The President/Chairman in Council, Chartered Institute of Professional Printers of Nigeria, Olugbemi Malomo, in this interview with NIKE POPOOLA, speaks on the need to revive the moribund paper mills in the country and urgently implement policies that will promote productivity and protect the future of the printing industry
What is the duty of the Chartered Institute of Professional Printers of Nigeria?
The Chartered Institute of Professional Printers of Nigeria is established by Act 24 of 2007 and charged with the duty of regulating, controlling, managing and administration of printing, printing-related businesses and allied matters.
If you look at printing in Nigeria, there are paper mills that are now moribund; what is the challenge with the industry?
If you look at Nigeria at the moment, the country is challenged and the printing industry is not in isolation. Let us look at the newspaper industry, what you were printing some 10 years ago were more than what you are printing now and the paper industry is connected to printing; so, we are all in it together. By and large, we had three paper mills. One of the stanzas of our national anthem says, ‘The labour of our heroes past shall not be in vain.’ The military government in the ’60s and ’70s set up paper mills in Jebba, Okuboku and Iwopin and these paper mills were designed as part of government’s drive for local production because they realised Nigeria was spending a lot of money on importation of paper. Today, the papers mills are moribund and apart from that, the Federal Government recently set up a ministerial committee to appraise and come up with a plan to revive the paper mills. That is a good step, but then the full capacity of the three paper mills is not up to 200,000 metric tons, and at the moment, we are using over three million metric tons. This means if the paper mills are revived, they will still not solve our problem. So, we should be thinking of something more futuristic and something that would really bring relief and reprieve to the printing industry.
What are the things we should be looking at?
We should be looking at inconsistencies and conflicts in government policies. When we import papers, we pay a duty of 25 per cent, and someone who brings printed materials from abroad into Nigeria pays zero per cent when it is classified as educational materials. If you also ask someone to come and start paper manufacturing in Nigeria knowing that paper production is capital intensive, the environment must be enabling for investors to make gains from their investment. So, the stakeholders and government need to sit together and formulate policies that will regulate and ensure investors in paper manufacturing find a return on their investment in Nigeria.
For now, do you import all the materials you use, or are your materials locally sourced?
Our major raw material is paper, and I can tell you unequivocally that every year, we import paper to the tune of N3tn and that is like a quarter of Nigeria’s annual budget. Now, imagine if we produce that locally, we will be less dependent on foreign exchange. Ghana, for instance, is setting up a paper mill, and I can tell you that Nigeria is their target market for that paper mill. It is now imperative for us to look inwards and come up with how we can produce paper locally. Otherwise, Nigeria continues to be a dumping ground and this has resultant effects as a lot of people will be jobless. If we don’t spend money on production of paper, we will spend money on security votes. Just do an analysis of Nigeria’s budget; you will see that the budget for education, which is where printing of books belong, has been reducing and the budget of security has been increasing. We cannot just continue to fight on the surface; we need to look at the root cause of all these things. Production of paper in Nigeria will provide employment for millions of people.
Let us look at those producing locally; do you think the forex exchange scarcity is affecting their business?
When you are producing paper, you can produce from primary or secondary materials. I can tell you authoritatively that there is no manufacturer producing from primary materials. What they are doing is more like recycling and, with due respect to them, what they are producing cannot meet one per cent of our demand.
Before COVID-19 came, the printing industry had its challenge. Now with COVID-19, what are the new challenges facing the industry?
The experience is like a sinking ship that suddenly experiences flood and you know what that means: we are sinking further down. If you go to the industry hub in Lagos, Somolu, where we have a lot of printing activities, it is now like a ghost town. Somolu is a local government of about half a million population and almost all the people in that local government are being sustained by the printing industry. But if you go there right now, you will discover there is reduced activities going on there. That is why we created a 32-page document on what we want our post-COVID-19 priorities to be, and that is for the survival of our industry.
But has the institute in anyway been able to support its members so as to prevent them from totally running out of business?
Our support for the industry is in terms of enabling them to do their job very well and ensure there are jobs in the country to be done. We are not an association and not in a position to contribute money for people; associations and government will do more of that. And in fairness, the Federal Government recently appointed us into the creative industry post-COVID-19 committee. We are hopeful something important will come out from that. Now, on our post-COVID-19 priorities, what we are asking from the government is to let Nigerian printing jobs remain in Nigeria. I don’t think that is too difficult to do if you know how much we spend on printing in Nigeria and that is in tandem with what government is saying. The Federal Government, in line with its vision, established Executive Order 5, which says anything that can be produced locally should not go abroad. We are calling on the Federal Government to implement Executive Order 5 in our industry, so that all the printing we can produce locally do not go abroad. The second priority is that printing is now a profession; Act 24 of 2007 has professionalised the industry and if you are not a professional, you should not take printing jobs. In every Nigerian family, there is a printing contractor and we are coming after them; we cannot allow that to happen again. If you want to join us, we have entry level; come and go through what people are going through and invest in the diverse value chain of print. You cannot say because your relative holds one office so you want to do printing. The Act 24 of 2007 has criminalised such behaviour and we will look for scapegoats and prosecute them.
In other words, you want to start flushing out the quacks?
Exactly! You cannot talk about professionalism without separating the professionals from the quack. Irrespective of how big you are, you are a quack if you are not licensed by the institute. You are putting yourself on the wrong side of the law and in this country, and any civilised society, nobody is above the law. If you say you have been printing for a long time, we are not closing you down right now; come and get the criteria for you to be licensed. We will check what you have and get you licensed. You cannot continue to practise as a printer without being licensed. As an institute, we train our people and if you are not part of us, it means you are not trained and you cannot practise.
To enforce professionalism and flush out the quacks, you need to have the enforcement agencies around you. What instrument do you want to use to enforce this professionalism?
Our Act makes provision for a tribunal and once you are tried at the tribunal, you can only appeal at the Appeal Court. Secondly, we have looked at ourselves and we realised there is a perception that we printers are not trustworthy. So, we are introducing institutional integrity among our members such that people that carry our certificates deliver on their contract. We also notice that there are some types of printing that are easy target for pirates and counterfeiters; what we have done with those printing is to classify them as secured print. At the moment, we have three of those secured prints; we have security printing, like printing of ballot papers for elections. We also have packaging, particularly pharmaceutical packaging and thirdly, book production. We have raised the bar for these secured printing and you require a higher grade of licence to print such, not just an ordinary licence. We have entered into partnership with the Nigerian Copyright Commission and apart from that, we have an internal task force in every state of the federation to monitor people and ensure the Act is sacrosanct.
Let us look at government intervention in local industry. Government has been giving out intervention funds during this COVID-19 pandemic. Are your members able to access these loans?
To the best of my knowledge, I have not seen any of our members that had received the facility. I think in future and for the integrity of the Central Bank of Nigeria, they should carry along regulatory bodies in the disbursement of such facilities. I know qualified people that applied and till today had not received any facility from government. We are also calling on government to take a look at our plan of providing training platforms for our teeming youths who can learn a skill and get a formal certificate in six months and are empowered to do business in the printing industry. The printing industry is the second highest employer of labour after traditional farming. We have written the Universal Basic Education Commission and asked them to come to Somolu and work out how we can turn these skills to formal education in three to six months. There is wide value chain in printing, ranging from graphics designing, to plate making, to offset printing, textile and decoration, digital printing, laminating, and many more that will create empowerment for the youths and reduce crime in Nigeria.
There are different bodies under the institute; how have you been able to coordinate and regulate these bodies?
By bodies, I assume you are referring to the clusters in the industry. What we have done is to create clusters, grouping people of similar challenges offering same services, and we encourage the cluster formation in every state of the federation. And we are introducing liaison officer in every state that will be able to mobilise the people from the state to work for themselves and work for the institute,
Recently, the CBN reduced the benchmark lending rate and it is expected to reduce the interest rates banks charge borrowers. Do you think the interest rates banks charge is okay or should it be reviewed further downwards?
That reduction in rate is about CBN lending rate to banks but the rate that bank lend money to us is completely different. The reality is that at the rate bank lends us money, a lot of people will be unable to pay. Let us look at our counterparts all over the world, even in Morocco, people get money at single digit, and here with 10 per cent profit margin, we are borrowing from the bank at 25 per cent; this is not sustainable. Now the CBN has come up with a creative industry initiative in which they are giving out money at single digit. We have written to the CBN and we have requested for facility at single digit. We are very organised and the institute can give a bit of comfort. If people borrow money, it will be guaranteed by members of their clusters. All our equipment are import-dependent and there is no bank that will give us facility for more than three years; meanwhile, our counterparts get facility for up to 10 years. If the CBN can give us facility at single digit, it will go a long way in enhancing the industry.