FOR four decades, residents of Sunti community in Niger State have lived with neglect. They know what life is without accessible roads, potable water, schools and electricity.
A resident of the community, who pleaded for anonymity, told Sunday Tribune that the indigenes were convinced that the successive governments had not been fair to them.
In 1980, President Shehu Shagari had set up a sugarcane plant for which land was acquired and compensation paid to those whose farms were acquired, but nothing happened on the acquired land.
For 40 years, successive governments did not do anything tangible to assist the community as the plant was in total neglect.
Tired of the uncaring attitude of past governments, the community cried out and accused both the federal and state governments of failure to address their plight. These complaints were finally heard in 2015 by the Abubakar Sani Bello-led government, who brought in an investor, The Flour Mills of Nigeria (FMN), having realised the wealth that could be created from refining sugar cane.
In the agreement reached by the state government and the company, the state was to provide the land for the project, while the investor was to provide the expertise, mill, power and equipment. The traditional ruler, Ndalile of Mokwa, Alhaji Muhammad Aliyu Shamba, told Sunday Tribune that he was excited about the completion of the project.
“For many years, this was the single wish of the people. We had to continously plead with the people, especially the youths, to be patient. Today, our dream has been fulfilled.
The head of corporate communications, FMN, Samuel Iboroma, promied that Sunti Sugar would provide 10,000 direct jobs, 50,000 indirect jobs, as well as 3,000 small scale sugarcane growers when fully operational.
He added that: “the mill will produce 1 million tons of sugarcane, which translates into 100,000 metric tons of sugar yearly.”
Speaking during the launch of the plant on March 15, 2018, the Managing Director of the Flour Mill, Mr John Coumantaros, who traced the history of the mill to the 50s when his father, George Stavros Coumantaros, came to the country for the first time, remarked that the investment, totaling N50bn, demonstrates their confidence in the federal government’s vision to overhaul the agricultural sector, particularly the attainment of the National Sugar Master Plan (NSMP) in achieving self – sufficient in production of sugar locally.
While contending that locally produced sugar will save Nigeria $100 million every year, the MD commended the Central Bank for it’s support in ensuring that the project was completed on time.
The governor, Bello, said that the commissioning of the sugar mill had shown that they were on the right path as about 3,000 youths have been employed. He reaffirmed the state government’s determination to assist the rural farmers in improving farm produce.
In his speech, President Muhammadu Buhari said that the project was coming at a better time as Nigeria was now getting out of recession.
He praised the state and FMN for the level of work and magnitude of investment in the community as what was witnessed that day was a demonstration that his policies on economic diversification was on the right path.
Buhari also used the occasion to inform the gathering that the recent World Bank rating placing the country as one of the 10 most improved economies was an indication that his government is doing well .
But above all, he said , the world over, ‘Sugar has been identified as a key commodity that is critical to national food security. Other than the development of local content, an investment of this size in the sugar value chain will not only stern the tide of importation of sugar and save foreign exchange, but enhance rural industrialisation, create wealth and alleviate poverty.
Speaking in the same vein, the paramount ruler of the area, the Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, said that the project would eradicate poverty among his people and improve their livelihood.
“The Sunti Golden Sugar Estates will provide jobs, improve trade and commerce, and considerably uplift the standards of living for our people and the community,” he said.
According to him, there were some challenges at the beginning, but ultimately, the people understood that an industrial size project like this was not intended to disturb their traditions and way of livelihood, but to increase the capacity of farmers, and to generally benefit communities.
He urged the indigenes to learn to embrace socio-economic developments in their communities. “Our lands must enrich our people, so Nupe people must be willing to work with investors and the government to this end.
With the springing up of schools, medical facilities, good road networks, etc now in place, the indigenes appear to be having a swell time
According to the state commissioner for information, Alh Danjuma Sallau, the state governor, followed the wise counsel of the President, Muhammad Buhari who at the inception of his government told the various state governments to look inwards and diversify their economies instead of relying heavily on the statutory monthly allocation. Some states in the region, he disclosed, immediately took up the challenge and decided to invest in agriculture.
Sunti is a rural community in Mokwa Local Government of Niger State. Majority of the people in the area are farmers. They grow millet, rice, beans, guinea corn, sorghum etc, but growing sugarcane is their major preoccupation.
Dignitries that attended the launch included the state deputy governor, Alh Muhammad Ketso, African richest man, Aliko Dangote, and an elder statesman, Alhaji Ahmed Joda.
Others were Kebbi State governor, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu: Central Bank of Nigeria governor, Godwin Emiefele; Ambassadors of Greece and United States, Professor Jerry Gana; Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, among others.
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