Huge sums of money meant for sugar development in Nigeria are being misappropriated.
The Senate President, David Mark, on Wednesday in Abuja cried foul over the N228.5 billion figure claimed to have been used for sugar importation within three years, describing the sum as alarming.
Mr. Mark made the remark while the senate was debating a bill seeking to amend the National Sugar Development Council , NSDC, Act.
He said that this could be described as “a classic example of policy failure”.
“The huge amount used to import sugar is totally unacceptable and in reality, these figures are disturbing. From this, it is clear that some of our problems are self inflicted,” he said.
Mr. Mark also decried the huge amount of waivers given to importers.
“How can we encourage sugar cane farmers to cultivate and yet give waivers to importers,” he queried.
The Senate president said it was unacceptable for the sugar levy account fund to be channelled to areas other than sugar development.
He challenged states and local governments to rise up to the occasion and develop the arable lands in their areas as Federal Government alone could not be responsible for every area.
The sponsor of the Bill, Nenadi Usman (PDP-Kaduna) said that Nigeria spent N53.6 billion, N73 billion and N101.9 billion respectively in 2009, 2010 and 2011 on sugar importation.
Mr. Usman said that the sugar levy account funds dedicated for sugar sector development had over the years been withdrawn for other purpose not related to the sugar sector development.
She said that the amendment was necessary to ensure that the council had direct access to its funds and prevent the funds from being used for unintended purposes.
According to Ms. Usman, Nigeria currently consumes 1.3 million metric tonnes of sugar annually but produces only 30, 000 to 50, 000 tonnes which is less than five per cent of its annual consumption.
“Over 98.9 per cent of the imports, however, are of the raw sugar which is refined by the two existing refineries operating in Lagos,’’ she said.
She decried the apparent lack of a sugar regulation policy in Nigeria, adding that there was no realistic protection to the sugar industry.
She urged the senators to support the amendment of the bill as it would among other things draw policy guidelines and action programmes on sugar development.
Contributing to the debate, Barnabas Gemade, said that it is worrisome that the huge amount of monies collected for sugar development were misappropriated and misdirected.
Mr. Gemade said that sugar was one of the basic staples of life and no community could do without it.
He said that sugar development must therefore receive a high level of commitment from the federal, state and local governments.
“The development of sugar in Nigeria has greatly lagged behind because importers of sugar have formed a cartel where they make a lot of money on imports.
“Today the few sugar industries established by government are no longer functioning, it is therefore important to strengthen the NSDC law to protect sugar development,’’ he said.
Smart Adeyemi (PDP-Kogi) stressed the need to investigate why funds set aside for sugar development in the sugar levy accounts were used for other purposes.
Mr. Adeyemi also questioned why waivers were given to importers of sugar when Nigeria had the capacity to produce it in large quantity. He said the trend cripples local production of sugar.
“It is inexplicable and unacceptable for any country to give waivers on a product that it has the capacity to produce.
“This is the highest level of corruption and it must be investigated,” Mr. Adeyemi said.
The senators demanded an investigation into the use of the sugar levy account funds and why Nigeria with its capacity was producing only five per cent of sugar and importing 95 per cent.
The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Investment for further legislative work and to be returned to the Senate within four weeks.