X-Ray Reforms in the Nigerian Sugar Industry

BY ABDULLAHI W. YUNUSA

Even the most vocal critics of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government will no doubt hail his administration’s determination to take control, pursue, support and further fund very important projects and policies that he inherited from his predecessor in 2015. The move has been called a complete break from what used to be the norm where successive governments suspended or completely abandoned ongoing projects or policies initiated by their predecessors for primarily political reasons to launch something similar. A plethora of abandoned projects dot every corner of states across the country.

True to its mantra of change, the Buhari administration thought differently and acted differently in the interest of the nation. One such well thought out policy which the Buhari administration inherited from its predecessor and adopted as one of the frontline programs of this government is the Nigerian Sugar Master Plan (NSMP), a 10 roadmap policy years that seeks to significantly revitalize the vibrant sugar sub-sector and establish Nigeria as one of the continent’s leading sugar producing countries.

The sugar roadmap policy, the effective implementation of which began in 2013, is anchored on four major axes, which are; increase local sugar production to achieve self-sufficiency, stem the rising tide of unbridled importation of the commodity, create a large number of employment opportunities, and also contribute to ethanol production and the production of electricity.

Although the National Sugar Development Council is the main implementing agency of the policy, its implementation involves the allocation of responsibilities to engender maximum participation of all relevant stakeholders, such as the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Standards Organization of Nigeria, Nigeria Customs Service, Central Bank of Nigeria, Federal Ministry of Finance as well as other concerned MDAs. Stakeholder institutions and facilitators such as millers, importers, sugar cane growers and banks also play a central role in the implementation of the master plan.
The journey to self-sufficiency in sugar production is not without a hitch, but the federal government, through the National Sugar Development Council (NSDC), under the gracious leadership of Zacch Adedeji as Executive Secretary , is committed to addressing these particular challenges head-on as seen in a number of innovative and pragmatic measures taken since coming on board in March 2021.

It is an open secret that Nigeria has since reached and surpassed its raw sugar refining capacity, which is a major component of the NSMP, a feat the government is doing its best to replicate in the aspect of the program. backward integration (BIP) of Nigerian sugar. Master Plan (NSMP). The council headed by Zacch Adedeji has, in more ways than one, demonstrated its willingness to ensure that the BIP sugar project achieves the desired objectives. Adedeji had, in various engagements with the operators of the sector, reiterated the firm position of the council on the implementation of the BIP. He said, “We are very pleased with the huge successes we have had in refining imported raw sugar. In fact, Nigeria has since reached its raw sugar refining capacity, which is very commendable. But as I have always said, the successes we have had in refining raw sugar must be replicated in our BIP project. We can only celebrate as a sector if we are able to grow cane and produce raw sugar locally. I know it’s hard work, we are more than ready to meet our targets given our commitment and effort”.

Since taking office as the Board’s 5th Substantial Executive Secretary in March 2021, Adedeji has taken profound steps and spawned some highly innovative ideas to address the challenges of the sugar sector. Topping the list of issues that received his immediate attention was the ongoing conflict between sugar farmers and members of host communities over land ownership. To address this persistent problem, he established the Sugar Producing State Governors Forum ably chaired by Nasarawa State Governor, Abdullahi Alhaji Sule. The initiative was a smart move considering that land is under the authority of state governors, they have the stamp of authority to allocate land without warning. In addition, the establishment of an investment office domiciled in the council to handle investment issues, the zero duty incentive on the importation of machinery and equipment for sugar plantations as well as seized by the Nigeria Customs Service.

This initiative was put to rest after recurring confrontations between sugar operators and regulatory bodies in the country’s ports.
Recently, to encourage investors in the sector, President Muhammadu Buhari launched a $73 million irrigation infrastructure fund to cushion the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on sugar operators implementing the project. BIP, namely Dangote Sugar Refinery, BUA Sugar Refinery, Golden Sugar Refinery and KIA Africa Group. Speaking at the official unveiling of the intervention fund in Abuja, President Muhammadu Buhari said: “The aim of this intervention is to significantly improve the country’s performance in cane yield as well as reduce the negative impact of COVID-19 on the progress of the industry in achieving national self-sufficiency.Therefore, this strategic intervention will enable the major sugar producers in the country; Dangote, BUA and Flour Mills Sugar to increase their capacity and take advantage of the opportunity for import substitution in the sugar market, in order to further reduce the country’s import bill”.

In his remarks at the event, the Executive Secretary of the National Sugar Development Council (NSDC), Zacch Adedeji, said the intervention was part of the government’s determination to provide an enabling environment for private investment to flourish and thrive in the country. “Preliminary activities including identification of specific project sites for each operator which includes a framework for design and engineering services for field and bulk water supply systems, project management and maintenance specifications, adoption of a business model and costing, among others concluded long before the official commissioning of this laudable initiative”.

To clarify some misconceptions in some quarters about alleged favoritism and deliberate distortion of the master plan by some operators, Adedeji debunked these claims saying, “NSMP is no longer a policy. It is now an act of the National Assembly following its amendments in 2015. We will no longer condone or tolerate deliberate misrepresentation of the master plan by anyone. From our side as regulator, we will not hesitate to apply the full weight of the law against any person or group of people caught sabotaging government efforts in the sector.”

The board recently displayed its renewed vigor and pledged to the success of the NSMP by having the operators of the PIF sign re-engagement forms, pledging to abide by the provisions of the master plan and comply with all set policies in the area. Adedeji, who said that the future allocation of raw sugar quota to refineries will depend on the performance of the BIP, explained that the era of quota allocation based on the size of the sugar factor or estate was long gone.

Yunusa writes from Garki 11, Abuja

Rachel J. Bradford