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2020 IN RETROSPECT: COVID-19, #ENDSARS AND ITS IMPACT ON THE NIGERIAN BOOK PUBLISHING INDUSTRY

Written by Janice Johnson Pemida
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The year 2020 has indeed been a very challenging and intriguing one globally, with the effect of COVID-19 and its multifaceted impact on all aspects of life both positively and negatively. Nigeria particularly has been hard hit. The country has endured a very tough year, the main pointers being the battle with COVID-19, the #EndSars protests and its aftermath, amidst declining oil prices. Thus, the government was saddled with the challenging task of managing a health crisis and massive protests in an already weakened economy.

When coronavirus began in late 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) had cautioned that it would be only a matter of time before the virus spreads to other parts of the world. And, just as predicted, it arrived Africa on February 14 through Egypt. 

Then on February 27, Nigeria also confirmed its index case when an Italian national working in the country tested positive for the virus after arriving in Lagos on a return flight from Milan.

The state and federal governments, knowing the possible impact of a mass spread among the populace, took immediate steps to contain and combat the virus. Schools were the first institutions to be closed down as states began to impose lockdown based on the rate at which the virus was spreading. By March almost all states had imposed lockdown and many organizations already closed down. Then in May, the first nationwide lockdown was imposed which affected majorly Lagos, Abuja and Ogun States. This had more adverse effects on the economy of the country.

The lockdown measures taken significantly depressed and disrupted economic activity across the country. The impact of the pandemic on businesses led to low turnover and most private organizations laid-off workers while a few others had their staff salaries slashed. Some organizations resorted to both measures for sustainability as the pandemic came when no one was ever prepared for it and none anticipated its great impact.

Even if business owners knew what was ahead, hardly would they have envisaged the profundity of its effects and scarcely would they have been able to make enough preparations to take care of the damages and disruptions that occurred. Hence the unpreparedness led to supply chain disruptions and collapse in purchasing power due to job losses and pay cuts. According to available data, 27% of Nigeria's labour force (over 21 million Nigerians) are currently unemployed due to the pandemic. In the same vein, essential commodities like food and transportation skyrocketed.

As in many other industries, the publishing industry was not left out of the economic turbulence. With the closure of schools, bookshops and libraries as well as the cancellation of educational fairs, the industry faced enormous challenges and suffered major setbacks.  From increase in cost of materials for local printers, delay in the shipment of already printed books from abroad which led to unavailability of books by the time some states reopened schools, to reduction in the buying capacity of consumers, the fate of publishers, printers, authors, booksellers, librarians and the entire book chain was filled with uncertainty.

The resumption of schools in some states seemed to have cushioned the effect a little as it helped to reopen activities for the sector. However, apart from the fact that many states are yet to reopen schools, the current second wave of the virus currently ravaging Nigeria and many other countries seem to be making the situation even worse as the few states that reopened schools have ordered another closure of the schools. This has made business in the sector very dull with most organizations in the industry just managing to pay staff salaries. The Nigerian nationwide school calenda has also been totally disrupted.

With the scale and speed at which COVID-19 spread and is still rising in Nigeria, and the rapid adoption of wide-ranging policy measures to contain the disease, the lingering effect of this pandemic on the publishing industry seems to be far from over. Since most of the raw materials for publishing are not obtained locally and movement of humans and commodities are now being curtailed, the pandemic may have a long-term effect on printing and publishing in general.

Unfortunately, there is currently no sign of a quick turnaround in Nigeria's economic woes as the country is currently experiencing its worst recession in four decades as predicted by the World Bank.

While the negative impacts of COVID-19 cannot be diminished, it has also played out positively in expediting digital adoption and stimulating a re-think of business models to serve the insatiable needs of consumers.

In October, just as the lockdown was being eased and things gradually returning to normal, the #EndSARS movement/protest was born. The protest seemed to have been triggered by a viral video of a policeman shooting and killing an unarmed man in Delta State, Nigeria. This led to a protest which has been tagged “Africa's most sustained protests of 2020”, as thousands of Nigerian youth stormed the streets in various states across the country demanding the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and an outright police reform as well as justice for victims of police brutality.

The hashtag, #EndSARS, which accompanied the protests gained global recognition as many people across the globe rallied  in to support the cause. Some went on the streets to protest while others protested by tweeting in support of the movement.

The series of events that took place during and after the protests also disrupted many business activities across the country. It was indeed another tough time for Nigerians as thugs eventually hijacked the protests which led to mayhem and chaos with many losing their lives and properties in the process.

Despite all these events which crippled the Nigerian economy this year, University Press Plc did not relent in its effort to contribute positively to the development and growth of the educational sector and the Nigerian economy as a whole. The company still made some significant contributions in the course of the year. One of such contributions was in March 2020 when the company donated 3000 books to public libraries in Oyo State which was received by the State Governor, Seyi Makinde. Also, between the months of April and May, the company donated money to Oyo, Lagos, Ondo and Enugu States towards the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic which has made a huge impact on many aspects of daily life.

In spite of the economic turmoil experienced across the country and in the publishing sector, there is hope for a better 2021, especially with the recent breakthrough of some vaccines which have proved between 70 to more than 90 per cent effective in halting the scourge. However, while awaiting the arrival of these vaccines in Nigeria, we hope and believe that with proper measures put in place and by adhering to the protocols for fighting the disease, which include the use of face masks in public places, washing of hands, use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers and, most importantly, social distancing, we will be able to overcome the impact of this pandemic and our lives will return to normal. Yes, the year has been tough but it also brought out the resilient nature in us -- we survived it. Cheers to a better and more productive 2021.

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