‘The Book’ as an Instrument of National Integration: The Contextual Case of Nigeria

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Muhammadu Buhari

with Bola. A. Akinterinwa, Telephone : 0807-688-2846, e-mail: bolyttag@yahoo.com

National integration is not seriously taken like national disintegration in international law and relations and the reasons cannot be far-fetched. First, no country or government wants disintegration. On Nigeria’s official crest, it is clearly stated ‘unity and faith.’ It is a truism to say ‘united we stand, divided we fall.’ Many also say there is strength in unity. All these sayings simply show the importance of integration which is about objectivity and unity of purpose. It is also about objectivity and means. It also explains why the contrary, disintegration, necessarily raises and requires more attention. For instance, weakness of the state, political instability, heightened underground activities, especially underground economy, and perhaps most disturbingly, possible dismemberment of the whole country, are major preoccupations against which every responsible government is fighting.

Secondly, the United Nations is hostile to the dismemberment of any of its Member States, even though it also preaches the gospel of self-determination during and in the post-colonial era. It is in an attempt to protect the independent and sovereign status of every Member State of the United Nations that Article 2 (7) provides for non-intervention in the domestic affairs of independent and sovereign states of the international community. In other words, emphasis is generally placed on the principle of sovereign equality.

And perhaps most interestingly, the belief of the United Nations in national unity and integration necessarily became accentuated with the adoption of regional integration as a policy of catalytic agent of economic growth and development. In this regard, the Breton Woods institutions came up with the theories of Structural Adjustment Programmes at the national levels and regional integration at the regional levels. The message was essentially that it was the only panacea to economic growth and development. In fact, the sermon of regional integration was seriously adhered to by African leaders to the extent that the 1991 Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community had to redefine the UN definition and perception of Africa as a ‘region.’ Before 1991, the United Nations referred to the whole of Africa as a region, while West Africa, North Africa, etc were considered as sub-regions.

As provided in Article 1(d) of the 1991 Abuja Treaty, Africa comprises five regions: West, East, Central, North and Southern. When two or three countries come together in any of the regions or between and among the regions, they constitute a sub-region. It was because of the need to fast track regional integration in Africa that the division of Africa into five regions was decided upon and by so doing, putting an end to the reference to the five regions as sub-regions.

However, and most unfortunately too, the people who are supposed to know and promote regional integration, more often than not, wrongly refer to West Africa as a sub-region, and by so doing creating unnecessary confusion. Even African diplomats,, especially the Nigerian diplomatists who ought to be serving as a beacon of light and providing exemplary leadership, are precisely the ones leading in the description of West Africa and others as a sub-region. African scholars and diplomats are by law of nature required to follow and promote the definition and typology of Africa as defined by African leaders and as provided in the 1991 Abuja Treaty on the AEC.

In any case, if regional integration is believed to be a possible catalytic agent of economic development, can there really be a realistic regional integration without first attaining national integration? Which countries of Africa can boast of national integration? Can Nigeria be described as having achieved national integration, especially in light of the struggle for self-determination by the MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra), MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta), IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra), etc?

This question reminds of the 2018 Annual Conference of the Nigerian Publishers Association, held on Thursday, 6th December, at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Ikeja, Lagos. The theme of the conference was ‘The Book: An Instrument for National Integration.’ The theme is interesting from three main perspectives: interpretation of ‘the book,’ the competition of choice between ‘the book’ and social media, and problems and challenges posed by ‘the book’ and by the social media.

As regards ‘the book,’ which book is being referred to here? ‘A book’ can be any book, in other words, it is indefinite. There is no specific book in mind. When we talk about ‘the book,’ then we are factoring in specificity. Consequently, the notion and conception of ‘the book’ can only be rightly assumed to imply all books put together. But even at that, what really is a book, as differentiated from a pamphlet, a monograph, a study, a journal, a magazine, etc ?

John Ruskin has it in his Seasame and Lillies that ‘all books are divisible into two classes: the book of the hour, and the books of all time.’ A distinction is also made at the level of readers of books by Gilbert Keith Chesteron in Charles Dickens: ‘there is a great deal of difference between the eager man who wants to read a book, and the tired man who wants a book to read.’ The great deal of difference to talk about is at the level of an ‘eager man’ and a ‘tired man’ both of whom want ‘a book.’ One possible interpretation at the level of types of books that will be suitable for reading for the eager man can be a sophisticated book while books that can be read on a lighter mood cannot but be preferable for the tired man. In this regard, novels, story books, etc, may be the ideal for the tired man. As reading and studying a book does not have the same challenges, a book to be studied by the eager man may be the ideal thing for the eager man.

And perhaps most importantly, there is also the important distinction made by Francis Bacon in his Essays: of Studies. As he put it, ‘some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.’ This differentiation is simply to underscore the point that the type of book that will be required for the purposes of national integration cannot just be an ordinary book. Many are the books that preach against national cohesion. They advance the cause of self-determination. This is why the understanding of ‘the book’ must first be put in context before seeking an understanding of how the book can facilitate national integration.

On the issue of choice between ‘the book’ and social media, it is argued that emphasis is generally put on use of the social media while the preferential treatment is still for books. Most unfortunately, however, the observation is still that Nigeria is currently playing host to a poor reading culture. Who really wants to read a book for pleasure? How do we explain the new but poor reading culture in the country? This question brings us to the third aspect, which is about the problems and challenges posed by both the social media and ‘the book.’ The merits and demerits of e-books were raised. Many of what is posted in the social media are not subject to peer review. Consequently, the extent of scientific value of such books cannot be easily ascertained. Apart from this, there also the problems of costs of book publication, plagiarism, piracy, dearth of good authors, and distribution. How are all these issues attended to at the conference?

The More Critical Questions
The more critical questions cannot be well understood without first understanding the vision and mission, on the one hand, and the objectives of the Nigerian Publishers Association, on the other. The declared vision of the association is ‘to harness the potentials for the growth and development of the knowledge sector through the promotion and protection of the rights of publishers in Nigeria.’

Put differently, there are two main visions as declared: have the potentials for the growth and development of the knowledge industry well harnessed and also have the rights of the publishers in Nigeria also well protected. The first presumption here is that the professional rights and interests of the publishers will always be consistent with those of the larger society. The world over, the interests of any professional group are, a priori, selfish, even if the interests of the larger society are said to be borne in mind. The vision of the Nigerian Publishers Association cannot be different. What is particularly good about the vision of the association is that it wants to grow and develop the knowledge sector.

As regards the mission, the association wants ‘to advance the knowledge industry through effective coordination of publishers for maximum production and forge a common front before government and individuals.’ In this regard, the emphasis of the mission is on the need to coordinate the publishers and the ultimate goal, as declared both in the vision and mission, is to develop or advance the knowledge sector.

It is in light of these considerations that the Association was established in 1965 as a not-for-profit professional group and that its declared objectives, numbering eleven in all, seek among others, ‘to confer, consult, maintain, contact and cooperate with any persons, association, societies, institutions or bodies of persons establish (sic) in Nigeria or elsewhere having objects in whole or in part similar to those of the Association and to represent the Nigerian Publishers’ Association internationally.’ Perhaps more interestingly too, the Association wants ‘to serve as a medium for interchange of ideas with respect to publication, sale, copyright and other matters of interest to book publishers located in Nigeria and to form committees to report on such matters.’

Without jot of doubt, there is no disputing the fact that the 2018 Annual Conference of the Association was in fulfilment of its objectives, mission and vision. As righty pointed out in his welcome address, Mr. Gbadega Adedapo, the incumbent President of the Nigerian Publishers Association, the Association ‘serves as a bridge between government and the populace in the area of provision of sound and quality educational materials.’ Besides, the Association ‘also serves as a collective voice for all books publishers nationwide and a force to reckon with by the Government in the formulation of policies on education and the Book.’ It is within this framework that the critical issues raised in the conference should be explicated.

First, Mr. Gbadega Adedapo raised the issues of piracy, moribund paper mills, erratic power supply, high tariffs on printing products, inclement environment of publishing and government established grant to support publishing. True, all these problems necessarily make the costs of publishing expensive. This also can aid piracy. In the words of Mr. Emmanuel Abimbola, the Executive Secretary of the Association, ‘piracy and other infringements remain the greatest challenge to the publishing industry in Nigeria. In order to enjoy steady growth and development of the creative industry, protection of intellectual property is very essential.

Christopher Nikko of the Covenant University distinguished in 2014 between and among various types of piracy: ‘local reproduction of fast moving titles using newsprint or poor textured paper, abuse of publication rights, tech reproduction overseas, circumventing e-book version, illegal reprography, unauthorised excessive production by printers, and translation without permission.’ Thus, the problem of piracy cannot but have a complex nature.

But true, efforts are currently being made by Government to address this problem of piracy. From the perspective of Mr. Afam Ezekude, the Director General of the Nigerian Copyrights Commission (NCC), efforts are already made to amend the existing copyright act and would soon be forwarded to the National Assembly for possible passage into law. The NCC is also to have a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nigeria Customs Service that would enable the NCC to inspect any container suspected to contain copyright items. And more important, an e-registration portal for interaction between publishers and authors is also under consideration.

In spite of all these efforts, piracy appears to have so far defied all policy measures for various reasons. There is the poverty-driven factor in seeking to engage in the illegal act. The quest for money for survival is a major rationale for piracy. As Nikko has observed, ‘book piracy is an illegal and illegitimate reproduction of other people’s intellectual property for economic reasons without prior consent or authorisation.’ The paucity of books is another critical factor. But perhaps most interestingly but also more disturbingly, is the non-preparedness of many countries to endorse the international agreements on protection of intellectual property rights. The non-preparedness necessarily makes the arrest and prosecution of suspected criminals difficult.

Apart from piracy, the environment of publishing is also similarly critical. For instance, the problem of power outages is not peculiar to the book industry. It is a major problem for the entire national economy. Power generation is inadequate. Power distribution is inefficient. The administration or management of it is very problematic. Consequently, the complaints of the Nigerian Publishers Association can be understandable.

The Book as Instrument of Integration
‘The book’, ideally speaking, ought to be a very potent instrument for both national and regional integration, if we consider ‘a book’ as an idea required to grow the society, to grow the economy. A book is necessarily a resultant of three complementary arts: art of reading to understand, hence we should be talking about the art of studying. The art of studying necessarily generates the art of thinking, how to think following efforts at reading and studying. Then there is also the art of writing and how to explicate and communicate intended messages.

In this regard in contemporary Nigeria, the academic profession is increasingly being bastardised by simple disregard for the advancement of the educational sector. It is only in a country like Nigeria that academics will not be given priority attention and will be allowed to go on indefinite strike, and yet, billions of naira would be expended on presidential campaigns. In this type of situation, ‘a book,’ ‘any book,’ and even ‘the book,’ cannot promote or be in the interest of national integration. If a presidential speech, especially that of Mr. President, Muhammadu Buhari, could be plagiarised at that level, it cannot but be useful to begin to ask questions about the type of book that had been read and that had prompted an engagement in plagiarism.

The truth of the matter is that politics is everything in Nigeria. No one wants to read unless forced to. No one sits down on a serious note to think. The book industry is surviving at the primary and secondary school levels by force of necessity as at today, but not at the tertiary level. Who really wants to write and for who? In fact, the quality of modern-day graduates speaks volumes. It is politics that has been engaging the attention of everyone. There was the time professors who wanted to earn about N120,000 per month like the Local Government Chairmen were advised to leave their lecture rooms and join politics. That clearly shows the societal mentality and values. It also shows the extent of societal decadence.

With deepening societal decadence, no one should be surprised therefore if there is conscious under-funding and little regard for educational development in Nigeria, if many professors do not or cannot profess anymore, and why ‘the book,’ ideal as it may be, cannot be an instrument of national integration in contemporary Nigeria. If ‘the book’ is to be an instrument of national integration, the environmental conditionings must first be made favourable. In doing this, many questions must also be first addressed: why is the culture of reading now very poor in Nigeria? Why the disregard for the rule of sanctity of agreements in the relationship between the university academics and government plenipotentiaries whenever they reached agreements? Why is it that force is used by the President, Muhammadu Buhari, to set aside any discussion relating to national restructuring of Nigeria? Answers to these questions clearly point to the limitations of ‘the book’ as an instrument of national integration. National integration is more political than literary.

The problem of national integration is not about non-acquisition of new knowledge but how the already acquired knowledge is applied. There is the need to address the elite dishonesty in Nigeria before any meaningful and constructive development can be achieved, especially that the political system does not allow for patriotism and dint of hard work. A political system that is largely predicated on self-deceit cannot enable the production of a good book free from lies.

QUOTE: One important observation made by Professor Yinka Omorogbe was the report of the IOM that, in the first half of 2018, 2,225 irregular migrants arrived in Italy. The three top countries of origin of the migrants were Tunisia, Eritrea, and Nigeria.’ The IOM report also has it that there were more than 10,000 deportations of stranded migrants from Libya since the beginning of the second half of 2017 with so many casualties, and that 60% of this figure are from Edo State. This revelation cannot but partly explain the interest and commitment of the Edo State government in seeking an enduring solution to the menace of human trafficking and illegal migration