Monday 21 April 2014     21 Jumada Al-Thani 1435
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Calabar: Is this Africa’s oldest press?

The Hope Waddell Institution, Calabar had a printing press as far back as 1903, and  this directly  led to the establishment of the Observer,Calabar’s first newspaper. Is this Africa’s oldest press?

Hope Waddell Training Institute, established in Calabar in the 19th century, had a functioning printing press in its early days, which served it for many years. That printing press is the ancestor to the press which exists in a very modern form at the school today, and is known as the Presby (Presbyterian) Press. At Hope Waddell, Calabar, it is possible to speak of major changes in the terms of the growth of the press, and its activities.This  is also because of the  sheer age of the press.
The old press  did not  just  serve the school, but it also did printing jobs for the Calabar community, in which the school is located, and  it did print newspapers for Calabar as well. This certainly had  positive implications for the reading culture among the school boys, and swiftly raised the level of consciousness of the people. No wonder then that Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. Patrick Okon, and  many other old boys of the school later on,  had stints with the media, which also helped to directly  influence  their leaning towards  politics. It must owe to what they saw around them in the fertile institution, as schoolboys.
A press automatically signifies an abundance of literature, as well as a wealth of ideas. This is true in every corner of  the world where the press occurs. In an interview with Daily Trust, Mr. Edet Inyang, the principal of Hope Waddell Training Institution, says “Our school had the first printing press in Africa. Hope Waddell played a major role in promoting printing in West Africa, in particular, and Africa in general. Some newspapers were also printed here during the colonial time.”
Mr. Inyang   adds that the press printed newspapers for groups in Calabar, and it was the site for the printing of Gateway Magazine, the school magazine which still exists. The press at Hope Waddell is today known as Presby Press, but there is a plan to rename the press to  Hope Waddell Press, which is the name the first press  at the school bore. This is because the name of the original press has really become a West African  brand, and people will be able to connect with it, more than the present  name, the principal states.

The  Presby press, which was given its new name in 2005, has a total of 10 staff, and 4 adhoc staff too. The principal adds that the press prints materials for the Presbyterian church, as well as for the larger public. Diaries, the bible study guide  and countless documents, are among the items regularly printed there. Indeed, it has already printed materials relating to the Hope Waddell University which is to be sited in Abia state, and which will be ready in 24 months time, so Mr. Inyang tells Daily Trust. The Presby press also has a bookshop and store which caters for all the academic and stationery needs of  the Presbyterian schools in the  Calabar area.
The principal also comments on the other activities which the press is engaged in. His words “The press also has a synergy with other publishers in West Africa. They sell the books which these other publishers print, and  they do this for them here in Calabar. Macmillan and Learn Africa, formerly Longman, are some of the publishers that patronize the Presby press.”
Reverend Anan is the CEO of the Presby press. He says that sometimes the pressure from patrons is so great that staff have to work many shifts, in order to satisfy the demand. He adds that sometimes the printing jobs are done once a year, for instance the printing of the bible study guides. But he also says that the press generates funds through its printing efforts for groups located in Calabar, as well as from the outside.

Finally, he adds that the press is urgently in need of a direct imaging machine which will boost the quality of work in no small measure. Wikipedia provides information  on the press in the following words “A large wharfedale flat-bed printing press was donated by ‘friends in Scotland’ in 1903 and was still in use in 1960. Students worked in the print works and also as journalists on the Observer, Calabar’s first newspaper, which was produced on the Mission press.” Wikipedia also indicates that the first printing press in Africa, was  in Sierra Leone.

It states “The first modern printing press in Africa arrived in Freetown in 1794 but it was destroyed  by a French raiding party before it could be used… Another press became operational in 1800.” A paper written by Cage and Rueda in 2013  clearly shows that there were printing presses in South Africa in 1820. The duo state “Protestant missions facilitated access to the printing press, acting as the intermediaries for its diffusion. For example, in South Africa, several mission societies acquired the printing press in the Cape  Colony between the 1820s and 1870s. The Methodists acquired a printing press in Grahamstown in the 1830s.” It would seem then that the oldest press in Africa may be found in Sierra Leone, rather than in Nigeria, but the existence of a press in  Calabar in the first decade of the 20th century is certainly not in doubt.