By Comrade O’Seun John
Recently, the media space has been awash with bickering reports between major players in the sugar industry. These reports have been laced with accusations of monopoly, sharp practices and insincerity between Dangote, Flour Mills and BUA companies.
This conflict, irrespective of the strong positions of parties involved, requires the urgent attention of the federal government for amicable resolution in the interest of Nigerians and preserving the gains of the Nigerian Sugar Master Plan (NSMP).
The NSMP remains a flagship programme that has helped transform the near-dead sugar industry into a production powerhouse and set the importation dependant sector into a considerable employer of labour and national pride.
The federal government must then provide the needed leadership to preserve the gains of this noble programme which has thrown to the dustbin of history the locust years of mere local processing of sugar at 30,000 metric tons by ensuring that all industry players adhere strictly to the guidelines of the Backward Integration Programme (BIP) and most importantly, the sincerity of purpose.
Only a holistic approach to resolving the issues raised by parties concerned can truly bring about the needed change, and such an approach must consider the following areas:
- MDAs in charge of national policy monitoring must ensure and verify compliance with the BIP and NSMP amongst industry players as against the current system of self-reporting system adopted by the National Sugar Development Council (NSDC).
- The correlation between establishing sugar refinery and cultivating sugar cane as it concerns the quota regulation of the BIP. While refineries are essential, it does not help the value chain system the NSMP is supposed to promote, and as such, application of BIP into such endeavour endangers the holistic approach to self-sufficiency in the sugar industry.
The importance of the issues raised above cannot be underestimated as it forms the basis of the rancour brewing in the industry.
For instance, a 2015 letter by the NSDC to BUA suspended the company from the concessionary tariff program for violating the conditions set out to access the tariff. The violation on which premise the suspension was issued exists to date. Similarly, in 2013 NSDC stated that BUA’s second sugar refinery in Port Harcourt would require a second BIP to operate; what this means is that operating the refinery with the intent to supply refined sugar to the local market will attract at least 65 per cent to the federal government, a system BUA is trying to evade.
It is also essential to state that cumulative satellite monitoring data obtained from officials of the NSDC showed discrepancies between the self-reported performance figures (amount of land cultivated for sugar cane) by BUA’s Lafiagi Sugar Mill with what is available on the verified satellite imagery. With BUA’s claim of cultivating over 3,000 hectares of sugar cane in Lafiagi in the last two years without any tangible evidence, questions like “What happened to the sugar cane cultivates?” demand answers.
Finally, allowing companies to self-report simply suggests that importers should self-report on the number of goods they bring into the country without proper confirmation and checks by officers of the Nigerian Customs.
We hope for the benefit of millions of Nigerians who now rely on the effective NSMP; the federal government will rise to save the day.”
Comrade O’Seun John is Director of Publicity, Advocacy for Integrity and Economic Development (AIED)