History of the Nigerian Printing Industry

176 years ago saw the beginning of what we refer to today as the Nigerian printing industry. Precisely in 1846, two missionaries Hope Waddel, with the help of his assistant Samuel Edgerly, established the first printing press at Calabar, South Eastern Nigeria. The Hope Waddel Press, as the press was later named, was used for the mass production of religious tracts and booklets. The Missionary Rev. Henry Townsend raised the bar when he established another press in the Western part of the country in 1854. He also started a school of printing where he trained pupils at Abeokuta. Five years later, Townsend started Iwe Irohin, the first newspaper in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the Mission Printing Press established by Townsend folded up in 1867 due to the cultural and political crisis that erupted between the Egba people and the European settlers.

Prior to the collapse of Townsend’s printing press, what can be regarded as an evolving printing industry had already taken root. In the words of the 23rd Vice President of the United States of America, Adlai Stevenson, he said:  “We can chart our future clearly and wisely only when we know the path which has led to the present”. These words bring to point, the need for us as an industry to know where we are coming from, in order to clearly understand how the industry evolved to what it is today.

There are various factors to be attributed to the evolution of the Nigerian printing industry. First, the proliferation of missionary activities in Nigeria resulted in the setting up of presses which served as a means of publicizing and propagating the different faiths. As a matter of fact, many of the missionaries came with their printing presses. Second, the evolving and flourishing newspaper industry at the time also stimulated the establishment of printing presses. Worthy of mention are the printing presses set up in 1862 by Robert Cambell, and the Caxton Printing Press established in 1875 by Richard Blaize. As records indicate, by the end of the 1880s not less than five printing presses had been established in Lagos.

The third factor is the quest for high-quality printing. This became the driving force behind the publishers’ investment in efficient printing equipment. Thus, by 1910 modern and more efficient printing presses were established in Lagos. This made it possible for newspapers to avail themselves of a wide range of services.

Aside from the missionaries and the newspaper publishers, another vital influence on the fledging printing industry in Nigeria at the early period was the colonial government. The first Government Printing House was established at Broad Street, Lagos in 1914. It provided stationery materials to the Government. During the colonial era, four Government Press Offices were established at Enugu, Ibadan, Cameroon, and Lagos. It had an initial staff strength of less than two hundred. However, by 1933, the production capacity of the press had improved tremendously. Production later included Trade Journals, letters of Credence, White Papers, Rules and Regulations, Treasury Books and Forms, etc. Consequent to this, the department became a very important body in Government; hence, a printing regulation law (Printing Press Regulations Ordinance) to protect the Press was enacted in 1933.

The Opening up of the Early Printing Industry in Nigeria

The participation of business people and organizations who saw the great potential in Nigeria’s emerging and growing printing industry took the industry to great heights. A businessman by the name Adeshigbin inaugurated his Tika-Tore Press in 1910. This was followed by the establishment of the CMS Press in Lagos in 1913. Worthy of mention is Samuel Pearce who started Awoboh Press in 1920. Others that followed suit in 1923 included Ajibade’s Hope Rising Press, Washington Osilaja’s Ife Olu Press, P.C. Thomas’ Ekabo Press and Babamuboni’s Tanimola Press. All the above-mentioned presses provided cheap and competitive printing services to newspaper publishers.

A landmark in the history of printing in Nigeria was made with the inauguration of the Nigerian Printing and Publishing Company in 1925 to publish the Nigerian Daily Times. The company, with the availability of sufficient funds, was able to purchase a printing plant “sufficient to set up a printing house capable of publishing the Nigerian Daily Times and the African Messenger and local job work.  Thereafter, in September 1925, the company purchased a second-hand Demy Wharfadale Printing machine and accessories, a new guillotine, type accessories, paper and insurance. During this period, the Daily Times printer had no mechanical composing machine for type assembly, but then the dexterity of the compositors of this era remains a marvel as they could assemble eight to ten words a minute. The mechanical composing machine (Intertype) was eventually introduced in the company in 1939.

Progressively, the printing business in Nigeria continued to grow due to its viability, which accounted for well over 30 print houses as at 1930. In 1948, a UK newspaper “Daily Mirror” successfully bought into the Nigerian Printing and Publishing Company, thus bringing forth the first rotary printing press imported into Nigeria from England. In addition, more linotypes and other necessary machinery were shipped in. This was a shot in the arm for the newspaper company as it signaled the beginning of immense technological development for the Daily Times printery and by consequence the budding printing industry in Nigeria at that point in time.

The period 1948-1958 brought with it massive development in printing technology in Nigeria. This was the period the Daily Mirror Newspapers Limited of London successfully acquired shares in Daily Times newspapers. Mechanical composing machines, founding equipment, and a one-unit Foster rotary Press were shipped in from the Daily Mirror in London to Lagos. The rotary printing machine made mass production possible and this gave Daily Times an edge over other printing presses.

For a very long time, the letterpress printing process held sway in the Nigerian printing Industry. By the 1970s, however, the print demands of Nigerians had exceeded what letterpress could deliver. This brought about the era of lithography and offset machines. From the late 70s to the late 90s, printing companies gradually bade farewell to letterpress and embraced offset machines. Rather than use metal types, printing could be done using photosensitive plates. Cut and paste graphic artists had a field day. Production was faster. Printed information could reach the populace faster. Information was flowing, shaping the thoughts, the outlook, and perceptions of Nigerians and that of Nigeria’s printing business.

The arrival of digitalization of Print in Nigeria The late 1980 and the early 1990s featured the era of computers with various types of hi-tech printing equipment emerging on the printing industry landscape. Available records indicate that Task Systems in 1987, pioneered desktop publishing and computer graphics in Nigeria with Apple Computers. Today, the printing industry is hugely driven by computer technology, resulting in better print quality, faster production, and higher profit for print investors. Technology has served print production in various ways. Computers have made page layout and printing faster and more accurate, helping to control production costs and give better print quality. Easy-to-use and inexpensive computer hardware and software can now be combined for desktop publishing, small-scale print design, layout, and production.

Afolabi (2008) in his analysis of the effect of technology on the print media industry in Nigeria notes that technological changes in the industry have been spurred by print buyers’ demand for high quality colour reproduction, shorter print runs, and shrinking production cycle times. In addition to these factors, there also comes to play printers’ search for ways to decrease production cost, increase efficiency and enhance customer satisfaction. In essence, it can be said that the Nigerian printing industry, in tune with global practice, is not behind in adopting new technologies with a view to attaining high levels of competitiveness.

Colour separation started in Nigeria with the use of analogue separation. Awoga (n.d) records that Chronograph Limited located then around Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos started experimenting with commercial colour separation around 1969-1970. Another name associated with pioneering colour separation in Nigeria in the late sixties is Academy Press in Lagos. Digital colour separation actually commenced in Nigeria during the 1990s when print investors saw the need and viability of colour separation in the print production process. By mid-1990’s a number of colour separation outfits such as Vicoda Repro, Lithotec, Transcan, Hywill Graphics, MacGrafix, Clear impression, etc were on the ground to provide the much-expected digital colour separation needs for the printing industry.

The computer to plate system completely phases out the need for films. The image created in a Desktop Publishing (DTP) application is output directly to a printing plate in this technology. Kipphan (2001) notes that since several intermediate film-handling stages in the production of the printing plates are dispensed with, it has become easier to meet the quality requirements of print jobs.13 Punch Newspapers made the pioneer effort of introducing the use of CTP (computer-to-plate) in newspaper production in Nigeria in 2003. Little wonder then that the newspaper ranks high in terms of revenue from print advertisement. The print output of the newspaper is superlatively high and in the words of Azubuike Ishiekwene “the introduction of the use of CTP (computer-to-plate) and the use of digital cameras by reporters has helped to improve speed, quality, and efficiency,”

Direct Image (DI) technology, the technology that prints directly from the computer to the printing press, was introduced in Nigeria in 2001. Planet press in Lagos pioneered cutting-edge technology. Prior to this, high-quality printing was done abroad. Since the emergence of DI in 2001, such high-quality printing is now done in Nigeria. At present, there are millions of DI print shops in various parts of the country with Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt having the highest numbers in  Nigeria.

The Rise of the Digital press in Nigeria digital printing is an integral process for both on-demand and variable-data printing. With digital printing, each impression can be different because it does not use image plates or static image carriers; the image is created on the image carrier for each impression.  This feature of the digital press makes it a good tool for the personalization of print communication products and more economical (less cost per impression) for use in short-run printing situations. However, digital printing may not be the most economic solution for jobs of large volumes.

The increasing growth of the direct marketing industry in Nigeria has provided a market for digital presses which office equipment manufacturers like Xerox, Canon, HP, Konica Minolta document solutions, Hewlett Packard, etc are tapping into. There is no doubt that the further growth of the direct marketing industry will bring about a corresponding increase market for digital presses. Aside from the need for personalization, the increasing demand for short-run jobs presents more markets for manufacturers and marketers of digital presses. (Material credit – The Nigerian voice)