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:
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.”
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
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
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
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 is this the beginning of the dark ages of
literature and creative writing in Nigeria? What do you think?
Labels: 62.5% tax on printed works, A War On books, Cassava Republic, Jeremy Weate, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigerian Booksellers Association, UNESCO, World Book City 2014