The Myth of a Nigerian Bookshop

Chimamanda Adichie in conversation with Caroline Broue at 'La Nuit des Idees' in France

Q: “Are there bookshops in Nigeria?” A: “I think it reflects very poorly on French people that you have to ask me that question,” “My books are read in Nigeria. They are studied in schools. Not just Nigeria, across the continent in Africa.”

This simple, curt exchange between acclaimed Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie and a French journalist made headlines and went viral on social media this past week. Perhaps predictably, insults were hurled at the French journalist amid accusations of racisme!

Let us weigh in on the matter, as publishers on the African continent. True, it is ridiculous to even insinuate that there are no bookstores or libraries in Nigeria, however, considering the large population of the ‘giant of Africa,’ existing bookstores are quite few, and sometimes, ill-equipped or ill-maintained, with a limited variety of books.

The issues go beyond access to books and raises questions of the country’s troubled education system with the literacy rate currently standing at 60%. There is also the issue of the North being all the more worse off, with the effects of the jihadist insurgency, destroying bookstores being a part of the agenda; most bookstore owners have left the region for safety.

The retail market for books is threatened by the same challenges as any businesses in Nigeria: unreliable electricity; and piracy. In spite of the many obstacles, many bookstores still find a way to thrive both online and off. In Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, there are several  high-standard bookstores, like Jazz hole – which Chimamanda Adichie has mentioned is her favorite in Nigeria and featured in her bestselling novel Americanah.

After the conversation and the frenzied media interest, Adichie wasn’t done. She followed up with a Facebook post the next day stating in part that the bookstore question was “giving legitimacy to a deliberate, entitled, tiresome, sweeping base ignorance about Africa”. She also advised against personal attacks directed to the journalist on the grounds that she was being ‘ironic’.

Bookstores around the world are facing other threats, with many giants like Borders Bookstore closing due to bankruptcy. The greatest threat to bookstores in this technological era – both in developed and developing nations – is perhaps the internet, with the advent of diverse reading features and alternatives.

At Quramo, we strive to establish a reading culture in Nigeria that is diverse and inclusive. You can find all Quramo published books – the finest fiction and non-fiction titles from around Africa –in stores nationwide as well as online. Click our SHOP tab on the Quramo home page for details.