By James Ezema
Sir Dayo AlabiÂ is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, The Books Company Limited. His organisation has interest in publishing, book selling and distribution, library set up and supplies.
In this interview, he spoke on the impact of 2010 budget on the economy, why investors are relocating out of Nigeria and reason publishersÂ prefer printing their books abroad than in Nigeria. Excerpts:
Looking at the 2010 federal budget as an investor, how do you think it will impact on investments and businesses in the country?
We have some major problems in Nigeria. Irrespective of whatever budget you plan, just like law, no matter how beautiful the laws you make are, if they are badly implemented or they are not implemented at all, you will achieve nothing. No matter how good your budget is, what will really impact on the people is its implementation.
If budgets are implemented the way they are designed, whether they are faulty or not, we will have some positive impact on the lives of the people. If for instance, electricity is not improved in Nigeria, all other aspects of our budgets will turn to nothing. I remember when I was working with Lever Brothers Nigeria Plc, I knew the kind of factories we used to have in Agbara in Ogun State,
in Apapa in Lagos State and also factory in Aba, I knew what we were producing. I donâ€™t think what Lever Brothers is producing today, in terms of tonnage, is up to 20 percent of what they used to produce in Nigeria. Why? Itâ€™s simply because of lack of power. The ordinary vulcanizer on the street that requires electricity to power his machine in other to repair our tyres, if electricity is not there, he will not be able to pay his house rent and send his kids to school. So the power problem affects everybody, starting from the smallest worker to the biggest factory.
If we do not solve the problem of electricity in Nigeria, whatever budget weâ€™re making, weâ€™re just wasting out time. And without deploying the resources to what they are budgeted for, you are still wasting your time. As a journalist, in the last one year, where are we in Nigeria? In my small office, everyday we use about 30 to 50 litres of diesel. Two years ago, it was not that bad. But we are hoping that if 2010 budget is well implemented, things will be better for all of us. If you look at the budget of the National Assembly, you ask yourself, if you are spending this on law making, what are the effects of the laws the legislators are making?
Iâ€™m not criticising them, but are the effects of the laws the National Assembly people are making commensurate with the cost of running the Assembly? Thatâ€™s why I tend to support those that are saying probably we should have looked at the parliamentary system of government rather what weâ€™re operating now. The cost of running government in Nigeria is so astronomical that I do not know if the benefits of the system of government we are running is commensurate with the cost of running it. We have to design a cheaper government structure.
As youâ€™re probably aware, the Acting President has taken over the Ministry of Power. Do you think there will be any change in the power situation in this country?
If the Acting President believed that the problem is so big that he wants to supervise a particular ministry himself, I believe he wants to work. That is my personal opinion. He is just saying â€œI want to see what is happening there myselfâ€™. And I believe that it was a right decision that the acting President took. I only pray and hope that he will be able to create enough time to devote to the details of what is required to run the Ministry of Power.
Iâ€™m not an engineer but I think Iâ€™m reasonably intelligent. If you have gas_powered turbines and any time there is a broken gas pipeline from the Niger Delta, that power plant shuts down. I think a little intelligence tells you that if you have a gas cylinder in your house that lasts you for a week, you can buy a bigger gas cylinder that can last three months in case there is gas shortage.
In like manner, if you have Egbin power station, which is powered by gas, I believe that common sense should tell you to have huge tank farms to store gas in that will last three orÂ months in case there is a blow up of your pipeline. And within three months, no matter what happens in the Niger Delta, you should be able to solve that problem. That is a common sense solution. If you have a power plant in Ogun State and you pipe gas from the Niger Delta and you donâ€™t have gas reserve and someone blows it up, you shut it down.
They may have their reasons but I donâ€™t think there is any logical reason that will tell you not to have tank farms to store your gas to power you power plants for months in case there is a problem in supply. Iâ€™m sure if all gas companies in US fold up tomorrow, they will have some reserve somewhere, which they have stored to ensure that they donâ€™t have problem of electricity supply. Most of the problems we have in Nigeria have simple solutions but for whatever reasons, people know the solution, they are not ready to apply them.
Iâ€™m sure that those engineers in PHCN knows the problems very well and they also know the solution. And the solutions to our problems are not as difficult as they are projected to be. It is just a matter of someone having the courage to look for the answers and apply them.
As an investor and someone who has been into book publishing, how have you been able to remain in business despite the challenges faced by industries in the country?
That is another big problem that Nigeria is not aware of; Nigeria as a country, Nigeria as a government, and Nigeria as people. They donâ€™t know what is happening to Nigeria in the book and education sector of Nigeria. The bulk of books we use in Nigeria today, whether they were published by Nigerian companies or not, are printed outside Nigeria. I can assure you that not less than 75 percent of books published by Nigerian companies are printed abroad.
Do the printing companies that are here have electricity to operate? If they are dependent on generator all the time, the cost of production will go up. Secondly, the printing companies in Nigeria are using papers which are imported, they are using printing plates which are imported, they are using films which are imported, and all of these carry duty.
If you import books all over the world, books are duty_free but if you import printing paper, you pay duty, if you import plates, films, printing machines, and the computers you are using to do your graphic design, you pay duty. By the time you put the cost of printing together, plus electricity that is not available; the cost of producing a particular book will be twice the cost of getting the book printed for you abroad. When you print it outside Nigeria, you are importing books into the country, which is duty_free by UNESCO protocol. So, what we should do is to get the electricity running, lets remove duty from printing materials, let books printed and published in Nigeria be comparable in cost with books published in Nigeria but printed in India. Most Nigerian publishers now go to India, Malaysia and China to print their book, which is taking employment off the printing industry, which is taking profit out of the companies thereby taking tax out of the government. Because turnover for printing companies is dwindling,
so, what they are paying to the federal government as tax is reducing, what the state government is taking as PAYEE for workers is reducing because workers are not there. So, that is another big issue that government are not probably aware and if they are aware, they are not doing anything about it. And the publishers have to survive, so, they take their finished products anywhere in the world to print and bring them in to sell.
They might be able to manage to survive but the printing industry is suffering and the government is losing huge revenue that would have accrued to it from the industry. And the implication to the economy as I have said is lose of employment, lose of tax revenue to government, lose of income to the publishing company, lose of investment; because printing companies in India are expanding based on business they are getting from Nigeria. Printing companies in China and Malaysia are expanding as a result of the business they are getting from Nigeria. The country, in terms of printing business, is getting worse than it was two years ago. Rather than moving forward, the country is at best stagnant and I think the country has moved backwards.
Many industries have folded up as a result of the power problem, what future does our economy have in that kind of situation?
At times when I think about Nigeria, I weep for Nigeria. Iâ€™m a Nigerian and I have done some reasonable travelling and a times when you think about this country, it seems nobody in position to solving our problems is thinking of solving them. If Michelin, Dunlop, Liver Brothers,
Allied Biscuits, Bisco Biscuits were here for several years producing, where are Bisco Biscuits, where is Allied Biscuits, the people that used to work there that have no jobs now, what is happening to them? What is happening to their children? Nobody is thinking. If nobody comes to find solutions to the problems armed robbery will continue to increase, cyber crime will continue to increase, students will continue to fail their exams because they wonâ€™t read.
Most people now wants the shortest cut to everything in life. The students want to go into examination hall without reading to pass, somebody wants to sit down in his house without working to become a millionaire such that nobody is thinking of adding value to the society. Can we ever have again in Nigeria somebody who will invent anything â€” somebody who will sit down in a laboratory, conduct a research and invent anything?
I Donâ€™t think Nigerians are thinking in that direction. It is unfortunate that everybody in Nigeria is aware and I donâ€™t know if anybody is doing anything about it. Parents who will pay someone to write JAMB (UMTE) and GCE for their children are also cheats and are not better than the children they are helping. They are the ones encouraging their children to bring this country to the dust.