Reducing the price of cement
THE call by the Cement Producers Association of Nigeria (CPAN) on the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, to slash the price of cement from the current N2, 200 to N1, 000 per bag would seem improbable because it flies in the face of law of demand and supply.
With a 17 million housing deficit in the country, the soaring price of the product is certainly worrisome. The situation, indeed, underscores the frustration of the citizenry, especially, when it is considered that a gnawing infrastructure gap also needs to be filled. However, only a comprehensive and well-formulated government policy that addresses all options, including alternatives to cement, could bring succor, and not an arbitrary price control as being advocated by the association.
CPAN made the request in a congratulatory message sent to Buhari and Prof. Yemi Osinbajo for emerging victorious at this year’s presidential election. They noted that the move would serve as the first dividend of change, which Nigerians voted for.
In the statement, they lamented that the cement industry has, in the last six years since the passage of President Musa Yar’Adua, witnessed wanton corruption and injustice.
According to the group, cement sells costliest in Nigeria the world over, noting that in countries that have attained self-sufficiency in production, the product goes for as low as N500 per bag. Yet the reverse is the case in the country despite government’s success claims and mouthing of Nigeria as a net exporter of the product.
Dismissing the claims, CPAN noted that the product still sells under N1,000 per bag in most African countries. This, of course, raises question as to how that is possible if the product is exported at the same price as it is sold in Nigeria.
The association particularly frowned at a situation where new foreign investors were allegedly barred from venturing into cement production to maintain the status quo. It reiterated that the situation is like that because a cabal, which wishes to monopolise the industry and enrich itself enough, is behind the opposition.
Furthermore, the group regretted that the late President Yar’Adua, had, in an attempt to close the housing deficit through affordable cement, granted import permit to six companies, one from each zone of the federation to crash the price to N1,000 per bag. But the move was quickly terminated at his death.
It will, therefore, take a firm desire for change to readmit the licensees to go into importation of cement. This, CPAN said, will not only crash the price to N1,000 per bag, but also enable them pay off the over N200 billion borrowed from several financial institutions.
In as much as mass importation would crash the high price of cement, that this in itself, would be short-term victory. The long-term solution lies in Nigeria’s ability to manufacture enough cement in the country. But, of course, the usual manufacturing woes are at the root of the problem.
In the 70s, there were at least five functional cement plants operating in the country. The companies, which were largely under the management of governments, were at Nkalagu, Ewekoro, Kalabaina, Calabar and Ukpilla. The combined output of these plants satisfied the level of infrastructural development at the time at an equally affordable price.
It is time Nigeria looks inwards and researches for local alternatives to cement. What prevents us from researching into how to refine the mud into a form of cement? The laterite, which is available in abundance and has been used for ages, is a necessary substitute for cement. Nigeria must begin to re-invent on the path of progress and development.
Luckily enough, the Nigerian Building Research Institute (NBRI) has done a lot in this regard even if much of the findings are not being adopted for use. By now, the nation should have more factories that utilize clay to produce blocks for building instead of depending solely on cement.
Nigeria is blessed with abundant limestone needed for cement production and the most fundamental problem is the cost of power. The current epileptic power supply is a hindrance to industrial development.
Depending on imported cement for national infrastructural development is certainly retrogressive in the face of such a huge cost of power. To be able to move in the right direction, Nigeria needs a national development plan that includes a functional housing policy. There should be regulation. There is no genuine policy direction at the moment that is spearheaded by government to ensure mass housing using local building materials. Yet, it is with such an example that focus can shift from dependence on cement.