Nothing often brings bitterness to residents of Bacita in Kwara State than remembering the glorious days of a sugar factory located in the community.
The factory, established decades ago, was the major source of joy to the people. Apart from providing the locals with a source of livelihood, people from other parts of the country, as well as foreigners who settled in the community, almost made it the state’s commercial nerve centre.
Our reporter, who was in the community, located in Edu Local Government Area of the state, observed that the hustling and bustling witnessed some years ago have since disappeared.
Some of the locals who spoke with Daily Trust on Sunday preferred not to be reminded of those glorious days. What they wanted to hear was when the company would be revived
It was gathered that during its active years, the company had over 30,000 hectares of farm, with a production capacity of 300 metric tonnes of sugarcane per day. It was also gathered that the company had sugar refining capabilities, with the ability for integration into planting, harvesting, milling and processing, as well as refining sugar.
The prolonged court case between the former Nigeria Sugar Company and the liquidators after it was privatised in 2006 had taken a toll on the company.
The locals told Daily Trust on Sunday that over 30,000 youths who were directly or indirectly engaged by the company have since lost their jobs.
Mohammed Ndako, a resident of one of the communities in the area, said the closure of the company had practically shut down more than 20 cluster communities who solely relied on its activities. He said many of the former workers of the company now live from hand to mouth as some of them are now too old to engage in farming activities.
How the company collapsed
Adebayo Kamaldeen, who said he was a staff member of the company, attributed its collapse to the privatisation carried out during the Obasanjo regime. He alleged that those who acquired the company were never on good terms with the host communities.
“They brought workers who did not seem to have the required experience to manage the company. And before you knew it, the rest is what you can now see yourself,’’ he said.
Sources in the community said the woman who acquired the company was bringing raw sugar from elsewhere for refining as the sugar cane plantations were practically abandoned.
“Within a short period, even the raw sugar she was bringing could no longer be refined and the company finally collapsed,’’ the source said.
It was further learnt that in an attempt to rescue the company, the Federal Government brought the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), which came with receivers, but the arrangement only worsened the situation.
A member of the community, James Ndatche, who spoke with our reporter, said the sugar plantation of the factory started having problems when the former owner started bringing raw sugar from outside to refine.
“No one paid attention to the sugar plantation again and things started getting worse. The sugar plantation has become history, and that was where many of the casual workers earned their living,’’ he said.
Ndatche pleaded with the relevant authorities to find a lasting solution to the problems confronting the company and bring back to the plantation.
In the meantime, a cross-section of locals in Bacita and other communities are pleading for the resuscitation of the moribund factory, saying the present condition of the company not only affects the economic importance of the town but has turned it into a ghost settlement.
Mr Yunusa Ndako particularly appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to personally intervene as he did to attract investors to Sunti Sugar Company in Niger State.
“Mr President should help us by either reselling it to somebody who will manage its work well, or the Federal Government should take over the company, stabilise it and later resell it,” he pleaded.
Mr. Francis Achimobong, a resident of one of the communities, who also said he worked in the factory, said nothing was wrong with the company other than poor management. He appealed to the Federal Government to immediately wade into the crisis rocking the factory.
“The company was one of the leading sugar factories, not only in Nigeria but in West Africa, but poor leadership killed it. The government can still correct the past by taking it over and repositioning it before giving it out to genuine investors like Dangote, BUA or Flour Mills. These guys will bring back the glory of the company,’’ he said.
Although the traditional ruler who oversees Bacita and nearby communities, the Etsu Tsaragi, Alhaji Aliyu Kpotun, was said not to be in his palace when our reporter visited, the people of the community also appealed to both the federal and state governments to wade into the problems facing the company, in the economic interest of not only the host community but Kwara State as a whole.
Recent efforts to revive the company
Locals believe there have been efforts to resuscitate the company, but such efforts are not convincing because of their previous experiences, with the politics involved.
Mr Ladan Isah, one of the locals said, there were several promises in the recent past, but nothing has been forthcoming.
“Until we see practical moves, there is nothing to rejoice over yet. You and I know the politicians; they can even tell you they will take you to the Almighty God, but will they make any attempt? That is the problem. We appreciate journalists, but you can’t do more than that. You have played your role,’’ he said.
Isah said the new governor of the state, AbdulRazaq AbdulRahman, had visited the company and promised to do something urgently to address the situation.
“He has not done anything yet, but it is too early; let’s give him time,” he said.
Upon assumption of office, Governor Abdulrahman had visited the company and met with the workers, who had not been paid for many years. The governor was said to have promised that workers’ salaries would be paid for four years when the company resumes work.