PA Modupe Oduyoye is a veteran in the publishing industry. The author of several intellectually engaging books started his publishing journey in the 60s. He does not, however, believe that the centre of publishing has shifted from Ibadan to Lagos, though he concedes that Lagos has become the country’s culture centre due to a number of factors including finance and many higher institutions around. Pa Oduyoye predicts a bleak future for local printers, whom he says will soon lose grounds to Asians. He says they hold the ace in the low prices they are ready to offer as a result of the tax rebates they enjoy at home and the cheap electricity at their disposal. He shares these thoughts and many more with Anote Ajeluorou.
Publishing literary books seem to have taken the back door in recent years. What is responsible?
Publishing houses that focus on primary schools are the largest. If you’re looking for the leading literary authors in Nigeria, the biggest publishing houses will not be able to display much. The books that have won literary prizes in Nigeria in the last seven years, they were not published by the large publishing houses. They only accept manuscripts that can sell in large numbers, which are recommended by states for schools.
Some of these books that win literary don’t sell much, maybe 3,000 or 4,000 copies. They are not compulsory books. People buy them out of interest. People who like to publish literary works, say, poetry, don’t like to publish textbooks, whether it pays of or not. Textbooks will drive them mad. A good example was Christopher Okigbo, the poet, who was appointed Cambridge University Press representative. Cambridge was absent at the primary school level. It was a little bit difficult for Okigbo because to make a poet run a profitable limited liability company would kill him. Well, Okigbo knew how not to be killed so he ran the press, as he knew how to run it until the civil war problem and his death in 1967.
Why is this so?
If you give the business to a poet, he’ll run it as a poet. Don’t come and ask him for neat filling; don’t come and ask him to account for N5. He’ll almost pick a machete and drive you away or walk out of your job immediately. If he’s business-minded, how can he be Chris Okigbo? How can he write the type of poetry he wrote, the difficult to understand poetry – Idoto, Heavensgate. His feet are not here! Cambridge went to him because he was a popular literary man; later they’ll learn that you don’t go to poets to do business. I dare anybody to get Prof. Wole Soyinka to come and run a textbook publishing house. Prof. Soyinka ran his own, Orisun, to publish his own plays. And, he’ll publish on the basis of whether they sell or not.
Is Ibadan still the centre for book publishing in Nigeria?
Yes; it is. Look at the publishing houses, they are still here. So, it’s actually difficult for book publishing centre to move to Lagos because Lagos is more expensive than Ibadan. That’s the trend. You can publish outside a major commercial centre like Broad Street but actually have bookshops to sell there. There’s CMS and Challenge Bookshops before Challenge was sold. Some of the publishing houses in Ibadan moved from Lagos about 40 years ago.
In the 19 century, Lagos was the cultural centre. It combined the capital with the cultural. The arts and culture was in Glover Memorial Hall; football was in Onikan. The elite were in Lagos. In 1948, something happened in Ibadan – the establishment of the University College, Ibadan (UCI); it was the only degree granting institution in Nigeria. The University College was established because of land constraints in Lagos to accommodate a Campus University, both students and staff in one place. Oxford University Press opened in 1949. The dream of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe to establish the Land Grant University in Nsukka, known as the University of Nigeria also came to fruition. University of Lagos came later to be a City University, where students and staff could live anywhere they liked.
Is it not possible to hold the fair across the regions?
The Book Fair Trust started the book fair in Abuja at the International Conference Centre. But they must have looked at their account books to see how many books their people sold. And, they advised themselves to get away from Abuja to Lagos. They have added a regional fair. The Nigerian Book Development Council had six fairs in each geo-political zone. Although I know they will not be able to repeat it. Why? They are government; they do not know how to do business. What private sector people will do for N50,000, government will spend N5 million and then they will get tired. Why don’t they know how to spend less? They don’t know how to do small things; they will rather spend the money for 20 things on one and still fail to do it right.
The first bookfair in Nigeria was organised by the then University of Ife, Ile-Ife, in 1974 by its first bookshop manager, Hans Zell, a dynamic bookman. He came over from Sierra Leon. It was the exhibition of books published only in Nigeria. Ife book fair was an international book fair. The devaluation in 1981 ruined it as foreign participation dwindled. The reputation went down. It then migrated to Zimbabwe. What we have now is the shame called book launch, which has ruined bookshops and the effective distribution of books in the country.
How could book launching destroy the bookshop system?
Nigerian publishers Association was to publish a journal after I left as president and it was going to be launched in Sheraton, Lagos. I told myself the journal will not last. Let publishers know their level. Let them not compare themselves with oil companies or banks. They should stop thinking in grandiloquent terms. That so many books are launched in Lagos -biographies and so on, so many books are presented – does not make it healthy. On one single day, they want to earn N20m! They earn N20m donated by moneybags and, then we go round bookshops in Nigeria we don’t find the books. That’s not publishing. Let them know that book launching is killing general book publishing, its killing it.
Urhobo Dictionary was launched about 12 years ago and I have been looking for it to buy; I’ve found it. I wanted to buy one because of my own research; I wanted to compare it with the Niger delta languages. I can’t find it for ten years now yet people came to donate money. Is that book publishing? It’s not publishing. So whenever a book is being launched in this country, nonsense is happening. It’s greed. Those donating that money, where did they get the money? Let EFCC chase them.
The people or companies collecting the money are commercial companies registered to trade not to get donations. There’s a law in this country for donations and a law for trading. The law for trading is, make your product and sell it. The law for donation is, you apply to government that you want to solicit for funds for a specific purpose and they will grant you license. And when you get the money from the public, you use it for that purpose. I believe what book launchers are doing is illegal; it should be checked.
They are not publishing because bookshops are not benefiting. Their type of publishing is killing the bookshops. If you publish a book, the bookshops should smile when you give them discount. When you make your N20m from launching, how many bookshops get a copy to sell?
In Nigeria, people write books because they are broke; you launch it because you’re broke. And, you want the book to last for a 100 years? Nonsense! It’ll last for three years. Let somebody go and make a list of books launched at the Nigeria Institute for International Affairs (NIIA) in the past 20 years. If the professors are listening, let them send their MA students to go and check.
What is the publishing outlook like right now?
There are some publishing you do because it’s your life. I’m not criticizing others. There’s room for commercial publishing; but there are some publishing houses that are not commercial. There are some people who spend their fathers’ money to publish. It’s not for poor people who are looking for money. Such publishing are for patrons of the arts. We don’t have them much anywhere in the world.
Take Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA), for instance. They run the arts and book festival every year. They started from the museum but they are now at the National Theatre. Well, it’s to promote books that they started it. Their own idea is that people are not reading enough but they like music, they like the arts; so, let’s take the artists and the books together with the book people to one place. Good. But it’s not a textbook place. It’s a cultural place, and because it’s a cultural place, you’ll not find the largest publishers there. I bet you, in the next edition, you’ll not see the largest publishers there. They went before; but they came back and checked their plus and minuses; it did not work for them.
Longman Nigeria won an award from the Queen of England about 30 years ago for bringing foreign currency into Britain. Was that good news for Nigeria? That same year, Longman London poured money into Longman Nigeria. Of course, it will be the biggest publishing house in the country. There are more school children in Nigeria than in England; that shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s accident of population. Therefore, we must not become importers of educational materials. All those making us to be importers of educational materials are treating us as if we are Gambians with a modest 1.3 million population. Lagos alone is projected to be 21 million in five years. Its government should take advantage of such statistics in its educational plan.
It is generally believed that Nigerians are not reading any more. How true is this assertion and how can we redress it?
The general idea is that reading culture is falling down. About 15 years ago, and on a world wide level, the idea that the book was doomed because of electronic media gained currency. Will people read any more? That was the fear. But some crazy people said however much your electronic some bookworms would read. So, it’s not only in Nigeria. By reading culture we mean the books we read in our leisure hours for pleasure, and not necessarily the professional ones to advance careers or pass examinations.
What did people do with their leisure hours 60 years ago? What do we now do with our leisure hours? Television came to Nigeria in 1959 here in Ibadan. Now TV is 24 hours. Go ask people who operate TV stations in Nigeria. Do they want people to read? If the answer is yes, then ask them, what time do you want them to read when you occupy their time with so much materials all the time? They don’t want people to read any more.
Later on came Internet. The question was, why look for information in a book? Just browse! Did it leave us more time to read or less? I’m talking of time. Not only that. We buy leisure books with our spare money, which can go to something else more pressing. In the 40s primary school teachers bought newspapers. Can they do it now? So time, money and other distraction problems militate against reading culture. My advice: Let the book addicts find their way round these difficulties and continue enjoying the pleasure of reading.
In any case, Nigerians read what they like to read. It’s true that what people are taking in is reducing. It shows that there is anti-intellectualism going on right now. I don’t know if it’s world wide but in Nigeria, yes.
Does the absence of libraries have anything to do with the decline in reading?
There used to be two children’s libraries in Ibadan in those days. Now, they are no more. In Abeokuta, there used to be a Native Authority Library; it had a tennis court alongside it. In Lagos, there used to be a library at Odulami Street near Broad Street; and there was one near the cinema in Yaba. If we had two then, should we still have two now with the population explosion? We’re not keeping pace; the old ones are not being kept; the necessary increase is not happening. Is there any library in Festac Town? Why should we be reducing the number of supply when we’re increasing?
How can we make the young ones join the reading train?
Children leave home 7am and return 7pm. What time is left for them to read? If modern people are not going to short-change themselves, they’d better make things easy for themselves. Children learn from seeing those around them read. Lucky is the child that has that environment around him from age two or three. Lucky is the child who accompanies his parents to bookshops and libraries. Contrast that with the child who encounters books only in school; you’ll see the difference.
Is Ibadan still the cultural centre in Nigeria?
No; there are more writers in Lagos than Ibadan. There are more universities in Lagos. MUSON in Lagos has snatched music from Ibadan. The National Theatre is also in Lagos, whereas the University of Ibadan theatre used to be the vogue back in the days. The good jobs in Lagos have attracted all the writers and leading cultural people to Lagos. Lagos has snatched the cultural leadership. For bookshops, there’s Glendora, CMS, Quintessence Silverbird Lifestyles and other emerging ones. Lagos is the powerhouse of book buying bookshops in Nigeria right now; Ibadan is merely provincial. The cultural centre is where the money is; Cambridge and Oxford people in England run to London for cultural activities whereas the two towns are the intellectual centres. Lagos has taken it all.
Source : www.ngrguardiannews.com