Dr. Dare Ajiboye, General Secretary/CEO of the Bible Society of Nigeria (BSN), is a human relations expert and certified life coach. In this interview, he explains the impact of COVID-19 on the Society’s operations and expresses his views on how the government has handled the pandemic in the country. He also talks about the BSN’s ongoing handwritten Bible project and other issues.
How has the COVID-19 impacted the operations of the Bible Society of Nigeria (BSN)?
The COVID-19 pandemic as we all know is an issue that has impacted the global community by causing disruptions. The political, economic, social and legal landscapes have been disrupted by the pandemic with attendant consequences. This has added D to the VUCA acronym to read VUCAD. The business environment has, therefore, become extremely volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous, and disruptive (VUCAD).
Of course, this has led to a lot of challenges for organisations of any kind, the family unit and the nation, not sparing any personality or organisation. It has either infected or affected everyone. I must be quick to say that like any other issue of life, the pandemic has come with its positive and negative impacts. Some leaders of the different sectors of the economy are suffering, while some are smiling to the bank. COVID-19 has mixed effects on the global economy.
Since the BSN does not exist in isolation, the pandemic has presented it with both opportunities and threats. Starting with the positive, it has allowed us to innovatively present the Word of God which is a living book that answers every question and has solutions to all problems. We were able to reach many people through our trauma healing programme to assure the infected and affected people that COVID-19 is just a phase that will come and go.
The negative impacts are that the different stages of our works were disrupted in one way or another. The lockdown prevented staff across the country from going to the office for the period it lasted. Therefore, our translation, publication, distribution, programmes and fundraising were hampered. We had to resort to online distribution of the Scriptures.
It has also affected our ability to effect maximum staff welfare due to shortage of fund. The shutting down of churches during the lockdown prevented us from carrying out our fundraising and programmes. The scarcity of forex due to the fall in crude oil price and demand has affected the cost of our operation significantly.
How have you been coping with the disruption caused by the pandemic?
God owns the work and that has been our anchor at a time like this. The Bible says in Philippians 4:13, “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me.” (GNB). Therefore, we have been relying on God more than ever before to survive. We have received donations from only a few churches and Christians because of the difficulties the nation is facing. This has led to a slide in our income, and as a result, we have adopted surviving strategies starting with cost-cutting.
We adopted a different cost-cutting measure to minimise our overhead expenditure. Besides, we have also adopted online engagement with our donors and people who may need our services. For example, our Translation Consultants had never checked our translation work virtually. But during the lockdown and even now, our consultants have been working with our translators via Zoom. We have also adopted moral persuasion when negotiating the cost of printing our Bibles with the printers.
How would you assess the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country?
Based on the information in the public domain, I will say the government had a very slow start in reacting to the pandemic. The airspace and borders ought to have been shut earlier than the time they were shut. The response rate of the federal and state governments were miles apart, although Lagos had a good response, which may be because of the experience gained during the fight against Ebola.
Most of the states were unprepared, even months after the index case of the COVID-19. But I must say that Nigeria has been favoured by God. With the devastating effect of the virus on the developed world and the heavy casualties in countries like UK, Italy, US, etc., one can only imagine what would have happened to a country or even a continent like ours. I think God knows we do not have the strength to combat the virus and has minimized its impact on us.
Permit me to say that the whole world was caught napping by the pandemic. Even the superpowers initially appeared helpless. I am talking of countries with good health facilities, well trained medical and public health officers, and the wherewithal to respond to emergencies.
Piracy is a major issue in Nigeria. Is the BSN a victim? Can you share how it affects the organisation?
Just like I said earlier, good and bad things do not spare any organisation. We are victims of piracy. Piracy is a monster and time bomb that will create a lot of problems for the publishing and entertainment sectors of our economy if the government is not responsive. Many publishing houses and bookshops have folded up because of the activities of the copyright defaulters. They are having near field day due to many factors.
Our law enforcement and legal system are very weak. Beyond that, the laws of piracy are archaic. The fine or jail term for defaulting copyright law has empowered the pirates. They can easily pay the fine from the wealth they have amassed without feeling the impact.
The enforcement agencies, like the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), are ill-equipped to fight piracy effectively. The three arms of government will need to be alive to their responsibilities and stop paying lips service to the menace if they truly mean to fight piracy. Some of our Bibles are pirated. But we have partnered with Nigeria Copyright Commission to fight the menace. I must say that it has yielded positive results. Some containers were confiscated at the port by the Nigerian Customs and handed over to the NCC through legal proceedings.
Between 2013 and 2020, the courts have convicted two copyright defaulters and were jailed for two years each. The two jailed pirates operated each in Sango, Ogun State and Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. When we arrest any defaulter, we pursue the case to a logical conclusion. We all know the stigma associated with being an ex-convict. This would have sent a signal to other pirates about what could befall them whenever they are caught.
To fight piracy, the three arms of government, publishers and the public need to work together. The public need to stop buying pirated books in the name of being cheaper than the quality books from the copyright holders. Pirates are out to make quick money. They produce low-quality books with the trademarks of the original owners. This is stealing. When you are caught with pirated books, you are as guilty as the pirate.
Why does the Society print its Bibles from abroad?
To put it simply, we print from abroad because there are no good printing presses in Nigeria that can print good quality Bibles. Good Bibles are printed on 28 or 30 gsm papers. The machines we have here cannot print on such papers. Even those who try printing on around 40 gsm papers always have a lot of wastages, which often lead to high production cost.
Sadly, we do not also have good papers here in Nigeria to print the Bible. You will need to import papers and everything to print the Bible at a very high cost.
It has been said that some Nigerian Languages are going into extinction. What is the BSN doing to prevent this, since one of its mandates is to translate the Bible into local languages?
I agree no less that some of our languages may go into extinction now or in the nearest future if nothing is done to salvage the situation. Keeping a language alive requires intentionality. The Bible Society of Nigeria is most relevant to help in keeping our languages alive. Most languages that have died do not have any form of orthography as they are mainly spoken but not written. To immortalize a language, it is important to have the spoken sounds documented in writing.
Learning is easier when a language has orthography.
To translate the Bible into a language, we start with developing the orthography if there is none. Thereafter, we start translation and literacy to ensure that people speaking such languages are also able to read them. With a written form of a language and continuous literacy programme, perpetuity of such a language is guaranteed. Some think all we do with the translation of the Bible into a language is just for the spiritual growth of the language speakers. It goes beyond that as it helps to keep such a language alive. Someone said the death of a language is the death of a culture. To prevent a language from dying, it is very important to have it written and read, not just spoken.
How do you fund your activities?
Funding has been one of the major challenges to our work. As a not-for-profit organisation, donation is one of the major sources of income we rely on. We depend on Christians, churches and few Christian-inclined organisations for the funding of our operation. Becoming a registered member and payment of annual dues is another source of income, among other sources.
What does it cost to translate the Bible into a Nigerian Language?
The cost is not very specific as there are different variables such as how long it takes to complete a translation, cost of living in a particular environment, among other factors. However, on average, it costs about N72 million if a translation spans 8 years. If more, the cost goes up.
The Central Bank of Nigeria just adjusted the exchange rate upward at the interbank market. How would this impact the operations of the Society?
The recent adjustment, though understandable, is inimical to our operation because printing of the Bible is hard currency based. The more the Naira is devalued, the higher it costs us to print.
We gathered that you are planning to publish a handwritten Bible. What is the motive behind this?
Yes, we are working on a handwritten Bible project. It is a project set up for Christians to write a verse of the Bible and contribute to the building of the Bible House, where our operations would be run to meet the Scriptural needs of every Nigerian.
There has been the persistent killing of Christians in some parts of Nigeria? What do you think is the solution to this ugly development?
Let me say that it is not only Christians who are being killed. But from what we gathered from the media, especially in the southern part of Kaduna State, Christians are killed mostly. The solution to the unwarranted killing of innocent people is not far-fetched if preventive and curative strategies are adopted. Firstly, there is need for our leaders to fear God and ensure that the fear of God is entrenched in our constitution and activities. If you know God, you will understand from His Word, the Bible, that killing innocent people is ungodly and it will one day attract the wrath of God.
Secondly, we need to identify the root cause of such killings. When there are social, political, and economic unresolved issues, you are bound to experience what the country is going through now. There is need for the government to provide employment and create enabling environment for businesses to thrive in a way that private organisations can successfully do their businesses, thereby employing more people to prevent the devil from making work for the idle hands.
I will summarize my answer by saying that the lack of the fear of God, unemployment or underemployment, wanton greed and quest for quick riches, politically motivated violence, religious bigotry, among other factors are issues that both the government and the citizens -, corporate and individual – need to jointly fight to a standstill to put an end to the dastardly killings. Overcoming the killings requires joint efforts through an effective legal system, moral suasion, peace advocacy, among others.
The Society is to organisze an international leadership conference this year. What is it about and are you still going ahead with it?
We planned to host the 10th edition of the African Biblical Leadership Initiative (ABLI) in the last week of October 2020. It is hosted annually by an African country. The last edition was held in Rwanda; but the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the postponement of this year’s event. By God’s grace, the event which has Professor Jerry Gana as Chairman of the Local Organising Committee has been postponed to the last week of October 2021.
What advice do you have for Christian leaders in the country?
To Christian leaders, my advice is that we need to, more than ever before, be more faithful and dutiful in the propagation of the gospel of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, as everything is pointing to the fact that the end is drawing near. We need to be more united as the devil is hiding behind disunity to advance his agenda. The challenge of one should be the challenge of all. There is a need to speak with one voice on issues that affect Christianity.