The prostrate state of Nigerian paper mill companies is no doubt, costing the country fortunes, owing to failure of the buyers of the privatised entities to resuscitate the now ‘dead’ companies. The companies are the Nigeria Paper Mill in Jebba, Kwara State; the Nigeria Newsprint Manufacturing Company in Oku-Iboku, Akwa Ibom State and the National Paper Manufacturing Company in Iwopin, Ogun State.
Experts have argued that the country is losing over N500 billion yearly to the ill-fated privatization exercise, which has left the paper mills worse than they were before the sale.
When the Federal Government, through the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), moved to begin the sale of the paper companies to private investors, many people saw the development as a genuine avenue to restore life to the companies and hoped that the exercise would stop the overdependence on imported papers especially by the media industry.
However, what happened afterwards and the present state of the once fledging organisations has left many in the state of despair, leading to the renewed calls for a revisit of the process, with the aim of ensuring adequate supply of paper for domestic use.
Prior to the dwindling fortune of the local paper mills, Nigerian newspaper industry and associated sectors, such as book companies, could boast of fledging businesses that were major employers of labour.
It is on record that before the industry became comatose, Nigeria was producing newsprints of international standards and exporting same to the United States and many African countries and the industry was saving the country over N50 billion yearly that could have gone into the importation of newsprints.
While Oku Iboku was set up to produce 100,000 metric tonnes of finished newsprint per annum, the Jebba Paper Mill was conceived to produce corrugated cartons, sack craft, kraft paper, linear and chip board. Iwopin, on the other hand, was designed to meet the country’s demand of 170,000 writing and printing paper needs. Unfortunately, these lofty objectives remain unrealised till date.
Today, the sector has become worse off as many of the industry players cannot afford to buy newsprints, which are now largely imported and the unfortunate reality is that the imported materials are totally out of the reach of the industry players, owing to its foreign exchange-dependent.
This has negatively affected most newspaper companies, whose dwindling fortunes has led to loss of jobs of many people that rely on the paper mills for survival and has also caused the ‘death’ of many companies that depends on the use of newsprints as raw materials.
With the capacity of the sub-sector to employ over 500,000 Nigerians, the failure to revive the industry makes the country a laughing stock among the comity of nations. As such, it is imperative that the Federal Government and the affected states urgently seek the revitalisation of the industry.
Reviving the industry to create a new set of 500,000 jobs and bring to live, an investment running into hundreds of billions of naira in an ailing economy, such as ours, would be no mean a fit, as it would greatly reduce the capital flight that is occasioned by paper imports.
It has become manifest that those investors, who bought the Oku Iboku, Jebba and Iwopin paper mills through the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) and the National Council of Privatisation (NCP) lack the capacity to reactivate these companies, as such, the supervising ministry should be encouraged to immediately raise funds and inject such into the ‘dead’ companies, failing which the government should revisit the privatization exercise, with a view to revoking the agreement and investigating the allegations of assets striping, in order to give the industry a lifeline.
With the increasing demand for paper products in the country, there is nothing wrong in raising an intervention fund backed by an act of parliament, to help the paper mills, a situation that could spring foreign investors into the industry.
But, in order not to fall into the mistake of the past, government must not fail to look into the pitfalls that led to the comatose nature of the paper mills.
Some of the major challenges faced by the companies and later inherited by their investors, which the stakeholders must look into, so as not to fall into the same situation, include the inability to source long fibre trees and chemicals locally, as they depended on imported materials; the lack of power supply to the major plants, as they complained of not being connected to the national grid, causing them to run on alternative forms of power supply; and the alleged non-cooperative attitude of host communities, among others.
The industry stakeholders, such as the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and other end user-associations need to also rally the companies and brainstorm on how to work with government to ensure a seamless revitalization process.
If the needful is not immediately done, the failure to revisit the faulty privatisation process will continue to put the industry stakeholders in jeopardy and the country will continue to lose huge foreign exchange to capital flights.