By JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA
One thing that is of utmost concern to her is the sorry state of education in the country.
A former manager of the University of Lagos Bookshop and now the Managing Director of Books & Prints Ltd, Mrs. Ronke Orimalade regrets that Nigerians are acquiring degrees these days without getting educated due to the gradual death of the book-selling sector.
In this chat, Mrs.Orimalade, former President of the Pan African Booksellers Association (PABA), whose biography titled ‘Book Life, Good Choice’ was recently launched in Lagos, proffers solutions on how reading can best be promoted in the country.
It is universally said that education is the key to progress and development for individuals and for a nation. Much as we parrot
this axiom in Nigeria, it is regrettable that our leaders do not match their avowed commitment to education with action – going by the abysmal level to which our education has fallen.
I have been in the book-selling sector for over three decades, and I can make bold to say that the fall in the standard of education stemmed from the neglect of the book-selling sector, mainly by government and partly by parents. Governments at all levels in Nigeria should endeavour to do more for education.
Apart from the fact that budgetary allocation to education year in year out has always fallen far short of the 26 per cent prescribed by UNESCO, it is a known fact that even the about nine or 10 per cent allocated doesn’t usually go into education properly and faithfully.
The book industry today is nothing to write home about, and as we all can see, it is having its toll on our education. In those days, we had good bookshops stocked with all kinds of good books. This is why I am advocating that the government should set up a National Book Commission to really look into the development of the book industry.
If there is a National Book Commission which looks at how to develop authorship, printing, publishing, bookshops and libraries, there would be a remarkable change. You even hardly find standard libraries these days in Nigeria. Imagine! We do not have libraries and we are killing bookshops! The fact is that when you kill bookshops, you are killing education because people will not be able to buy books to study. Are we not seeing the result of this act today in our nation? Look at the results from WAEC and NECO! Look at JAMB results!
When I set up Books & Prints Ltd in January 2001, it was bubbling. But these days, you hardly find people going to buy books. When I see some parents and I ask them why they no longer buy books for their children, they say ‘Haa…their schools now provide them with books’. But I tell them that these books that schools give to children are basically for the core subjects, and they are about four! So, what happens to the other subjects? Are they not worth studying? You see, parents are not buying books, but are spending their resources in buying expensive lace and buying recharge cards for their children.
Involvement of booksellers in distribution policy
A literate country is not measured by the number of universities it has, but by the number of bookshops it has. How many bookshops do we have in our rural areas? I have travelled all over Africa because I was the President of the Pan African Booksellers Association (PABA), and I have noticed what the governments in these countries have done; they involve booksellers in their book distribution policy.
Take Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, for examples! Infact, we conducted a workshop on how to bring all the stakeholders in the book industry together (to partner). We did it in Abuja, but there was no follow-up because there was no umbrella organisation to which we report.
Look at what happened to the Nigerian Book Development Council! It was scrapped and merged with the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council as a department. For God’s sake, that is not how to solve a national problem!
If we had a National Book Commission, it would have been able to look into all these issues. Nigeria has passed the stage where we will just be scratching the surface in dealing with our reading culture. We have to start carrying out real researches into why people are not reading academic books. People who are encouraging readership now are religious bookshops. They are also encouraging reading in local languages because most churches now use interpreters when they preach.
Again, to help, we can negotiate for books to be subsidised to make them affordable just as India is doing. I was in India for six weeks, courtesy the Association of African Universities to study their subsidised tertiary level books. When I came back, I wrote a report, and till date, nothing has been done concerning that.
Importation of standard books
When I was the University of Lagos Bookshop Manager, we were importing good books in large quantities and we were selling them, but these days, what you find in most university bookshops are what I call ‘Executive handouts’. People are no longer reading wide, but are getting degrees without being educated. University products of the good old days are the people who are now managing directors of banks and what have you. These were people who left universities in the 70s, 80s and partially in the 90s. They were not just buying text books, but were buying general books. They read outside the books recommended for them.
Reading is better promoted by making books available at affordable prices and in accessible places. Booksellers bring books and readers together. It is in bookshops that you see the world of publishing at a glance. The book supply and distribution policies of government at the national, state and local levels should be such that favour all the stakeholders in the book chain.
In my service years, I always decried the tendency by publishers to sidetrack booksellers and sell books directly to end-users. I also maintained that libraries should place their orders with booksellers rather than directly with publishers. Ten years after my retirement, I have not seen any reason to change this opinion. I call on those who can do something in this regard to act. Parents have a great role to play in reviving our declining reading culture. They can help their children by giving them books as gifts.’