By OLAKUNLE OLAFIOYE
SOMOLU in Somolu Local Government Area of Lagos State is unarguably the hub of commercial printing in Nigeria with thousands of commercial printing presses both small and medium scales doting the length and breadth of this bustling business community. Although her position in Africa and indeed the world as one of the leading enclaves of printing business remains a subject of debate, not a few stakeholders in the Nigerian printing industry are of the opinion that Somolu commands a respectable position in league of leading printing communities not only in Africa but also in the world.
One of the leading voices in printing business in Somolu, Pastor Sam Odimayo of Alpha Press Limited said the question over Shomolu’s position among leading printing communities in the world could be viewed from two perspectives of conglomeration of printing presses and the volume of printed materials churned out at a given period.” If you look at the concentration of people involved in printing activities per area, Somolu may emerge as the community with largest concentration of printers in the world. But if you consider it from the angle of the volume of printing materials produced, what the entire printers in Somolu produce, let’s say in a year, can be done by one major press in other parts of the world in a few weeks,” Odimayo revealed.
Mushin in Lagos, Printers’ Village, Jamal Road in Kaduna and Surulere also in Lagos are rated in this order next to Somolu in terms of concentration of printers. Chicago and New York both in the United States of America, Shanghai in China and Johannesburg in South Africa also command respectable mention among leading printing communities in the world.
Unlike Chicago whose emergence in the late nineteenth century as a center for commercial printing in the United States was predicated on its proximity to rail transportation, the primary means of conveying bulky printed products, Somolu has no such historical positioning linking it to printing business. Findings by Sunday Sun however revealed that pioneer local Nigerian printers in Somolu were Ijebus whose presence continued to attract printers or people interested in acquiring skills in printing business. “Gradually, Somolu became a destination for commercial printing. People began to come here for printing, printers continued to increase due to the growing advantages of concentration of all categories of professionals in the printing industry,” Odimaya revealed.
Printing business is indeed transforming Somolu from a residential community to a business hub. From Shipeolu Street to Akeju, Fola Agoro to Bajulaiye, the ubiquitous printing equipment continues to question the facade of Somolu as a residential area.
Findings by Sunday Sun revealed that many residential buildings in the community have been converted to printing presses by their new owners most of whom were tenants in those buildings initially. One of such printers is Mr. Folusho Olayiwola who bought the building currently housing his printing outfit in 2001. Mr. Olayiwola told our correspondent that he started out his printing business in two shops in the building before adding two more rooms few years later. He would later buy the building after the death of the owner.
Expectedly, building owners are catching in on the booming printing business in Somolu with huge rents. Religious houses are not left out in the windfall from printing business as some of them let out available spaces within their premises to interested printers. A Redeemed church located on Shipeolu Street is one of them.
Ancillary services to printing business are not left out of the thriving party. Printing outfits in Somolu receive generous complimentary support from ancillary service providers whose ubiquitous presence in major streets in the area remains as conspicuous as the printing business. Suppliers of printing machines, papers, inks and other consumables line the length and breadth of the community with itinerant sales personnel driving sales and attracting patronage for their products. “The competition among various outlets dealing in consumables to (printing) printing firms is so stiff that one cannot rely on office patronage alone,” David Chukwudebe, a printing consumables dealer, told Sunday Sun.
Technical and engineering service providers managing printing equipment in various printing outfits also leverage on the opportunity Somolu has to offer. But vast as the opportunity Somolu offers technical services, local technicians in Somolu face stiff competition from after sale support services rendered by companies which supply most of the equipment. “Larger chunk of the jobs that would have been given to us is taken by the suppliers of most of these machines in form of after sales services. Apart from this, most printers seem to prefer the services of engineers provided by companies that supply the machines not minding if such engineers are local technicians hired and paid for the singular purpose of fixing a particular technical fault,” a technician who identified himself as Mubaraq Akintunde disclosed. these machines in form of after
Notwithstanding the stiff competition faced by technical and engineering service providers, Somolu still offers vast employment opportunities for all categories of labour. Unofficial report put the figure of Nigerians earning their living in this hub of printing business far above 10,000. These include both skilled and unskilled categories of labour, including trainees in the printing business, house wives and students who engage in menial jobs to support their families and other categories of workers.
Underscoring the economic potential of Somolu as a major business community in Lagos, Pastor Odimayo noted that a building housing the smallest of printing facility in Somolu employs no less than five staff on the average while a medium scale printing outfit employs as high as 25. “Ninety five per cent of the people in Somolu have one thing or the other to do with printing… wherever there is business activity there is employment. Majority of the women in Somolu are employed by printing outfits here to do one thing or the other. Even the children are not left out. Majority of them return from schools to work and earn some money. They are all employed one way or the other; you will see them doing finishing, doing collation. Where there is business there is empowerment and where people are empowered, there is prosperity,” Odimayo said.
Like most business communities in the country, Somolu contends with a few challenges, notable among which is poor power situation in the country. Mr. Evans Ifejoku of Unique Venture however noted that no serious-minded printer would allow the poor power situation in the country to hold his business back. “Any printer who waits for NEPA can never be a serious person. Everybody here relies on power generating sets for power even though it raises our cost of production. If you look around you will see that nobody is concerned with the problem of electricity here, we have surmounted that even though it comes at a price,” he said.
Somolu printers may have surmounted the problem of poor electricity, there is yet another daunting challenge confronting this business community, which not a few believe requires urgent and collaborative effort of stakeholders in the area. Price variation or what is known as price war is a common feature of business in Somolu. It is not uncommon to get different charges from different printers for a particular job. “I think our major challenge here has to do more with the need to have a price regulating mechanism in place as a way of protecting the business,” Mr. Ifejoku began, “Most printers do business charging ridiculously low prices which makes you to think if they steal the materials used for the job. This is practice is common with new printers.”
Sunday Sun however gathered that not all printers feel threatened by this practice. As Pastor Odimayo noted, only small printers are bothered by price war in Shomolu. According to him, medium business owners who buy their materials in large quantity need not be disturbed by this practice.
Price war as one major challenge confronting smaller printing outlets in Somolu, according to Mr. Ifejoku, may have arisen owning to non-existence of a union to regulate activities of printers in the area. Unlike what obtains in major business communities in Nigeria, printers in Shomolu appear unconvinced about the importance of having a union in place. Sunday Sun gathered that an attempt to float a union to coordinate and regulate the activities of printers in the community was met with lack of interest by vast majority of printers in Somolu. Mr. Tony Okolie, CEO Sparcman Printing Press and one of the printers at the forefront of the move told Sunday Sun that the plan to have an executive union in place was shelved as majority of the printers in Somolu showed little or no interest in such arrangement.
Some printers, however, believe that only the formation of an umbrella body to coordinate and regulate the activities of printers in Somolu would help to safeguard printing business in Somolu from the problem of unhealthy rivalry and other challenges confronting this business community.