By Godwin Okondo
THE problems of Nigeria’s distressed paper industry and urgent redress to avoid capital flight formed the point of discussion at the 2023 Annual Conference/General Meeting of the Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA), as publishers lamented the dire implication of the situation on Nigeria’s educational system and sued for urgent action to reverse the ugly trend.
It is a well-known fact that the country’s major paper mills – Nigeria Paper Mill Limited, Jebba, Kwara State; Nigerian Newsprint Manufacturing Company Limited, Oku-Iboku, Akwa Ibom State; and Nigerian National Paper Manufacturing Company Limited, Ogun State 0 have all closed shop, thus rendering the paper requirements of Nigeria on imports. This has made the country largely dependent on importation, with the attendant capital flight and loss of revenue. The book industry, including publishers and newspapers, is reeling under the prohibitive cost of importing newsprint, which has further reduced profit margin and high costs of school textbooks. As National Bureau of Statistics data puts it, Nigeria imported paper and its allied products worth N296.696 billion between July and December 2021.
Given their challenging circumstances and survival struggles, it wasn’t surprising that NPA spotlighted the issue at the conference that had as theme ‘Revitalizing Local Production of Paper in Nigeria: Panacea for a Sustainable Publishing Industry’, which held from December 7 to 8, 2023 at Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos. The association’s President, Sir Uchenna Cyril Anioke, highlighted members’ pains in his welcome address before Dr. Rotimi Oladele’s keynote, which offered valuable solutions.
For Anioke, the theme was apt “given the amplified campaigns to use made-in-Nigeria products and services. Our indigenous publishers, I must confidently inform you without mincing words: possess the technological and technical know-how to produce high-quality books of various genres.
Delegates at the Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA) 2023 conference in Lagos
“The continuous patronage of foreign publishers and printers by many Nigerian publishers (especially in the production of nursery, primary and secondary books, no matter the perceived advantages) will not only undermine our local economy but will deny our teeming young population and professionals the opportunity to work and make decent livelihoods. Most worrisome, it would jeopardise the sustainable growth and development of the publishing industry in Nigeria.”
He added that “unfortunately, the production of books (especially nursery, primary and secondary books) in a foreign land is perceived as a status symbol, rather than an apparent sabotage of our fragile economy, export of jobs and indeed a needless pressure on our forex. We must think Nigeria, act Nigeria and, most importantly, derive pride in using the Nigerian brand.”
However, it was not all gloomy news from the NPA president, who also reported a milestone achievement to members: the association finally has its personal property.
Anioke disclosed: “58 years since establishment, NPA has been operating from rented offices. Concerted efforts by previous administrations to have this seemingly protracted challenge resolved had always met a brick wall. However, the last administration under the digital leadership of Mr. Gbadega Adedapo, encouraged the Hon. Dayo Ogunniyi led NPA Building Committee to secure a landed property for the association. Our administration, right from inauguration, was determined to move us to a permanent office. To achieve this goal, we carefully appointed our indefatigable V.P., Alhaji Lukman Dauda to supervise the project. A task he did with painstaking panache and professionalism. Today, we proudly own a mini-secretariat at No1, Bethlehem Crescent, Jericho Hill, GRA, near Forestry Research Institute, Ibadan. Goodbye to rented offices.”
Oladele, a former Managing Director of the African Newspapers of Nigeria Plc, publishers of Nigerian Tribune titles, noted that despite technological advances, paper would remain helpful and not vanish from Nigerian tables. To ensure its continuous supply, however, he recommended action plans, including establishing a Printing and Publishing Chamber of Commerce with key stakeholders’ involvement. He identified NPA, Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, Association of Nigerian Authors and Nigerian Guild of Editors as some of the key stakeholders. Oladele further recommended influencing the federal government to declare a state of emergency on paper and establish a Paper and Graphics Development Commission.
The keynote speaker equally tasked NPA and all stakeholders to spearhead robust research and disruptive innovation in three main areas: “Recycling Policy and Enterprise Development to create SMEs with interest in paper production from recycling, focus on the specific experimentations that must be funded as quick and workable sources. We may start with banana/plantain trunks like Uganda is doing now. We may also look into the bamboo revolution, like China’s collaboration with Ethiopia. Engage the National Assembly on resuscitation of Jebba, Iwopin and Oku Iboku paper mills for appropriate legislation and funding.”
Stressing the need for urgent action, Oladele said, “Our population and level of development make us a big market for paper merchants. We must stop the huge forex capital flight to countries annually and create jobs in this ecosystem while paper sustainability lasts.”
He urged stakeholders to close ranks “now and work together to influence relevant government agencies to also work together on this causative pursuit.”
Oladele, who asked the Federal Ministries of Information and National Orientation Agency; Trade, Industry and Investment; Education; Central Bank of Nigeria, Bank of Industry and Development Bank of Nigeria to join publishers in resolving the issue, however, had a warning on the long-term future of paper.
“As we face the paper war, we must not lose focus of the global drift – paperless society. This additional challenge must also be seen as another priority. We need priority setting, gradient pace, willpower, patriotism, strong institutions, laws, policies, and reliable leadership commitment. Let me say the “Malawian” courage is needed in this exercise.”
A panel session where experts further discussed the issue followed Oladele’s well-received keynote—a former NPA president and Managing Director of HEBN Plc, Chief N.O. Okereke chaired the discussion while the Director General of the Nigerian Copyright Commission, Dr. John Asein, moderated. The panel members were Professor Abiodun Oluwadare of the Department of Forest Production and Products, University of Ibadan, Chief Executive, FAE Limited, Mrs Funlayo Okeowo, Mr Olugbemi Malomo and Managing Director, Learn Africa Plc, Alhaji Hassan Bala.