Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 31, November 2002 


Nigerian International Book Fair 2002 in Abuja

Chinyere Nwoga
Chinyere Nwoga is with Fourth Dimension Publishing Co. Ltd., 16 Fifth Avenue, City Layout, PMB 01164, Enugu, Nigeria. +234 42 459969, 453739 (tel), +234 42 456904 (fax), email:;

The Nigerian International Book Fair (NIBF) was held in Abuja from 14 to 19 May 2002. It was the first serious international book fair since the demise of the Ife Book Fair 20 years ago. It was therefore a statement of claim announcing the resurrection of Africa’s most vibrant publishing industry after 20 years of military misrule. Several concurrent events were organized around the Fair. The key events were the International Conference with the catchy theme ‘Publishing for Peace’; the Noma Award for 2001; and the World Bank Workshop on Information Technology and Publishing in Africa. Other events were the 5th APNET General Council and Award Night; the Heinemann 40th Anniversary celebration of the African Writers Series (AWS); the Buyers and Sellers meeting; the Children’s Literature programme; the Writers Workshop; and the Marketing Workshop organized by the Pan African Booksellers Association (PABA) in collaboration with the Nigerian Book Foundation (NBF).

Publishing for Peace

The International Conference on Publishing for Peace was the premiere event and had Nigeria’s Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, as the keynote speaker. Its late take-off, however, brought into stark relief the teething problems of organizing a brand new fair after a hiatus of two decades. Unconfirmed reports had it that staff of Julius Berger, a construction company that runs the Conference Centre, had withdrawn their services the previous day over an undisclosed dispute with the government. Guests arrived to find a hall that was not yet arranged. Added to this confusion was the heat. The air-conditioning units were turned off and the control room locked up. This left the master of ceremonies with the arduous task of apologizing profusely and frequently. It was not until midway into the conference that the air conditioning units were eventually switched on.

The spectacular indifference of the government and its functionaries to the Fair did not escape the attention of the organizers, exhibitors and other stakeholders in the book industry. The chairman of the conference, Chukwuemeka Ike and Wole Soyinka expressed great disappointment. As is the tradition in other countries, the President usually performs the opening and/or closing ceremonies. That was not to be in Abuja. Functionaries such as the Senate President, the Speaker Federal House of Representatives and ministers conveniently reneged on their previously accepted and confirmed roles at the fair. Even more embarrassing is the information that the Nigerian government sent a huge contingent, led by the minister of education, to the Lisbon Book Fair immediately after the Abuja Fair. The logical conclusion is that travelling to Lisbon, Portugal was a more attractive option. This, more than anything else, underscored the great divide between the aspirations of Nigerians and the priorities of their political leadership.

The Exhibition

The fair was relatively well attended by those in the book industry from Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States. Setting-up day was slated for May 15. The stands were brand new and of world class but exhibitors arrived to find them without shelves. The blame was laid on the suppliers. Exhibitors had to find what shelves were available and even displayed their wares on the floor.

A daily tour of the stands revealed that attendance by the local population was reasonable but not as high as one would expect. Unlike other countries like Ghana, where a school free day is declared so that children in particular can visit the fair ground, no such declaration was made. In his welcome address, the chairman of the Nigerian Book Fair Trust, Dayo Alabi, reiterated that the fair was the contribution of the book industry to the development of human capital and tourism. The fair, he said, was an effort to attract foreign investors and technology. However, foreign exchange was obviously not a consideration for the government functionaries and political invitees who chose to go about their more important business of a book launch for a governor here and a reception for a political ally there. The theme of the fair, rightly called Publishing for Peace, resonates with the prevalent call for global peace. Given the level of restiveness in Nigeria and indeed in Africa, it would have been appropriate that the government lend their voice and support to this cause, knowing full well that they are the primary beneficiaries of a stable and peaceful society.

Noma Award

The 2001 Noma Award went to Dr Abosede Emanuel for his book Odun Ifa (Ifa Festival), published by West African Book Publishers, Lagos. Abosede Emanuel is the third Nigerian to win this Award, after Felix Adi (1981) and Niyi Osundare (1991). As Mary Jay, Secretary of the Noma Award Managing Committee, noted, the winning titles present a remarkable picture of the intellectual vigour of the African continent, and strengthen the vitality of publishing in Africa despite the adverse conditions with which writers and publishers are confronted. Wole Soyinka presented the prize of US$ 10,000 to the Award winner, and Walter Bgoya, Chairman of the Noma Award Managing Committee, presented a special commemorative plaque to the publisher.

Information Technology and Publishing in Africa

The session on Information Technology and Publishing in Africa organized by The World Bank left participants asking for more. The World Bank Publisher, Dirk Koehler, extolled the virtues of digital printing and electronic commerce, not disregarding the overwhelming difficulties facing those in the book chain in Africa. Difficulties that include erratic and low public power supply, inadequate and virtually non-existent telecommunication services; low purchasing power, poor reading culture, and frustrating government policies on books and education.

In answering questions from participants, Dirk Koehler and his colleagues encouraged publishers to seek collaboration with the World Bank in areas of common interest and suggest ways that could lead to a better understanding between the book industry in Africa and the World Bank. Participants were also advised to work through their Publishers Association. Chief Victor Nwankwo, Managing Director, Fourth Dimension Publishing Company Nigeria, broke down the otherwise abstract technology into a do-able venture in his rich and exciting paper ‘Digital Print-on-Demand: An African Publisher’s Experience’. POD provides, he said, opportunities for African publishers to by-pass the limitations of lack of investment capital and inadequate physical infrastructure ordinarily essential for getting their books to the market place. As one of the pioneers of this technology in Africa, his knowledge in the field was manifested clearly in his presentation, which was further enhanced by the presentation of the samples of books printed using POD. At the end of the session, participants confessed that Chief Victor Nwankwo’s paper shed more light on the subject than any other information that they were presented with.

APNET’s 5th General Council

The African Publishers Network (APNET) held its fifth General Council during the fair. The first APNET meeting was held in 1992 in Harare, Zimbabwe. Fourteen founding members were at that gathering. Since then, it has held biennial General Councils: 1993 in Accra, 1995 in Nairobi, 1997 in Bamako and 1999 in Kampala. Outgoing Chairman, Richard Crabbe, chaired the 2002 Council, organized to coincide with its 10th Anniversary.

Richard Crabbe presented a report which covered the period October 1999 to May 2002. He said the approval by the previous General Council of the five-year (1999 to 2004) strategic plan was the catalyst for the signing of the plan with APNETs funding partners. The board and secretariat, he said, had focused on the targets defined by the plan. He had words of appreciation for Sida, the Rockefeller Foundation, DANIDA, NORAD, the Ford Foundation and DfID for their support. He also thanked his colleagues for their confidence in him to serve and for their support during his tenure.

While thanking Crabbe for a job well done, Chief Nwankwo, the immediate past chair, reminded the new board that managing the success of APNET is even more challenging than succeeding. In the elections that followed, Mamadou Aliou Sow of Guinea emerged as Chairman and Janet Njoroge of Kenya as Treasurer. In its first meeting the new board elected Ayo Ojeniyi as Vice Chairman. Sow thanked his colleagues and pledged to continue in APNET’s tradition of transparent and inclusive leadership.

APNET Award Night

The anniversary celebration was marked by an Award Night Dinner, attended by Dr Kema Chikwe, Minister of Aviation and herself a publisher. Among the recipients of awards were Walter Bgoya, Henry Chakava, Chief Victor Nwankwo, Roger Stringer, and the outgoing chairman, Richard Crabbe. Most touching was the posthumous award to the late Djibril Faye of Senegal, who was a pivotal instrument in the link-up with Francophone publishers, a connection which established APNET as a truly continental network. Dr Chikwe’s long speech bemoaned the lack of reading culture in Africa. Her cries for the need to encourage the industry, however, did not really proffer any plan to effect a rescue.

Buyers/Sellers Meeting

APNET also organized its 6th Buyers/Sellers meeting, which primarily aims at developing a regional African market for books and other printed matter. It is the rallying point for African enterprises active in the publishing and printing sector.

40th Anniversary of African Writers Series (AWS)

Heinemann Educational Books at the Fair celebrated the 40th Anniversary of African Writers Series (AWS). Present were Henry Chakava (Chairman East African Educational Publishers, formerly Heinemann Kenya), Becky Clarke (Commissioning Editor AWS), Cyprian Ekwensi, Aig Higo, (Chairman, Heinemann Nigeria), and Okey Ndibe (Heinemann guest writer). Cyprian Ekwensi elated the audience with his background history of the series that was pioneered by Chinua Achebe. His gentle and humorous approach served to draw powerful nostalgic memories of the early beginnings of the series. Okey Ndibe, author of Arrows of Rain, further entertained the audience by giving a delightful performance that had the audience applauding feverishly. Others in attendance included Niyi Osundare, whose book Waiting Laughter won the 1991 Noma Award, Otunba Yinka Lawal-Solarin of Literamed Publications and past chair of the Nigerian Publishers Association, Mrs Ronke Orimalade, President of the Pan-African Booksellers Association (PABA), and Ian Taylor, the International Director of the Publishers Association.

The absence of the Nigerian Government

A major sticking point was the N30 million (US$25,000) support promised by President Obasanjo in June 2001. Despite the enormous cost to the organizers in following up on the pledge, only N10 million (US$8,000) was released in April 2002. This leaves the Book Fair Trust with reason to be grateful, but what remains to be clarified is whether a) the President changed his mind after the promise and decided on one third of the pledge, b) the N10 million was an initial deposit, or c) the entire sum of N30 million has been disbursed by the Presidency, leaving the sum of N20 million to be accounted for by an individual or a group of individuals in government. That the third option is untenable in this country is an understatement, given the level of corruption in the country. If the second option is the case, then the Book Fair Trust are wondering when the balance will be released, particularly given that the fair has come and gone, and what the cost of procuring this balance will amount to. The first option is a remote one, but if it were indeed the explanation, then the office of the Presidency would have lost any shreds of credibility. The only authentic voice acceptable in this case would be that of the President. A similar furore surrounds the letter from the Presidency dated May 17, 2002 (but received two weeks later). This letter was in response to one from the Nigerian Publishers Association dated January 20, 2002 seeking audience for the members of APNET Board with President Obasanjo as the President of the host country of the General Council and Book Fair. The reply announced that Mr President would see the APNET board on July 19! This demonstrates a lack of understanding and appreciation of the role and contribution of the book industry to development.


Despite the difficulties, the stakeholders in the industry have a responsibility to see that the NIBF builds on the grounds gained at this first outing, having learned from the mistakes of the 2002 Fair. The efforts of the Nigerian Book Fair Trust and its partners should not be devalued or discounted. In the communiqué released at the end of the fair, the organizers committed themselves to pursue the resolution to save the Nigerian book industry by working towards its growth. That the exclusion of government in book matters would only make the industry weaker should not serve as a deterrent. One can only hope that the NIBF would apply its resourcefulness and dynamism in the face of insensitivity on the part of government.

The next Nigerian International Book Fair on the theme Women Empowerment Through Publishing is slated for 8 –12 May 2003 in Lagos. For further information contact Kunle Oyediran, Executive Secretary, Nigerian International Book Fair, Literamed Publications Ltd (Lantern House), Plot 45, Oregun Imdustrial Estate, Alausa Bus stop, Ikeja, PMB 21068, Ikeja Lagos, Nigeria. Email; web site: [end] [BPN, no 31, 2002, p. 8.]

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