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Nigeria’s Paper Mills Shut Down from Faulty Privatization, Sabotage

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According to a report this past week by Business Day, Accra, Ghana, a faulty privatization process and sabotage have brought Nigeria’s three paper mills to their knees, pushing Africa’s largest economy into importing almost all of its paper needs. Industry stakeholders say the privatization of the paper mills were handed over to investors who have more interest in importation of paper from India than developing the mills which they bought and promised to develop locally.

"The co-investor that bought the Nigeria Paper Mill (NPM) did not buy it to help Nigeria," said Samson Ololade Ogundele, ex-senior manager, Nigeria Paper Mill, Jebba, Kwara State. Ogundele who was speaking in Lagos, further said that "I know it was valued at about N30 billion in Nigeria as at 1995, but this same mill was given to the investor at N334 million in 2008.

"The aim of the government in handing over the mill was to create jobs and improve the economy. The majority of Nigerians working in Nigeria Paper Mill –both junior and senior, are casual," Ogundele disclosed, adding that the Federal Government must re-visit the privatization in spite of the fact that it is the only paper mill working at the moment.

In March of this year, the Federal Government handed over  the Iwopin Paper Mill in Ogun to the core investor, Beulah Technical Co. Ltd. According to A.A  Ogunwusi and A.P Onwualu, of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), the integrated pulp and paper mills established in Nigeria were privatized in the mid 2000s as a result of lack of adequate funds to import requisite raw materials and because of their non performance.

Ogunwusi and Onwualu said the Nigeria Paper Mill commenced rehabilitation immediately after privatization and started production in 2009, while the two other mills are yet to start production. They added that while the Nigeria Paper Mill has rehabilitated its paper machines, it is currently producing kraft paper within 60-250 gsm range, using recycled paper.

"The mill has been able to reduce national dependence on kraft paper importation, although, its customers are agitating that it should add long fiber pulp to the recycled waste paper pulp to increase the strength of its products," they said.

The major problems the mills may likely continue to face even after becoming fully operational, are dependence on imported long fiber pulp and chemicals, they said, adding that  there is the need to deepen the local market, transfer technology to generate employment, and  reduce the cost of local paper products.

Apart from the Nigeria Paper Mill (NPM)Limited located in Jebba, Kwara State, which is the only one producing at a low capacity, the two others, notably  Nigerian Newsprint Manufacturing Co. (NNMC) Ltd., Oku-Iboku, Akwa Ibom State; and Nigerian National Paper Manufacturing Company (NNPMC) Ltd. in Ogun State, are not working.

Consequently, the country is losing N180 billion from non-performance of the three paper mills in the country, according to Hussain Doko Ibrahim, director-general, RMRDC.

Oluwadare Oluwafemi, a professor in the department of agriculture and forestry, University of Ibadan, identified the inability to source long fiber trees as one key reason for the non-performance of the mills.

Oluwafemi lamented the poor funding of research institutions, while also calling for the establishment of a pulp and paper institute to save the country from these huge losses.

"It is unfortunate that 90% of paper used in Nigeria is imported," Oluwafemi said, while presenting a paper titled, ‘Long Fibre Pulp Production in Nigeria: Prospects and Challenges,’ calling for the reversal of the privatization process, which he said was faulty.

He also canvassed for the establishment of an ‘Indigenous Long Fibre Pulpwood Improvement Programme’.

Ukana Akpabio, professor of chemistry at the University of Uyo, said the country is yet to utilize enormous pulp and paper materials (fibrous and non-fibrous) which abound locally, adding that there must be a well-defined strategy to develop the struggling industry.

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