NO. OF COPIES SOLD
Veronica My Daughter
The Nigerian Bachelor's Guide
Source: Obiechina, Emmanuel. Literature for the masses: an analytical study of popular pamphleteering in Nigeria, published in Enugu Nigeria, by Nwankwo-Ifejika, 1971. P.4.
There were two other factors which helped the Onitsha market pamphlets to succeed as a literary and business enterprise. These were the subject matters treated by the authors and the simple language they used in expressing their ideas.
As Emmanuel Obiechina has shown, the Onitsha market pamphlets are par excellence literature for the masses. They are stories about common people, by members of the same class, but for everyone’s enjoyment. The pamphlet authors themselves had a fair idea of the kind of audience for which they produced.(24) The pamphlets dealt with the concrete realities of life and with subjects which were relevant to the daily life activities of the people. After reading the pamphlets, some readers even felt that the authors had them in mind when writing because they touched on events which had either happened to them personally or to their close relatives and friends.
To Obiechina, the pamphlet authors reproduced in graphic details, the problems and details of events happening not only to Igbo people but also to other Nigerians, on daily basis. "He said, inter alia … the authors of the pamphlets dealt with the problems and experiences of ordinary men and women and their efforts to cope with such matters as love and marriage, life in the town and especially how to earn and save money…. For the first time, written literature became a medium for clarifying the issues of everyday life and experience, for seeking and proffering answers to social problems and for celebrating the realities of the changes sweeping over the land."(25)
Both the style and plot were simple and straightforward. Bearing in mind that the pamphlets were being written mainly for new literates and semi-literate people, the authors were careful to choose and use simple words which their readers could understand and enjoy. There was always a tacit understanding between the author and the publisher about what the popular taste would be. At all times, the interest of the popular audience was paramount. Any sentence which deviated from the norm was either, cancelled or recast. Sometimes when the author drifted away from the direct line of the popular taste, he would be corrected immediately by the publisher. The authors of the pamphlets tried to partake of the humour, the informality and the openness of life in the Onitsha market. Above all, they were anxious to amuse their readers and make them laugh. Because people enjoyed reading the pamphlets, they were prepared to pay so as to own and take several titles to their homes.(26)
Despite the popularity which the Onitsha market literature enjoyed for nearly a generation, by the year 1975, that literary phenomenon had ceased to exist. To many people, especially those who enjoyed comfortable living as a result of this special book trade, the demise came rather too quickly and too unexpectedly. Why was this the case? One obvious answer is that the Biafran war of July 1967 to January 1970 had abruptly halted the progress of the pamphlet business.
While Enugu was the Regional and administrative capital, Onitsha was the commercial, industrial and educational centre of the Eastern Region of Nigeria. To many people in Nigeria, Onitsha was at the centre of most activities in the East. It was not surprising therefore that when the federal forces entered Onitsha during the war, they made sure that they burnt the market down, destroyed most of the infrastructure in Onitsha; destroyed the printing machines and any equipment they could lay their hands on and took away whatever they could carry in their vans.
At the end of the war, when people came back to Onitsha, what they saw was a city which had been systematically destroyed. It was like a ghost town. There was little or nothing left for them to use in starting a new life. This state of affairs led to frustration, hopelessness and despair. People even turned round and started blaming their fellow Onitsha inhabitants for being the cause of their woes. The spirit of comradeship, for which the inhabitants of Onitsha were known, had gone. People did not trust one another any more. Rather they started being cagey and secretive. The informality and the openness of life in the Onitsha market had gone. People were no longer prepared to tell their fellow traders the truth.
However, there were people who loved the Onitsha market literature so much that they were determined to reactivate their business. Before long, they discovered that they were facing many odds. Their printing presses and other production equipment had either been stolen or destroyed beyond repair. Buying new machines would obviously cost them more money. Moreover, the resumption of the production of new pamphlets was capital-intensive. The cover price for each new title produced would be increased considerably. Some of the well-known pamphlet authors had disappeared from Onitsha, and some even lost their lives. Obiechina stated clearly that one of the famous pamphlet authors, Chike Okonyia, the author of Tragic, Niger Tales was killed during the war.(27)
The whole fabric of society and the special characteristics which distinguished Onitsha from other cities in Igboland had gone. Thousands of people decided to leave Onitsha for good and set up new lines of business in other cities like Enugu, Aba and Port Harcourt. Before the war, some traders were prepared to buy every new pamphlet title published. After the war, the same traders decided not to purchase the publications any more, partly because they had no money, and partly because the new retail prices were too high for them.
Few years after the war, even those who thrived on the pamphleteering business had no alternative than to give up the trade. Consequently, it can be said that by the year 1975, the Onitsha market literature had ceased to exist. The people of Eastern Nigeria had to look elsewhere for their reading materials. The disappearance of this literary genre was a loss not only to the Igbos and to Eastern Nigerians but also to the whole of Nigeria and to some West Africans. The Biafran war had changed the philosophy of life of the Igbo people of Nigeria.
Between 1950 and 1970, a period of 20 years, some classic novels written by Nigerian authors were published. The same period coincided with the time when the Onitsha market literature was in vogue from 1947 to 1975. Some of these novels were The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuoba (1952); People of the City, by Cyprian Ekwensi (1954); Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe (1958), and One Man One Wife by Timothy Aluko (1959).
These represent what Oyekan Owomoyela called the First Wave Writers of West Africa.(28) Their works also represent a transitional period from the novelettes and chapbooks of the Onitsha market literature, to serious fiction written by intellectual authors. One Nigerian novelist who may be said to have spearheaded the transition was C.O.D. Ekwensi. He wrote for the Onitsha market literature as well as serious novels for the more sophisticated readers. As Obiechina has rightly observed, both the pamphlet writers and the intellectual West African writers used their writing as media to provide insights into the contemporary West African life. The pamphlet writers concerned themselves with surface appearances, while the intellectual writers tried to dig deep into underlying causes and explanations.(29)
We have already seen how serious fiction was being published almost side by side with the pamphlets of the Onitsha market literature. Those novels were written by first wave intellectual writers from Nigeria. During the Second wave, we had Wole Soyinka’s novel The Interpreters (1965) and Gabriel Okara’s novel, The Voice (1964). It was during the Second Wave that Chinua Achebe published his two next novels – No Longer at ease (1960) and Man of the People, (1966). Elechi Amadis book, The Concubine, was published in 1966. Achebe’s Man of the People dealt with corruption, and ended with violence and a coup. It was during this Second Wave that some of the novels of the pioneer Igbo women writers were published. The first was EFURU, by flora Nwapa (1966), and Idu (1969). The other female novelist, Buchi Emecheta, published her autobiographical novels, In the Ditch (1972) and Second Class Citizen, (1974).
The writers of the Third Wave were young people writing for an African audience and not for the Euro-Americans as was the case with the first Wave authors. These new Third Wave authors sought not only to entertain like the Onitsha chapbooks, but also to edify and instruct, as well as to forge a common cause with ordinary people.(30) Some of the novels of the Third Wave are One is Enough, by Flora Nwapa (1981); Kalu Okpi’s The Smugglers (1978) and On the Road (1980).
If the writing and publishing of novels was a fairly new undertaking by Nigerians, the writing of non-fiction by Nigerians has been going on for nearly hundred years. Keribo’s History of the Yoruba People was published in Abeokuta in 1906. A classic book, the History of the Yorubas, by Samuel Johnson, was first published by the C.M.S. Bookshop in Lagos in 1921 and recently reprinted in 1997.(31) The trial of Awolowo by Lateef Jakande, was published by John West Publications in 1966. Health Education for the Community by Dr. F. Adi which won the Noma Award for publishing in Africa in 1981, was published by Nwamife Publishers of Enugu in 1981.(32)
In the years 1983 and 1984, there was an acute shortage of books of all descriptions – educational books, children’s books, reference books and general trade books in Nigeria. The federal and state governments were worried about this state of affairs. As a result of this, Nigerian newspapers started criticising educated Nigerians, accusing them of laziness. University professors and other academics were particularly singled out for vilification. In April 1984, the Daily Times of Nigeria published a long leader article under the title of Shortage of Books amid Surfeit of Dons.
"It is time the academics in our numerous universities cut down on their campus politicking and petty squabbling to devote their intellectual energies to fruitful academic yields with special attention to catering for the country’s demands for research and book-writing."(33)
Professor O. Adamolekun of Ife University gave a reply on behalf of the university dons. He explained that hundreds of manuscripts had been accepted for publication some years ago, but because of limited printing facilities the books could not be produced in Nigeria.
The result of this was that hundreds of Nigerians who took up this matter as a personal and national challenge went into book publishing and the book trade in a big way. Both the academics and other educated Nigerians in other walks of life started taking the writing of books very seriously. Within a relatively short time, there was a diversification into various fields of human endeavour. The present trend today is that Nigerians are now writing books covering hundreds of subject areas such as politics; music’ drama; the Economy; education; health services, biographies; literary criticism; history; folklore and proverbs; law; engineering; women affairs; company history; chieftaincy affairs; cookery; public finance; short stories; information technology; development issues; colonialism; culture; tradition, etc. Politicians and especially company executives in Nigeria are now very keen to see their memoirs and biographies published.
Some details are given below of selected samples of what have been published in recent years.
TITLE & PUBLISHER
Shehu Shagari: Beckoned to serve
Heinemann Education Books.
|Onyeama, Dillibe||African Legend: the incredible story of||1984|
|Francis A. Nzeribe|
|Delta Publications. Enugu.|
|Anyaegbunam N.||Waziri Ibrahim:||1992|
|Politics without bitterness|
|Economic||Forrest T.G.||Politics and Economic Development in||1993|
|Yesufu T.M.||The human factor in national||2000|
|Spectrum Books. Ibadan|
|Literary||Umeh, Marie||Emerging perspectives on Flora Nwapa||1998|
|Criticism||Africa World Press. USA.|
|Oka Moh, Felicia||Ben Okri: Introduction to his early||2001|
|Ugbabe K.||Chukwuemeka Ike: a critical reader||2001|
|Malthouse Press. Lagos|
|Medicine||Oyerinde J.P.O.||Essentials of tropical medical||2000|
|Lagos University Press|
|Law||Adah C.E.||The Nigerian law of Evidence||2000|
|Malthouse Press. Lagos.|
|Drama||Clarke J.P.||All for Oil (A Play)||2000|
|Malthouse press. Lagos.|
|Women's Studies||Osinulu C. and||Nigerian Women in Politics: 1986-1993||1996|
FIG. No. 2: Details of some recently published books in selected subject areas.
Despite any problems that the book industry may have in Nigeria, there are some existing conditions and factors which help book development in Nigeria. These are treated briefly under some sub-headings.
THE BIAFRAN WAR: The war was the inspiration which urged many people to write books. Chidi Amuta said… it can safely be said that in the growing body of Nigerian national literature, works directly based on, or indirectly deriving from the war experience constitute the largest number of literary products on any aspect of Nigerian history to date.(34)
NIGERIANS OF THE DIASPORA: Thousands of Nigerians who have happily settled in Britain, USA and Continental Europe, are no longer in a hurry to go home. Buchi Emecheta has written more than 10 novels. Ben Okri’s novel, the Famished Road, won the BOOKER PRIZE for fiction in 1991.
NATIONAL BOOK CRISIS 1983-1984: As already shown above, the national book crisis of 1983 and 1984 spurred on many Nigerians to start writing and publishing books.
AFRICAN BOOKS COLLECTIVE: The African Books collective was started in 1989, and it is a major self-help initiative by a group of African publishers to promote their books in Europe, North America and in other Commonwealth countries outside Africa. They have their Headquarters at Oxford, and through them, a good number of books published in Africa can now be purchased by people in Europe, USA, etc without any problem.
LAUNCHING OF NEW BOOKS: Before the Biafran war, 1967 to 1970, there was nothing like book launching in Nigeria. Since the war ended, the launching of new books has come into vogue. Some Nigerians now write books simply because they want their books to be launched. To such people, that is a great achievement in life.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ENCOURAGEMENT: Because of foreign exchange regulation and the use of FORM "M" many publishers and booksellers were finding it difficult to continue in business by 1983 and 1984. Now the use of form M has been abolished, and foreign exchange regulations have been relaxed.
The book trade in Nigeria has got some problems to face. Some of these are:
SCARCITY OF BOOKS: With a population of over 115,000,000 people, what is being published in Nigeria is not enough to cope with the demands. Prescribed school and university books as well as general trade books are not easy to find.
POOR EDITORIAL WORK: Both copy editing and thorough editorial work is lacking in some books produced in Nigeria. The publishing houses are small, and in some cases, there is only one man who works as the editor, publisher, sales manager, etc.
HIGH PRICES OF BOOKS: There is a tendency to inflate the prices of books, e.g. a slim book of less than 100 pages may be priced at two thousand naira. The high price does not bear any relationship with the literary value or intrinsic merit of the book.
BOOK PIRACY: Once a book is popular or is well known, it becomes a target for book pirates.
THE RICH AVOID THE BOOK TRADE: So far, very rich Nigerians who will be able to invest large sums of money on heavy printing machines and provide other infrastructural facilities have not gone into the publishing business in Nigeria.
BANKS AND THE NIGERIAN BOOK TRADE:Bank managers in Nigeria are reluctant to lend money to publishers and booksellers. The reason for this is that they believe that the book industry is a slow-moving business. They do not make large sums of money in a relatively short time.
LACK OF TRAININIG FACILITIES: There are not many colleges or universities in Nigeria where those interested can undertake degree courses on how to be a publisher or a bookseller. People work in the industry but without any formal training for the job.
LACK OF REVIEW JOURNALS: In the past, attempts were made to start book review journals such as the Booksellers Monthly, The Book Nigeria and the Pan African Book World. Each of them was published two or three times and then ceased publication. Nigerians do not have means of knowing what is being published. What is published in the newspapers is all they rely on.
NO BOOKTRADE LISTS: There is no regular booktrade list like we have the J.Whitaker’s Weekly Bookseller in Britain. There is a need for telling people in the trade what is being published.
I believe that there are some lessons which Britain can learn from Nigeria with regards to publishing and bookselling. These are:
From time to time, the relationship between university dons and the media is strained as was the case in Nigeria in 1983 and 1984. Despite the harsh words which the Daily Times used against Nigerian academics, Prof. O.Adamolekun behaved like a matured man and handled the matter in such a diplomatic way that the matter was settled amicably. Despite the increased number of books being written and published in Nigeria, the country still suffers from book hunger. British publishers as well as booksellers can help the situation by sending more books to Nigeria.
In his book, "Teaching a child to read", W.E.C. Gillham said " and I think that the extent of illiteracy in this country (Britain) is only gradually being recognised."(35) The fact of the matter is that there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people in Britain today who cannot read or write. Britain can start a policy of publishing chapbooks and novelettes in simple language which these people can understand like Nigerians did under the Onitsha Market Literature system.
In Britain, the tendency is to try to make the booksellers not sell the books below the net book price. In Nigeria there is a taskforce to ensure that the bookseller does not sell the book to the public above the recommended price. Nigerian booksellers still sell books above the price.