Nigeria spends N50 billion on importation of papers annually, statistics from the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) says.
The reason is that the Nigeria Paper Mill (NPM)Limited located in Jebba, Kwara State; Nigerian Newsprint Manufacturing Company (NNMC)Limited, Oku-Iboku, Akwa Ibom State; and Nigerian National Paper Manufacturing Company (NNPMC) Limited in Ogun State, are not working.
Efforts are being made to revive NPM but whether these translate into success is a matter of time.
Chima Igwe, acting director-general of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi, attributes non-functionality of paper mills to lack of fibre trees such as gmelina, which is an essential raw material for the industry.
He said adequate provision of high-fibre trees would enable paper firms to return to business.
Three years ago, Ukana Akpabio, professor of chemistry at University of Uyo, had said the country was yet to utilise enormous pulp and paper materials (fibrous and non-fiborous) in the country, adding that there must be a well-defined strategy to develop the struggling industry.
Some industry players argue that the privatisation process which handed the firms to current owners were faulty and did not look at the capacities of the buyers.
The paper mills were privatised during Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, which handed moribund and poorly-run government businesses to private entities.
Industry stakeholders say the privatisation of the paper mills were handed over to investors who have more interest in importation of papers from India than developing the mills which they bought and promised to develop.
According to Abimbola Ogunwusi of the RMRDC, the integrated pulp and paper mills established in Nigeria were privatised in the mid-2000s as a result of lack of adequate funds to import requisite raw materials and generally because of their non-performance.
In a paper, Peter Onwualu and Abimbola Ogunwusi said the Nigeria Paper Mill commenced rehabilitation immediately after privatisation and started production in 2009, while the two other mills could not. They added that while Nigeria Paper Mill had rehabilitated its paper machines, it was producing kraft paper within 60-250gsm range using recycled paper at that time.
The major problems the mills may likely continue to face are dependence on imported long fibre pulp and chemicals, they argued, adding that there is the need to deepen the local market, transfer technology transfer to generate employment and reduce the cost of local paper products.
Nigeria is losing N180 billion from non-performance of the three paper mills in the country, said Hussain Doko Ibrahim, director-general, RMRDC.
In 2016, Oluwadare Oluwafemi, a professor in the department of agriculture and forestry, University of Ibadan, identified the inability to source long fibre trees as one key reason for the non-performance of the mills.
Oluwafemi lamented the abysmal fund devoted to research institutions, while also calling for the establishment of pulp and paper institute to save the country from these humongous losses.
“It is unfortunate that 90 percent of papers used in Nigeria are imported,” Oluwafemi said, while presenting a paper entitled, ‘Long Fibre Pulp Production in Nigeria: Prospects and Challenges’, at the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) meeting in Lagos.
He also canvassed for the establishment of ‘Indigenous Long Fibre Pulpwood Improvement Programme’.