A bookfair of promise coming out of Nigeria
By Richard Mammah
Burdened by the need to do something about the inadequate reading culture and low appreciation of the place of books in Africa’s most populous nation, several book enthusiasts in whose number this writer was included, in 1998, established an organisation, Synergy Educational, to help galvanise national energies to address this challenge.
The initiative developed and implemented several notable projects between 1998 and 2003 when it was temporarily rested. They included the All-Nigerian Primary and Secondary Schools Storywriting Competition, the 72 Schools Nationwide Reading Project, Lagos Bookfair and the 100 Years of the Nigerian Books Exhibit and Tour. It also spawned the publication of several books that include the Nigerian Books Directory and Guide and History and Prospects of The Nigerian Book.
About the same time, stakeholders in the Nigerian book trade were assembling under the aegis of the Nigerian Book Fair Trust to, among others run an annual Nigerian International Book Fair, NIBF. The 21st edition of that fair was held last week with this writer, who presently leads the Network of Book Clubs and Reading Promoters, NBRP participating as an exhibitor, joining event convener and member of the Fair Management and Awards Committee, FMAC and chair of the Programmes and Publicity sub-Committee.
Having enjoyed both spectator and inside room seats in the workings of NIBF 2022, and with the benefit of my practical training in international trade fair management and also my decades-long association with virtually all component units of the books ecosystem in Nigeria and beyond, I can say that in NIBF presently, there are good indications that indeed a bookfair of promise is in the horizon.
The first point has to do with the increased bonding of stakeholders. Under the leadership of the Chairman of the Nigerian Book Fair Trust, Gbadega Adedapo, and his being ably supported by the Chairman of the Fair Management and Awards Committee, Dare Oluwatuyi, inspirational leadership is being deployed to grow the fortunes of the Nigerian books ecosystem at this epoch moment. One notable point here has to do with the NBFT reaching out to bring in other actors in the broader books ecosystem into the organising pool. This for example is how the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools in Nigeria, NAPPS and NBRP got into the room. It is most reassuring and the hope is that similar acts of integration and expansion to carry even more stakeholders along would be undertaken going forward. It is called Collaboration, a pet subject of Gbadega.
Second is a growing commitment to more deliberately internalising the critical imperative of long time planning. While waiting for all of the field statistics to be turned in, the observation of this writer who was also an exhibitor and joining event organiser at the 2021 edition of the fair and who has also attended about all of the NIBF events since 1999 is that, there may have been more exhibitors and visitors to the fair this year. And part of the rub is that in addition to having more cooks in the kitchen through the inauguration of the FMAC, more practical time may also have been put into the organising process.
Third is the point about an increased numbers of school participants showing up as visitors and in the competitions and associated events of the fair. This is also one area that needs to be further built up. And the hope is that this segment would continue to grow and grow, until like is the case with say, the fairs circuit in Sharjah and Bologna, it could one day grow into a full-fledged event of its own, or at the least, a stronger and more semi-autonomous companion event.
Fourth is the signal sent out at the event that the fair would henceforth pay even closer attention to its internationalness through the participation of global exhibitors and resource persons. There is indeed a lot to tap in this direction, physically and virtually.
Fifth, the promotional and publicity organisational dimensions of the fair are as it were also getting better. A number of novel cost-effective strategies were deployed this year in this regard such as the greater use of social media and personalised invitations. But very clearly, even more has to be done on this turf. There has to also be a greater deployment in the area of traditional media and while costs may be a primary restraining factor, there are ways to secure win-win synergies that can and should be explored.
Sixth, there is a lot of room to further develop new content and collaborations going forward. There are indeed lots of organisations out there that will readily latch on to a platform like this and they have to be even more deliberately sought and engaged but on terms that would not compromise the stellar objectives of the fair.
Seventh is the related but quite critical aspect of marketing and sponsorships that from the 2022 witness is evidently getting more and more attention in the planning rooms. This has to be translated much more strongly into the implementation arena. There is a lot of latent goodwill that a 21-year old social capital-endowed brand like NIBF packs and the appropriate linkages have to be made so as to attract more resources to build an even bigger event. This is clearly a multi-billion naira initiative when it gets to full bloom!
And eight, is the fact that more and more government agencies are beginning to give the fair more than a passing regard. Notable in this light are the Nigerian Copyright Council, NCC, the National Library of Nigeria and the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC. As Oluwatuyi and Channels TV Bookfair host, Olakunle Kasumu – who served as compere at the opening ceremony – remarked, a day should come in the future when all national energies would be so focused on books and reading in ‘the week of the bookfair,’ and with the President literally then being compelled to always attend in person. That would be the day!
Gbadega and Oluwatuyi, lead drivers of the NIBF 2022 train