“Nigerian Paper Mills Exist Only in History Books, a National Economic Reflection”
In a post-COVID-19 era shock, the challenges facing businesses in Nigeria have not abated and still require doggedness and unshakable resolve to conquer variable impossibilities that confront executives in steering the wheels of their organisations to profitability.
Moribund paper mills, high import tariff, and foreign exchange rate amongst others is the bane of Nigeria’s printing and publishing industry says the Managing Director of AFKAR Printing and Publishing Company Limited, Dr. Adesola Falaiye in a chat with Tobiloba Kolawole.
The industry post-COVID-19
COVID came, and then it was like everything was going to go down. But going back to innovation, that’s where boys were separated from men. In terms of management, we came up with a few innovations, like in the area of light packaging; you still need printing to produce light packaging products. So, we enhanced our participation in that line of our business.
A lot of print magazines are no longer in circulation because now they circulate by soft copy. Most Nigerian publishers would also prefer to patronise foreign rather than Nigerian printers, but we are striving to work with as many publishers to produce school books as much as we can. Publishing works are still areas of prospect for printers, especially in this part of the world where you don’t have the technology and amenities to back online reading. The biggest consideration, however, is the economy. People’s purchasing power has dwindled because of the downturn in the economy. For example, now there’s no cash, and there’s no fuel. So, it’s no longer about COVID now, it’s about the economy. Running a business or managing a business in Nigeria now is a big task because you have to be on your feet. You have to think of innovation, you have to think of a better way to do things.
Doing business in Nigeria is quite turbulent; I’m a positive person, but sometimes you just have to be realistic. In the printing business, 95% of our raw materials or consumables are imported. So, we are directly involved in foreign exchange fluctuation, inflation and import duties.
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Meanwhile, when you bring in a complete book from outside the country…we signed on to a treaty called the Florence Treaty that says when you bring complete work to Nigeria, we don’t pay duties on it. But for everything we use to produce these works here, the paper, the inks, the chemicals, you pay duties on them. So, we’re operating in a very disadvantaged position. But now, because it’s more difficult to even source for foreign exchange, people are looking more inward.
Like we keep saying, our economy is consumer based rather than production based. And when you consume, that means you deal a lot with foreign exchange and foreign exchange fluctuations directly affect your business. So, there are a lot of issues surrounding the business world generally and the printing and publishing business in particular. That’s where innovation comes in as a leader, ensuring to provide solutions for customers. So, when you run a business, and you know that you are providing solutions, you know that whatever you do, you are thinking from that basis, and you do things to make your business work. There’s always room to expand, there’s always room to close a section and open up another section, provided you are providing solutions, and you are meeting people’s needs. We’re trying to take it one day at a time and have a large share of the market. And it’s not over until it is over.
Made in Nigeria vs reality in the industry
To make educational materials easily accessible to people, Nigeria had to sign into the Florence treaty. So, publishers can bring in their finished books from Asia and other foreign countries free of duty while Nigerian printers have to pay heavy duties on raw materials and consumables. So, we are not operating on an equal scale, we’re not operating on a leveled ground.
It’s quite unfortunate because Nigerian businesses don’t support Nigerian businesses. Why would you take your job outside and leave those you should support dry?
Foreign organizations and publishers believe more in us than our local publishers. We have US customers based in USA, South Africa, Ghana because our quality matches what they want. So why would Nigerian publishers and print buyers take their jobs abroad when we can compete favourably with them. Like I keep saying, it should be all about competence.
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What is required to get the industry back on track?
A total overhaul of the value chain. Number one, we don’t even produce paper in Nigeria. I don’t know whether you were taught about paper mills when you were maybe in primary or secondary school. Those things are in history books now. They have been grounded. All those equipment and machinery are wasted. So, I think it’s a lack of will, It’s also our maintenance culture, It’s also we, the people. Treat equipment and materials as if they are yours when you are in a leadership position. Run other people’s businesses as if they are yours. Don’t ruin businesses. We also need amenities, power and all resources. Whatever is happening in the industry is a reflection of the total economy. So, the solution to the total economy is the solution.
Elections as seasonal industry catalyst, what are the gains?
I’m going to talk about INEC; I was part of a campaign train a few months ago. I was in my office when they came to record me, and we told them to print in Nigeria. When you are talking about quality, we have it. I just read a newsletter from the Chartered Institute of Professional Printers of Nigeria (CIPPON) saying that they got some improvement there because INEC did some jobs in Nigeria. We (AFKAR) didn’t get a job, and my company is one of the companies paying the highest subscription to CIPPON.