- …Schools to be punished for selling pirated books to pupils/students
- …Governors’ absence disservice to books, education
By Anote Ajeluorou
ONE heart-warming outcome of the 21st Nigerian International Book Fair 2022 organised by the Nigeria Book Fair Trust (NBFT) is the promise of the long-awaited National Book Policy (NBP). It is the policy document that would set out appropriate parametres for operators in the book value chain on how each member should conduct themselves in their inter-related business for a better book trade. The promise was made by the Director-General of Nigeria Copyright Commission (NCC), Mr. John Asein, at the opening of the book fair last Thursday, May 12, 2022.
While delivering his keynote address, Asein said a National Book Policy was long overdue, as it would compliment the new Copyright Bill being considered by the Senate and awaiting harmonisation by the House of Representatives before being signed into law by Mr. President. As a long time player in the copyright sector of the intellectual property spectrum, Asein is familiar with the cries by publishing industry operatives about the challenges bedeviling their trade. And since occupying the position of chief copyright regulator, Asein has been working hard to reposition the sector away from the rut of the past. The new Copyright Bill awaiting passage is one of his handiwork.
At the book fair, Asein acknowledged past efforts to get government’s involvement to correct some of the anomalies plaguing the industry. He said he would work with the National Library of Nigeria (NLN), whose CEO/National Librarian, Prof. Chinwe Victoria Anunobi, chaired the book fair opening conference, to get a National Book Policy in place sometime next year.
According to him, “I recall that a top-level meeting of stakeholders in the book industry was held in 2020 at the instance of the late Otunba Lawal Solarin and some key items were itemized which, if addressed, would help counter the threats to the ecosystem and restore sanity to achieve the needed balance.”
He enumerated some of the areas to include “The need to promote reading using various strategies that would require publishers, librarians, schools and relevant MDAs to engage in the national campaign strategy collectively and individually, introduction of appropriate regulations in the publishing industry to address distribution channels in line with global best business practice including the disruptive practice of direct sale of books through the school system, enforcement of book standards in terms of content and production, establishment of community and school libraries to cater for the needs of students, promotion of substantial local printing of books and the resuscitation of the paper mills, and restoration of respect for the book chain in line with global best practices with well-defined roles for publishers, printers, booksellers, schools.”
Asein added that the Solarin think tank also outlined responsibilities the Nigerian Copyright Commission is expected to play to include “support the development of a National Book Policy for Nigeria, promote respect for copyright and a more strategic use of the copyright system to grow the book industry, regulate the production, stocking and warehousing and sale of books, work with critical stakeholders to introduce appropriate anti-piracy devices, increase its collaboration with other enforcement agencies to sustain its antipiracy campaign, and activate all relevant provisions of the Copyright Act that would ensure balance in the use of the copyright system, including provisions dealing with compulsory licensing, exceptions, production of books for the blind and visually impaired.”
Asein argued that books and education play critical roles in the emancipation of man from ignorance and darkness, noting that since, “books help to enlighten, influence, socialize and empower the individual, equipping him or her to become a positive influence on the environment, there is also a link between the book and the total development of man and society. Therefore, if we accept that education is the bedrock of an enlightened society, then it stands to reason that the book – in whatever form – is a major factor in national development.”
The director-general further highlighted the difficulties in the book trade in the country, and argued that “There is consensus that the book sector in Nigeria is, putting it very mildly, in very bad shape… The challenges are both internal and external, but that goes also for so many other aspects of out daily life. There seem to be daunting challenges at every point in the entire value chain – and I would add twisted – book chain.”
Two key provisions of the new Copyright Bill stand out. One is provision for the punishment of schools that sell pirated books to their pupils and students, according to Asein, adding, “One soft intervention that has been agreed upon with publishers is to curb the use of schools and public places as under the radar distribution points for pirated books. The commission has issued warning letters to schools that henceforth, proprietors, principals and heads of schools would be held responsible for any pirated books distributed to pupils and students through their schools and such schools will also be sanctioned under the criminal provisions of the Copyright Act. Section 20(2) of the Act makes it an office to sell, distribute or be in possession of infringing copies of copyright works especially when the work is not for private use.”
The other provision is the infinite upper limit of fines a judge can exact on copyright defaulters as against the limit previously in place that a lenient ceiling. This means a judge can exact a considerable amount of levy against a pirate for infringing on an intellectual property.
Asein finally canvassed for “A broad coalition that can articulate modalities of operations for the various sections of the industry towards creating an orderly system of production and distribution of books as necessary. Standard contracts that will create a balance between authors and publishers is very important, just as good faith dealing and transparency are paramount to maintaining healthy relationships between primary content providers and publishers, between publishers and printers and between publishers and booksellers.”
WHILE welcoming guests to the 21st edition of Nigeria International Book Fair 2022, Chairman of Nigeria Book Fair Trust and CEO of Accessible Publishing Ltd, Mr. Gbadega Adedapo, emphasized the importance of this year’s conference theme ‘Copyright and Sustainable Growth in the Book Industry: Setting New Agenda’ when he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, book piracy, whether in print or digital form, is costing publishers around the world billions of dollars annually. It creates significant harmful effects throughout the book value chain, hurting publishers, distributors and retailers, as well as authors and even readers. Other forms of piracy include translations without the copyright owner’s permission, illegal e-book versions, unauthorized photocopying of academic materials and the abuse of publication rights.
“All of these are conceived to be our biggest challenge and pose a huge threat to the book business at large. I sincerely believe that if we get it right in the area of copyright, the entire narrative of the book ecosystem will change for good.”
The chairman also called on governments and corporate organisations at all levels to look the way of the book industry as a special sector requiring special assistance to help resolve some of the myriad challenges facing it that include expensive production costs and poor funding.
In an era of intense politicking that does not have education and books at its core, the three governors (Lagos’ Baajide Sanwo-Olu, Oyo’s Eye Makinde, and Ogun’s Dapo Abiodun) on the bill did not attend the book fair. They did not even send their commissioners of education either. The Minister Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, under whose purview public universities have remained shut for over three months and still count, assigned the National Librarian, Anunobi, to represent him. This obvious disdain for books and education by these top government officials did not escape the scrutiny of guests at the books fair. Only the astuteness of industry players have kept the book fair going for 21 years. This prompted eminent dramatist and scholar, Prof. Femi Osofisan, to express disgust as universities have remained shut to students and learning for so long.
Even as their absence remained loud, Adedapo still made a passionate plea to their sense of priority and posterity to children, Nigeria’s future, when he said, “Since the Nigerian Book Fair Trust is a non-profit organisation, let me use this medium to encourage our government to consider the book industry in policy formulation and in its economic response strategies. Raw materials for book production are now very expensive and we hereby appeal to the federal government to assist our sector with special fund and adequate support. Private establishments are also encouraged to support our initiatives and assist us in sustaining the annual book fair.
“The Nigerian Book Fair Trust has offered positive impact in the development of education, advancement of technology and literacy, national arts and culture, entertainment, knowledge distribution and even in the contribution to the nation’s GDP. Hence, government must make conscious efforts to respond to our clarion call for support in subsequent events.”
Adedapo enumerated some of the successes of the book fair, especially the hybrid fair format that started two years ago, an online visitors’ registration portal and facility upgrade to the current location at Harbour Point Event Centre, Victoria island, Lagos, from the Multi-Purpose Hall, University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos.
“We have decided to embrace digital technology for seamless registration for all our participants, a giant step in the quest to ensure our database is fully automated and coordinated,” he said. “All thanks to our digital team and our committed volunteers who have worked tirelessly to make this happen. It would also interest you to know that this year’s book fair is fully all inclusive as a great fair management committee was set up, ably led by the President of the Booksellers Association of Nigeria, Mr. Dare Oluwatuyi. The team cuts across all the stakeholders in the book ecosystem and I am happy that their collective efforts yielded a great outcome in the best interest of the book industry.”
A free magazine with comprehensive report of last year’s book fair activities from start to finish was given to guests, with Adedapo adding, “This beautiful magazine was specially packaged by the NIBF volunteer team constituted last year. Thank you all for your efforts. Furthermore, our success is plausible with credence to the upgrade of the venue for two consecutive years. We have decided to scale up with our choice of a more befitting location with better facilities worthy of international standard and feel. This is important as we begin to ensure that our voices are heard by all and sundry.”
Adedapo also promised that next year would witness more innovations in the book fair execution, as planning would start as soon as this year’s book fair ends.
“Let me use this medium to announce that by next year, we shall achieve much more as the Fair management/Award Committee will start their plans early for us to achieve everything we have in mind. We intend to introduce series of awards for members of constituent bodies at the next edition of the NIBF under various categories. Nominations will be opened shortly after the end of this year’s event.”
He commended individuals and the various corporate organisations that “supported the success of this year’s book fair. They are Quarterfold Printabilities, India, Best in Print Consult, Springtime Software India, Accessible Publishers Limited, CSS Bookshops Limited, Evans Publishing Group, Showers Publishers Limited, Progressive Educational Services Limited, Knowledge Beyond, Metropolitan Publishers Limited, Consolidated Books Limited, and all the major associations within the Nigerian book industry.”
Earlier, Chairperson of the book fair conference, Prof. Anunobi, had challenged book fair participants to become the change-agent regarding preventing and shunning copyright infringement of books, their handling or usage. She encouraged all book lovers and progressive-minded Nigerians to promote national culture and heritage through books and literary works just as other countries in the world have used books to promote their culture, language and society as a whole.
Performance and Yoruba chant poet Akeem Lasisi animated the book event with two unique pieces. One paid tribute to book lovers while the other was a lamentation that decried pirates whose criminal activities impoverish writers as they render their creative endeavours stillborn.