By Anote Ajeluorou
Starting from May 6 till 11, the 2013 edition of Nigeria International Book Fair will take place at its usual venue at the Multipurpose Hall of University of Lagos, Akoka Campus, Lagos. Chairman of Nigeria Book Fair Trust and Ibadan-based Managing Director/CEO, University Press Plc, Mr. Samuel Kolawole said in a recent interview that all was set for the book tourism that the fair has come to be known amongst book lovers. Exceprts:
What are preparations for the book fair, which is only a few weeks from now? And how have you been able to ensure consistency for the fair?
Well, so far so good. Everything is in place to make it better than that of last year. So far so good; all the people we need to consult we have consulted and everything has been put in place for a successful fair. I think it’s the passion that people have for the book industry that has sustained it thus far. The book business is a risky business; you may not make millions from it but it can keep you going for a number of years. But if you have passion for it, it can keep you going for a very long time. There is not much money in it anyway, so it has to be a passion for books. The fair is made up of booksellers, authors, publishers, printers, librarians – people who have passion for books. And I think it’s that passion that keeps us going over the years.
So, in spite of the challenges, the passion keeps us going; it’s what is responsible for the consistency. For the past 13 years, there is no year the Nigerian International Book Fair didn’t hold.
To a large extent, the fair is self-sustaining except for the international conference part that we have one or two bodies that come to our aid. There’s Repro India Ltd, a book printing company from India that had partnered with us for a few years now, as a way of giving back to the Nigerian economy where they also do business. We used to get support from the Norwegian embassy but that support has finally stopped. But the main support has been what we make from the fair and contributions from our members.
As you know, support from our government is not there. You know the nature of our country; we keep talking about improving reading culture in the country and access to books, but when it comes to putting money down to drive it, many people, including government, shy away from it. For that reason we’ve not really had the support we ought to get from government.
Do you get enough support for the fight against book piracy from Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC)?
Well, they’ve been listening, especially in the last couple of years. We’ve got a lot of support from NCC. What we have found is that the problem is so big and whatever effort they are making is like a drop in the ocean. NCC cooperated with us last year. With the kind of system that has been put in place by the booksellers, the publishers, NCC and Nigerian Customs Service, we’ve been able to arrest a number of containers of pirated books that came into the country. So, we had a lot of cooperation from those government agencies because of the agreement we had with them.
About two years ago we visited and solicited the support of the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service to help us savage the situation. In the past, the pirates were here producing books in the country; but with the improvement of technology, we discover that the pirated books are becoming better than the ones produced in Nigeria. And so, we had to get them involved; we solicited his support so they have a way of clearing with publishers first once books are coming in. With this system, the Custom contacts us first to know if the books are from us before clearing them at the ports.
We also had arrangement with NCC so that Custom get authorization from NCC before you can clear books coming into the country. So, these are measures we put in place linking these two agencies; and it has worked well for us. With these measures, we hope to confiscate more books than before. Of course, it has been challenging for publishers and booksellers because of the procedures that are now involved. But it’s better to waste a few days and arrest the situation than allow everybody to do whatever they like to ruin our business. So, they are cooperating but there is a lot more that can be done.
Recently, we had stakeholders meeting on new copyright regime and how to improve the laws to make them more effective and to incorporate the idea of digital rights into the legal framework. We hope contributions of stakeholders would be incorporated into the legal framework for better copyright regime in the country.
The theme for this year’s book fair is ‘Investing in Knowledge Economy for Sustainable Development’ Do you think there’s enough investment being made in knowledge economy in Nigeria?
It’s interesting to say that investment is taking place in the knowledge economy. It may not be as the coordinated way that people can see. But I’ll give you an obvious example that we don’t even think about; look at the number of private universities that are spring up across Nigeria today. That is investment in the knowledge economy; it’s happening even at secondary and primary school levels. It also happens in materials being used in schools including books.
So, there’s investment being made there. We move along with the times; the idea of conventional books is changing across the world although we’re still far behind here in Nigeria. We need to begin to invest now so we can prepare for the future. There’s a lot of money to be made otherwise people will not invest in knowledge economy. Opportunities are there but people are only looking at establishing schools.
There’s the area of technology waiting to be invested in. In some countries, they don’t really have much but you see them conducting admission clinics in Nigeria for their universities and colleges. Students going from Nigeria to their universities constitute part of their revenue like the U.K., Canada, U.S.; you also see Nigerian students attending universities in Ghana and other African countries. This suggests that there’s market there. Investing in knowledge economy can really help Nigeria. Investing in books is part of investing in the knowledge economy.
Look at all the stakeholders that are involved in the book chain – printers, publishers, authors, booksellers – they all contribute to the economy; they are all investing in the knowledge economy. If there’s good investment in the knowledge economy, all these categories of people will benefit. With the money made, they will employ people and contribute to the GDP of this country. The same goes for the authors who write the books.
But these are opportunities that the government doesn’t see.