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On renewal and smart power

By Sudhansu Sinha
12 December 2016   |   3:40 am
The recent opinion piece with the above title written by C. Don Adinuba and published in The Guardian of Thursday, December 1, 2016 makes very interesting ...
Sorghum plants

Sorghum plants

The recent opinion piece with the above title written by C. Don Adinuba and published in The Guardian of Thursday, December 1, 2016 makes very interesting reading and all patriots and lovers of Nigeria need such inspiring invocations in our difficult but necessary push towards boosting local productive capacities with local resources and input. Adinuba’s piece, however, had some misrepresentations in historical facts about the use of local raw materials in the brewery industry in Nigeria and this corrigendum is an attempt to put the records straight.

Specifically, Adinuba wrote: ‘Buhari did make a mark in the country’s agro-industrial growth in his first incarnation as Nigeria’s leader from 1983 to 1985 when breweries were compelled to use local maize in place of barley malt. The breweries went a step further by producing lagers with an overwhelming local content. Guinness, for instance, came up with the Merit brand while Premier Breweries in Onitsha, Anambra State, introduced Masters beer in the market. Though the breweries were to declare crop failures because, in the words of Pius Okigbo in his Essays in the Public Philosophy of Development, the brewers were not farmers, the local content in the Nigerian beverage industry has changed for the better.’ This assertion is unfortunately not correct.

The true position is that the Federal Government of Nigeria banned the importation of Malted Barley to be substituted by malted Sorghum (not Maize) in 1988. Nigerian food scientists, in different institutes and research organisations, including FIIRO, conclusively established, by research and extensive trials that malted Sorghum is an ideal (even better for gluten free beer) substitute of malted Barley. But the mainly multinational brewery companies were resisting the substitution in order to allow them import malted Barley from their malting plants overseas. However, that principled and patriotic decision of the Federal Government forced them to adopt Malted Sorghum which is grown abundantly in Nigeria, at least for some time.

Sona Breweries, a fully Nigerian company was the pioneer in using 100 per cent raw and malted Sorghum in brewing international brands like Kronenbourg, Wilfort Dark Ale, Maltonic and so on. The company also set up the first Sorghum malting plant in their IBBI Limited factory in Kaduna in 2004. Thereafter, a number of other Sorghum malting plants were set up in Nigeria. Indeed, Sorghum production soared to 11 million metric tonnes in 2008, topping world’s Sorghum-producing countries’ list.

Sorghum, being a tropical crop is rather unknown to the Europeans. The art, science, and technology of Sorghum malting is essentially a Nigerian asset. Nigerian Sorghum Maltsters were producing world class malted Sorghum which got adopted in most brands of beer and malt drinks in Nigeria. A variety of professionals were engaged in Sorghum chain: from farmers/traders to Sorghum maltsters/technicians to end users. Each group was reaping the benefits of this nationalistic decision.  Soon enough, Sorghum malting became a vibrant profession and buoyant industry in Nigeria but this shining industrial light was to be dimmed with the invidious and self-serving campaign by the multinational companies who worked tirelessly to have these gains reversed and ensure a reversal to full and unbridled importation of malted Barley from their malting plants in their home countries.

Clearly, the multinational brewery companies were not happy with the patriotic decision of the Federal Government. They kept working behind-the-scenes to get the ban removed on importation of malted Barley for obvious reasons, like loss of business for their malting plants overseas, and losing a medium for surreptitiously transferring money out of Nigeria. Painfully, during last regime, they were very successful in getting not only the ban removed, in addition their imports were exempted from VAT and LEVY and attracted only five per cent duty. Curiouser, curiouser: talk about putting a death knell in the growing local Sorghum industry.

In the year 2013 to 2016, hundreds of thousands of metric tonnes of malted Barley was imported by the multinational breweries in Nigeria. Local Sorghum malting industries closed down. Everyone involved in the Sorghum chain from farming to malting lost their jobs and means of livelihood. A vibrant but nascent industry and profession died a sudden and brutal death; no thanks to a strange and unpatriotic import-promotion policy for malted Barley which, by the way, is heavily subsidised by governments in Europe. Meanwhile, scarce forex is shipped out of the country to import what a better substitution exists in Nigeria.

Now that President Muhammadu Buhari is back in the saddle, he has a unique opportunity to pursue his noble dream to make the country self-reliant by eliminating (or at least, reducing) importation and promoting utilisation of local resources but the promoters of the importation lobby in the corridors of power have remained unrelenting in frustrating government’s attempt at a patriotic policy reversal and application.

Enough is enough! Nigerians should decide whether to stand up and support government’s policy for self-reliance, prosperity and growth or choose eternal economic bondage craftily woven and sold to bureaucrats by the multinational companies. Our fortunes can only change for the better if we begin to put Nigeria first.

• Sinha is the Managing Director, Foods, Agro and Allied Industries Limited.