Since the first printing outfit was established in Calabar, the capital of the present day Cross River State in 1846, over a century from that year, newspapers, political and religious literature instituted the load of publishing activity in Nigeria. But today that Nigeria has over one thousand publishers with not more than one hundred registered member-firms in the Nigerian Publishers Association, the expectation that they would serve creative writers in Nigeria better is betrayed.
Many people can write. But in the eyes litterateurs, not all are writers. Writing is one form of art that keeps history alive. This form of art is very essential and a few people have the call. One might know how to handle pen on a piece of paper or pieces of papers, yet he cannot be regarded as a writer in the court of friends and lovers of literature. Journalists write but they are mistakenly addressed as writers. They are just diary keepers of societal happenings. In the conventional form, a writer is he that worships on the altar of any of the three genres of literature or all thus: Prose, Drama and Poetry.
While Nigeria is replete with writers and publishers, the burden of being a writer in the country is ruminated with crestfallen, because of misgivings on Nigerian writers by the environment they found their self.
Just few weeks ago, the Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Timi Sylva said in the newspapers that he ran away from writing because of his fear of being poor. Or better said, he would have been like Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka in writing, but for the fear of not being poor, he joined politics. Soyinka is regarded as a great writer in Nigeria. He won the Alfred Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986. And Sylva was right!
It was the first and second generation of Nigerian writers that benefited much from organisations and government who paid heed to intellect by developing intellectuals’ artistic talents. They benefited from grants and talent hunts. The later has today shifted to music and comedy and film, therefore writers are left to their fate.
Many of the early Nigerian writers had their books published for free and were paid royalties. Many of the publishing outfits then were European owned. Unlike today, a writer would write, do the editing, proofread and critique his work, yet there is no publishing outfit in Nigeria that would publish him and pay royalties. The writer has to pay heavily to get his work out, yet many of the publishing outfits are just good at smiling to the bank with the writer’s money. Many of the publishing outfits even operate without an editorial team. The writer has to edit his work elsewhere and sometimes even design the cover, in short do ninety five percent of the jobs. What the publisher, or better called printer does, is just publish or printout.
The debacles of writers in the country today are not sugarcoated story. Was it this difficult with Nigerian writers in those days and Chinua Achebe had his Things Fall Apart published by the Heinemann Alan Hill’s African Writers Series (AWS), the Heinemann Publishers in 1958? Today, artistic and literary creation depends mostly and solely on the individual initiatives and hardly with any federal, state or local support.
The question of where the allocation from the Federal Government for the assistance to arts and culture in this country goes cannot be over emphasized, because many of such funds in other Ministries had towed the line of going down the drain, in lure of walking up to fostering artistes. Hardly do Nigerian art and culture ministry offer assistance to writers in the provision of fellowships, study grants for travels and purchase of the needed materials. Assuming that this ministry can be able to exonerate self from the above, what other Nigerian organization that is available in supporting Nigerian writers? When would writers in this country be helped so that they could stop depending on European cultural industries that are directly involved or influence artistic and literary creation of Nigerians?
Not even a house that the government has provided for the Nigerian writers, whereas performance artistes are to a certain extent supported through investments in cultural infrastructure, such as the building of theatres, stadiums hosting their large festivals that are scattered all over the country. Not even the Abuja Writers’ Village which the late Mamman Jiya Vatsa procured for the Nigerian writers in 1985 has been built by the government. Rather than developing the 56 acres of that land at Mpape, a suburb of the Federal Capital in Abuja, according to investigations, the government took the land, and alleged that Nigerian writers were incapable of developing the land for over twenty years. However, the authorities later relinquished the land to Nigerian writers, perhaps due to pressure.
It is appalling that Nigeria which is among the countries with training capacities could not organize either formal or informal training for writing actions for her writers based in the country. What would it take? Are the government’s needs not large where writers are, but it has the curricula and programmes that are not very vast in the areas that could be needing attention?
What the Nigerian government is yet to fathom is that only learning creative writing in the universities without assistance from it to the prospective writers to boost their talent, is not enough to prepare writers in Nigeria for work.
Writers in Nigeria need to boost their talent in either government owned cultural industries or act as organizers of cultural activities. Is it not a shame to the government that Nigerian specialists in writing at higher level are on extinction from the shores of this country for consultant training jobs overseas in their specialized institutions? They do this because the government churlish them without respecting the pressing needs of writers in Nigeria in engaging them in training carried on through seminars and workshops.
Government forgot that writing, which is an element in the cultural industries, should develop as both a state monopoly and public industries, and should not be left to private industries. Government should own up structures that would be clearly reflected in the development of writing in Nigeria.
The lackadaisical gesture of the government to help writers and publishing could be attributed to the underdeveloped reading culture in the country. A leader should lead by example and be amazed how others would follow.
Publishing infrastructures affliction has been hinged on the government’s inconsistent and fiscal education policies. Because of this, how many writers are writing school books and how many publishers are publishing them? How many writers of school books used in the primary and junior secondary schools are published in Nigeria? How many Nigerian publishers are now going into the senior secondary school sector and into the technical, professional and tertiary sectors of textbook production? Was the estimates made in the mid-eighties not showed that a minimum of 285 million textbooks per annum at all levels of education would be needed? But, was this achieved? Did this take place?
Government should help writers residing in Nigeria by building publishing industry without printing equipments that are obsolete. There should not be constant shortages of printing and publishing paper. There should be well trained publishing personnel. The linguistic should be utmost important to handle. Indigenous languages should have developed orthographies. The inconsistent educational policies, unreliable authorities supposed to support writers and publishers, should be on errand. Piracy and poor promotion and distribution of books should be buried in Bellview. Government should organize point-of-reference writing competitions of both published and unpublished stories yearly, and better, monthly.
~by Odimegwu Onwumere
Odimegwu Onwumere is a Poet/Author and Media Consultant, is the Founder of Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA), Oyigbo, Rivers State.