Abdul Kabir Hussain Solihu
Kwara State University Press, Nigeria
"Who the Africans are and what they stand for must not be left for
outsiders to tell. We want the African authors to tell their own narratives and interpret their own history in a way that would be
appreciated by non-Africans. While doing so, they would be able to identify the Africans’ collective intelligence, creative ideas and
- Professor Abdul Kabir Hussain Solihu, Kwara State University Press
Stephanie Kitchen (SK) Kwara State University Press is a recently established university press in the Middle Belt of Nigeria.
What was the motivation to establish the press?
Abdul Kabir Hussain Solihu (AS): The primary aim of Kwara State University Press is to contribute to the dissemination of knowledge by publishing high level works in all areas of scholarly research and teaching and to the promotion of a wide ranging discourse related to African interests. In this respect, the black diaspora in the New World was to be included in its area of concern. The publication of works devoted to African culture, in all its diversity, has formed a major aspect of its mission, as outlined by the founding Vice Chancellor of Kwara State University, Professor Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, and the pioneer Director of Kwara State University Press, the late Professor F. Abiola Irele. Since its inception, the Press had as its special vocation the publication of works related to Kwara State as regards its distinctive heterogeneous cultures and modes of life as well as the values and aspiration of its people.
SK: Your books, being distributed by the African Books Collective, include volumes on history, literature, languages and linguistics. There is also a book in Yoruba by a major Yoruba scholar, Ọlásopé Oyèláràn. Are these the subjects you intend to concentrate on?
AS: While we entertain scholarly manuscripts from all disciplines and regard each manuscript received on its own merits, we give priority to those fields of knowledge that study indigenous African cultures and values and unearth the treasures of African knowledge. Those disciplines you mentioned, i.e., history, literature, languages and linguistics, fall within the fields of our interest as they help to demonstrate how and where Africans draw their identities and values.
Who the Africans are and what they stand for must not be left for outsiders to tell. We want the African authors to tell their own narratives and interpret their own history in a way that would be appreciated by non-Africans. While doing so, they would be able to identify the Africans’ collective intelligence, creative ideas and aspirations.
We expect and encourage our prospective authors to provide a forum for intellectual engagement for the elaboration of ideas having to do with the promotion of a new African consciousness and the construction of a new and more acceptable state of collective existence. In that intellectual forum, Africans will not be sitting hopelessly or situated helplessly at a receiving end but as givers and makers, or at least, creative participants in literary discourse, image-making and other matters.
African languages and cultures must not be left to die or wane amidst the invading, ubiquitous globalization. Africans must be able to read and write in their mother tongues. These have been the aspirations of our Press since its inception. More recently, we published a book titled Ìléw ọ́ Ìkọ̀ we Yorùbá Òde-òní jointly authored by two celebrated linguists in Yorubaland, i.e., Professor Ọládélé Awóbùlúyì and Professor Ọlásopé Oyèláràn. The book provides rules and guidelines for writing modern Yoruba. The rules and guidelines provided are based on the ones commissioned and approved by the Yoruba Cross-Border Language Organisation for use in writing modern Yoruba. Our target readers are the researchers and students of the Yoruba language and linguistics in Nigeria, Togo, Benin, and elsewhere in the Yoruba-speaking world, as well as in some Western universities where Yoruba linguistics is taught as a subject. The book was first written in English and we commissioned the authors to translate it into Yoruba so that it could be shown vividly how the authors themselves implement the rules and guidelines they are formulating. By focusing on such areas in history, literature, languages and linguistics, we aspire to reinvigorate scholarship in African indigenous knowledges and cultures.
SK: How would you describe your commissioning/acquisitions strategy? Do you go out looking for manuscripts – through academic and university networks?
AS: The Press is generally open to all prospective authors in any field of scholarly endeavours. But we specifically look out for authors who could contribute to our priority areas. We identify areas of study where relevant materials are scarce or needed. We encourage the researchers to apply for a research grant from the Nigerian government or from international organizations. By doing this, we are not trying to make our authors a rubber-stamp of our preconceived ideas, but to identify the lacunae in scholarship which the authors could creatively help to fill. When the books in our priority areas are out of print, or their materials/data have become out-dated, we encourage the authors to update and revise the materials for a new edition of the book.
SK: Do you plan on co-publishing with other academic presses within and beyond Nigeria? I ask because my sense is that there is a great need for more of this kind of collaboration – to pool resources and make relevant academic work more immediately accessible in different parts of the world.
AS: Yes, we would very much love to establish a strategic partnership with other publishers locally and abroad, particularly non-university press publishers that might be in better position to provide what we lack. The big publishing multinational companies have their own warehouses and retail outlets to ensure constant distribution nationwide. They dominate the book supply chain in the country. Given their nature and size, many university presses, like ours, cannot compete with these companies. So it would be wise to establish collaboration with them.
Collaboration with overseas publication could make our indigenous literary works and others easily accessible to international customers with affordable prices. It is also possible to have joint publications with other publishers, particularly those outside the country, in an attempt to convince our readers that the subject studied in the book is not just of local concern but of global concern. Such joint publication would enhance the publishers’ profile. We need to pool our resources in order to better serve our readers and customers.
SK: Is what you can publish constrained by resources, whether financial or other?
AS: Yes, we are mainly constrained by financial resources. We need more support from the host university and from the government. The retail prices of our books are not often commensurate with what we invest in publishing, right from the acquisition of manuscript, through the editorial processes and down to the distribution stage. Unless we get some subsidy from the university or waiver from the author, our publications may not sell well in the market.
SK: How do you market and distribute your books in Nigeria and internationally?
AS: Of various processes of the book trade, marketing poses a very serious challenge to us. It would be too costly and too distracting for a small sized and emerging university press like ours to invest at this juncture in the distribution chain. For the time being, we concentrate on the publishing aspect to ensure smooth flow of quality publication.
Nevertheless, we realize the necessity of distribution if the published book is to reach its target readers. If we cannot reach out to all potential readers, we must be able to distribute our publications to our primary prospective readers. Since we are a university press, we consider university students and researchers as our primary targets. To reach out to these target readers, we decided last year to make our publications available in Nigerian universities that offer courses related to our publications. To do this, we first visited the Nigerian university websites and checked for the programmes they offered. We then sent our publications to the university libraries through the offices of their vice-chancellors. We included the invoices and requested each recipient to pay to our account. Some appreciated our initiatives and in no time paid for all books; some paid for some selected titles and graciously returned others to us at their own expense; some responded and promised to pay at a later time; a few frowned at our actions and promised to return the books to us only when they have budget for postage; and yet a few others remained completely silent.
It is indeed a risky step from our side because these universities did not show interest in our publications; in fact, they did not even know of our existence in the first place. So we decided to open the channel of communication and send them not just the brochure containing the list of books, but the actual books themselves.
SK: Do you publish both print and ebooks? Do your authors and readers expect both?
AS: I must admit that the Nigerian publishing industry is heavily dominated by the print version. To many publishers, book publication is synonymous with print.
The public partly contribute to this lukewarm attitude towards ebooks. Many Nigerians may go online to purchase accessories, commodities and gadgets but rarely to purchase electronic versions of books or journals. People appreciate more the print version than the electronic version of books. Electronic books or articles do not have the same prestige as the print and as a result, many local publishers have no provision for electronic versions which could be purchased online. One will find it difficult to find online the bibliographical detail of a book published locally unless that book has been cited in another book or journal available online.
There is another factor that contributes to the low perception of ebooks. Many local languages require diacritics to represent phonemes which are not available in English. Yoruba in particular is a tonal language which requires extensive diacritical marks to represent tonal inflections. Until very recently, the font commonly used by many local publishers to represent tonal marks was ‘Times Nigeria’, based on ‘Times New Roman’. The less used and unpopular Roman letters/symbols of ‘Times Nigeria’ were remapped to appear as ones frequently used in Yoruba orthography. The encoding systems of letters with diacritical marks of this font conflict with those of other fonts and are not compliant with the International Unicode Standard. The unavoidable corollary of this is that the electronic version of books composed with this font will appear illegible and distorted when opened in another Operating System unless this other System has the same ‘Times Nigeria’ font installed. While there now exist several Unicode compliant fonts to represent all Yoruba tonal marks, many publishers are complacent with the old ‘Times Nigeria’ which they find compatible with their old Desktop Publishing software. It is in the electronic version of the book that this problem is prominently noticeable; in the print version, it can hardly be noticed.
Kwara State University Press is determined to change this general attitude and perception. When I was appointed as the Director of the Press, I worked to ensure that all our publications have electronic versions which are readable online. Diacritics and letters with diacritical marks to represent tonal inflections of local languages are now fully Unicode compliant. That means there is no need to install any particular font before one could read our ebooks. We signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the African Books Collective whereby our ebooks will be available from their website. We are also planning to send bibliographical detail of our publications to the Google book database for wider visibility online.
SK: Do you think there are advantages in being part of a ‘new wave’ of publishers setting up in Nigeria? I’m thinking also of the success of other newer imprints such as Kachifo and Cassava Press, as well as more established imprints such as Bookcraft, Malthouse, other university presses in Nigeria.
AS: There is no doubt that Nigeria is blessed with many renowned publishers that have published great minds of Nigeria and Africa in general. But Nigerian and African cultures in general are greater than what they have published so far.
Of course, no single publisher is expected to publish all that which matters and all that which deserves publication just as no single book is expected to contain all that which is worthy of research and publication. Human knowledge is always enriched and the frontiers of science and technology are extended in an environment that promotes healthy competition, enjoins freedom of expression and celebrates creativity. Creativity has taught us that there is nothing someone can do that someone else cannot do better. On that account, Kwara State University Press is born to complement other longstanding publishers in Nigeria and compete with them wherever necessary in order to better serve the local and global audience. In addition, we have our priority areas, authors and audience. All these, when combined, give us our distinctive characteristics and our raison d'être.
SK: It is surely an interesting time to establish a ‘new’ university press. How do you see university press publishing in Nigeria?
AS: The university press could better be appreciated when paired with the university library. As we know, the library, primarily a place to read book collections, is an essential component of any university setup, and the University Librarian is one of the university principal officers at least in the Nigerian setting, along with the Vice Chancellor, the Deputy Vice Chancellors, the Registrar and the Bursar.
However, a university is not set up merely to consume knowledge, but also to produce knowledge. The university library provides an enabling environment for reading culture while its publishing press promotes writing culture. Both are two sides of the same coin and both are necessary for any higher institutions of learning. No university is complete without having a publishing arm of its own. This prestige, of being an integral part of an academic institution, is unique to the university press, and it is an honour to belong to that elite cadre.
SK: How do you see university press publishing more generally: what is the role of the university press, do you think – to disseminate knowledge, to make a profit, to publish textbooks – all these things?
AS: There are a variety of presses and publishers outside there. There are predatory publishers, roadside publishers, and the like many of which are printery presses but claim to be publishing presses. Of course, there are also other good publishers worthy of emulation. The university press is expected to stand tall among others, primarily committed to scholarly and academic publishing. It is entrusted to publish, among other scholarly works, the university research projects most of which are funded by the NigerianTertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund).
When the university press competes with other big publishing houses in order to make money as others do, or when it is pressurized by the university authority to generate monetary profits, which has been the case with many Nigerian university presses nowadays, it often loses its academic and scholarly rigour. Partly due to such financial constraints and the demand to be self-sustained, many university presses have ceased to be publishing presses and have become printing presses. This type of press could well publish almost anything as long as the author is ready to pay the cost.
We must uphold the integrity and restore confidence in the university press. The primary responsibility of the university press should be to produce and disseminate knowledge of all kinds. Its return might be in terms of the money it makes through book sales or more frequently in terms of the university profile and image it helps to build as a citadel of knowledge production and dissemination.
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