Nigeria's sinking book industry

By The Citizen

By Wale Ojo
Nigeria's book industry is like a sinking boat in a deep sea. What a pity; victims will be consumed by the big whales under the ocean. Those men and women earning a living from publishing and selling books are clearly an endangered species. They are doing business in an unfriendly environment.

They are like newspaper editors and publishers who have to operate amidst dwindling purchasing power, collapsing social infrastructure and evanescing value system. Imagine the dilemma newspapers are facing. If they do not increase cover price they may not balance the books. If they do, they may lose some readers. It is either you increase cover price and get set for whatever follows or you do not increase and go bankrupt. If you lose some readers due to high cover price, you are going to discover that your earnings are dropping. What next, your newspapers is gradually on the way out. Too many newspapers have been killed by the nation's dangerous socio-economic environment. Similarly, too many bookshops are disappearing from the streets in our major cities.

The long story of Nigeria's inability to produce paper locally cannot be fully told here. But our readers will recollect that all the paper mills established in the 1970s and 1980s are moribund. Among them are Iwopin, Jebba and Oku-Iboku paper mills. Like the whirlwind that swept away Nigeria Airways, the paper mills that provided jobs for thousands of Nigerians just got wiped off. Some say the death of our Nigeria Airways and the paper mills are traceable to a devilish economic policy known as Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), which Nigeria adopted starting from 1986. That policy led to a devaluation of our naira. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) hoodwinked Nigeria to adopt the policy. The IMF argued that SAP would bring foreign investment, which would be cheaper due to lower cost of production in the developing countries. But as President Buhari said recently, while receiving the IMF boss, Nigeria did not see any increase in foreign investment arising from devaluation of her currency.

Nigerians have been living with the pains unleashed by SAP since it was adopted. Significantly, the IMF has long ago renounced the efficacy of SAP as a magic wand for the revival of the economies of the developing countries. Yet, Nigeria has not been able to revisit the issue of what is now a perpetual drop in the value of the naira. As a mono-product economy which relies mainly on oil sales, anytime there is a drop in the price of oil, Nigeria's foreign exchange earnings usually drop. There is always a scarcity of foreign exchange in relation to demand. Industrial inputs that needed to be imported become costlier. The nation just finds inflationary spiral on its hands. The policy of government which has not diversified our economy is the first enemy of the book industry. As the 15th Nigeria International Book Fair holding at the University of Lagos enters the second day today, the international conference will be looking at the book industry and its hydra-headed challenges. Rilwanu Abdusalami, chairman, Nigeria Book Fair Trust (NBFT), at a press briefing in Lagos recently lamented the pains of the publishers.

In a speech read by Babs Fashanu, Vice- Chairman NBFT, Abdusalami said ''the current government monetary and fiscal policies have made trade and business difficult for many business organizations in Nigeria. The shortage of US dollar and high exchange rates have negatively affected trade relationship between business organizations within the book industry and their counterparts in other countries like the United Kingdom, India, United Arab Emirates. As a result of this some regular foreign exhibitors that featured at the last annual Nigeria International Book Fair may not attend this year.' The current parlous state of our economy is traceable to badly implemented government policies such as import substitution and structural adjustment. This has negatively impacted on social life. As life became tougher for Nigerians, values have started giving way. Corruption became rampant in all public institutions.

All sorts of negative social habits became the order of the day. Since 1986 till date, value of the naira has been fluctuating. It has never stabilized for a decade. And as the value of the naira goes down, the corruption rate rises. Figures of loots were in the 1980s counted in thousands and millions; nowadays loot is counted in billions and trillions. Unclean businesses, which people were ashamed of are no longer seen as shameful. Book pirates now operate openly and freely. In fact, sellers and buyers are not perturbed as they sell pirated books on the streets. The poor reading culture is another headache for the book industry.

Youths are no longer strongly attracted to reading. Too many sources of distraction are making reading unpopular as a pastime for the younger generation. It is expected that the egg heads that will discuss the challenges facing the book industry will do justice to all these issues. Stakeholders will also hope, as usual, that the Buhari administration will implement major recommendations of today's conference.

Ajao, a seasoned journalist, wrote from Lagos.