As the federal government continues to monitor the level of compliance of all companies engaged in the implementation of the backward integration programme (BIP) in the sugar industry, seeming subtle efforts of BUA Group to violate the tenets of the agreement is causing serious concerns in the sugar industry.
An independent, detailed investigation carried out by THISDAY on the three companies that signed the agreement with the National Sugar Development Council (NSDC) to fully implement the BIP in the year 2020 and end the nation’s dependence on importation to meet its need for sugar, found BUA lagging behind vastly in investment in and implementation of the BIP.
According to the THISDAY investigation published in the March 7 edition of the newspaper, from page 46 to 49, while Dangote Group’s Savannah Sugar Company in Numan Adamawa State has essentially met the deadline by already producing pure refined sugar straight from sugarcane harvested from its own farms and Flour Mill’s Golden Sugar Company in Sunti, Niger State is on target to begin production this year, BUA’s Lafiagi sugar estate has neither set up a farm nor put a processing factory in place.
The THISDAY special report noted that Dangote Group, at the moment, has above 6,000 hectares of mature sugarcane which is currently undergoing harvesting and processing, and the estate is running three 24-hour shifts daily. But BUA only has 13 hectares of sugarcane nursery which it plans to transplant in the future.
THISDAY investigation also revealed that while Dangote’s Savannah Sugar currently employs around 750 full-time employees, 5000 contract staff who work in the farms and other parts of the factory; and Flour Mills’ Sunti has 750 employees, BUA’s Lafiagi Sugar estate only has 25 workers indicating that very little is going on there.
There are even unconfirmed speculations that of all the equipment and staff displayed at the Lafiagi sugar estate, none is owned by the company as they simply hired and displayed the few assets to deceive the NSDC and other stakeholder and give BUA access to the federal government benefits enjoyed genuine investors in integrated sugar production.
In the area of the installation of a sugarcane processing factory, while Dangote has a functional plant in place, already churning out refine sugar and generating 6.4 MW of electricity and Flour Mills is set to inaugurate its plant by May, 2016, BUA has none, except a manual 50 tonnes per day sugarcane crushing plant which is currently non-operational.
Another revelation of the THISDAY investigative report is that while Dangote Group stated that it has invested around N35 billion in integrated sugar production and Flour Mills noted that it has invested above N18 billion there was no figure for BUA Group, indicating that probably no significant investment has been made.
Apparently confirming BUA’s failure to measure up with the objective of ending sugar importation into the country by 2020, the Executive Secretary of the Sugar industry regulatory agency, NSDC, Dr. Latif Busari, noted: For BUA Group, development of Lafiagi Sugar Estate, the BIP site of BUA Sugar Refinery, while not at same pace as the others, is expected to accelerate in 2016. The company is ramping up its seed multiplication nursery pending the outcome of its site feasibility study which is being handled by a reputable UK company called Booker Tate.”
According to the report, the General Manager for BUA Sugar Company, Lafiagi, Mr. Samuel Yisaku and the Group Head, BUA Agribusiness, Mr. Mario de Matos, however put up a spirited explanation of their failure to keep pace with other operators, stressing that the company was running its own BIP programme exactly as agreed with the NSDC and so was not lagging behind any other company.
According to quotes from the THISDAY report however, the BUA executives inadvertently admitted that their company might certainly not meet the Nigeria Sugar Master Plan’s aim of ending sugar importation by 2020.
In the report, the company’s executives;Yisaku, Matos and the spokesman Otega Ogra Yisaku, stressed that BUA was working to attain reasonable integrated cane processing in the next three to four years and swing to full capacity production around 2024, which violates the overall objective of the 2020 NSDC deadline.