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N400BN LOSS TO PAPER IMPORTS

By NBF News

The N400 billion recently estimated to be lost to importation of paper products into the country is money that could have been better utilised in the economy if the nation's paper and pulp manufacturing companies had been operational.

The Director-General, Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Prof. Azikiwe Onwualu, at the recent 2010 Annual General Meeting of the Pulp, Paper, Products, Printing and Publishing sector of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), stated that the prostrate state of Nigerian paper and pulp manufacturing companies in the last three decades inflicts colossal losses on the economy, leading to N400 billion loss to imports of the products.

He canvassed a revitalization of the industry, which hitherto employed 300,000 people and had investments worth over N100 billion. Nigeria, he said, could save N400 billion in imports and create over 200,000 jobs if the sector is resuscitated and made to operate optimally.

The comatose state of Nigeria's paper and pulp mills is unfortunate. Government's massive investment in the mills could not save them from collapse. They have remained dead, even after their privatisation. Those who bought the mills, including the ones at Oku Iboku, Jebba and Iwopin, failed to resuscitate them. Nigeria continues to import newsprint and other paper products at a huge cost, to the detriment of the economy. This situation is embarrassing.

The observation of Prof. Onwualu is a clarion call to strategic thinking on how to get the nation's paper mills back on track. The government needs to find out what happened to the paper mills to chart a way forward.

This situation is an opportunity for industrialists, and other stakeholders in the paper industry, including the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), to find a way to bring the paper industry in Nigeria back to life. It is, indeed, embarrassing that the nation, with its massive consumption of paper in form of newsprint, books, cards, notebooks and other stationery, cannot boast of one successful paper and pulp manufacturing company. The failure to revive the industry, which could have employed well over 100,000 Nigerians, is sad. The entire scenario is a sad commentary on Nigeria's failure to demonstrate leadership in Africa.

The government must act now to reduce the capital flight to paper imports. The Federal Ministry of Industries should be in the forefront of the effort to resuscitate the paper manufacturing companies. The avoidable capital flight in the sector is money thrown down the drain, because the money could be better used to provide jobs for Nigerians. We should avoid capital flights of this nature.

Unfortunately, it is not only in the paper industry that this inexpedient scenario is playing out. Apart from paper, Nigeria also loses billions of naira to importation of rice, chicken and fish. We also import refined petroleum products, when we are among the world's leading producers of crude oil.

Importation of paper products, therefore, is just one sad chapter in Nigeria's book of wasted opportunities for economic emancipation. Paper industries, today, are propping the economies of some countries, like Indonesia, but it is another area of wastage of scarce foreign exchange for us. Nigeria continues to complain about unemployment, yet we neglect labour-intensive industries. Government should resuscitate the paper industry in Nigeria to create jobs and stop avoidable capital flight.