When one dies, it is better to live behind a book than wealth for children—Chief Joop Berkhout (OON) + Secret of Nigeria’s richest Oyinbo publisher

The GDA, Chief Berkhout and H.E. Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State who is one of Chief Berkhout’s patron

Chief  Joop Berkhout (OON) is one of the few expatriates who have taken Nigeria as a second
home after a long sojourn away from home. The Dutch born veteran publisher is
the owner of the defunct Ibadan—Oyo State based Spectrum Books Ltd which is a leading book publisher in West Africa. The 87 years old founder
of Safari Books Ltd which published
the much controversial book “Accidental
Public Servant”
by former minister of the Federal Capital Territory and
present Kaduna State (North Central Nigeria) Governor Malam Nasir El-Rufai was  equally the publisher of elder statesman and
fomer Nigerian President  and Commander
in Chief, General Olusegun Obasanjo’s
first book, “Nzeogwu” which detailed
a bit of events and instances that led to Nigeria’s first military putsch.
Joop Berkhout
who is the Okunborode of The Source (Ile-Ife) published
former minister of science and technology, General
Sam Momah’s
famous book “Nigeria: Beyond
” . This very energetic Dutch man who has taken Nigeria as his
second home opened the door of his Ibadan based Safari Books office  to your
Africa’s Number 1 Celebrity Encounter blog, Asabeafrika sometimes ago and gave us a no-hold barred interview on
his relationship with eminent Nigerians like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, late Chief
MKO Abiola
,  Oba Okunade Sijuade (Olubuse II) late Ooni of Ile-Ife, Malam Nasir
and many other very important dignatories.
Chief Berkhout also defined his over 50 years friendship with General Obasanjo whom he descibed as a very compassionate leader.
He spoke on his long stay in Nigeria and why he never remarried after his wife passed
away couple of years ago. He didn’t forget to share the challenges of the
publishing industry in Nigeria with Asabeafrika.
Enjoy the excerpts.

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As veteran publisher of over 50 years,
how would you describe the book publishing industry in Africa?

Chief Berkhout (M) with Chief Emeka Ezeife and current Nigeria’s Minister of Science and Technology, Chief Ogbonnaya Onu

I don’t
think I will like to talk about Africa,
I think in Nigeria there is a
population of about 160 million people or a hundred and seventy million people.
If 10% reads you are in business, Nigeria
is in many ways a gold mine; if you do the right thing, you can find the
market. Withing the range of a hundred and seventy million people, if a million
people read my books I will be very happy. So, the market is here, the size of
the market is enormous and it is expanding and people do read more than I
believe. But the medium is fast changing, people do watch more of television,
even the newspapers are selling less than before because now people get
information on their telephone and other available platforms because of the
changing face of technology. So, the world is changing and you have to change
with the world.
You published Malam Nasir El-Rufai’s
book “Accidental Public Servant”
which was believed to have sold massively Can you tell me the look of the balance
sheet at Safari?

The GDA, Chief Berkhout & Governor Nasir El-Rufai

The book is
a very important inside information project by the former minister and we were
very happy to have been appointed as the publisher. I was involved with my
editorial team and I can tell you that it is a very interesting book, all I can
say is that for anything you want to do right in Nigeria, you cannot do wrong.
Anything you want to do that is objective and there is a market for it, you
cant go wrong. Do you know why Shoprite is coming into Nigeria? They know Nigeria has the power of population and that anywhere you put up a
shop, people will go in and buy. It is now we have a Shoprite in Ibadan but who ever knew that Ibadan
will be fit to have a Shoprite some years back? But the
Governor have changed things and opened the roads, people are more
sophisticated, we now have a good number of the younger generation; people are
more sophisticated and want new ways of doing things. So, that is the goldmine.
It seems we don’t realize what we have and we make trouble.

Chief Berkhout (M) with First Nigerian Female Governor Mrs Virgy Etiaba (L) and former Minister of Power, Dr. Berth Nnaji

I have been living
in Nigeria now for 50 years and I can say we are developing gradually; of
course we got security problems, we got political problems but we should come
to a federation, if you read the Daily Trust of few weeks ago where I
was interviewed and I said government should play a less role in the country.
Businesses like petrol price has nothing to do with government. In the UK,
the petrol price pump goes up and down; one day they sell for 120
and the next day it comes down, and it looks like going to shop
in the market. So, like economic enthusiasts used to say ‘Governmnet has no business
in business’
and I fully support it.

Chief Berkhout with eminent Nigerians launching the book ‘NIGERIA: BEYOND DIVORCE by one of  his Patrons, General Sam Momah and his wife (L). His Safari Books Ltd published the book. With them is ex-First Lady, Dr. Mrs. Maryam Abacha, Present Minister of Science & Technology, Chief Ogbonnaya Onu and former Governor of Anambra State, Dr. (Mrs.) Virgy Etiaba 

You also published former minister of
science and technology,  General Sam
Momah’s book “Nigeria: Beyond Diviorce” couple of years back but recently when
I was speaking with the General, he complained bitterly about massive piracy of
the book. How are you tackling the demon of piracy as a major book publisher?

Chief Joop Berkhout in tete-a-tete with ex-first lady, Dr. (Mrs.) Maryam Abacha

Yes, even
this book (Accidental Public Servant) was pirated, it was pirated heavily in Lagos and Abuja. It is a big problem, there is no work they will never pirate
if it a good work. But we handled it in our own way by trying to stop it. We
reported to the police and we picked up people that were selling pirated copies
and took the copies away from them. But this is one of the things that is happening in our local economy; it happens with films, it happens in the music
industry and it is happening all over. That is something that you have to live
with but we can always change it if there is a political will and strong law
enforcement provision.

L-R;Mrs. Virgy Etiaba, Chief Joop Berkhout and  Professor Berth Nnaji

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So, would you say General Momah’s
book made good fortunes in the market?
This book, “Nigeria:
Beyond Divorce”
is a research work, a master piece. The General has
done a lot of good work for political scientist and historians. We did our best
to push it in the market and I can tell you that the book is doing quite well
in the market because of the issues raised inside the book; the issues of our
unity in hundred years, the issue of population, ability to live and work
together for a greater nation given to wealth and opportunities as against
poverty and disabilities. We have the book in bookshops in major cities and
we  put a bit of it online, it is a very
good book and I can say he is a fantastic author because I have been his
publisher since the 80s and the 90s. I published some of his books on
engineering and technological advancement. He is a highly educated person.

One of Chief Berkhout’s Safari Books’ product; NIGERIA; BEYOND DIVORCE by General Sam Momah (CFR)

So why did you shut down Spectrum
books which is your first publishing company?
I wanted to
retire, I shut the company down because I wanted to retire.
Maybe due to old age?
And after
two weeks retirement I got tired and fed up; so, I had to re-activate Safari.
So, what is the different between
Safari  books and Spectrum books?
We do
specialize publishing at Safari Books, we call it ‘Contract Publishing’. We publish a book
like your friend now (Referring to Alhaji Abdul Jamiu Abiodun Abiola who was
with me on the trip) if he contract us, we publish it and he makes it. We call
it Contract publishing, so we do a
book for you and you take the book home; no marketing, no challenges. So, you
can handle the marketing side of it.  That is the different between Spectrum Books and Safari books.

L-R; Chief (Mrs.) Virgy Etiaba, Chief Joop Berkhout, Professor Berth Nnaji and Chief ABC Nwosu a former Minister of Health

You have lived so long in Nigeria
with a traditional title and a national honor to your name, why did you chose
Yes, Nigeria is home. That is the reason.
 Why did you love Nigeria as your home away
from home?
challenges. There is never a dull moment, meeting your friend (Jamiu Abiola)
this morning, meeting you this morning. Somebody else is coming today; so, it
is better to meet the new generation because things have change.
You were very close to the late Chief
MKO Abiola and you used to help him organize a book prize then, can you tell us
about it?

Late Chief MKO Abiola….Chief Berkhout use to organize his Book Prize Project in his life time

The Abiola Prize for Accademic Publishing and that was a great experience for
me then because couple of times I got the prize but since his demise, the prize
went on for two years but there was no participation from the family. I think
it is a great shame because whatever is their differences in the family, the
most important issue is Chief MKO Abiola. You need to
continue with his name with a number of innovative ideas; continue that award
for academic publishing. All the Abiola
children must come together  to show the
world that the situation has changed and we honor our father that gave us the
honor to be his children. It pains me a lot that the prize has completely gone,
I spoke to many of them, there was a lot of animosity and hatred between
themselves and I cant understand it. But now, I am speaking to Jamiu
your friend may be he can organize it. Doyin (Abiola) used to be in favor
of it and for Kola (Abiola), I don’t know his mind.
You will agree with me that it is not
just only MKO Abiola that is the first great man to die and have his family
disagree even the late Nelson Mandela’s family is going through the same
challenge; what do you think is responsible for all this?
Money is
evil. That is why if you die, don’t leave anything behind.
Are you saying fathers should not
leave inheritance for their children any longer?
It is better to leave a book behind than money.
So, you saying people should rather
sell all the properties and leave behind only a book in the will?

Elder Statesman, General Olusegun Obasanjo….Chief Joop Berkhout published his first book ‘Nzeogwu’

No, make a
proper will, a good will, that everybody gets what is entitled to be shared.
But Abiola was not planning to die
early and his will was in dispute. All his wishes were in dispute here and that
affected a whole lots of other things. But that is society, people get out of
the shocks with time. We believe that by 2030, Nigeria will be one of the
world’s economic powers if the country continues in peace and stability. Forget
about this common issue that you are a Muslim or I am a Christian, what matters
is productivity and ideas. Nigeria’s green is for agriculture, we can export
everything good if we want, we only need the will power. The Government should
be less involved in business, let the people do it and Nigerians wherever they
are, they are good business people. They know how to run their business life.
Are you married to a Nigerian?
No, my wife
passed away some years ago. We got four children. One of my son works in Lagos now, he just came back; he was
born in Africa, he was born in Tanzania.
 But you have a black son (George Berkhout)
No, I don’t.
he is not black, he looks like me. You are black and he is brown. (General
So, why didn’t you remarry after your
wife passed away? Was she a Briton?
No, she was Dutch like me.
So, why didn’t you re-marry?
Why should I
re-marry? I am too old now. That is not for me.
What is your Nigerian best delicacy?
Oh, I like pounded yam and egusi soup and snail. I
like the taste very much. Pounded yam
and Egusi, good Egusi, not the one
made on the road side but the one properly cooked at home.
You are also a traditional chief, who
gave you your traditional title?
I am a chief
from Ile-Ife (The Source) I am the Okunborode of Ile-Ife, and I got a
national honor. I got a OON (Officer
of the Order of The Niger).
Under whose regime is that?
What is your relationship with OBJ?
I am his
publisher. I knew him right from when he was a military leader. During his
first time in government and I published one of his books.
Were you the one that published “My
No, I
published his first book, Nzeogwu.
Oh, mine, yes, that was a great book
and I think I will get a copy from you today. I have “My Command” and some other
books authored by the General?
I don’t even
have a copy of Nzeogwu myself.
Honestly, I don’t have it.
So, how will you describe General
Olusegun Obasanjo as a close friend of over forty years and his publisher?
Nobody is
perfect. I will admire OBJ for
re-forming our (Nigeria) image in the global arena because when he came into
power, Nigeria had a terrible image internationally and when he became the
president, he went around the world to restore our international reputation to
bring about that lost international credibility because he is informal, he is
open, I know him very well. A lot of people say politics is sometimes a dirty
business but Obasanjo did a good job
after Abacha to restore our
reputation. He is very genuine. And he is very, very polite. If I call him now
and he couldn’t pick his call, he will always call me back. He will jokingly
say ’I
just want to let you know that you call me’
, he is a very, very
passionate person. To me, personally, he is a good friend of mine. He is a
great man. I have been with him to Holland
and on state visits to South Africa;
so I know how he operates, highly respected. He is highly respected globally.
He is a great person. He is a very informal person, very nice person, very
simple. He eats very simple and lives a very simple life. He is just what you
see, no airs of arrogance, no overbearing nature. He is a simple man.
A former aviation minister Chief Femi
Fani Kayode once  described OBJ as our
own Nelson Mandela, do you think that is correct?

Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (GCFR) a friend of half a century with Chief Berkhout

Nobody  (mortal) can be compared with (Nelson) Mandela in this world, nobody. Mandela is the most unique person in the
world. Nobody has ever gotten 98 heads of state at a funeral. The entire world
had just one person to give this kind of honor, you know why? Twenty seven
years in jail and no business, he forgave all his jailers. His jailers were in
operation when he became president; I met him (Mandela) a few times. He had no
bad feelings towards anybody; he is the most unique personality in this world,
nobody can match him, nobody. All over the world, in the US and Great
. Shortly after his death, if you were in the US, 
at every news stand in the US and
every other country there were copies of magazines and news papers reporting
that he had died. Nothing negative was written, we don’t have any Nelson
in Nigeria. We haven’t got any.
Not even General Obasanjo?
No, no, no,
he knows it. Mandela forgave his greatest enemies and his jailers. I have
been to his jail. I went to Robben Island, he told me to go
So, who is the Nigeria’s greatest
leader that you ever knew in your entire 50 years of staying here?

L-R; Gbenga Dan Asabe of Asabeafrika, Chief Joop Berkhout and Author, ‘The Accidental Public Servant’ and present Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai

I think as a
general person it is (General Yakubu) Gowon;
I respect him because he fought the civil war and he ended the civil war with
his troops and he was forgiving because he accepted everybody back into the