Booksellers react to partial opening of schools
By Nsikan Ikpe
The recent announcement by the Federal Government authorizing a partial reopening of schools in the country has attracted comments from the Booksellers Association of Nigeria, BAN.
In a Press Statement by its President, Mr. Michael Oluwadare Oluwatuyi, the Federal Government and the Federal Ministry of Education were commended by the Booksellers body for taking the decision to commence the reopening of schools and also for drawing out plans and guidelines to guide the reopening process.
However, the body went on to proffer some further advice to the government on additional ways to manage the reopening of schools, particularly as it affects booksellers around the country.
Explaining that the school system is key to the thriving of the Nigerian Bookshops sub-sector, the statement revealed that schools may presently account for as much as 90 percent of the books sold by booksellers within the country and that, overall, the lockdown of schools as a measure to contain and suppress the spread of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic has most evidently then hit the booksellers very hard. The lockdown imposed on schools across the country saw booksellers lose their number one target market – schools, the statement underscored.
Proceeding from this then, the Booksellers Association of Nigeria drew the attention of the Federal Ministry of Education to the need to review some of the guidelines for school reopening to ensure that they are within the capacity of schools to fulfil, without however jeopardising the health of children and parents, and worsening the COVID-19 situation in Nigeria.
Below is the full text of the statement:
‘Statement by the President, Booksellers Association of Nigeria, BAN, Mr. Michael Oluwadare Oluwatuyi on the Federal Ministry of Education’s Guidelines for Schools Reopening
Permit me to begin by commending the Federal Ministry of Education for taking the gauntlet to prepare for the reopening of schools in the country. It is most welcome. We also note the announcement by the Presidential Task Force that schools can partially reopen for final year students to prepare for, and take their closing examinations.
However, we think it is also necessary to respond more fully to the guidelines, and particularly as they affect Booksellers in the country.
Our first note is that if for any reason, the schools are unable to meet the sum of the conditions precedent to their being qualified to reopen as spelt out in the guidelines as published, this will come at some quite severe cost to Nigerian Booksellers who ordinarily dispense some 90 percent of their stock to schools. Simply put, it will mean that the long-suffering booksellers, who have like many other Nigerians borne great amounts of loss and dislocation on account of the ravaging effects of the pandemic, will continue to be in a seeming state of perpetual lockdown. We think this is a major point of concern that may require the need to review some of the guidelines with a view to ensuring that many more schools are able to satisfy them, without of course, countenancing any negative health impact on our children, parents and the school community.
Second, we are troubled as to why government should ostensibly be saddling schools with the task of directly providing learning and instructional materials (books, etc) to students as suggested in the guidelines. We think the institutions should be more directly concerned with the provision of logistics and infrastructure in their premises, while leaving parents to interface with bookshops for the book and learning materials needs of their children.
In our view then, schools should not do more than release lists of recommended books and other instructional materials to parents. The Bookshops would then in turn stock books and parents should buy books and learning materials for their wards from these Bookshops. This is more so when encouraging schools to be booksellers and Bookselling agents has untoward consequences on the book chain.
Part of the benefit of our proposal is that parents will be able to buy books and learning materials from bookshops at publishers’ retail prices and at their convenience rather than being forced to pay the cost of books along with school fees in one fell swoop.
Also, the mere act of visiting the bookshops will afford parents and students the opportunity to see other relevant books that will help their reading and learning experiences. This will help in improving the national reading culture and expand the thinking faculty of the students.
Indeed, over the years, the practice of selling books to students by schools has seriously hindered the exposure of parents, pupils and students to the array of relevant and impactful books that are available in the country. Visiting bookshops is another form of education and also serves as guided excursion sessions for pupils and students.
In our view overall then, while appreciating the massive challenge of COVID 19, we think that everything can still be done to not ‘throw away the baby with the bath water.’
Michael Oluwadare Oluwatuyi
President, Booksellers Association of Nigeria’