X-raying reforms in Nigeria’s sugar industry

Even the most virulent critics of the President Muhammadu Buhari government will no doubt hail his administration’s resolve to takeover, continue, sustain and fund some very critical projects and policies it inherited from its predecessor in 2015. The move was dubbed a complete departure from what used to be the norm where successive governments either suspend or completely abandon ongoing projects or policies initiated by their predecessors for mere political reasons only to start up similar projects. A plethora of abandoned projects dot every nooks and crannies of all states of the country.

But true to its change mantra, the Buhari administration thought otherwise by acting differently in the interest of the nation.

One of such well thought-out policies that the administration inherited from its predecessor and adopted as a frontline programme of this government is the Nigerian Sugar Master Plan (NSMP), a 10-year roadmap policy which seeks to significantly revitalise the once vibrant sugar sub-sector and make Nigeria a leading sugar-producing nation on the African continent. The sugar roadmap policy which actual implementation began in 2013 is anchored on four major planks including, raising local production of sugar to attain self-sufficiency, stem rising tide of unbridled importation of the commodity, creatinghuge number of job opportunities and to also contribute to the production of ethanol and power generation.

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Though the National Sugar Development Council is the leading implementing agency of the policy, its implementation involves allocation of responsibilities to engender maximum participation by relevant stakeholders like the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, Nigeria Customs Service, Central Bank of Nigeria, Federal Ministry of Finance as well as other government’s  MDAs. Stakeholder institutions and facilitators such as millers, importers, cane growers and banks equally play pivotal roles in the implementation of the master plan.

The journey to self-sufficiency in sugar production isn’t without some hiccups, but the Federal government through the National Sugar Development Council (NSDC), under the leadership of Mr. Zacch Adedeji, its Executive Secretary is committed to addressing the peculiar challenges frontally as seen in a number of innovative and pragmatic steps taken since he came on board in March 2021. It is an open secret that Nigeria has since met and surpassed its raw sugar refining capacity, which is a major component of the NSMP, a feat which government is trying its best to replicate in the Backward Integration Programme (BIP) aspect of the Nigerian Sugar Master Plan (NSMP).

The Mr. Zacch Adedeji -led Council has in more ways than one demonstrated its readiness to ensure that the sugar BIP project achieves its desired objectives.

Adedeji had in different engagements with operators in the sector reiterated Council’s firm position on the implementation of the BIP. He said, “we are quite pleased with the tremendous successes we’ve recorded with regards to the refining of imported raw sugar. In fact, Nigeria has since met its raw sugar refining capacity, which is very commendable. But like I’ve always stated, the successes we’ve achieved in the area of raw sugar refining 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 a tough job, we are more than ready to achieve our target objectives given our commitment and efforts.”

Since he assumed office as the 5th substantive Executive Secretary of the Council in March 2021, Mr. Zacch Adedeji has taken profound steps and birthed very innovative ideas to address challenges in the sugar sector. Tops on the list of the issue that received his prompt attention is the perennial clash between sugar operators and members of host communities over land ownership. To solve this lingering issue, he set up the Forum of Sugar Producing State Governors ably chaired by the Governor of Nasarawa state, Engineer Abdullahi Alhaji Sule. The initiative was a smart move given that lands are under the authority of state governors, they have the stamp of authority to allocate lands without any hue and cry. Also, the creation of an Investment Desk domiciled in the Council to handle issues relating to investments, zero duty incentive on importation of machineries and equipment for sugar estates as well issues bothering on seizures by the Nigeria Customs Service. This initiative has laid to final rest recurring faceoffs between sugar operators and regulatory bodies across the nation’s ports.

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Only recently and in his effort 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 BIP project, namely Dangote Sugar Refinery, BUA Sugar Refinery and Golden Sugar Refinery.

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 on cane yields as well as reduce the negative impact of COVID-19 on the industry’s progress in achieving national self-sufficiency. Consequently, this strategic intervention will enable the country’s leading sugar producers; Dangote, BUA and Flour Mills sugar to expand capacity and capitalise on the import substitution opportunity within the sugar market, to further reduce the country’s import bill”.

In his remarks at the event, the Executive Secretary, National Sugar Development Council (NSDC), Zacch Adedeji, said the intervention was part of government’s determination to provide an enabling environment for private investments to thrive and flourish in the country.

“Preliminary activities, including identification of the specific project sites for each operator which include framework for design and engineering services for the in-field and bulk water supply systems, project management and maintenance specifications, adoption of a business model and costing, among others have been concluded long before the formal commissioning of this laudable initiative”.

To clear the air on misconceptions in some quarters on alleged favouritism and wilful distortion of the masterplan by some operators, the CEO said, “the NSMP is no longer a policy. It is now an Act of the National Assembly following its amendments in 2015. We shall no longer condone or tolerate deliberate distortion of the masterplan by anyone.

On our part as regulators, we will not hesitate to apply the full weight of the law against anyone or group of persons caught trying to sabotage government’s efforts in the sector”. The Council recently displayed its renewed vigour and avowed commitment to the success of the NSMP when it made the BIP operators to sign recommitment forms, pledging to stick to the provisions of the master plan and comply with all laid down policies in the sector.

Mr. Adedeji who said future raw sugar quota allocation to refineries will be hinged on BIP performance, said the era of quota allocation based on size of factor or sugar estate was far over.

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