Comrade Dada Joseph is the National President of Pulp Paper and Paper Products, Printing and Publishing Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PPAPPPASSAN). In this interview with JOY EKEKE, he calls on the Federal Government to liaise with the Paper and Board Manufacturing and Converters Association (PPMCA) to revive the three Nigerian major pulp paper mills and also intervene urgently in the sector.
Is the fear of imminent massive job loss in your sector real or imagined?
Yes, the fear of imminent job loss is there already because the rate at which paper industries are retrenching their staff is alarming. On daily basis the industries are experiencing retrenchment and even outright closing down. The closing down of some of the company is either due to none availability of raw materials occasioned by high forex to taking over of some as a result of indebtedness to banks.
Opinions are divided on the privatisation of the nation’s three pulp and paper mills between 2006 and 2008, do you think it was the best option?
The privatization of Pulp paper and paper Mills between 2006 and 2008 or even before then was a wrong step because if the pulp paper mills were still in existence it would have solved the problem of raw materials. For tissues mills springing up all over the country, it would have saved the country a lot of foreign reserve. Presently, tissues mills import pulp from foreign countries before they could produce quality tissue paper. If Iwopin paper mill that boast of more than three thousands (3000) staff in its payroll and Okuiboku mill that has more than four (4,000) workers and Jab paper mill that was established to take care of the carton needs are working it would have solved some unemployment problems in the country. Since the privatization of three big mills and subsequent closure of the mills the country requirement for raw materials now depends on importation of pulp to service the existing tissues mills that are still struggling to survive.
Their situation is even worse now due to scarcity of forex to import raw materials. The local waste paper requirement is very high. For example, the waste paper requirement for a company like Bel Papyrus Ltd one of the biggest quality tissue manufacturing mills in Africa is about four hundred (400) tons per day to enable it run its three (3) plants. Today the company cannot run the plants to its installed capacity due to shortage of locally sourced waste paper. The company now depends on importation resulting to high cost of production which has a ripple effect on final consumers of the product by way of pricing. This is just one example of so many others.
What is the potential of the sector to create more employment?
The sector has great potential to create massive employment not only because the sector is viable but because it has no alternative. If only the government can create enabling environment for sector to thrive it is capable of generating over four hundred thousand (400,000) jobs. Bel Papyrus Ltd has over one (1000) workers, Onwards paper mill has more than seven hundred (700) employees before but due to the prevailing condition of the nation’s economy the company has less than fifty (50) workers, likewise some others in the sector. The demise of the three mills which has more than twelve thousand workers while still operational would have gone a long way to solving unemployment problems in the country.
What policies would you like to see the government put in place to support the development of the sector?
Government should put some policies in place like giving out some financial bailout or grants to assist the industry. The government should as a matter of urgency established or form a committee of experts which will include members of Paper and Paper Board Manufacturing and Converters Association (PPMCA) to faction out on how the three closed mill could be revived.
Most very high quality printing jobs are being taken outside the shores of this country, why is there a low rate of investment in printing technology in Nigeria?
The cost of buying some of the printing equipment is very high. It is not in the interest of the nation to send any printing job outside the country. It is most regrettable that most government and some of its agencies contract out their printing jobs abroad; we as a union not only frown at the action of these agencies but consider it as sabotage to this nation and condemn it in its entirety.
We therefore, call on the government at all levels in Nigeria to sanction any agent or agencies that indulge in this act. There are so many well-equipped printing companies in this country capable of handling any kind of printing jobs therefore it will amount to a great disservice to this country for any agency or agencies to print jobs outside this nation. We therefore appeal to all governments and their agencies including those in the private sector to patronize our local industries in order to conserve our foreign exchange.
What are some of the other major challenges confronting the sector and how can they be effectively resolved?
The industry is faced with the problem of casualisation, some of them detest unionization of their employees. Government should come to the aid of these companies by the way of assisting them to have access to forex and grants for optimal performance and for the reduction of employment which is the ban of the social vices ravaging our nation.
What major leaps has the sector made in the last 10 years and where do you expect it to be in terms of global competitiveness in the next 10 years?
The truth remains that the sector has not made any major leap. It has always been from bad to worse due to lack of cooperation among the players in the sectors. This results in their lack of taking a common stand on issues affecting them.
If the sectors must survive the major stakeholders must form a synergy to pursue their common goals and problems like the issue of forex and other reliefs and concession. We believe that that is the only way to get out of the woods.