The Senate has mandated its Committee on Privatization to investigate the operations and non-performance of paper mills sold by the Bureau of Public Enterprises to private interests.
This was just as the Upper Chamber rejected a call on the Federal Government to establish Federal Paper Mills in each Geo-political zones of the country.
The decision was reached sequel to the consideration of a motion on “the need to revive the Moribund Paper Mills in Nigeria.”
Sponsor of the motion, Senator Stephen Ekpenyong (PDP – Akwa Ibom North West) recalled that Nigeria’s three Paper Mills: Nigeria Paper Mill (NPM) Kwara State, Nigeria Newsprint Manufacturing Company (NNMC) Akwa Ibom State and Nigeria National Paper Manufacturing Company, Ogun State were established by the Federal Government in the 1960s and 1970s.
According to the lawmaker, the mills produced corrugated cartons, sack craft paper, kraft paper, linear and chip board as well as fluting media to meet the country’s needs in writing and printing papers.
Ekpeyong noted that the Paper Mills were privatized by Government as a result of non-performance and lack of adequate funds to run them, adding that “paper production is one of the major activities regarded as a pointer to industrialization and educational development worldwide, making the sector a major booster to our economy.”
He expressed concern that “the sector has gone moribund since privatization, leaving the country with another huge income deficit.”
“The companies who bought these mills have either abandoned them or not been able to revive them to full capacity making the country depend on imported papers,” the lawmaker said.
Ekpeyong added that, “recent statistics by the Raw Material Research and Development Council (RMRDC) indicate that Nigeria lost over N800 billion annually to paper importation, while the Printers Association of Nigeria put the figure at $1 trillion US dollars annually through the importation of over one million metric tons of paper at the cost of $1,000 US dollars per tones.”
According to him, the Mills formerly had a workforce of over 300,000 people and an investment worth over N100 billion naira before the privatization policy by the government.
He expressed further worry that the unhealthy state of the printing industry is adversely affecting the education sector.
“Statistics show that over 100 million books are required annually in the country for the 20 million students in schools and by the National Book Policy, five books are the requirement set per pupil. Seventy-five percent of these books are printed outside the country.
“This is because the printers make more money printing abroad because duty on importation of published books is zero percent while importation of paper, as raw materials into the country is up to 30 percent,” Ekpeyong said.
The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, in his remark, called on the Committee on Privatization to summon the Bureau of Public Enterprises to probe the non-performance of Paper Mills in the country.
“All our paper mills are privatized, and in the seventh Senate we investigated the public enterprises that were privatized. What we need to do like our first prayer says, is to investigate.
“First of all, our committee on Privatization should get BPE because our government and the private investors signed shared purchase agreements.
“We need to know how far those private investors who took over the control of our paper mills are compliant with the signed shared purchase agreement?
“Many of them you’ll find have simply not complied with the agreements on the basis of which we surrendered our common patrimony.
“So, our committee on privatization should be able to do that. Where these investors have failed to move the paper mill industry forward, government should know what to do.
“It is extremely important that we save the very scarce foreign exchange that we spend on importation, and in the process export our job opportunities to other countries,” Lawan said.
Accordingly, the Senate in its resolution urged the Chartered Institute of Professional Printers of Nigeria (CIPPON) and Nigeria Customs Service to review duty on importation of paper as raw materials into the country and make it favourable to print locally in Nigeria.