okediran and Chair, Pulp, Paper and Publishing Section of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Princess Layo Okeowo.