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Time for disruptive developmental strategies

By Malomo Olugbemi
01 October 2020   |   3:08 am
One of the common denominators of the history of Nigeria is what could have been. From comparison to other nation at independence with the same developmental indexes such as South Korea

One of the common denominators of the history of Nigeria is what could have been. From comparison to other nation at independence with the same developmental indexes such as South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia on how far we have stagnated on development and quality of life to issue of bad leadership that couldn’t change the trajectory of our development for sixty years, depending on the side of the divide you are to unabated corruption in all facet of our lives to ethnicity and religious intolerance and the toothless call for change has turned Nigeria into a continuous circular and endless whirlwind calls for a 2ist century disruptive developmental strategy to stir up and refocus our nation, as the saying goes: “stupidity is doing the same thing all over “.

Nigeria’s diamond jubilee, therefore, provides an opportunity to look back at the 60 years of our great nation from the prism of the printing and graphic communication industry. Printing was one of the foremost profession in Nigeria dated back to 1854  when Reverend Hope Waddell of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland Mission established the First Printing Press in present-day Cross River and Reverend Henry Townsend, of the Church Mission Society (CMS) established a second to print the bible soon after.

The industry is unlike most others. It is the second-largest employer of labour in Nigeria after traditional farming, yet it maintains such a low profile that rather than being a great giant it could just about disappear from sight. It is a diverse, disperse swarm of small businesses employing as low as five people. However when examined holistically shows one is faced with an entirely different monster comprising of thousands of small independent units.

Printing touches our lives constantly in the form of product packages, books, newspapers, magazines, offices stationery, and a wide variety of other printed items we use every day. We consume it without thinking about it. To treat printing as a stand-alone product, service, or process, is impossible. It’s a manufacturing industry in the strictest sense but it is also a service industry. There are a number of services and industries intertwined with printing such as paper manufacturing, equipment manufacturing, print finishing, graphic design, marketing, distribution, and logistic among others

One component of the printing industry that tells the story of Nigeria and the evolution of the printing industry is pulp and paper

In the 70s and 80s, the government established three paper mills, Jebba Paper Mill, Iwopin Paper Mill, and Oku – Ibokun Paper Mill. The implementation of the Federal Government import substitution policy which started from independence coupled with demand for paper product brought about the government decided to expand its industrial base to include pulp and paper like the many “what if” policies of the government, the paper mill has sold the paper mill which itself is not a bad policy, but failed to ensure that the buyers have the capacity to revive the industry and not just buying off the properties to rip off the asset. At Nigerian best, Sunday times was producing one million newspapers per publication. In the last couple years, the circulation of newspapers in Nigeria has dropped by 70%, with some of the most popular dailies struggling to print 100, 000 copies daily to the extent, stakeholders are concerned that if the issues affecting the sector are not effectively addressed, very few newspapers would be able to survive the next few years, and that would leave very ugly situation in the industry. Put into proper perspective I stumbled on a newspaper printed in 1975 and sold for 5Naira, today newspapers sell for an average of 250Naira

The combined production capacity of the three mills working at full capacity was 285,000 tons. The irony today is that Nigeria imports about three million tons of paper worth over one trillion Naira, the figure is so attractive to our Neighbouring sister Ghana that they are in the process of setting up a multi-million dollar paper mill to target the Nigeria market. Imagine saving such amount in forex and the employment capacity of having our own functional mill? Without a disruptive developmental strategy, the status quo of decline will continue.

Still on paper with over 60 percent of the Nigerian population in one school or the other, and an estimated 10 books per annum (Including exercise books) over 1.2 billion books are available for printing annually majority of this book is awarded by the government to “publishers” who ends up printing them abroad and brings than in at zero percent duty when classified as “educational material” meanwhile printers imports paper at up to 25% duty. Everybody including the government is just comfortable with it, moving forward we need a disruption to the situation.
Government’s enormous buying power in the printing industry has the potential to shape and create markets in ways that can deliberately foster disruptive innovation.  Government is the largest buyer of books through UBEC at the national level and SUBEC at the state level

Instead of simply supporting status quo approaches whose costs typically increase over time, public agencies like UBEC can use their buying power to create local book production markets
It’s not all stories of gloom, along the line there were sparks set in motion to lighten the mood of the industry, in 2007 the very first bill signed into law by the Late President Musa Yar Adua, was the bill that established the Chartered Institute of professional printers of Nigeria (CIPPON)  for the Regulation, Control, and Administration of the entire value chain of printing, granting the profession a Chartered status was significant, but the joy of the spark was momentarily extinguished by sitting tight leadership reminisces of the Nigeria state. for a decade the same leadership seat glued unto power until the industry decided they have had enough, paving the way for a new leadership 14 months ago.

While trying to pick the pieces together and battling with recovering from a serious downturn in business and pulling ourselves together, then out of the blues came COVID 19

Majority of the businesses in our value chain are SMEs and particularly depend on daily income, without any doubt now our utmost goal is survival.

The lesson from the COVID 19 is clear, the solution to our collective survival in the event of “any pandemic”, be it a virus or unemployment is the development of local capacity. We cannot agree less with Prof. Soludo, former Governor of the Central bank that :

“… Multilateralism and global coordination framework are at their weakest link…. National (local) SELF DEFENCE is the rule.”

While we are pursuing the need for government to recognise the importance of our industry to the socio-economic development and come to the aid of our industry employing millions of Nigerians all over the federation with palliative measure, we are as a first step urgently calling for:
• Nigeria printing Jobs remains in Nigeria
• Printing Jobs for Printers only.

COVID 19 has changed the priority of how to create jobs to how to sustain existing jobs. Therefore, the first step to create jobs in our industry today is now the need to sustain existing jobs.

We are not asking for too much, we are asking that Government join hand with us to develop local capacity. The United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) defines capacity development as the process through which individuals, organisations, and society obtain, strengthen and maintain the capabilities to set and achieve their own development objectives over time.

We have picked up the gauntlet to ensure our collective survival. Please hear us out…

Malomo Olugbemi is the president and Chairman of Council of the Chartered Institute of Professional Printers of Nigeria Established by Act 24 of 2007