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Will the New Federal Government Policy disintegrate the Book Publishing Industry?

Imagine it. The tax on imported books rising from 0% to 62.5%. Unbelieveable? Yes, but it’s true. Madam Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will go down in history as the first Minister of Finance to terminate the UNESCO agreement which states in Article 1:

Article I

1. The contracting States undertake not to apply customs duties or other charges on, or in connection with, the importation of:

(a) Books, publications and documents, listed in Annex A to this Agreement;

(b) Educational, scientific and cultural materials, listed in Annexes B, C, D and E to this Agreement; which are the products of another contracting State, subject to the conditions laid down in those annexes.”

         UNESCO Website .

On 28 February, the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala announced a levy of 62.5% on all imported printed books.

How will this affect publishers, writers and readers?

I have been an avid buyer of second-hand literature. Not just because they are durable, but because they are shockingly affordable. For instance, I’ve bought Pulitzer winning novels for as low as a hundred naira (approximately $0.62). School children had been able to buy novellas and second-hand classics with their pocket money. I don’t see how this will be possible with the new tariffs imposed on imported printed books.

Sadly, Nigerian pupils and undergraduates will have a hard time finding beautifully printed books from other parts of the world. They will be forced to pay a lot of money for poorly printed works where the pages will peel off at each turn. Free printed books will most likely be sent to children in other parts of the world where there are no prohibitive costs. Nigerian school children will have limited access to a variety of books.

And the federal government claims to be committed to improving the reading culture of Nigerians? Isn’t this blowing hot and cold in the same breath?

Supporters of this bill might argue that the levy will protect local printers from an influx of foreign text. But don’t Nigerian publishers need to be protected? It is important to note that there’s a huge difference between a printer and a publisher. People often confuse the two. While a printer might be content with just a press, the publisher sorts through manuscripts, edits, proofread, typesets and even markets the end product—the books. Printing is just the half of it, and Jeremy Weate states,from a serious Nigerian publisher’s perspective, it’s just not possible to print books locally to a consistent level of quality and at a price that would make the books affordable to Nigerian readers.” (How To Kill The Nigerian Publishing Industry).

Moreover, this policy does not just affect Publishers, It affects other stakeholders as well. Where bookstores had a hard time selling relatively affordable books, they will simply close down for lack of patronage.

It is true that Nigerian publishers have award-winning titles on their lists, but only a few publish scientific, medical and technical journals. No one knows any Nigerian press that has the capacity to print large tomes such as dictionaries, journals, etc. Nigeria will have to continue importing most academic books and reference materials. This policy only makes books unaffordable. What will be the fates of students who need these books?

Libraries will also suffer, likely for want of funds to pay for imported printed books. There will probably be a shortage of modern books to service the ever increasing population of the Nigerian youth.

They say there are two sides to this story, but it is hard to see Madam  Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s side. While it’s fair that the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria be heard, experts of the Nigerian publishing industry should have been consulted. From the latter, we have heard that the epileptic power supply is a problem alongside other serious problems as the lack of affordable printers and other important factors in production and distribution chains.. Instead of a protectionist policy, the Minister of Finance should have given the Nigerian printers grants and subsidies. She should have sought ways to probably import efficient modern equipment for the local printers. Placing a tariff on imported books harms not just local publishers, but their foreign counterparts

And to think that this policy is coming at a time when UNESCO named Port Harcourt city, 2014 World Book Capital. How will this affect the book festival slated to hold later this year? Given that this policy blatantly contravenes the ‘Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientificand Cultural Material’ (signed in 1961), will UNESCO withdraw from the upcoming book festival slated to hold in Port Harcourt?

And is this the beginning of the dark ages of literature and creative writing in Nigeria? What do you think?


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