About six gentlemen had stooped at intervals of minutes on the wide spread of seemingly over one hundred old and used text books, mainly comprising educational books and pleasure and sensational novels in the class of James Hardly Chase and James Bond, and magazines. These were all laid on a large rolled out polythene on the bare ground between the road pavement and the drainage, at the Wuse market junction this Friday afternoon.
The polythene spread was the largest section of the open-spaced 'bookshop,' which also comprised an open-sided kiosk with tens of assorted books and magazines, most of them also seeming several decades old, quite neatly arranged on the counter at the front opening, and a smaller spread of about twenty assorted such books, pamphlets and magazines about three meters from the larger one.
Most of the books were neatly arranged in rows according to subjects and types of literature, but most of the pamphlets and magazines were scattered. The gentlemen were surveying the rows, each occasionally picking a book, pamphlet or old magazine, which attracted his interest, perusing it and throwing it back where he picked it.
They were apparently either in search of texts they had not been able to find in conventional bookshops, or had surprisingly set eyes on texts among the tens in the spread, for which they had for long given up fruitless searches in conventional bookshops, perhaps in other cities or towns in the country.
Just before any of them made his choice of what text to buy, a row erupted. A hefty man had sensed a breach of contract after he had paid for a textbook to the apprentice of the 'bookshop.' "Give me my money," he barked gutturally, as he rose from his stooping position with rage, following the apprentice round the polythene spread in a cat-and-mouse fashion. Soon, a small crowd built up with two policemen trying to settle the matter, as Daniel Usman, the owner of the 'bookshop,' and the client were just about at the point of physical combat.
The physical combat never happened. The gentleman was given his due balance. He fumed away.
Bookshops are places where one can buy books, works of literature, items for reading, tomes, printed matter, text files in hard-copy, prose or poetry, fact or fiction, reading or reference, collections and works of words.
Open-spaced or outdoor bookshops with a large display of decades-old books, pamphlets and magazines and all such other materials, are a prominent feature of market places in cities and townships in Nigeria. They form a main feature of the state of readership and the general educational system mired in the increasingly sickening shortage of reading materials, aggravated by their heightening expensiveness, making most essential, sometimes compulsory, reading texts unaffordable.
In the prevailing situation, the economy seems unable to sustain the regular publishing and purchase of up to date texts, with the number of most relevant ones already in the shelves dwindling in conventional bookshops, educational institutions libraries and personal studies in homes. Larger bulks of the old texts found their way out to dealers of the open-spaced bookshops from home libraries, now sold by the owners, who purchased them 'when the economy was good,' to earn some cash to meet some basic needs. Some bulk are also imported by dealers.
People resort to buying old or used texts from the open-spaced bookshops ,because they are sold there at a substantial discount on their recommended cover or conventional bookshop prices, and they sometimes obtain texts which are either disappearing or have even disappeared from the shelves in the prevailing educational and readership settings in the country.
Nasiru Kaura Namoda Kumburki has been selling old and used textbooks, pamphlets and magazines for 35 years now. His large open-spaced bookshop is located near the Wuse market branch of Equatorial Trust Bank after the flyover.
"You can find 20, 30 and 40 years old textbooks, pamphlets and magazines here with me. These texts are both Nigerian and foreign. I can comfortably brag to anyone that I have most Nigerian texts, especially magazines. If the Abuja Environmental Taskforce officials had not seized some sacks of my materials recently, I would have shown such age-old books to you. But I still have a large number of the books," Mallam Nasiru offered.
How and from where does he source them? "We buy the textbooks from dealers, while we buy the magazines from those who often buy, read and pile a high number of them, and dispose of them whenever they observe they are occupying too much of their space. With this book trade I am able to comfortably cater for my family, some of my relations and even some other people. I have eight children now and I provide for everything of theirs with this trade. I must say I am comfortable. I thank God."
He was emphatic in his belief that the traders of such texts contribute immensely towards the development of education in this country because, "any textbook or magazine which have since disappeared from the conventional bookshops can be found easily at our places. We help a lot in subsidizing the cost of education in the country, because we sell the materials at a substantial discount on their original prices. We buy most of them cheap and, therefore, sell them cheap. For example, we buy some at N50 each and sell them at N60 each. We even sell some of the texts at a loss because you should sell them rather than leave them to get destroyed over time. Sometimes we are persuaded to sell at ridiculously low prices by the buyers who are desperately in need of the materials. A buyer will lift a whole very educative book and bargain for it at twenty naira. He will tell you that that is all he has on him, and he is in desperate need of the book. You will succumb to his persuasion out of pity and sell it to him. This is exactly what happened just before you arrived. We could be selling the material at fifty naira, but the buyer will tell you that he has only twenty. What do you do? Leave the material to continue decomposing, rather than sell it to someone who will use it, just because he has refused to buy it at fifty naira? That is why we sometimes sell at a ridiculously low price. Most times, we don't worry if we sell a text at a loss, because the Almighty will give us other texts which we can sell at higher prices, and make up for the loss. This is how we contribute to the development of education."
He believes that they contribute more than the conventional bookshops to the development of education, saying, "Most of the books and other materials obtainable in conventional bookshops can also be obtained from us with the exception of very new publications. We sell at very cheap prices and they sell at exorbitant prices. We record high sales daily (he declined saying how much sales he records daily), but how many people buy books in bookshops now? That is why I say we contribute more than them to the development of education."
According to him, sometimes they sell at a ridiculous discount because they receive bulks of the assorted text with ranges of prices that cover both loss and gain.
"We receive materials daily. Even if a text is published today, so long as it comes to us, it is termed as an old or used text, because we deal in old and used texts, and we will sell it as such, whoever is going to buy it, whether he is a primary school pupil or an adult. After all, we don't even differentiate between children and adults. When buyers come, we do not know who is a secondary school student, who is a university student and who is a worker. All we know is that he has come to buy an old textbook or an old magazine," he offered.
Still lamenting how men of the Abuja Environmental Protection Agency seized two sacks of his books recently, for trading at an open space without permission, Mallam Nasiru pleaded with government to permit them to conduct their trade without any harassment, because of their effort towards the development of education in the country at a discount.
"Most of the books and magazines we sell now are not found in the shelves anywhere now," Daniel Usman offered, a few minutes before his brawl with the hefty buyer of a book. "We take delivery of these books from dealers in Lagos. They gather sacks of them from different places in the country. A big bulk of the books, especially novels, is imported," he explained.
For Daniel Usman, "In this old and used books and magazines trade, we don't force ourselves to make high gains. That is why we make high sales on many days. We can be contented with a ten naira gain and still be happy (like Nasiru, he would not also mention his daily sales and gain). I sell educational books and novels more than others. In the case of magazine, I can tell you that I have most of the magazines ever published in this country, however many years ago."
Daniel also believed open-space booksellers contribute to the development of education in this country than conventional bookshops, querying: "How many books now do most of these bookshops sell? Where are even the new books to sell? In fact, even the conventional booksellers sometimes refer buyers to us, or buy quantities from us. So, if education is obtained from books and we are talking of the development of education in this country, I believe we contribute more than the conventional bookshops. In fact, I believe there are so many more open-space or sellers of old and used textbooks and magazines, than conventional bookshops with new books."
According to Daniel, who is about 15 years in the trade, having started as a newspaper vendor, "The economy is to blame to the country's inability to publish as many educational text as the educational system requires, and the economy should thank us for helping the system with relevant decades-old texts."
Justin Ebere sells educational, motivational and sensational books, "but I sell motivational and sensational books more than all others. I get my supplies from dealers in Lagos and Onitsha. I cannot tell you how much sales I make, because you are not my business partner, but the only thing I can tell you is that even the so called big bookshops don't have many of the educational and motivational books we have. Sometimes they even come to buy books from us." He would not talk more.
Chris Fapohunda introduced himself as a regular buyer of used books, saying that apart from materials he sourced from the internet, such books formed the larger part of the materials he studied, to obtain a degree in Biochemistry. He would not say from which university in Nigeria he graduated.
"Let's not be hypocritical about this. Our economy is not such that can sustain the publication of new books, or even enable people to buy books in the normal bookshops. Since I discovered the richness and usefulness of the open-space bookshops at the Oshodi market in Lagos, I go there for many of my reading materials, except if I am compelled to buy a particular new one. We should thank God that old and used books are on sale all over the place now in our cities and towns, although many of them may be outdated in relation to the knowledge they contain on the basis of researches and findings ,and fresh grounds of concepts broken. Even in this situation you can supplement with internet-sourced materials."
Whether they contribute to the readership and educational development in the country, outdoor bookshops are multiplying by the day, especially around the markets in cities and towns in Nigeria to form a prominent feature of the country's weakening reading culture and educational system.