Nigerian Book Pirates Have Gone International - University Press Boss

Daily Champion (Lagos)
June 7, 2005

Charles Abah

Mr. Samuel Kolawole is the Managing Director of University Press Plc. Prior to his current position, he had served as the company secretary/legal adviser as well as assistant general manager. In this interview with Correspondent CHARLES ABAH, he bares his mind on piracy, reading culture, government policies vis-a-vis publishing industry among other topical education issues. Excerpts:

Reading Culture

There is an argument and that is that reading cultured has not been what it used to be in the country.

People are saying that reading culture is, declining and that Nigerians are not reading. Nigerians are reading but it depends on what they are reading. I know that there are a lot of people these days who read more of motivational, religious, and management books.

For the youths who are now used to the internet revolution, you cannot really say that they too are not reading, but they may not be reading the kind of books that we know.

One of the major problems has been what we really have to offer. A lot of our youths are going to the internet and so if you want to get them to read, you have to get to them where they go. You can publish your books on the internet. But the fact that a lot of games like television games are now prevalent all over the world, people no longer spend time in the library as they used to. They now prefer to watch television.

In the not too distant past when we were growing up, one of our pastime was to buy books, and read novels. We came together, bought books and shared among ourselves. We spent the extra money we got, buying books and reading. That was the kind of pastime we had, but these days, it is a different ball game.

This change, however, may be attributable to technology that is fast developing everywhere not only in Nigeria. No doubt, the internet has come and technology has improved and people do not have to go to the library before they can read books. People don't have to buy books any more and because of the craze, and the availability of a lot of things on television, people don't have time any more, especially children who are growing up. They prefer playing television game to reading.

With improved technology, I believe that we should not just concentrate on getting people to read books as we used to know. It is better to begin to think of how we can reach out to them, especially the youths.

The reading culture is changing all over the world. In those days, people in tertiary institutions and even researchers spent time in the libraries looking for books and materials to use. They were not exposed to so many materials. They were only restricted to what they had in the libraries. These days, with the advent of the internet, you can access different libraries of the world.

So if you want to get our youths to read, you must get to them where they go. A lot of Nigerian publishers should get involved in establishing websites where people can go and read books on the internet. If we want to restrict our young persons to the traditional or conventional books as we know them, it is like pulling back the hands of the clock. Be it known that what we are talking about is not peculiar to Nigeria, it is happening all over the world. People are taking advantage of the modern technology and are getting hooked to on-line resources, the Nigerian public should as well as be exposed to this changing times.

Notwithstanding these comments in Nigeria, you will discover that a lot of people still read. People who sit for professional examinations like Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), Chartered Institute of Bankers (CIB) and so many other examinations do read. In this respect, therefore, the issue becomes controversial. People don't read for the sake of reading. They only read when they have examination. But with regard to recreational reading, it is on the decline.

Even with examinations, students' attitude have changed and that is why people will tell you that the education standard is falling. We have a lot of examination leakages, people no longer depend on their ability to pass examination. In this respect, we will admit that the internet has come and it has taken the people away from reading. But I know that with the changing world, there is nothing we can do except to adapt and begin to get to the youths where they are going.

If youths are spending more time on recreational activities, for example, going to stadium, if you want them to read, you have to find a way of getting to them where they go. If you don't and all you want to do is to bring them back from where they are going, you will have a lot of problems. Certainly, technology has improved a lot and it has affected books and reading the way we know them.

Internet and the publishing industry

Internet has affected everything. It is now the publisher who will take advantage of the system and make sure he is not left behind. Like I said earlier if we keep to the old tradition of producing the books that we know, we will have problems. The books that people go to the internet to read are published by some publishers somewhere, those ones have the vision and they are already putting it into practice. If you sit back and all you have to offer is the hard copy of your book and the people you are offering it to are moving away from that, you will have problem. The smartest thing to do is to begin to approach it from that angle that other publishers in the developed world have since adopted - that is making it available to them through the avenue that they prefer.

For instance, if you look at the World Bank, it has on-line resources for libraries, it does not have to send you the hard copy. I mean you can subscribe to it just as library operators can also subscribe and people can visit it and have access to all the information they would have had in the hard copy.

So if the World Bank is producing the normal hard copy it use to produce, via internet people will go for those ones who will give it to them in the manner which they prefer. So that is what you have to look out for, and this development is affecting us more in this part of the world because we are not fast in changing with the times.


Piracy is the major problem that book publishers are facing. If you look at the statistics of students in school and their enrolment for West African Examination Council (WAEC), National Examination Council (NECO) and even for the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and you look at the volume of books that we sell, you begin to wonder whether Nigerians read at all. I think that is one of the reasons people say that Nigerians do not read. If you look at the enrolment number, it is very high, but the volume of books that we sell is very low. That tells us that we have a problem.

Again we have discovered that even the pirates are selling more than the publishers are selling. Yes, they are taking a major share of the market. Agreed, piracy has been there all this while, but it has taken a new dimension in recent years. In the past, when you put down the original book and a pirated copy beside it, you can always know the difference-pirated book is shabbily done. But now a lot of pirates have gone international. They pick your book, go out to these Asian countries to pirate them and when they bring those books in, they even look better than the original printed in Nigeria. So it becomes difficult for you to distinguish between what is pirated and what is original. Of course, this is so because the pirated copy printed abroad with the best of technology looks better than the ones that are printed here in Nigeria. And that is the dimension that has really troubled Nigerian publishers.

When people go out and bring in container loads of your books to sell, this creates a lot of problems. Efforts have been made by Nigerian publishers in the past to attack this problem, but we have not really succeeded as we should.

Of course, the laws are there but the enforcement has not been as strong as it should be, coupled with the court system that is so slow.

Also collectively under the umbrella of Nigeria Publishers Association (NPA), we have been fighting piracy. There is an anti-piracy committee in the association and the NPA has been working with the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) to fight piracy. This relationship has been going on over the years and we have been recording some successes. Recently, the NCC launched a new offensive against piracy called Strategic Action Against Piracy in Nigeria. We hope that this new dispensation will bring about the kind of radical change that we expect. Though we are recording some successes, but we are still far from getting rid of piracy, as it were.

The kind of input that the NCC is making now, if it is backed with enough action, I am sure we can really get somewhere. My observation over the years is that the NCC has been paying more attention to music and software piracy than to the piracy of books. The publishing industry, if you look at it generally, we don't have the kind of money music manufacturers have. And because we know that the NCC is not well funded, the commission is therefore handicapped in carrying out its duties. A lot of us believe that if the NCC is funded as the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is funded, the former will do wonders.

But that does not mean that the commission is not doing anything at all. In the last 20 years, it has recorded successes, raiding pirates. Sometime last year, pirated books worth millions of naira were burnt. A lot of such things are happening, but we have not reached the level we want to get to. We have been having discussions with the NCC and we are looking at a situation where the commission can have officers stationed at the ports where they should be watching the books coming from abroad into Nigeria. If they come across books carrying the imprint of the University Press Plc, for example, they should be able to contact us. If the NCC can co-operate with the Customs in this regard., I think that will do a lot.

Most of the people doing the damage are not really those small people doing these things manually at their backyard, it has got to a stage where people are now bringing in pirated books in containers. If the NCC can have officers who work with the Customs at the ports, I think we can arrest a lot of these pirates. We can get them blocked before they come into Nigeria. So if we can do this, it will help publishers a lot because most of the sales we are losing to pirates are affecting our survival. If we can gain our market back and the pirates are not there, it means the business will be more financially rewarding and that can even bring down the cost of books. You know that we spend so much to produce these books, paying the authors royalties, the cost of putting the books together and at the end of the day, we only sell a few thousand copies. If we can sell about 200,000 to 300,000 copies of a book for example, we would have made a lot of money. And that can bring down even the cost of the book.

Government policies vis-a-vis publishing industry

I think that the policy that we are not too comfortable with is the recent tariff of about 2.5 per cent placed on books imported into Nigeria. Before, it used to be zero-digit. A lot of us are complaining because at the end of the day, it increases the cost of these books. A representation has since been made to President Olusegun Obasanjo on this.

It is not everything that we can produce in this country. Books still have to come in from abroad. We have to share knowledge and it is in the interest of the people that these books come in as cheaply as possible so that they can be affordable to the people. We do hope that some day, government will revisit that and remove the duty on books imported into Nigeria.

Apart from that taxation is another factor that affects everybody. One of the things that I am not too comfortable with is that we have so many taxes that you have to pay, yet at the end of the day, you don't feel the impact of what they have used the money for.

The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) has been quarreling about this multiple taxes. The tax laws are clear. The Joint Tax Board from time to time, comes out with communique on who is supposed to charge what tax. But you discover that, no matter, what the board says, the situations at the state and local government levels especially at the council level are terrible. Everybody is a lord unto himself. There are so many permits to get, so many local government taxes to pay. This arbitrary collection or extortion as one may call it does not encourage the industry. It is high time government did something about it. The MAN has been trying to work things out but despite all the assurances, happenings on the ground do not suggest that we are having a change.

Partnership with Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC)

For NERDC, we have had dealings in the past and we have been working together. They design the school curricula. In the past also, we have even published books for the NERDC on curricula. We have been collaborating with the council and, of course, if the need arises again, we shall always collaborate with organisation.

For the World Bank, we are the bank's
distributors. We are their major distributors not only in Nigeria, but in the sub-Saharan region. In the past we have won awards from the Bank even as the best distributors in the Sub-Saharan Africa.

Curricula review

As you all know, the world is changing and you would expect that the curriculum should change from time to time. As to whether any particular curriculum at any time is outdated or is old, I believe NERDC is competent enough to know when and what curriculum is old. I can't really attribute that to the falling standard in education in Nigeria because I can tell you, if you pick up a book that was used in the primary school may be 20 years ago, if you look at it now, it will still be rich in its content.

That these books are still in existence do not mean that they are not good any more or that they will now not encourage people to read, I do not think that is really the problem.

Of course, we would encourage that curriculum for each subject be improved from time to time. Like in the past, there was no introduction to computer or computer education in so many of the courses but these days, because of the advent of the technology, a lot of things are coming in and they keep changing from time to time.

Indeed, I won't attribute the problem of fallen standard of reading in Nigeria to curriculum. It is rather matter of attitude.


There are quite a number of them. Like every industrialist or manufacturer will tell you, one of the major challenges that we have is that of infrastructure. As I am talking to you, you can hear the sound of our generator working. It consumes diesel. If electricity is constant we won't have to burn diesel and spend a lot of money maintaining the plant.

Equally, we have to transport our books, distribute them all over the country. This also costs money. Good roads are not there. The electricity we are talking about is not just peculiar to us, it also affects our partners like printers. We give books to them to print and a lot of the books come out late and the reason, they will always tell you is that they didn't have light.

People will tell you if you are a manufacturer in Nigeria, you have to be a mini local government on your own because you have to provide you own infrastructure.

The major input -- raw materials that we use in this industry apart from the intellect of the people who write the books -- is the papers that we use. Almost 100 per cent of the papers are imported and that is a serious problem. There is no point talking about the paper mills in Nigeria, they are as good as dead.

Also look at the purchasing power of the average Nigerian. Like some people will joke, it is a man who has eaten and feels satisfied that will sit down and begin to spend extra money on books. The purchasing power generally is now. Maybe at the pre-primary school level -- at the nursery level, a lot of people still spend money buying books for their children, but at the secondary school level, you begin to select based on your purchasing power. Maybe that could be said to contribute to the claim that children are not reading any more.

If from the early stage you make books available to them, they will develop that reading culture, but when all you can provide for them is the essential books that they need to read to pass examination, it becomes a problem. Go to the universities, there are so many students who will go through four years of university education and they won't buy a single textbook, all they will be using are handouts and notes given to them by their lecturers. So when you say such people are not reading, most times, it is not because they do not want to read but because they cannot afford to buy those books. That's why I said if you are talking about may be recreational reading, people reading novels, it is not the way it used to be, because you need to buy your core textbooks first before you begin to think of buying novels. The purchasing power is low and that is affecting the ability of the people to buy books. So we are facing that problem, and people are not buying books and that is why piracy is thriving. The purchasing power is low and people are looking for something cheap.

If you produce your book and say it is N200, somebody somewhere who does not carry the same overhead cost, who does not have to pay royalty or tax, he now comes up and pirates your book and sells it for N100. Of course, the man whose purchasing power is low, will claim that it contains the same thing, so he buys the pirated copy which is cheaper. This as well is a big challenge that is facing the industry. So we believe that if the economy improves, it will make the citizenry to buy more books and by extension improve their reading habit.

Functional libraries at the grassroots

This is an area we think the government can do a lot, buy books for these libraries and equip them. That really has not been done for a while. Agreed, the Education Trust Fund (ETF) does that from time to time to some schools, but that is not enough. It is like the kind I stated earlier, if young people have access to library from the onset, they will be motivated to read.

These days, young people have more access to the internet than to the library. So that is why they will develop along the line of the internet, getting used to the internet than reading the hard copy of books. If we can begin to make these books available to them from a tender age all through their years of growing up, they will get used to reading.

Journey so far as CEO

Well, I became the Managing Director of this company last March 11. It was something that came unexpectedly to me. The people who decided that I should be there must have seen something in me that convinced them that I have what it takes to lead a company that is quoted on the Stock Exchange.

In the last few months I have been trying to fashion out how we are going to move forward. I have since realised that we have a lot of potentials and I believe that we can do a lot better than we are doing now and that the future is bright. All in all, we want to create a company where all the stakeholders will be very happy to identify with the organisation.

Copyright © 2005 Daily Champion.