Thursday, 24 May 2012

REPRONIG… repositioning to protect, reward rights owners

By Anote Ajeluorou

Nigeria’s rights owners are some of the worse hit in terms of infringements or abuse. This came to the fore again last week when Reproduction Rights Society of Nigeria (REPRONIG) held a seminar to mark World Copyright Day in Ibadan

Guest speaker, literary critic and teacher at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Prof. Olalere Oladitan, brought the issue of rights abuse home when he cited instances of tertiary institutions’ administrators being the worse culprits in the abuse of the rights of owners of intellectual property. And what was worse, universities, polytechnics and colleges of education administrators are in actual denial of such abuse, especially the abuse of illicit photocopying of books, journals and other intellectual materials.
  A year ago, chairman of Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) Chief Tony Okoroji raised the alarm and asked the authorities of University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos to close down its battery of licensed photocopying operators situated in the Faculty of Arts complex. He made that demand at a seminar on copyrights organised by Dtalk Shop, a Lagos-based rights advocate, held at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. He had remarked that as one wound his way to the legal department through the Faculty of Arts complex, one is assailed by the array of photocopying operators doing brisk but illegal business and feasting on copyrighted works.
  For a university authority at the forefront of intellectual property creativity as UNILAG, as well as other tertiary institutions nationwide, to allow their premises to be so used in the abuse of rights of intellectuals, with some of them staff, could best be regarded as a shame and the worse disservice to intellectual output.
  According to Olalere, REPRONIG in its wisdom had made representations to Nigeria’s higher institutions to pay a token for such illegal photocopying. Of the lot only Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, a private university, saw the sense in seeing that such photocopying should benefit the owners of the works. In a year, REPRONIG wants students to pay about N550 while lecturers pay about N250 for all photocopying done and for such monies to be remitted to authors across board through REPRONIG.
  While speaking on ‘Nurturing Creativity through an Appropriate Reward System’, Olalere affirmed the primacy of creativity and the need to protect and reward such creations, saying the creative process deserved respect, which was still lacking in Nigeria’s clime. He lamented that those creatively endowed did not receive appropriate reward in a porous system such as Nigeria’s where little value was placed on the brain that ought to produce the money that is shamelessly being worshopped.
  He also stated the importance of REPRONIG to creators of intellectual works, especially since they could not fight for their own rights, and charged university vice chancellors, publishers, rectors of polytechnics and colleges of education to play their appropriate roles and start respecting the rights of owners of works by paying for them as required of them.
  “Intellectual property already has value,” he stated, “but let creators be properly rewarded so more value can be added to intellectual property. Let appropriate rewarded as of right be given to intellectual property rights owners”.
  In his opening remarks as chairman of the occasion and Vice Chancellor of Bells University of Technology, Ota, Ogun State, Prof. Isaac Adebayo Adeyemi, reflected on the Nigerian situation and how little value was being accorded academic and intellectual work, saying it was also a reflection of a weak development quest that may well scuttle Nigeria’s Vision 20/2020 seen as an empty mantra not being backed up by appropriate action.
  He noted, “How we treat intellectual property rights is a reflection of the value we place on academic or intellectual abilities. We worship money; as long as we do so, we will be far away from industrial development. We don’t value research and works of intellectuals. Until we change our approach to intellectual property rights, as long as we don’t cherish what we have, we can’t develop; it’s the foundation of our industrial and cultural development. Sadly, we don’t have the love of protecting intellectual works.
  “Until we place value on all facets of our national life, we may not move forward. We need to start laying the foundation for our children to progress”.
  He also charged REPRONIG to embark on “programmes of enlightenment to sensitise the populace to raise people’s consciousness concerning all manners of reproduction or copying, printing, photocopying, scanning, digital copying on CDs and DVDs, and electronic storage of datas… The intellectual community must be made aware of the laws guiding reproduction for private use and reproduction for office use.
  “Finally, all citizens of Nigeria owe it a duty to rally REPRONIG in its onerous task of helping the nation to restore academic dignity and its assignment of assisting to protect, reward intellectual properties in our Ivory Towers and the general public”.
  On his part, chairman of the collecting body and university teacher, Prof. Olu Obafemi, drew attention to the work of REPRONIG to include “ensuring that those who legally reproduce copyrighted works in Nigeria pay a token for doing so; it’s mandate covers works produced by academic and non-academic writers, scholars, visual artists, translators, journalists and photographers”. He said the body derived its powers from The Copyright Act 1988 (as variously amended) and that it was an affiliate member of the International Federation of Reproductive Rights Organisation.
  REPRONIG’s Acting Executive Secretary, Mr. Jare Ajayi, listed members of REPRONIG to include Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA), Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Association of Non-Fiction and Academic Authors of Nigeria (ANFAAN) and Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN). Others are National Association of Translators (NATI), Photographers Association of Nigeria (PAN) and Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC).
  He also stated the mandate of REPRONIG to include licensing “those who want to reproduce literary, artistic and visual works”, and that the commonest being photocopying, which was usually flagrantly violated in academic environments.
  NCC’s Director-General, Mr. Afam Ezekude, who was represented by a director in its Ibadan office, Mr. Tunde Adetula, also made presentation to the effect that everyone needed to protect intellectual works so it could be rewarding to those who produced them.
  Also, Prof. Lekan Oyegoke lamented Nigeria’s poor attitude towards knowledge, saying it was very depressing and that it had implication for the nation’s quest for developmental. He said Nigeria was yet to recognize that ‘knowledge is power’, which requires diligence to nurture. He noted that with such negative and anti-excellence factors like federal character, quota system deliberately entrenched in the polity and designed to short-change merit, it would take Nigeria a long time to realise its true potentials in the area of development.
  Bells University of Technology Vice Chancellor, Prof. Adeyemi, pledged his institution’s intention to pay REPRONIG’s token as demanded, and tasked other institutions to shun every form of denial and pay up as well.
  Other dignitaries present were Prof. Femi Osofisan, Tope Olaifa, Feyi Smith, SNA president, Uwa Usen, Dr. A.A. Abiodun, Dr. Bayo Adebowale, Lambert Ihebuzor, Prince Isaac Preboye, and Adeleye Makinde.

‘Factors that led to Okigbo’s death still ramain’

By Anote Ajeluorou

Last Sunday, poetry lovers gathered at The Life House in Victoria Island, Lagos to celebrate the work and life of one of Nigeria’s greatest poets, who sadly passed on at the early stage of his mercurial career in Nigeria’s bloody civil war. It was part of The Life House’s new historical project to refocus a people easily prone to forgetfulness.

ACCORDING to The Life House’s Executive Officer, Ugoma Adegoke, who welcomed the audience, “During the month of May The Life House, Lagos will host its first historical project, Remember for Tomorrow, a month-long engagement of cultural, creative and educational activities relating to watershed points in modern Nigerian history. Over the last fifty years since independence, we have constantly sought ways in which to clarify our nationhood, determine the extent of our ties and decide on how we intend to share our collective space. Throughout this history some actors have felt constrained to take positions which have caused fear, want, violence and death.

  “From the riots and instability of the early 1960s, to the Nigerian Civil War, the military legacy which spanned over three decades and the constant and ongoing battle for belonging among ethnic groups, Remember for Tomorrow aims to bring our darkest stories into the light and build a better understanding of ourselves. It is our hope that Remember for Tomorrow will provide an opportunity for storytelling, education, artistic expression, social discourse and most importantly, further documentation”.

  With Nigerian Civil War fought from 1967 to 1970, The Life House could not have better project and a more capable hand than Odia Ofeimun to anchor the programme. Himself an accomplished poet and a young man at 17 when the war broke out, and an intent to join up on the Nigerian side with which he was opposed, and even rejected as a recruit, Ofeimun gave ample historical background to Okigbo’s excellent life as a man of letters who was to yield himself up for a narrow but necessary life as a soldier from which he never came back alive to tell his own story.

  The evening easily became Ofeimun’s, who regaled his audience in what was a star performance that brook no opposition, “At that time poets all over the world imagined that something great was coming out of Nigeria. It wasn’t just Okigbo; there was also Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, who  were coming out with this massive output that we may all look back now and consider great. But they were doing so many new things and Okigbo was at the centre of it all. I came here with an English/Italian version of his collection by a guy I met in Rome. And once he knew I came from Nigeria, we could talk about nothing but Okigbo. The fellow told me Okigbo is not a poet; he is the poet! It was as if after him, there was no more poetry to be written, and before him, there wasn’t any poetry.

  “That would energise any patriotic person; it made me a little heady because in that conference in Rome, there were writers from all over the globe. But we ended up talking about Nigerian poetry because Okigbo was at the centre of all that happened.

  “There are many stories about Okigbo we ought to know. He started as a whining little boy celebrating what appeared to be little things. Very many therefore look at Okigbo’s poetry not in terms of its vast amplitude that are seen in those little volumes, but in terms of just the ‘calabash’, the ‘pumpkin leaves’; these were things that were merely symbolic of the grand issues that Okigbo wanted to build his poetry. He set out believing the world was divided between the traditional order within which was inscribed a very strong religious code and then the so-called Christian, civilised order, which was represented by the Catholic Church.

  “Okigbo was always deep political poet, who did not see the world in terms of the roots of his village, but in terms of the grand things that will take over the world. How he imagined them and how he did not imagine them is not what we’ll talk about here.

  “I think what we are expected here is to celebrate the poetic in the political, the poetic in the traditional, and what Okigbo regarded as the priestly role of the poet. He never abandoned it, and never giving up the necessity to raise values above the merely material.

  “I like talking about Okigbo in relation to the politics that overtook him. I mean because he died during the period of the Nigerian Civil War, many people do not forget that he was not supposed to have died in a war. Okigbo believed the world was too large a place to be reduced either to the ethnic, the national or even the continental. Poetry for him was not something that needed to be looked at from the standpoint of a given geography; cultural geography was not his province. Poetry was a world-encompassing phenomenon that needed always to be reduced to the level of individual, so that the individual that enters poetry was entering a larger world irrespective of where you were born, what religion you belonged to, and what your ancestors did or did not do.

  “Which was why when he went to Nairobi, Kenya for the first Pan-African Conference of Writers, he told them he did not read poetry to none poets, you have to be a poet in order to understand poetry. He actually insisted that there was nothing like African literature because for him, literature was just a universal parameter for all that belongs to all of us whether you are Chinese, Zulu, Eskimo, Yoruba or Indian. The capacity to make that something work inside of you and to share it with your fellow human being is the first thing that makes a human being what he is. For Okigbo, that is what makes all of us owners of a common property called literature. The only armoury he had with which to take on the world, no matter what he was doing, was the power of the written word.

  “And so the movement from Okigbo the non-soldier, the non-political, to Okigbo of the town-crier, where he had absorbed all the contradictions of his environment and was now prepared to take on the world; Okigbo died in a war. He never failed to say in his poetry, that that return of which he had to make was like forcing himself through the narrow neck of a calabash because this man who believes so much in the universal and the universality of his poetry found himself retreating and moving back into a calabash he had thought he had outgrown. Unfortunately, we never quite outgrow our origins if you live in a world where you come from becomes an important issue.

  “Many people believe Okigbo would have lived if he did not attend that Paris conference… I mean, a young man enters a plane during a period of civil strife, and then suddenly discovers that it will land in a part of the country where he could be slaughtered if he was seen at the airport. He runs out and leaves behind a handbag, which I was told two decades later, contains several poems handed to him by many African poets whom he met at that conference… The plane was to later crash off the coast of Gabon. Very many Biafrans started carrying the story, about how a particular boy, who is supposed to be very patriotic, found himself inside a plane that was carrying ammunition to only-God-knows-where!

  “Many argued later that it was because of the need to prove himself true to his calling that Okigbo chose to become a soldier; he needed to prove himself. Perhaps, he didn’t need to. Okigbo was a very excited and excitable young man, who knew only one thing about himself: the need to create also requires that you have the capacity to defend what you have created. Those two did not quite mix for him. But finding himself in the contradiction of a poet defending something that he considers a shrinking of the narrow neck of the calabash, it makes us to remember Kenya’s Prof. Ali Mazrui, who wrote a book called The Trials of Christopher Okigbo.

  “All Mazrui thought was that a poet has no business dying in a tribal war. A question Ali Mazrui never tried to answer is, what do you do if your humanity is being denied by people who believe that there is race? If tribes do not matter, what do you do when other people deny you what is yours because of your tribe? It is a question you can’t answer by being neutral; when you are confronted by the evils of a given situation, you won’t need to answer the question. Okigbo took a decision that many of us would have had to take. Okigbo chose where he believed he would be safe. And, many years later Ken Saro-Wiwa showed us a different way of looking at that problem. We have not resolved that problem yet; we do need to resolve it.

  “Unfortunately, those factors that led to Okigbo’s death are still very much around us today. And, we are not just victims, we are also promoters of that which led to Okigbo’s death. Okigbo’s life teaches us something, that whatever we wish to commit ourselves to, we must start early and never give it up! If you’re truly good at what you have to do, the world will beat a path to you. It doesn’t matter how long it disparages you or ignores you; if you do it right, it will beat a path to you”.

  Ofeimun’s historical recap on Okigbo’s life and work was spiced with performances from an array of poets and performers, who read and performed from Okigbo’s poetry. Notable was children from Oasis Montessori School and Hall, who performed ‘For he was shrub among poplars’. Also, generous portions were read from Obi Nwakanma’s Christopher Okigbo: Thirsting for Sunlight, a definitive autobiography on Okigbo that just came out, which showed other sides of Okigbo to include the intensely sexual, businessman and highly principled man who would not succumb to offering bribes to get contracts.

Children’s Day celebration… Why dearth of child-artistes

By Anote Ajeluorou, Shaibu Hussein and Florence Utor

Once upon a time, children artistes in various spheres abound in Nigeria and exhibited the sheer innocence of their crafts to the delight of all. But that is now history. The future, it seems, no longer belongs to the children, as no discernible outlet is available for them to blossom in any chosen art form. How did the creative firmament become bereft of children? What happened to the famed children prodigies in the land? As Nigeria celebrates Children’s Day this Sunday, The Guardian went to town to find answers to the eclipse of creative muse among young Nigerians

ONE of the children artistes that ruled Nigeria’s cultural scene in the 1990s is Ikike Ufford, the prodigious xylophone performer, from Calabar. Now an adult and lecturer in dance and ethno-musicology at the Theatre Arts Department, University of Calabar, Ufford has come full circle in a career that started at three.
  He looks back to those days with great fondness and satisfaction and is grateful for the opportunity his music-loving and music-making family afforded him from that early period when most children would play away their lives. Ufford found music-making his own form of play and he kept onto it religiously, with the result that he was able to take on the nation at large.
  Recounting his exploits in the early days, Ufford said he started performing with his family of musicians when he was three, a traditional musical group known till date as Ikon Afrikanna, a group still being maintained and led by his father in Calabar.
  Ufford’s moment of fame came in 1988 at the National Festival of Arts in Lagos, when, with his family’s Ikon Afrikanna, he was to show his uncommon dexterity on national stage and the skill of a child-artiste was stamped on the soul of a nation.
  He became the toast, and no national function held without him displaying his prodigious talent to thrill important dignitaries, including the then military heads of government.
  It was such euphoric moment for children generally and Ufford in particular that a talent nurtured in some remote parts in Cross River State took the nation by a frenzy all its own.
  As Ufford recalls, “I was opportune to meet with other drummers at the time. It was an important point in my life; it was great because as a performer, I felt accomplished doing what I was doing then. It was especially fulfilling performing for heads of government”.

NOW, he is not just teaching undergraduates the skills that made him famous, he also has a small children’s troupe under the supervision of his father’s Ikon Afrikanna group through which he is imparting skills to children just as he got from his parents, arguing that gifted child artistes should be encouraged to excel.
  “I’m in academic, an environment that is restricted. Children that are gifted should not be hidden; they should be allowed to expose their natural talent; they should be allowed to express the natural gifts they have and given the foundation in which to excel.
  “The excuse that such talents would derail them from school is not tenable. Rather, they should be given proper guidance and direction by their parents, just like me,” he counseled.
  Ufford is, however, not happy that Nigeria is not producing child artistes of note anymore. He is saddened that while a few child artistes abounded in the late 1980s to the 1990s, the same cannot be said at the dawn of the new millennium with its online, hi-tech attraction.
  Ufford retorts, “I feel bad because that was the age when I became known. I was born into a family of performers. Parents should allow their children to experiment from that early age. If children started at that early age, chances are that they will bubble in school if they are controlled and guided well”.
  Clearly, the 1990s were the golden years of child prodigies in the country; they were also the years when military rule was in vogue. Twelve years now of democratic rule is yet to throw up any child prodigy of note. Was the military era then more favourable to cultural and artistic expression?
  Ufford is uncertain how to attribute it although he gives a pass mark to the military with their high taste for entertainment and merry-making in which period too, he says, troupes were better encouraged.
  “I don’t want to attribute the dearth of child artistes to democratic dispensation or politics, but during the military, cultural performances and troupes got more enhanced and received more recognition. There was more recognition for troupes, especially children’s troupes.”
  A difference he spots is that while it was difficult for artistes to travel outside to perform during the military era, it isn’t so now for those who have the contacts to go abroad to perform.
  He is, however, quick to add that Cross River State, where he is based, has been very responsive to cultural matters, whether from child troupes or adult ones, as they variously receive patronage from the state government.
  Although not particularly thrilled that governments generally have not fared much in providing enhanced environment for artistes of various hues to excel, Ufford is optimistic that more could and would be done to enhance the profile of the Nigerian artist so he can truly represent the nation as its true ambassador to the world.

ALSO, another child-prodigy, Treasure Obasi, perhaps the only one in recent memory, and winner at Zuma International Film Festival 2010, played the lead role, Sharon, in the movie, Champion of Our Times.
  On her feat in a contest with the like of Clarion Chukwura, 12 years old little Obasi states, “I was very happy. I was excited because I was earlier nominated for the AMAA awards 2010 but I didn’t win. I cried. I wasn’t feeling too happy and mum said my time would come. I hoped and believed and I believed in God.
  “So when Uncle Chidi called me and told me about the Zuma awards, I was very excited and I truly believed that my time had come. Then we came to this office (in the Surulere area of Lagos) and we were given the plaque. I understand that they are still going to send the certificate with my name on it. I have not shown my classmates the plaque but I have told my best friends and they have been so happy for me”.
  Obasi narrates how she got into movies before her recent accomplishment thus: “I got onto the set of the movie, Champion of Our Time through an audition and through the director of my debut movie Save the Tears for Tomorrow. Before the main audition, I was given my main speech, which was very long and frightening at first. I had not done anything like that before. I had to go and learn it and on that day I said it without my script.
  “I featured in Save the Tears for Tomorrow and it was quite good by the grace of God and when Uncle Chidi Nwokeabia (co-producer of Champion of Our Times) said he needed someone to play the part of Sharon, I was recommended and they called my mum and we came and they just threw some questions at me. I answered them quite well and that was it. I took the long speech they gave me home, I worked with my mum and brother on it and it worked out. So that was how I got into the set”.
  Little Obasi has a Nigeria dream of her own in her heart and what she expects from other children like her. “My dream Nigeria will be a place where every single person in the world would love to be,” she states.
  “My dream Nigeria is a place where poverty, illiteracy, political instability, agricultural discouragement, and so on will never be heard of let alone experience. My dream Nigeria is the Promised Land, just to sum it all up.
  “I will tell them to be outspoken. I will tell them not to be shy. They should also be bold and confident and they should respect their elders.”

A Groomer of children artistes and organiser of children’s reality TV show, Kids Alone, Mrs. Temitope Duker, sees the absence of child prodigies in the artistic firmament as low appreciation of the outcome of children’s talents as artistes, and says children artistes were yet to receive the sort of cult followership that should command commercial success to encourage producers. And what has happened over time, especially in Nigeria’s Nollywood, where attempts were made at the inception of the home video industry to feature children in films, is that the success of such films, whether in English and Yoruba languages, has raised doubts about continuing with using children in commanding roles.
  Although she is dogged, passionate and committed to raising child artistes, Duker does not see so bright a future for them, especially in view of poor corporate support to sustain programmes and projects children’s programmes like Kids Alone. The fourth edition of Kids Alone is due to start in a few months but Duker is shopping hard for a title sponsor in spite of various children’s product makers in the country. She attributes their reluctance to support children’s programmes to various factors.
  First, she argues that children’s programmes are very sensitive because of the age grade required and that companies are wary not to create needless controversies around their products.
  With a reality show like hers where children are camped for a few days, it becomes even more challenging. Also, the time-belt for children’s programmes on Nigeria’s TV is hugely unfavourable and a clear disincentive for corporate sponsors to jump in the fray.
  With a time-belt of barely three hours a day in our 12 hours waking moment, Duker notes the disadvantage such timing is for sponsors as the viewing audience is not guaranteed to warrant exposure for products and services.
  In other words, children would hardly be back from school, usually 4 or 5pm, before their time-belt is over at 7pm, at which time parents would not want their children to be glued onto TV. This, according to her, creates serious disincentive for children’s programmes to continue to survive no matter how great is the idea behind it.
  Then, there is the issue of poor power supply in the country and its relationship with programme viewership. Duker states that these are challenges for title sponsors, who are not always sure the programmes achieve enough visibility for their products and services.
  The future for child actors, she says, is bleak. Not even Africa Movie Academy and Awards (AMAA), which boasts of young adults instead of child actors for inability of the film industry to throw up child actors for celebration.

THE same goes for Ita Hozaife, organiser of a recreative progarmme for children during summer breaks called Act 1 Summer kids Camp. She argues, “If Justin Timberlake and Usher Raymond were Nigerians, both famous American entertainers who started their phenomenal careers before they knew what a shaving stick was, my guess is they would never have been discovered.
  This could be accredited to three things: the gross neglect of a target audience by the entertainment industry, which seems to be guilty of the “children should not be seen nor heard.” Opinion: an entertainment industry, which is still light years away from structure and stability; and parents who would rather their kids be entertained by foreign child-stars than nurturing and allowing their kids to be the stars.
  “Like any other part of the world, we have our fair share of young talents; I’ve seen them at school talent shows perform like professionals. But the school talent show is where it ends. They don’t get to live out their dreams like Justine Bieber. We haven’t given the ‘OK’ or created a platform for them to do so.
  “With a population of over 160 million (24 per cent is said to be under the age of 18), I am surprise and sad we still can't boast of an indigenous TV channel dedicated to kids and teens; we're fine with Disney and Nickelodeon (or too lazy to create our own). It’s time to create a platform that would not only showcase and celebrate the young and talented but also engage, inspire and empower them. We owe it to them”.

ALSO, groomer of child artists in the visual field, Mr. Biodun Omolayo sees parents as the problem why child artists are scarce on the scene. He says, “My answer might be strange to you because I’m not the kind of person who believes that the government has to do something for you. They have their own responsibilities as well like making sure electricity and other amenities are put in place.
  “Government officials are human beings too and they need people to assist them with creative ideas because some of them are actually bereft of ideas and if they see that what you are doing is positive, they may even come to you for help. That is why you see them calling the likes of Richard Mofe-Damijo, Oke Bakkasi and many others as commissioners in their cabinets, because these ones have made a mark in their chosen careers so the government is even using them to launder the image of the states they serve.
  “I will rather blame the parents for the children not being successful at their talents because the parents are the first contact and the first government that a child knows; they should put everything in place in terms of nurturing children to achieve their full potential.
  “If, for instance, they notice a particular interest in their child say, in football and they are not footballers, let them look for a footballer or a professional in that field and allow the child to spend time with that person to learn from him. If the child sees that someone is interested and responsible for growing that talent, he will want to do as well as his mentor. But if the parents discourage the child because their knowledge of his interest is limited or they have not even seen someone who is making it in that field, they will kill his dream and he will not go far.
  “When parents notice talents in their children let them encourage the child and begin to train him or her on how to manage that creativity because being creative is not enough. You must learn to turn that creativity into business because that becomes the product and then you must learn how to maintain your customers by giving them the best products and customer service. When you have done this, you won’t have to blame the government for not supporting.
  “Your parents may have a hold on you when you are young but a time comes when you are all grown up and must take decisions on your own and when that time comes, it will be wrong for you to continue blaming the government or your parents because you are also part of the society you blame. This is the same attitude the people in government have. They blame past governments but let them do what they can do instead of wasting time talking about the problems we already know.
  “No time is too late to start living your dreams. The only thing is, if you need training, education or a mentor, do so and see what you can do.
  “For instance, my first degree was not in Fine Arts but at a point I decided to take my own destiny into my hands and I went ahead to arts and thought of how I was going to turn it into business and that is what I’m doing up till now without regret; we can’t wait for government for everything”.

Indian National Book Trust… a model for Nigeria to follow

By Anote Ajeluorou

India had long shown its desire to muscle its way into a global player. What with the testing of a long-range missile about a month ago and its flair for computer ingenuity? Indeed, in the world of knowledge economy, the Indian example as symbolised by one company may well provide the roadmap for Nigeria to follow

IT started as pure curiosity to find out what the Indians were up to. They had taken about a quarter of the backspace of the huge Multi-purpose Hall of the University of Lagos, venue for the Nigeria International Book Fair (NIBF) 2012. Indeed, one of India’s top printing company, India Repro, has been providing financial support for the book fair in the past few years. Just like other book fairs around the world, Indians in the book industry have found Nigeria a fertile environment to operate.
  A major Indian government organisation with sole responsibility to promote books and authors also joined Nigeria’s book fair party.
  It is National Book Trust, India, an autonomous body under the Department of Secondary and Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resources Development, was established since 1957. Its major activities include publishing, promotion of books, authors and reading, promotion of Indian books abroad, assistance to authors and publishers, and promotion of children’s literature.
  According to Dr. Lalit Kishore Mandora, an assistant editor, himself a Hindi poet (with the name Lalitya Lalit), who headed the group at the NIBF, said other activities of National Book Trust, India, include organising fairs/exhibitions throughout India (it has so far organised 19 World Book Fairs, 38 National Book Fairs and about 250 regional book fairs), the biennial New Delhi World Book Fair (the 20th edition comes up in February, 4-10, 2013), making books available at the doorsteps through mobile exhibitions (has enrolled about 80,000 book club members), providing assistance to authors and publishers, organising seminars and workshops and running a National Centre for Children’s Literature and publishing books in India’s over 30 languages.
  Mandora also stated that the book trust, although a government organisation, has over 20,000 authors in its care, as it searches out writers from all over the world, and gives them publishing opportunities, and further stated, “good literature makes a man of character” as part of its driving force.
  Clearly a big organisation, Mandora affirmed that the trust paid out over US$210,000 last year to its authors as royalties. Some of its activities aimed at book and author promotion include a Mobile Book Event in which books are taken to people’s doorsteps in vans directly at affordable costs.

WITH India’s cheap printing environment that has become attractive to Nigerian publishers and authors, cut-throat prices as is the case in Nigeria, is absent and thus a major incentive to a flourishing book trade.
  Mandora also stated that readership in India was well assured even for literary texts. He stated, “Book is a friend to all; they keep us from loneliness; they make us think and keep boredom away. Books make one happy. So, we promote books and good writers and reading. India has a great market for books, and great readers, too. We have good readers and buyers of books. Even those in ghettos, they still buy books”.
  This government body, National Book Trust, India, also organises the National Action Plan for readership development among the youth that caters for the interest of young people as critical element in the book chain.
  Also, the National Centre for Children’s Literature, according to Mandora, was established in 1993 among other things, “to monitor, coordinate, plan and aid the publication of children’s literature in various Indian languages. The body also holds the National Book Week in November”.
  Nigerian writers will look at India with envy as the national book organisation has what is called Indian Literature series where writings of “well-known contemporary Indian writers are brought out in various languages”.
  Its World Literature series is an “Anthology of contemporary writing from Asia, Africa and Latin America countries”, which are published and made available for Indian audience.

ONE other interesting area of National Book Trust, India activities is the folklore publication series in which folklores from different parts of India are published with the aim of acquainting other parts of India with such materials for the purpose of integrating and uniting the country in spite of its diversity.
  Also at the Nigeria International Book Fair, a body that is similar to Nigerian Export Promotion Council, known as CAPLEXIL, with emphasis on its printers and publishers’ division, featured prominently. About 32 members of this body had stands at the book fair. Their mission was clear: providing Nigerians with the latest printing opportunities at reasonable costs.
  With the country’s printing industry at a major crossroad in terms of lack of paper or very expensive paper, poor electricity and high import tariffs, the Asian continent has become the printing and publishing hub for Nigerian publishers and authors. And the Indians are raking up big business here. That explained their large numbers at the fair; they virtually print for all the big publishers in the country.
  The trust, according to Mandora, promotes Indian books abroad. As it attends book fairs around the globe, it takes Indian writers along to conduct seminars and workshops and read from their works to global audiences. For instance, the trust was Guest of Honour at Frankfurt (2006), Moscow (2009) and Beijing (2010) book fairs. In these events, a special exhibition of books from India is put up as part of showcasing India’s cultural wealth.
  As Mandora reeled out what his organisation does in promoting books and writers in India, it became startlingly clear how much Nigeria has lost its way in the quest of knowledge. There’s not even a department or division devoted to books in the country much less an entire organisation with millions of dollars as budget (although Mandora shied away from naming the body’s annual budget, which may well be beside the point).
  What is pertinent is that India has a vision to promote books and authors and is actively doing so both at home and abroad. What is more, it takes books to the doorsteps of readers at affordable costs thus tackling the issue of a poor reading culture in the populace, as being lamented in Nigeria.

INDEED, Nigeria may well emulate the Indian example through some sort of intervention in the book industry in the promotion of knowledge for rapid development! Bring Back the Book campaign should be revitalised to play this role and play it actively.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Creative Alliance mulls Nigeria’s showing at Commonwealth literary prizes

Commonwealth Book Prize shortlist came out last week with fairly dismal showing by Nigerian writers. Apart from the Short Story category where Nigeria’s Jekwu Anyaegbuna’s Morrison Okoli (1955-2010) made the list, no Nigerian writer made it in the book category.
  Creative Alliance, organisers of Literary Star Search, the grassroots literary short story contest with the ONE MILLION star prize money, regards this development as a setback in Nigerian writers’ march in recent years as dominant players in Africa’s literary scene. South Africa and Zambia are the only African countries to make the book shortlist, with India, U.K., Australia and Canada dominating.
  The book shortlist include The Wandering Falcon, Jamil Ahmad (Pakistan), Hamish Hamilton, Patchwork, Ellen Banda-Aaku (Zambia), Penguin Books, South Africa, Rebirth: a novel, Jahnavi Barua (India), Penguin Books India, The Sly Company of People Who Care, Rahul Bhattacharya (India) Picador, The Ottoman Motel, Christopher Currie (Australia), The Text Publishing Company, A Cupboard Full of Coats, Yvvette Edwards (UK), Oneworld Publications, The Book of Answers, CY Gopinath (India), HarperCollins India, Jubilee, Shelley Harris (South Africa), Weidenfeld & Nicolson, The Dancing and the Death on Lemon Street, Denis Hirson (UK), Jacana Media, The Vanishing Act, Mette Jakobsen (Australia), The Text Publishing Company.
  Others are Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, Shehan Karunatilaka (Sri Lanka), Random House India, Purple Threads, Jeanine Leane (Australia), University of Queensland Press, Sweetheart, Alecia McKenzie (Jamaica), Peepal Tree Press, The Town that Drowned, Riel Nason (Canada), Goose Lane Editions, Dancing Lessons, Olive Senior (Canada), Cormorant Books, The Dubious Salvation of Jack V, Jacques Strauss (South Africa), Jonathan Cape, Me and Mr. Booker, Cory Taylor (Australia), The Text Publishing Company, and Pao, Kerry Young (UK), Bloomsbury.
  The Short Story shortlist include Morrison Okoli (1955-2010), Jekwu Anyaegbuna (Nigeria), Flight, Jayne Bauling (South Africa), The Queen’s Blessing, Edyth Bulbring (South Africa), Devil Star, Hazel Campbell (Jamaica), Brothers, Adrienne Frater (New Zealand), Like a Heart Maybe, but Cold, Chris Hill (UK), The False River, Nick Holdstock (UK), Radio Story, Anushka Jasraj (India), Rush, Nic Low (Australia), Elbow, Khadija Magardie (South Africa), Two Girls in a Boat, Emma Martin (New Zealand).
  Other are Glory, Janice Lynn Mather (The Bahamas), The Dolphin Catcher, Diana McCaulay (Jamaica), Friends, Sharon Millar (Trinidad and Tobago), The Ghost Marriage, Andrea Mullaney (UK), If These Walls had Ears, Carl Nixon (New Zealand), Next Full Moon We’ll Release Juno Bridget Pitt (South Africa), The Crane, Sarah Quigley (New Zealand), Drums, Mahesh Rao (UK), Ammulu, Poile Sengupta (India), Another Dull Day, Sreejith Sukumaran (India).
  In the light of this development, spokesman for Literary Star Search, Mr. Seun Jegede, has called on writers to seize the opportunity of the May 31st deadline extension to submit their entries for the contest so as to be part of the huge promotional package at international level that also attends the contest. It would be recalled that a collection, Stories Nigeriana, will be published, and deserving stories will be entered in contests worldwide. Jegede has, therefore, tasked writers to visit for further information on how to enter for the prize.
  However, a consolation came the way of Nigeria with Rotimi Babatunde making the shortlist for The Caine Prize, with his entry, ‘Bombay's Republic’ first published in Mirabilia Review Vol. 3.9 (Lagos, 2011). With Babatubde being shortlisted in The Caine Prize, Jegede said Nigeria was sure of making impact. Also, internationally acclaimed Nigeria’s Ben Okri, author of The Famished Road, winner of The Booker Prize, is the new Vice President of the prize. Chair of judges is Bernardine Evaristo;
  Kenyan’s Billy Kahora with ‘Urban Zoning’, Malawi’s Stanley Kenani with ‘Love on Trial’ Zimbabwe’s Melissa Tandiwe with ‘La Salle de Depart’ and South Africa’s Constance Myburgh with ‘Hunter Emmanuel’ are the other shortlisted writers for the 2012 prize. Last year Zimbabwe’s female writer, NoViolet Bulawayo won the prize with her ‘Hitting Budapest’.