All around the world, book banning has been an art that has existed as long as the art of writing books. For reasons such as: obscenity, blasphemy, depiction of homosexuality, politics, several educative and enlightening books have been banned in many countries.
Book banning is a method of censorships used by those in authority to regulate the dissemination of knowledge. Other methods include: confiscation, burning and bombing of books. It has been likened to shutting a person’s ears and mouth, to stop them from speaking, to prevent them from listening.
Censorship generally means the repression and suppression of; knowledge, ideas and information and institutions who disseminate these ideas and information. It is a system created to hinder the dissemination of information and propagate the idea that there is bad knowledge and good knowledge. How are we supposed to decide what knowledge is bad, if we don’t gobble it ourselves? We all must decide for ourselves what information or knowledge is bad. Knowledge brings about enlightenment and it goes without saying that enlightenment breeds progression.
One of the earliest recorded book censorship dates back from 259-210 BC, during the reign of the Chinese emperor Shih Huang. This Chinese monarch was said to have buried alive 460 Confucian scholars to gain absolute control over what people wrote. He burned all the books in his kingdom, safeguarding only a single copy of each of these books in the Royal Library. The idea was to control information and remaking history to begin with him.[i]
In 1559, Pope Paul IV ordered the first index of prohibited Books. Books were banned by the Christian church for their heretical contents; ideas and opinions were regarded as blasphemous and the books and sometimes the authors were burned.[ii]
For most people, it will be astonishing to learn that there are books that are banned in Nigeria. The reaction to this by some people will be, “how e take concern me?”
It concerns you, not just because you are probably interested in books, but because most of the methods used in censorship of these books are in direct violation of our rights and freedom as citizens of Nigeria. It should concern you, because imagine being told not to write what you want to, because those in power feel threatened by the truth. In 1995, The Nigerian Military head of state at the time General Sani Abacha authorised the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa, a Nigerian writer, activist and author of Sozaboy—a satire of corruption in Nigerian Society.
According to Section 39 subsection 1, chapter 4 of the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria, as amended, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”
Subsection 2 further went on to State “that every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate and medium of the dissipation of information, ideas and opinions”
Nothing in this section makes provision for exceptions to the consumption and dissipation of information by the citizens of Nigeria.
Furthermore, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights states “that Every individual shall have the right to receive information” and; “Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.”
Even though Nigeria is said be Democratic, extensive research suggests that book censorship in Nigeria began in 1805.This was before the amalgamation of North and South, and before Nigeria even became a colony and protectorate of the British. Research suggests that the first book censorship was a book burning which took place in Northern Nigeria, led by a jihadist known as Muhammad Bello. [iii]
In Nigeria, there are 56 recorded book burnings, 3 books banning, 9 book challenges, 4 book restrictions and 3 author strangulation—where authors have been executed for disseminating information. There have been other known book censorship methods which have been employed: Author registration act, intimidation, book drowning and retention of retrogressive colonial laws[iv]
List of some banned Nigerian books:
- Things fall apart by Chinua Achebe[v]: In this book, Chinua Achebe details the history of the Igbo people, the ritual ceremonies and practices and the many revered gods. He also presented way in which colonization affected the culture of the Igbo people. Using the small fictional village of Umuofia, he illustrated the reaction of the people to the arrival of the white missionaries into their land.
In his book, Achebe sought to give his people the pride they once had. The British people took this as a jab on eurocentrism.
The book was banned in some countries previously under the British rule, countries such as Malaysia.
- The Man Died by Wole Soyinka:[vi] a prose account of his wrongful arrest and imprisonment by the Nigerian government. He was accused of supporting the secession of Biafra from Nigeria. Widely described as the prison notes of Wole Soyinka. Using wit, he details his 22 months stay in prison and his stay in solitary confinement cell that was 4×8 feet.
In this book, he wrote “Books and all forms of writing have always been terror to all those who seem to suppress the truth.”
After prison, he stated that, “that saved my sanity, just to be able to scribble some things from time to time. And I think that would be true of most writers”
The book was banned by the Nigerian government on grounds of libel.
- The Film Adaptation of Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie:[vii] In this book, Adichie details the happenings of the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1972. It is important to note that the book itself was not banned, instead the movie which had received widespread criticism was.
The movie is said to have been banned to avoid creating more ethnic rifts within the country and inciting more violence from the book haram terrorist and anti-westernization group. Despite rumours that the adaptation of the book in a movie was unbanned, there have been no confirmations.
- My Watch by Olusegun Obasanjo[viii]: This is a three-volume autobiography written by the Nigerian former president, criticising nearly everyone who was in the Nigerian politics at the time. In this memoir, he recapped his days in the military, and this saying, “a watchman has no sleep”.
The memoir was ordered to be seized by the High court in Nigeria until a libel case had been made.
Book Restriction as a Better Option
Books may be restricted from certain groups (religious, cultural, geographical) of people or from people of certain age etc….
These occur when certain contents are not deemed suitable for a particular group of people. For example, the Church has banned certain books from use by their members on grounds of blasphemy, vulgarity and heretic contents.
It is also understandable when schools and libraries want to protect underage people from reading lewd books. However, it is unacceptable when extreme methods are used by the government to stop the ingestion of information.
Nigeria is a democratic system of government, guided by the provisions of the constitution. Section 39, chapter IV of the 1999 constitution of Federal republic of Nigeria clearly states our right to receive and impact information. See also African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right. Wole Soyinka was right in saying, “Books and all forms of writing have always been terror to all those who seem to suppress the truth”.
[i] Freedom To Read Blog @ Book And Periodical Council
[iii]Book Censorship In Nigeria: A Study Of Origin, Methods, And Motivation 1805-2018 By Emmanuel Ifeduba
[iv]Book Censorship In Nigeria: A Study Of Origin, Methods, And Motivation 1805-2018 By Emmanuel Ifeduba
[v] Book Censorship In Nigeria: A Study Of Origin, Methods, And Motivation 1805-2018 By Emmanuel Ifeduba
[vi] Book Censorship In Nigeria: A Study Of Origin, Methods, And Motivation 1805-2018 By Emmanuel Ifeduba
[vii]Book Censorship In Nigeria: A Study Of Origin, Methods, And Motivation 1805-2018 By Emmanuel Ifeduba
Theresa Okereke (Tessie) is a final year student of Faculty of Law of Ebonyi State University and an Intern at Crater Library & Publisher. Tessie is Nigerian-British, Igbo-Nigerian to be precise, from Ebonyi State and resides in Abakaliki.