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Nigeria Spends $5 Billion Annually on Paper Imports



The escalating expenses of foreign exchange (forex) when compared to the Nigerian naira pose a substantial menace to diverse sectors such as packaging, entertainment, events, education, and print media.

For an extended period, the printing sector in Nigeria has played a vital role in facilitating communication, education, and marketing endeavors. Regrettably, a notable hindrance looms over its sustainability and prospects for expansion: the surging expenses associated with paper.

With the mounting cost of this pivotal resource, its far-reaching impacts reverberate through multiple industries, encompassing print media, education, events, and advertising.

In this interview with ThePressNG, the MD/CEO of FAE Limited, Princess Layo Bakare Okeowo, reveals how the increasing cost of forex is impacting the paper industry in Nigeria. Excerpts……. 

ThePressNG: How much of its local paper needs does Nigeria produce?    

Okeowo: Nigeria does not produce paper locally. Only corrugators recycle papers into cartons which are used for packaging. It’s not that they make paper they recycle the waste that is being generated by corrugators.

They may import a little bit of pulp to cushion the strength and add some chemicals.

Nobody has a proper functional paper mill. But a lot of people don’t use brown paper.

People use white paper for letters, books, office papers letterhead etc.

The ratio of people using white paper to brown is like 90 to 10. Those are all corrugated.

But the local corrugators cannot even meet up; some of them even import to complement the corrugated industry. 

ThePressNG: What is the cause of Nigeria’s low production? 

Bakare Okeowo:  The reason is that the government has not yet seen the paper industry as a gold mine; they are just running after oil. But paper making is like oil.

For example, a ton of white paper now is about $1,200.

When you look at Egypt, for example, you can see the population of that country with Nigeria.

Egypt has 25 paper mills whereas Nigeria has about two and a half; and Nigeria is just recycling, not proper paper making.

That is why we stakeholders in the paper industry are saying let’s have a functional paper mill in Nigeria.

Having a paper research institute too is enough oil revenue for the government to run this country.

When we really look at it, gone are the days when people would need to plant maliner trees to grow for the production of paper. Nobody is ready to invest for 12 years before he sees his return on investment.

We can plant the maliner in Nigeria but the gestation period is too long before turning it into paper. 

Therefore, researchers have researched that we can use kenaf, which we have in high deposits in the northern part of Nigeria.

Kenaf is a species that can be turned into paper – and the gestation period of that is six months. So, our problem is over when it comes to raw materials. In fact, our jute leaves (ewedu) can be used as raw material to make paper.

Our old clothes can be used as paper also. So, technology has really moved forward and can make things easier for us. All we need to do is to have a high population of it. Maybe because we Nigerians are finicky, we might want the paper to be snow-white.

In that case, we can add a little bit of pulp and chemicals to bleach it to become snow-white.  

We spend almost $5 billion yearly on importing paper into this country. Why should we be doing that yet we say we don’t have foreign exchange.

These are the drain pipe areas our dollars are going into. Imagine $5 billion in Nigeria’s coffers! It would go a long way. So we can save our foreign exchange by producing things that we can produce here. That is for the government.

For individual businesspeople in the paper business, if we form clusters, with $5 million we can have mushroom paper mills. If we have about 60 clusters to make paper, we will have become rich in Nigeria.

It’s just that we are not thinking and we are fed up with talking.

Also, policy somersault has been a major problem for the growth of this product in this industry and many others that are affecting the manufacturing sector because if there is stable policy the industry will thrive.  

ThePressNG: What should the government do? 

Bakare Okeowo: The government should not be going to investment forums and taking politicians along with them; they should be taking entrepreneurs and investors as delegates, not politicians that would see such trips as holidays and come back to haunting us to pay taxes. It’s like a master/servant relationship. 

ThePressNG: Considering Nigeria’s low production of paper and the high cost of forex, which is rising every day, and makes it more expensive, how is it likely to affect events, packaging, and advertising, which are paper-intensive? 

Bakare Okeowo: It will definitely affect the economy because manufacturers cannot absorb all the costs.

They will have to pass it on to the final consumers.

My fear is that the government is not looking at the manufacturing sector; any government that does not pay attention to its manufacturing sector will not grow because it’s the bedrock of every economy.

If we grow our manufacturing sector most Nigerians will have something to do in the job market.

There is no rocket science on this forex issue.

It’s a law of supply and demand. The demand for forex is more than its supply; if we produce locally and save our forex there will be equilibrium.

Also, the government needs to pay attention to insecurity in the country. We cannot be a productive economy in the face of insecurity everywhere