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Nigeria International Book Fair 2021
SDG Book Club Africa's First Physical Outing

Article by: Olatoun Gabi-Williams |

Nigeria International Book Fair 2021
SDG Book Club Africa's First Physical Outing

The Nigerian International Book Fair took place from Tuesday, 27th July - Thursday 29th July 2021. It was a hybrid fair this year. After the fully virtual edition of 2020, encouraging signs of a nation in recovery were the car park filled with vehicles including mini-buses and jeeps and people walking purposefully about the premises of Harbour Point, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Thank God for the miracle vaccine. Were it not for that, we would all still be at home, forced by government mandate to "hunker down"; to carry on living as best we can behind the safe screens of our Zoom cages. Now, despite the menace of the Delta Variant and the uncertainty of mask mandates, Nigerians can thank God for the freedom to move around our cities.

Harbour Point Event Centre boasted the splendour of a vast space: a refreshing change after the confinement of the University of Lagos premises where the NIBF used to be staged.

Under the direction of Gbadega Adedapo, Chairman of the Nigerian Book Fair Trust (NBFT), the fair proudly wore an upgraded look and an international polish. Site facilities included Covid-19 precautionary equipment and disinfectant portals at entrances into the halls and at exits.

Gbadega Adedapo

A multitude of publishers and booksellers took up the available exhibition space. And of course stalwarts of the book industry such as Patabah Bookshop and Laterna Bookshop making a strong showing alongside some of the oldest institutions in the country: Evans Brothers (Nig. Pub) Ltd, University Press Plc (formally Oxford University Press) and CSS Bookshops Limited. Good to see the Nigerian Network of Book Clubs and Reading Promoters led by Richard Mamah here

Other African countries including Ghana were a welcome presence in the Exhibition Hall. Asare Yamoah and Ernest Oppong, exhibiting as ADAEX Publishers, Ghana, doubled as panellists representing the African Publishers Network (APNET), a joint-organizer of SDG Book Club Africa, in the discussion hosted by the Club at 2pm Wednesday, 28th July 2021.

The number of visitors to the fair may have been modest in this year of recovery, but the business of each meeting that took place in the two halls was carried out as planned with a cross-section of industry stakeholders in attendance. I spied the writer and PEN Nigeria board member, AJ Daggar- Tolar, in the audience at the SDG Book Club Africa panel. I assume he would have taken part in the annual Author's Groove which held on Day 3.

Before what I was told was a respectable audience, the Secretary-General of the Pan-African Writers Association, Wale Okediran, launched his latest novel, a war thriller. And despite the summer holidays limiting their presence, the Mathematics and Spelling Bee competitions for children took place daily.

On Day 2, 28th July, a crucial event that held was a publishers seminar on e-publishing entitled: The Challenges of the Digital Divide in a Developing Country like Nigeria sponsored by the Nigerian Publishers Association. I am supportive of all fora which place great emphasis on the need for African publishers to acquire a strong digital presence. What other way is there to facilitate international and local access to the African books we select and work so hard to promote in our Club? Keen for their pupils to participate in SDG discussions around the themes of the books we have selected, educators in our Ambassador Schools are calling for digitization. And why not join online distribution collectives such as African Books Collective (ABC) and Bayard Africa?

The Role of Women in the Growth of the Book Trade and Librarianship in the 21st century sponsored by the Nigerian Library Association was another key event with its topic reinforcing the overall theme of the NIBF: 'Awakening the Giant in Women for the Growth of the Book Ecosystem'.

The United Nations has championed gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls consistently throughout its 70 years of existence. That the Nigerian book industry, in partnership with the Nigerian Educational and Research Development Council [NERDC], should choose, in 2021, to deliver on SDG 5 by emphasizing the vital role women need to play if our book ecosystem is to thrive, is cause to celebrate. The powerful women invited as Special Guests spoke knowledgeably about the problems retarding national growth, building strong cases to justify the urgency of gender equity at the decision-making table. Illustrating the dangers of a poor reading culture, their acumen and articulacy testified to the importance of the contributions of women.

With the exception of UAE's Bodour Al Qasimi, Guest Speakers were Yoruba women of South-West Nigeria where women are not only encouraged, the culture expects us to be economically empowered. Their ability to assume multiple and challenging roles as wives, mothers and career women at the height of their powers, flood-lit the urgency of bringing women who have been relegated in other parts of our nation and in the wider world, from out of the shadows. What the UN SDG Book Club African Chapter sees in this edition of NIBF, is a befitting lead-up to our Club's September 2021 Call for Submissions of books addressing gender equity and women and girls empowerment which are the focus of SDG 5.

Beyond setting the stage for our Call for SDG 5 Submissions, the foregrounding of women by the Nigerian Library Association, has a special resonance for SDG Book Club Africa: Dr. Nkem Osuigwe of African Library and Information Association and Institutions (AfLIA) is one of the three women on the Club's 9 member Management Committee. [I am one of the other two women. The third woman on the Committee is Lily Nyariki of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA).] Recognized as one of Africa's leading library advocates, Dr. Osuigwe is convinced, particularly in these times of a pandemic, that digitization alone will rescue Africa from plummeting below the acceptable standards of information access and education services in the 21st century. Read her compelling blogpost at

The pressure to digitize which we apply in written communications to our pan-African network of publishers is one of a cluster of interventions initiated at SDG Book Club Africa to promote the sustainability of a thriving African book trade targeted at educators of primary and junior secondary school children:

"Digitize your books", we tell publishers. "Leverage the global opportunities of online retail. What are you waiting for?"

Our panel discussion, Children's Literature and Sustainable Development took place in a hall half-full: some guests arrived on time and remained settled in their seats; some came in late and stayed; others left only to return in a fairly steady flow of traffic. It left me (on the panel) looking on with a mixture of elation and disappointed curiosity about why anyone would walk out of such an exciting discussion: the Club's reach covers the entire continent including the 6 island nations: The Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe. SDG Book Club Africa has the manifest potential to transform the children's book industry of Africa into a beacon of light in the world.

Discussion highlights are plenty and include: APNET's Ernest Oppong standing up to emphasize the opportunities of cross-border trading generated by the African Continental Free trade Area (AfCFTA) and to stress the urgent need to digitize publications, echoing Dr. Wale Okediran of PAWA who spoke before him. Our PABA representative is Dare Oluwatuyi, the President of the Booksellers Association of Nigeria (BAN). His political outburst took panellists and the audience by surprise but the case he made against government as a supplier of books to schools is a good debate-starter in a country where child poverty - abject child poverty- remains not an exception but the rule.

I introduced the objectives of the Club: it was established to bring an understanding of sustainable development to children through quality literature in a broad range of genres (fiction, nonfiction, drama, poetry etc). I spoke about the milestones we have reached on this novel and unique journey:

  • Unveiling of the SDG Book Club Africa webpage and blog hosted by UN Namibia on 23rd April 2021,World Book and Copyright Day.

  • Publication of reading lists for SDG 1-3 (so far) in 4 main languages of Africa: English, French, Kiswahili, Arabic.

  • Launch of the Honorary Book in an Indigenous African Language Program.

  • Launch of an Internship Program to support the voluntary work of the trustees, under the auspices of Borders Literature for all Nations.

  • Inauguration of the Ambassador Schools SDG Book Club Africa Program.

  • Launch of the SDG Book Club Africa Interview Series.

  • Delivery of an SDG Creative Writing 10-Day Workshop in the 4 main languages of the Club under the auspices of Pan-African Writers Association and UNIC Namibia.

  • Participation by Maliya Silizo (author of SDG 2 book pick, Koko Grows Food) in the 2021 Bologna Children's Book Fair - the most important trade fair in the global children's book industry.

  • A continent-wide spelling competition integrating the selected books for each SDG within the SDG Book Club African Chapter is being organized by libraries in Africa under the auspices of African Libraries and Information Associations and Institutions (AfLIA).

  • Launch of Ambassador Book Clubs & Ambassador Book Clubs in Book Shops SDG Book Club Africa Program

Nigerian Society for the Blind played a prominent part in the book fair program, taking me back to a Zoom webinar held in 2020 at the height of the pandemic and full lockdown: Working Together to End the Book Famine for People with Print Disabilities. The Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) led by the lawyer, John Asein organized it alongside Nigeria Association for the Blind and the International Council for the Education of People with Visual Impairment. Participants included Fred Shroeder, the then President of the World Blind Union and the then IPA President, Hugo Setzer, who served as NIBF Keynote Speaker in 2020. Both John Asein and Hugo Setzer spoke about the Marrakesh Treaty initiated by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and about the global Accessible Books Consortium which the treaty birthed. ABC emphasises the publishing industry's responsibility to ensure accessibility of the printed word for the visually impaired across the world. It is good to see Nigeria getting behind this crusade.

Asein's colleagues at REPRONIG (Reproduction Rights Society of Nigeria) hosted a seminar in Hall B. Established in 2000, the RRO centre the immense and undersold value of licensing and secondary rights to authors' works. The discussion would have been a certainty for me had it not clashed with the SDG Book Club Africa panel which took place from 2pm - 4pm, 28th July 2021 in Hall A.

The star attraction of the 3-Day NIBF was undoubtedly the Opening Ceremony on Tuesday, 27th July 2021, with public figures providing the kind of glamour that is invigorating after 2020, humanity's year of desolation. The roll of guests featured:

Bodour Al Qasimi: President of the International Publisher Association (IPA) and founder of PublisHer, as Keynote Speaker. Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker, Federal House of Representatives; H.E Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, First Lady, Ekiti State writer and feminist activist; Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Governor of Lagos State; Dr. (Mrs.) - Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, First Lady of Lagos State and the colourful philanthropist Dr. Folorunsho Alakija, Vice - Chairman, FAMFA Oil.

I have read the speeches of the group of high-achieving women who took the time to attend NIBF 2021 in person and by proxy; physically and virtually. Let me share some of their wisdom with parents and educators in the community of Ambassador Schools of SDG Book Club Africa:

First Lady Lagos

“...women are the closest to the children and can deploy their influence at the home front, deepening the culture of voracious reading, thereby helping to advance the frontiers of knowledge”

Dr. (Mrs) Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu - First Lady, Lagos State

Talking about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on humanity, the keynote speaker of NIBF 2021 made this powerful statement:

“The message is clear: Times have changed. We reside in an era within our industry where innovative ideas are key growth drivers and where survival of the quickest rather than the biggest or the strongest takes precedence. Those who are quick to adapt, quick to understand market changes and quick to implement innovative ideas that suit the new world and the new normal, are the ones who will create significant growth in their businesses and become significant players in our field”.

Bodour Al Qasimi, President, International Publishers Association /Founder,
PublisHer (Women in Publishing)

“I am proud to be part of a generation that was raised to see books as an integral part of learning and character building, beyond whatever was required for study as classroom texts. ”
“I believe that wherever you might be located in the book value chain, whether we write, print, sell or buy books, we are doing a combination of speaking up, bearing witness, teaching and learning. ”
“Millions of women and girls in Nigeria still suffer from the feminization of poverty, lack of access to basic resources, disease, violent conflict and the use of culture, religion and tradition to render women second class citizens ”

Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi - First Lady, Ekiti State & Chair,
Nigerian Governors Wives Forum

“I've always said that 50% of the world's economic potentials has been lost because of the exclusion of women from leadership roles. Let's accelerate change. ”

Folorunso Alakija
Founder, Rose of Sharon Foundation/Vice-Chairman, Digital Reality Prints
Limited/Vice-Chairman, FAMFA Oil

After the ordeals of 2020, a physical reunion of the book industry at NIBF 2021, albeit as masked men and women, was energizing. We thank the Nigerian Book Fair Trust for the invitation to participate and for the well-organized 3-day program of events.

Kudos to Gbadega Adedapo, Chairman, NBFT, who informed us in his Welcome Address about an additional and exciting value his dedicated team will be bringing to the book fair from next year:
“ a series of awards for members of constituent bodies under categories such as Best Author, Best Bookseller, Best Literary Work, Best Printer, Best Librarian, Best Publisher and so on.”

I close by thanking Mr. Adedapo for recognizing the African Chapter of the UN SDG Book Club in that hopeful Address and by thanking all those who made time to join the trustees of SDG Book Club Africa in Hall B at 2pm on Wednesday 28th July 2021 in a vigorous discussion about, “Children's Literature and Sustainable Development”.

Find Nigerian International Book Fair videos below

Nigerian International Book Fair 2021 Overview

Nigerian International Book Fair 2021 Conference Day 1 Part One

Nigerian International Book Fair 2021 Conference Day 1 Part Two

Nigerian International Book Fair 2021 Librarians' Workshop

Nigerian International Book Fair 2021 SPONSORS

Quarterfold Printabilities
Fidelity Bank
United Bank for Africa
Centre for Law & Business
Knowledge Beyond Limited
Evans Brothers (Nig.Pub) Ltd
Learn Africa PLC
University Press PLC


Nigerian Educational Research & Development Council
Nigerian Copyright Commission
Association of Nigerian Authors
Nigerian Publishers Association
Chartered Institute of Professional Printers of Nigeria
Nigerian Library Association
International Publishers Association

Organizers of the UN SDG Book Club African Chapter


Download UN SDG Book Club Africa Reading Lists here

English French Kiswahili Arabic HIAL

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