World Book Day: Promoting Reading Culture through Effective Govt Policy, Stakeholders Effort

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As the world recently, marked ‘World Book Day’, experts opined that there has to be a collective will from all stakeholders, including the government to formulate necessary policies that would encourage the book industry and make books available to end users, so as to promote an effective reading culture in Nigeria. Funmi Ogundare reports

The importance of books to the progress of humanity cannot be overemphasised, just as the world recently commemorated the World Book and Copyright Day (also known as International Day of the Book) organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a yearly event celebrated on April 23rd, to promote reading, publishing and copyright.

In the United Kingdom, the day is set aside to pay a world-wide tribute to books, and authors, as a way of encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and gain renewed respect for the irreplaceable contributions of those, who have furthered the social and cultural progress of the society.
Aside this, the day is also an opportunity to highlight the power of books to promote vision of knowledge to societies that are inclusive, equitable, open and participatory for everybody.

Some Nigerians had taken advantage of the day to share everything from their favourite books to book memories, authors they love, books they are currently reading, their reading concerns and pictures of their bookshelves.
Some private schools had also had taken time off their busy classroom schedules to explain the essence of World Book Day to their students and showed them video clips on how to read better and be a good author.

In ChristHill College, Lagos, for instance, the school, at the weekend, invited guest speakers to speak to the students on the ideals of reading and how being a good reader can enhance ones’ academics.
However, the need to promote effective reading habits among the youths is very imperative, as the culture is gradually dying due to the advent of social media.

The adage, ‘If you want to hide something from a black man, put it in a book is often true because only few still read, as over the years, astute observers of this trend have complained about the dying culture of reading in the country. This situation is worrisome among young people who spend more time on social media than reading books and newspapers. stakeholders contend that this development could lead to very poor learning outcomes.

Some others argued that the current economic recession has not helped the matter at all and has made it extremely difficult for many individuals and business organisations to meet their essential needs for survival, as well as has forced many to close shop.
According to the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Book Fair Trust (NBFT), Mr. Abiodun Omotubi, “ there is no doubt the fact that the reading culture is dwindling in Nigeria in spite of the efforts of many organisations like NBFT.”
He described the Social Media as a viable means of getting information and enlightenment, while expressing concern that Nigerians and the youths in particular, are not using it to enhance their reading culture and enlightenment.

“The social media is the order of the day now all over the world, Nigeria inclusive. But are Nigerians using the social media networks to enhance their reading culture and enlightenment? The answer is capital No. In Nigeria, the social media networks have turned to avenue through which they abuse one another, look for wife or husband, engage in political campaigns, promote their image or status, the list is endless.”

He affirmed that in spite of the current economic challenges and misuse of social media networks, Nigerian Book Fair Trust has not failed in encouraging Nigerians to imbibe the habit of reading, saying, “opening of libraries without books and other learning materials is like wasting of time and resources. In order to ensure availability of books, especially up-to-date titles in our libraries, the Trust in all its events, especially at the annual Nigeria international book fair, not only ensure availability of books, it also facilitates special discount to librarians on books they purchase at the book fair.”

Omotubi said this move, has encouraged librarians in Nigeria to embrace the events of the Trust and that it has, on many occasions supported some associations in the book industry by donating books to schools and libraries in order to promote reading culture.

The executive secretary emphasised on the challenges hampering the growth of books and knowledge industry saying, “ there are lot of challenges that are hampering the efforts of the Trust and other organisations. Some of the identifiable challenges are; high cost of bringing printing materials to Nigeria, lack of infrastructures that can encourage mass local production of books, piracy, substandard books production, government neglect of the book industry, unfavourable government policies and absence of government agency or unit that will facilitate the effective functionality of book chain, as well as promote local book production like we have in Nollywood.”

The Chairman of NBFT, Mr. Rilwanu Abdulsalami said the Trust is trying to reach out to the government to see how it could develop the book industry in the country, adding that one of the problems it is having is as a result of change of government and policy.
“We want to lobby government and the Senate so that they can recognise us, such that by the time we make presentations, it will bring about the needed change.”

He expressed concern about the reading culture among students saying that they only read to pass examinations.
“There has to be a collective will among parents, schools, and the library, inspite of the socio- economic challenges. Parents must encourage their children to read and do their assignments,” Abdulsalami said, adding, “this is why the Nigerian Book Fair Trust is crusading for the promotion of reading culture through easy and affordable access to books and other learning and teaching materials in Nigeria.”
The National President Nigerian Publishers Association(NPA), Mr. Gbadega Adedapo said the Nigerian book industry has been striving to promote reading culture and reward activities that promote educational standards, despite the challenges it faces.

He noted that the dwindling economy and resources which have led to financial hardship is no doubt affecting the book publishing industry coupled with the impact of the foreign exchange challenges and concomitant increase in the price of raw materials.

“The consequential economic hardship has led Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA) and its members to be more proactive in their activities in terms of planning their production ahead. Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. We have been harnessing local production opportunities rather than running printing projects abroad to meet up with customers’ demands,” he said, adding that despite all these, the association promotes reading culture by ensuring that its products get to the door step of the users.

Adedapo said his association is doing more on public sensitisation programs to promote reading culture, adding, “we currently have radio programmes proudly sponsored by the association. Recently we had a press conference to celebrate the World Book and Copyright Day and so many others. The Association is building relationship with the government for more favourable policies to support book availability for the users. We are closely working with education stakeholders and parastatals to ensure compliance to educational standard as stipulated by the Ministry of Education and other affiliated bodies.”

The national president added that the association actively participates in book fairs at various levels both local and international, in order to exhibit several products and ease accessibility to good books, as well as update users on newly published books.

“NPA in its mandate to promote and protect book publishing, have several lined up trainings for our members to update them on current trends and build their capacity to run all their business processes smoothly and end up producing quality contents. The Association and its members regularly donate books and welfare materials to individuals, libraries, schools, corporate organisations not leaving out the less privileged as part of their Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR).

“One of the current proposal of the association is to donate books to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP). We have also not stopped supporting book reading programmes on media platforms. We have as one of our member projects to implement a project to get books accessible to the blind,”Adedapo stressed.

He emphasised on the factors that have been hampering the growth of book and knowledge industry saying that the challenges has greatly reduced the purchasing power of users as a result of delay in payment of workers’ salary, increase rate of unemployment and dramatic increase in price of goods and services.

“The production strength of publishers has dropped as a result of unavailability of raw materials and the high level of increase in price of raw materials and machineries. In recent times, the growth of book and knowledge have been impeded by paradigm shift in users attitude of spending more time on less important and productive activities especially the youths.

He expressed concern about the increase in book piracy activities in recent times saying, “it is very alarming. Books and its producers (publishers and authors) have suffered much from the activities of the book pirates as the effort of authors in writing books as well as that of publishers financial effort to getting the books published and distributed to the end users are being frustrated by the perpetrators. This had led to mistrust among the major players, from the publisher to the author who sees the book everywhere and expects royalty even when not all the books originated from the main publisher, but a larger fraction printed by book pirates. The mistrust also reflects from publishers to the book distributors such as booksellers.”

He stressed the need for a review of government policies on foreign exchange to ensure ease of procurement of raw materials and machineries.
“The industry has experienced inconsistent curriculum review within a short period. This resulted to content imbalance which becomes unpleasant to book users. The publishers have also experienced huge loss and discouragement adapting to the short interval curriculum review. Several external factors such as poor basic infrastructure, which include but not limited to poor transportation, erratic power supply, poor nutrition, inadequate conducive learning environment such as dilapidated school building, unavailability of community libraries and non-effective and inadequately stocked libraries are not excluded. The combination of all the afore-mentioned external factors, create a very harsh atmosphere for book and knowledge development, “the national president stressed.

Emphasising on how reading on mobile device can make e-books popular, he said , “E-books and reading on mobile devices are at the introductory stage and the adoption by publishers is gradually improving. It is perceived that embracing e-books might increase piracy and undermine intellectual property protection. Secure management of e-books is perhaps one of the main concern of publishing firms, and is consequently thought to be delaying adoption.”

The Head, National Institute of Cultural Orientation (NICO), Mr. Ohi Ojo also observed that part of the cause for the dwindling reading culture is the rapid rise in electronic media used in getting information, noting that it is more convenient and cheaper.
He said the high cost of living has also negatively affected the purchasing power of the public, adding that this makes people to spend less on books and rely more on electronic media especially social media for information and socialisation.
He stressed the need for transnational organisations and other stakeholders to help provide books at subsidised rates so that more people can have access to it to improve reading culture and literacy in the society.

A teacher at Anthony Village Secondary School, Lagos, Miss Moyo Lasisi expressed concern that most youths are compelled to read only when they have exam or interview, adding that students whose normal habit should include reading hardly do so, hence the reason for the high rate of failure in examinations.

She believes that reading should be an opportunity and consistent habit which should help improve ones knowledge , ideas and information about issues.
The teacher stressed the need for schools and colleges to establish reading clubs for students of different grades and ages, adding, “more libraries should be cited in public places, not only in schools, that will be accessible to all, where they can access magazines, novels, bulletins, Nigerian constitutions, religious books, among others.