Book Censorship in Nigeria: A study of Origin, Methods and Motivations, 1805-2018.

Author:Ifeduba, Emmanuel


Book has always been viewed as a powerful instrument in the battle for and against freedom of speech. Thus, tyrants and other authoritarian forces often resort to different types of book censorship in their battle against truth just as freedom fighters, publishers and preachers have always deployed it as a potent weapon to spread democratic ideals, the gospel and sociocultural wisdom. Censorship objective may be either positive or negative. It is positive when it is aimed at ensuring decency, removing explicit sexual contents from children's books or withdrawing books with violent and racism contents. But it is negative when it is aimed at inhibiting freedom of expression.

Generally, censorship refers to the control of information and ideas which ordinarily should circulate freely. And this is usually achieved by the removal, suppression or restriction of circulation on the grounds that the said materials are morally, politically or otherwise objectionable in the light of standards applied by the censor. Often it takes the form of examination of books or manuscripts for the purpose of altering or suppressing ideas found to be objectionable, harmful, or offensive. A book may be censored before or after publication (Yaya, Achonna and Osisanwo, 2013).

Prior censorship occurs when a work is controlled before its release and may be done by publishers, governments, organizations, individuals and religious bodies, either by force or by negotiations. Post censorship takes place when a book has been made public. Generally, book burning, book banning, book banishing, book bombing, book registration, book restriction and defamation or sedition suits have been employed to achieve censorship objectives (Yaya, Achonna and Osisanwo, 2013). In Nigeria, scholars have examined aspects of censorship, especially with regards to newspapers and magazines, paying little attention to book censorship.

The Problem

Censorship of the printed word is older than publishing itself, and dates back to bible days when kings burned scriptures (Maxwell, 2002). It has always trailed published works from the developed world to the developing world. Scholars and newspapers have reported a few incidents of censorship recorded in Nigeria without taking a holistic view of the subject from either a historical perspective or an empirical perspective (Olorunsola, 1993). This study, therefore, focuses on the origin of censorship in Nigeria, various types of censorship involving either books published in Nigeria or books published by Nigerian authors elsewhere. It also investigates the motives behind reported cases of book censorship, with a view to enhancing the understanding of the subject. Thus, it attempts to answer the following questions:

RQ1: What is the origin of book censorship in Nigeria?

RQ2: What methods of book censorship have taken place in Nigeria since 1805?

RQ3: What are the predominant motivations for book censorship since 1805?

Brief Review of Book Censorship Literature

Book censorship is almost as old as the ancient man. In the 7th century B.C., King Jehoiakim of Judah burned part of a scroll written by Baruch ben Neriah at prophet Jeremiah's dictation (Jeremiah 36: 1-25). Nazis, Moslems, European monarchs, African dictators, apartheid racist and many others have burned books at one time or another. The same goes for book banning, book banishing, book registration and legal challenge which are generally associated with despotic rulers' clamp down on free speech (Maxwell, 2002). Reasons for censorship include inaccuracy, violence, sexism, drug abuse, suicide content, abortion, explicit sexual content, opposing political viewpoint, vulgarity and sacrilege (Wikipedia, 2018).

The first emperor of Qin Dynasty in China, ordered that hundreds of books be burned in the year 213 BC and commanded his army to bury alive about 460 Confucian scholars in 210 BC just to enable him hold on to power. In the same vein, the Roman Catholic Church burned and banned a long list of titles in many countries of Europe (Wikipedia, 2018).

The apartheid regime that ruled South Africa until 1990 was consistently accused of book burning and other types of censorship. South African Censorship Works is a 1980 collection of essays on censorship by South African novelist Nadine Gordimer and others. The book exposed South African government's clamp down on freedom of expression and authors. Scholars explained how and why librarians in South Africa became agents and accomplices in book burning, describing this development as "holocaust of literature" or "authoritarianism in the library" and observing that it sprang out of a desire to regulate reading (Dick, 2004). In reaction to censorship, some publishers in South Africa found alternative publishing models. In the words of Venter, (2007) the context of legislative restrictions; and the impact of censorship on the climate of cultural production gave rise to an anti-apartheid publishing model which had to be abandoned when the regime was dismantled.

All through history, the nature of censorship has varied from place to place and from one historic period to another. One of the most popular types of censorship in literature is book burning, which refers to the ritual destruction by fire of books, usually carried out in a public place, and usually proceeding from a cultural, religious or political opposition to the contents of the books in question. Related to this is the destruction and removal or recalling of motion pictures, electronic games, the taking of television programmes off the air, or the shutting down of web sites publishing or reproducing the contents of the burned book, or adaptations from it. It is sometimes described as bibliocide. Book burning can be an act of contempt for the book's contents or the

author. In such cases, the burning is intended to draw wider public attention to the content (Wikipedia, 2017).

Book banning occurs when publications tend to be taken out of reading lists due to sexual contents, violence, official secret, anti-religious motifs, medications, homo sexuality, transgender, transvestites, etc. In line with this thinking, the Catholic Church has maintained for centuries a list of authors and their offensive literary works in a standard index known as Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Martinez de Bujanda, 2002). As in book burning, the censure is sometimes also extended to adaptations, all amounting to a great loss to society. Besides the disadvantage of limiting knowledge distribution and learning, it often infringes on writers' freedom of expression, and in some cases, the destroyed or banned works are irreplaceable thereby constituting a severe loss to cultural heritage.

Almost all cases of pre-independence censorship were political or religious.

Scholars argue that what gave birth to the current wave of censorship in Nigeria started gradually with the growth of anti-intellectualism and book-shyness promoted by a distracted leadership (Ezeh, 2009). One of the leaders that added a new dimension to censorship was Sani Abacha who introduced author strangulation in 1995 when he executed Ken Saro Wiwa, the author that coined this term "author strangulation" (Asein, 2005).

The consequence of an overtly oppressive political environment could be that librarians, writers and publishers may engage in self-censorship as a way of survival. Scholars have raised concerns about library censorship processes which can censor library collections from within the profession itself (Yaya, Achonna and Osisanwo, 2013). Censorship has taken its toll on Nigeria's publishing industry. In a study that examined the concept of censorship and its influence on publishing in Nigeria, Enang and Umoh (2017) discussed the challenges of censorship and recommended that professional censors should be employed as acquisitions editors in book publishing...

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