…High cost of paper removes books from students’ bags l60 gramme paper now N10,500 from N5,100
…Card for cover now N17,800 from N6,000 Remove import duty on paper — Publishers
…Publishers now publish abroad
…Removing duty on paper may not be solution, we need to firm up our currency, says FG
The first term of a new academic year is midway across the country with many students going to school without textbooks.
Some have just a few exercise books to write notes, no thanks to the high costs of books in the country.
Books, whether text or notebooks, have gone beyond the reach of many parents and guardians who should provide such items for their children and wards.
Abel, a father of four, was taken aback when his 15-year-old daughter in Senior Secondary School 2 asked for money to buy a higher education notebook.
He offered the girl N300 but it was his friend who was around that told him the notebook now costs between N800 and N1,000.
“If an ordinary notebook goes for that much, how much do they now sell textbooks?” Abel asked nobody in particular.
Michael, 10, attends Community Primary School, Alagbado, Lagos, but goes to school clutching four exercise books. Each book has 60 leaves and has divided them into parts to write various subjects.
While students are short-changed and not given the best by hapless parents and guardians, those expected to provide the items are also reeling under heavy financial costs and commitments that make things difficult for them.
Price of paper, printing costs hits the roof
In the last one year, for instance, prices of paper, the major item to print books, have hit the roof.
Stakeholders in the sector, including students, teachers, parents, authors, publishers, booksellers, and printers, are having a tough time.
For instance, a 70 grammes paper, 20×30, which sold for N6,100 in 2020, now goes for N11,500. This was as at early November, 2021. The price could have gone higher.
Also, 60 gramme paper of the same size rose from N5,100 per packet to N10,500, and for the hard cover, 250 gramme paper that sold for N6,000 in 2020, rose to N17,800 per packet.
On the part of the printer, one impression for four colours was done for N8,000 in 2020, but the cost rose to N14,000 in 2021.
Free basic education policy
The Federal Government, as a matter of policy, is expected to implement free basic education for the citizens.
The policy is to make education at primary and junior secondary levels free and also ensure the provision of textbooks in core subjects free for the pupils and students.
The policy, expected to be implemented by the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, in conjunction with State Universal Basic Education Boards, ought to give beneficiaries textbooks in English, Mathematics, Yoruba/Igbo/ Hausa, Basic Science and Computer Science.
Though the textbooks are to be kept in schools, in most states of the federation, government has not been forthcoming.
In most public schools in Lagos State, for instance, the last supply of such books was done over seven years ago, leaving the few books that remain to be tattered and not enough for the students.
The Lagos State government has instead picked some schools where libraries are equipped and laboratories set up.
President of National Parents/Teacher Association of Nigeria, NAPTAN, Alhaji Haruna Danjuma, opined that the government must do more, while parents too must brace up for the challenge.
“Education is a responsibility of all. Parents should not shy away from providing the needs of their children. However, the government should fulfill its promises.
“The government said in line with guaranteeing at least nine years of basic education for Nigerian children, it will, through the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, supply books in basic subjects free to the students. That is supposed to cover primary school and junior secondary school level.
“That is not really working in most states now, as it has been years that some states did anything in that regard. A state that refuses to pay counterpart funding to draw grants from UBEC or even misapplies what is given will surely not bother about supplying such books.
“If the government cannot fulfill its promise, let them go back to the National Assembly and say they cannot afford to implement the policy again,” he said.
Danjuma added that the exchange rate of the naira to the dollar should not stop the government from doing the right thing.
NUT, ANCOPSS react
The National Secretary of Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, Dr Mike Ene, said government should not be saddled with carrying all the responsibility alone.
“There is no free food in Freetown; parents should also be alive to their duties. Government cannot do it all alone. Some states are also not living up to expectations on the free basic education policy,” he said.
Also, the National President of the All Nigeria Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools, ANCOPSS, Mr Anselm Izuagie, faulted the attitude of government to the free basic education policy.
“Going to school without books is like going to the farm without the farm implements to work with. No matter what the teachers say or teach, books are still the reference points.
“The government has a policy of providing books in core subjects for those in basic education cadre, but it is not being done appropriately. Most states have abandoned it,” he lamented.
An author, who is also into publishing, Elder Jide Jegede, said daily increase in the value of the dollar to the local currency accounted for the development.
“The dollar exchange rate has made things difficult for us. Paper, cards, boards and even consumables are not within reach. Some items we bought for N3,000 last year are now selling for N9,000.
“Most parents cannot afford the textbooks and we are the ones absorbing the cost,” he stated
He added that one of his books which he sold for N1,500 last year is now selling for N2,200.
“Even at that, the cost of production is barely met, let alone profit. But even how many parents can buy? Parents now concentrate on buying may be English and Mathematics textbooks and do not see others as important,” he added.
A printer, Mr Joseph Olaitan, said the costs of consumables have gone up, adding that has also affected the cost of printing.
“An impression of four colours that we did for between N8,000 and N9,000 last year is now N14,000 or even more. This is because the costs of consumables, including ink, have shot up. These things are imported and those involved source foreign exchange from the black market, that is at the unofficial rates,” he stated.
The Executive Director, Publishing, University Press Limited, Mrs Folakemi Bademosi, noted that the increasing cost of paper remains the major factor for the high cost of books in the country.
“Paper, ink and some other items required in the book industry are imported. We know that anything that is dollar-dependent will be at the mercy of the rate of exchange of the local currency to the dollar. “Prices have gone up. Unfortunately, most importers cannot also rely on official market to get foreign exchange.
“The cost of production is too high and even those producing cannot afford to sell at rates they would have loved to sell because the purchasing power of the people has been eroded.
“Before now, parents were given lists of books and many would gladly buy almost all the books, but the case is different now. Most parents now buy just a few books in the core subjects.
“Paper mills in the country are not functioning. Let us assume that they are functioning, can they meet the demands of the people? Government should remove import duty on paper for the book industry to thrive.
“Government is not collecting duty on imported books and that is why you see some going abroad to publish and softly killing our industry here,” she noted.
Mr Jacob Addai of Ideal Publishers, echoed the same sentiments.
According to him, with the price of paper having doubled in the last two years, there is no way the cost of books will not be high.
“We are also yet to recover fully from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses are down, forex is scarce and even foreign remittances that help to bring in more dollars have shrunk.
“Let me tell you, publishers are even managing to stay afloat. If they are to put the cost that would make them record a profit margin they would want to on their books, the cost is going to be higher,” he said.
Mr Moses Ogbuehi of Tonad Publishers said: “I can say we are in the same industry because you as a journalist also make use of paper and ink though they may be different from what we use.
“Do you think the cost of a newspaper would be less than N500 if you guys are not being supplemented by advertisement? Unfortunately for us, in our own sector, there is no room for advertisement and we just have to survive the odds. People are struggling to eat, so, books are not on the priority list.”
Booksellersare gasping — Oluwatuyi
The President, Nigerian Association of Booksellers, Mr Dare Oluwatuyi, said most of his members have been run out of business.
He blamed government for not according the book industry the necessary respect and attention.
“For some years now, because of the economic situation in Nigeria and the disposable income people are left with, books have been relegated to the background.
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, parents whose children are in primary and secondary schools mostly struggle to buy few books, especially Maths and English and forget about others. Some will not even buy all the notebooks needed for their children.
“You will see a child using a notebook to write lessons and notes from three or more subjects. Patronage for us has gone down. Business is at the lowest ebb and many of my members have closed shop. Those still operating have scaled down their level of operations.
“A few of our members deal in books at tertiary Institutions level and we relate with libraries in such schools. When the economy was good, such libraries had running grants and internally generated revenue but the reverse is the case now.
“Book selling is in the book industry and the business is interwoven. We have the authors, publishers, printers, booksellers, among others. It is a book chain and it is like a wheel and when one of the spokes is not rolling, nothing moves,” he stated.
‘Publishers take manuscripts abroad’
Oluwatuyi disclosed that because of the challenges facing the industry, some publishers now take manuscripts abroad to publish them.
“They are doing that because it saves them all the trouble and it is even cheaper. It is unfortunate that government is having a wrong perception of what the creative industry is.
“It is not limited to artistes and musicians. What about the book industry? Before the pandemic, some years ago, the Central Bank of Nigeria gave bail out to the sector, we were not recognised.
“During the pandemic, they did the same thing. Nobody is encouraging people in the book industry,’’ he said.
He added that because of the need to survive, some publishers had taken over the role of booksellers, as they now sell to schools directly.
“That one is wrong. It is the duty of publishers to introduce books to schools who would accept and recommend such to parents to buy for their children.
“Parents ought to buy from booksellers, but now, that is not being done in many instances. Publishers are taking books to schools and schools are selling to parents directly.
“You can see that while the economic condition is dealing with us, some of our stakeholders in the industry are also treating us badly,” he said.
Revival of local paper mills
For Bademosi, Jegede, Oluwatuyi and others, one solution to the crisis is the revival of local paper mills.
“When we were growing up, we used to hear of Jebba Paper Mill in Kwara State. The mill produced exercise books and other items we used then. The Second Republic came and the civilian government embarked on Iwopin Paper Mill project in Ijebu Waterside of Ogun State. All the money gone and wasted and nothing has come out of the project. Let them revive those mills,” Jegede noted.
Oluwatuyi also asked where all the funds invested in the Oku-Iboku Paper Mill in Akwa Ibom State had gone.
“The revival of those paper mills will save the country over $2 billion that is spent on the importation of paper into the country.
‘’Remember, those mills will not only serve those of us in the book industry, but also people like you that are in the newspaper industry.
‘’You can imagine how many jobs would be created and how beneficial that will be to us as a nation,” he said.
FG’s stance on basic education
On the implementation of the free basic education policy nationwide, the Director of Press, Federal Ministry of Education, Mr Ben Goong, said education, being on the concurrent list in the constitution, the Federal Government could not force states to do certain things.
“Education is on the concurrent list in the constitution and both federal and state governments do have right to implement policies.
“However, when there are issues that have to be implemented nationally, such issues are taken to the meeting of the National Council on Education where all are represented and matters decided upon for implementation.
“The FG, through its agencies, is doing its best and implementing what it has to but it cannot force states to do that. It can only persuade and engage in dialogue with the states.. The Universal Basic Education Commission is doing its own part of the bargain and the states have to do theirs,” he said.
On the high costs of books, Goong said the call for the removal of import duty in paper might not be feasible.
He said: “I can assure you that the books used in primary and secondary school levels are almost wholly from Nigerian authors and are made here. The call for the removal of import duty on paper may not be the solution to reducing the cost of textbooks.
“We need to protect our local industry and also consider one thing, there is general increase in the prices of commodities and this may be attributed to the tendency by people to just increase the figure anyhow.
“We must make conscious effort to shore up the value of our local currency . We also need to depend less on importation and earn more foreign exchange to meet our needs.”