Doing printing business in Nigeria cannot be discussed exhaustively without good reference to the quality and overwhelming contributions of Omo-Oba Samuel Adebola Ogundogba, Chairman, Emacon Prints Limited, Gbagada, Lagos. In this interview with PRINTERS DIGEST Editor Samuel Nwaekwu in his Odogbolu country home in Ogun State, the print veteran and now Octogenarian talked about his life, times as a printer as well as gave his thoughts on the present day practice of the profession in Nigeria. Excerpts:
People do not really know who Ogundogba is. Maybe we can begin from there sir?
Ogundogba is an age-long name that can be traced to 1740 or thereabout. To be more definitive, the word Ogundogba came to be due to pronunciation otherwise, it’s true Yoruba given is ‘Ogundogbogba’ meaning ‘to share wealth or things together and equally‘. Ogundogba represent a royal family tree or house that has transcended generations and by the grace of God, I am happy that my generation have not disappointed royalty both to man and God even as I continue to hear testimonies of how just a mention of the “name” serves as open door to our children. As much as I will always return the prasises, glory and honour to God in heaven alone for this successes, one thing I cannot shy away from is that this good news I get of my children both immediate and extended tells me that we have sustained the honour our forebears handed down to us.
Africans believe that immediate members of a Royal family have everything at their disposal. Can we say you defied this privileges or what informed your decision to jump the fence which eventually landed you on the side of being an entrepreneur?
I am grateful you used the word “entrepreneur”. My son, let me be very realistic here: Every human being has that strong ability to make things happen. This is what I called the creative deposit of the creator in a man. It is only when you discover it that you will hate being idle; but if you do not discover it, everything will appear to be going on well yet, such a fellow is suffering whether directly or by proxy. Your fourth eye is that one that helps you to think that your head can work; hands can work while the legs can sustain the body. Your real person is the strong man within, so we must all wake up to this reality. This was what as an individual I discovered then. Life within the rostrum of royalty is very tempting no doubt, but the question then to me was, how long will I be here? I will need to take care of my family. I will need to contribute or say give back to my society. I will need to make that laudable difference by impacting on lives positively because when I am gone, people will only remember me for what I have done. All of these thoughts and many more were what I sought answers to and then I came to the wise submission that it is better I quit the stage of roses and make roses for myself. This was how my entrepreneurial journey began many years ago.
Of all the noble profession available, why did you choose printing?
Maybe I will be privilege today to lend my voice in stating categorically that as much as acquiring knowledge is concern, there is not a more noble profession in the world over than this career path – printing. Sir, a printer is a god when it comes to providing the foundation for other professions to start and sustain. I do not easily discredit peoples opinion and I know that as many who had known me and as would read this interview will equally concur to my claims. Before you can be certified a lawyer, doctor, pharmacist, accountant, army general or any of the top military hierarchy, lecturer, architect, engineer etc, it is believed such a person had met the needed requirement to merit these portfolios. The requirement are not without academic qualifications – otherwise it is no longer on merit. Now the printed matter is needed – such as textbooks and other reference material. The question now is – how did the books came to be? Who created the books? Then who printed the books? What about the drawings that gave an insight into what the actual substance should be, who made them? Funny enough is that when the profession of printing started in Nigeria, it was practically in the hands of stack illiterates who could not read or write but only learn the art through apprenticeship. These “irrelevant” people made the ones who are now claiming importance. Now compare with when the irrelevant now decide to be relevant, what kind of society do you think we will have? An extremely positive one – and that is why I will continue to love the call for one voice so that our industry will not struggle again.
Is the industry struggling sir?
Yes sir. The Nigeria printing industry is struggling and we must not shy away from telling that fact par adventure somebody will hear us and come to our aid. Too many things are not in place and what people like us expects to be seeing today even as we age isn’t as anticipated. There is a very strong deviation from our professional and institutional focus and all that is happening now is a ‘chop-I-chop’ kind of trade where a noble practitioner is practically begging for jobs just to survive. How can we be talking about job freight and incompetence in an industry of over 160-years old and still counting when what will position us at prime ends are not available. We talk about print quality and everyone of us call for it, yet the printer cannot afford latest machines to meet market demand. We talk about cost of production, yet every instrument of printing including consumable is imported and with no clear-cut economic policy to at least help build our hope that someday ‘e go better’. We talk about efficient manpower, yet printing is not accredited or given priority like other professions in higher institutions of learning with the very few where it exists lacking in machinery to expose students to the practical nature of what they learn in classroom. Everyone want the jobs delivered promptly yet they fail to question if there is electricity to do the job and access road to transport the finished goods. How about the hassles of customs and clearing agents? What about cases of multiple taxation? What about the disunity of membership of the industry? Just too many to talk about and that is why I believe our industry is struggling and we need help as soon as we can so that this same story will not be the tales of generation after us.
Certainly, the issues you identified earlier aren’t just know to industry practitioners. Sir, why did you stay put and not check out to other most promising career?
Again, I want to correct here that there is no more promising and better career to choose than printing. Yes we may have others, but we have just one career path. On why I remained, that is not far-fetched! It is about my passion. The difference between a businessman and entrepreneur is passion. I was not a businessman otherwise I would not have left the comfort of the Royalty. My Bible tells me that whatever I find my hands to do, I should do it well. I will not cease to pay tribute to my former teacher E A Badejo, who years ago when I was in elementary school, advised and encourage me to be very creative as no knowledge was a waste. He was the one that advise me to study printing in school and I agreed with him and by the grace of God I scaled through. While I was going to school in the morning, in the evening i go to the press to learn art. This was during my form (now secondary school) days. I realize that printing then was the beginning of civilization. We are all aware that china started their economic revolution with printing. Overtime, we have heard of printing and its history with countries like Egypt, Germany and their lots. Printing itself is an art. Because I was in love with art, then when I got into printing, I got to realize that without printing there is no civilization and without printing there will not be education.
Did you enjoy your days while you were actively doing printing?
Enjoy? That sounds like an understatement. I had a field day of my time in printing. Yes there were ups and downs especially when i was under employment, but that very time was when my entrepreneurial instinct came to fore and i had to work on my conviction that outside employment, i can become an employer of labour. Again when you talk of enjoying service, when I was working as production Manager at Academy Press with about 450 workers, it was fun for me managing such a large staff strength and hi-tech machines. Infact, I was involved in so many ways during the days of our Managing Director Alhaji Idris Alimosho. I would get the job, print the job, collect money for the job though i do not always know how the money was being spent
Comparing your active days with now that you do more of supervision in your capacity as Chairman of the Emacon Group, what are your observations of the industry?
As much as I can, I do try not to talk flat and as such I will classified my observation into things that encourages me and things that do not encourage me. What encourages me most today is the impact of DCS Integrated Media Limited, publishers of PRINTERS DIGEST magazine and organizers of Nigeria International Print Expo (NIPEX) at making sure the industry is alive, and communicating industry activities through the production of the magazine. You guys are enlightening people, and people will be much more interested in printing seeing what you are doing. On what does not encourage me, I don’t think I have any regret except for the fact that our people are no longer ready to acquire the needed training or skills to qualify for a printer portfolio. Today practitioners are too ordinary that even the government is not sure or their capacities, maybe that is why we are often drawn in this war of words as to competencies. But like I always say and believe, “success is not complete without good successor”. So I throw the gauntlet back to more aged printers that they should do more to create that platform for younger printers to succeed. We have come a long way and as such cannot afford to fail.
People have argued that the industry is fragmented, disunited and as such lost focus. What do you make of this sir?
You see, that adjective qualifying such situation is a very heavy one and quite on point. I will go back to the so called feeling that there are competition. That somebody bids for a job and at the end, gets some change to buy a car is not enough for you to go to that same client to rubbish the costing given by former printer all because you want the supposed company to turn their patronage to you. I see this as beyond competition, it is an unjust rat-race that is not healthy for the sector at large. Again, printing is suppose to reflect the story of a man that went to the zoo with a bunch of banana in his hands and he went to where monkeys are playing. The man offered one banana to one of the monkey and that one took it and gave way for the others to take turn but in Nigeria today, it is very unfortunate that only one monkey will want to be there, eat and eat until she dies. How can one printing press be running while numerous others are folding up? That is greed and it will lead us nowhere except the observed rat-race and undue competition. What is normal is that you do your own, and every other person partake too and by so doing, everybody will be happy. Also, every employer today must understand that he or she cannot stop mobility of labour, there are some people I trained in my company and they left and establish their own, giving me that serious rivalry because the knowledge they are armed with was from me but they left and went to somewhere else they are not offending me but they must not go and work in Ghana they must work in Nigeria that is the only “but” because I am tired of the news that are best hands are in foreign and neighbouring country.
What is your message to the younger generation of printers, what do you have to tell them sir?
I would like the encourage them to be patient in business. They should never be in a hurry and then they must be ready to be trained and well prepared to launch into the business space. For instance there are some organization that if you have reach level of incompetence they won’t take you but if you are ready to be trained, they will renew your time with them or reabsorb you. If you happen to go to a school, please give in to learning craft. Entrepreneurship is open to everyone today and they must use it to their advert. They should think deeply now about their future and attach time to every employment they get so that they don’t remain slave to a trade or an office forever. It really pays to be independent.