This year’s World Book and Copyright Day is coming at a time when the world can ill afford to celebrate! We are confronted with the devastating impact of the Coronavirus, COVID-19. Our lives as communities have suddenly been disrupted, leaving experts second-guessing what looms beyond this dark storm. Educational and economic activities are paralysed while social structures are fractured. Humanity has never felt so vulnerable and helplessness within such a short span of time. Worldwide, thousands of lives have been lost and millions are literally gasping for breath as national health systems are overwhelmed by the global pandemic.

At a time like this, our prayers and sincere best wishes go out to all those who are facing health challenges as a result of the virus. We wish them speedy recovery and pray for strength in time of weakness; hope in the midst of despair. We also offer our deep condolences to our compatriots who, sadly, have lost their loved ones. May the Almighty comfort them and give them the fortitude to bear their irreplaceable loss.

It is against this gloomy backdrop that the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) joins the rest of the world, today, 23rd April 2020, to mark this year’s World Book and Copyright Day with the theme: “READ. Grow Wings and Travel”!

As virtually every country is compelled to impose restrictions on travels and mobility, as physical isolation and social distancing become the norm and humanity is traumatised by this pestilence, we can find solace in books. Through the books we read, we are able to share in the experiences of others and find renewed faith in the power of knowledge.

Books afford us safe passage to other lands and cultures; they provide us the much needed company and comfort in times of distress; they broaden our minds with understanding and fire our power to imagine and create. Just as the present pandemic has exposed our common vulnerability as humanity, books document our successes, our resilience and our capacity to overcome and conquer from across generations. With books and aided by technology, we are able to build bridges of understanding across diverse tongues and nationalities. More than ever before, the world has become indeed a global village and we have a common story to tell.

Incidentally, the World Book and Copyright Day this year also focuses on the special perspective of “Books as a window into the world during COVID-19”. The ongoing crisis has exposed a fragile knowledge ecosystem all around the world as school calendars and activities are disrupted. Many countries, including Nigeria, have had to adapt to alternative learning platforms, including the use of information and communication technology, for students to gain access to educational instructions.

We must commend the education authorities at both the Federal and State levels as well as the relevant private sectors for rising up to the occasion and helping students at different levels to continue to learn despite the lockdown. With this experience, it is hoped that more attention would be given to the integration of e-learning platforms into the educational system. Authors and publishers should also embrace and promote e-books as alternative formats to make the book more reader-friendly and encourage reading among the younger ones.

As we join the rest of the world to celebrate the book and reading, we must pay tribute to authors, editors, publishers, librarians and other major players in the book chain for their invaluable contribution to knowledge systems and national development. The book industry contributes significantly to employment generation, wealth creation and the nation’s economy. The Nigerian Copyright Commission is committed to providing necessary legal and institutional support for the sustainable growth of this sector.

Experts are already predicting how businesses would fare after the pandemic. There is likely to be a supply shock in the book industry and publishers would be under immense pressure. The Commission will therefore step up its campaign against book piracy and other copyright abuses so as to guarantee return on investment. Measures are already being put in place to monitor the distribution networks and sales outlets.

To this end, the Commission is working with publishers, printers, booksellers and importers to develop appropriate frameworks while we pay more attention to online infringements as part of a broader policy to create safe corridors for copyright works.

As noted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), we appreciate the place of books “as vectors of values and knowledge, and depositories of the intangible heritage; [and] as sources of material wealth and copyright-protected works of creative artists.” We must continue to empower and encourage more people, especially the younger ones, to discover the pleasures and benefits of reading.

As the oldest and most resilient category of copyright works, books have helped the growth and transmission of human civilization and contributed immensely to the development of virtually all fields of human endeavour, including medicine, religion, science, research, literature and entertainment. In today’s digital world, it is imperative that authors and publishers should make changes in their business models so as to make the book more appealing, especially to younger readers who are more at home with digital and online platforms.

In the spirit of the Marrakesh Treaty to which Nigeria is signatory and the Federal Government’s policy on inclusiveness, equal access and non-discrimination against persons living with disabilities, the Commission will continue to encourage publishers to provide more books in accessible formats for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled in Nigeria.

Once again, as we mark this year’s World Book and Copyright Day, we join the rest of the world in the hope that the global pandemic will be contained. We urge parents to make out time to read to their children and inculcate in them the habit of reading books, thereby helping them to grow wings. I have no doubt that together we will all come out of this crisis stronger and better informed.  I encourage Nigerians to remain positive as we look forward to the rainbow at the end of this dark storm.

Thank You!