By Ebele Orakpo
Mr. Vincent Oludare Obielum is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Oludare Obielum Nigeria Enterprises, a printing outfit located in Surulere area of Lagos.
In a chat with Vanguard recently, Obielum told the story of his journey into the world of printing and the challenges, noting that printing business is lucrative although highly competitive in this era of computer technology as it has become somewhat an all-comers affair.
On completion of his primary education home state of Delta, Mr. Vincent Oludare Obielum was taken down to Ilesha, Osun State by his uncle who was a farmer. In Ilesha, he began working with his uncle in his farm but after a while, the uncle decided to send him to learn printing. “When he told me I was going to learn printing, I said ‘Ah, printing of all jobs?’ I did not know what printing was all about.
I was sent to Oladiran Liberty Press to learn the techniques of printing as an apprentice between 1968 and 1970 during the civil war. When things became very hard and going to the farm was almost impossible as a result of the war, I started selling newspapers while I continued with the apprenticeship. I would sell newspapers in the morning and by 8.00am, I would go to the printing press to continue my apprenticeship.
I continued like that until I finished my apprenticeship. Then in 1970, I started work with somebody in Ilesha but he was not paying me any salary so I wrote to my brother who was living in Lagos, telling him that I had finished my apprenticeship and would like to move to Lagos and he said why not?” Obielum narrated.
True to his words, his brother sent him £10 with which he travelled to Lagos. “I moved to Lagos in 1970 and got a job at Ebute-Metta as an advanced apprentice because they considered that I came from a place that was not as advanced as they were, but when they tested me, they found out that I could do all they were doing so they took me as a worker and I was earning about £3 per month.
I worked there until 1972 when I got a job with another press at Ojuelegba. I was managing the press and in 1974, I met one of my colleagues with whom I learnt printing in Ilesha. At this time, he was working with his sister, not as a printer. He said since I have gained some experience, supposing he spoke with his sister and she buys printing machine for us, will I be able to manage it?’ I said ‘of course!’
With my three years experience in Lagos, I would be able to manage the press. So he talked to the sister and she bought the machine and we stared working together. Within a short time, we were able to buy another printing machine, a more modern one because the one the sister bought was the manual one. At that time, there were no computers in Nigeria (1974 – 75),” he stated.
The music changed suddenly for Obielum as in 1981, his colleague had an accident and died but he never gave up. He said:“From that point, things started changing as his sudden death affected me very much. I took his younger brother and trained him in the art of printing and he took the position of his late brother.
We continued forging ahead although things were not easy but God was with me. Gradually, by 1997, I got an office in Idi Araba and started my own outfit. In 2002, during the crisis in Idi Araba, we had to move our machines to different places. That made me to move down to Ikate and started with a colleague who was gracious enough to harbour me. Now, I am on my own, getting printing jobs.
With my experience, even printers like myself will come from far and near to seek my advice. Before then, people had started hearing so much about me and were bringing jobs to me from all over the country. I remember receiving a call from Benin from someone who had seen some of my products. I was taken down to Warri and was introduced to some people who gave me jobs. Actually, one of the jobs I got from that trip brought me to the limelight because after printing that book, many people who saw it started calling me from all over the country, they were quite impressed with the job. That was really the turning point. Then just two years ago, I rented my new office.”
Asked if the printing business is lucrative, Mr. Obielum had this to say: “From my experience, there is money in printing but the problem is that there is so much competition in the business especially with the advent of the computer. Before the computer came, it was a very lucrative business because no one could just come and jump into the business, you have to undergo at least five years training before you can understand the printing business but with the advent of the computer, it has become an all-comers affair.
Some have become printers over-night. Some get contracts, go to established printing press, watch the way they do the job and before one to six months, they have become printers and such people go to town, damaging the image of the printing business. What we would normally do for about N150 per copy, such people will do it for N70.
By the time they get the N70 contract, they start managing because it means that they cannot cope with the charges, they will come out with substandard products. So next time, when such a client goes to another printer and he is charged N150 per copy, he will tell you that somebody did it for him the other time at N70 per copy so how can you now tell him you will do the same job for N150? That is the problem we are facing generally.
Again, there is the problem of power which has set us back. We spend so much money on fuel to run the generator the entire day. For instance, you may get a contract worth N200,000 and you spend so much money on generator, at the end of the day, you would not have made much money so you see that you are wasting your time. Again, some companies especially, corporate organisations who could have been giving us jobs instead prefer to give the jobs to their friends and families. That is another factor affecting us. But generally, I think one can say printing is not a bad business, all depends on God.”
He noted that printing is capital-intensive depending on what one wants. “If you really want to set up a standard press, you will be thinking of nothing less than N10 million because one of the standard machines costs about N4 – N4.5 million, then the cutting machine is about N1 – N2 million plus other components. But if you just want to start, and you don’t have enough capital, you can start from somewhere.
You have your colleagues all around like in Ikate, Surulere, Lagos, we have a printing community. So we patronise one another. The machine you don’t have, one of your colleagues will have it, you can go and make use of the machines and pay a token.
Example if you are coming to run what is called impression on my machine because you don’t have your own, there is a certain amount of money you have to pay for each copy or each thousand copies you run. If you don’t have somebody to sew the books, someone could come and sew for you and you pay.
How much we charge for printing a book depends on the volume and the number of copies. Because it is very competitive, we have to bring down prices. If you want to print 1,000 copies, it is ideal but if you are printing up to 5,000 copies, the price per copy will be lower.”
On his annual turnover, Obielum said: “It will be difficult to say this is the amount we make in a year. That completely depends on God because it is what He gives you that is your own. There are times we stay for weeks without getting any reasonable job; we may see smaller jobs like invoice, receipts, handbills or posters which is nothing in terms of money. But occasionally, someone can ask you to print 5,000 copies of a calendar and you make some money.
Sometimes we don’t see such jobs or we may see two – three, so it is difficult for any printer to say he makes so, so amount in a year,” he said.