BUA recounts over 30 years running battle with Dangote in fight for market control

BUA Group, one of Nigeria’s leading conglomerates, has responded to the claims and allegations made by Dangote Group, its rival in the cement and sugar sectors, in a recent editorial.

BUA described the editorial as a “cheap attempt at blackmail” and a “sponsored campaign of calumny” against it.

In a press statement signed by its management, BUA narrated its history of resilience and endurance in the face of various challenges and obstacles allegedly orchestrated by Dangote Group and its owner, Aliko Dangote, to drive it out of business.

BUA said, “To put things in perspective, it’s imperative to revisit history—a history not of rivalry but of resilience; not of enmity, but of endurance.”

BUA recalled how Dangote issued a bounced cheque to it in 1991, when it was a commodities trading company, and how Dangote used his influence to get former President Obasanjo to revoke the land it leased from Dangote’s uncle for a sugar refinery in 2004.

BUA said, “In August 1991, a young BUA was doing its commodities trading business just as Nigeria faced a scarcity of sugar. As sugar was scarce, BUA was lucky to be one of the few with any stock for sale, and we stood prepared to supply the nation’s needs as best as our stock could. It was during this period Aliko Dangote approached us to purchase sugar. If only we knew he was setting the first of many traps in our business history. He gave us a Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria Cheque, which bounced upon presentation to the bank. Unbeknown to us, this was a ruse that would lead to a court-sanctioned freeze of our assets orchestrated by Dangote.”

The company said it survived the ordeal after three months of having its accounts garnisheed, warehouses shuttered, and spirit tested.

It also revealed how its chairman’s late father gave him the land on which its Lagos sugar refinery stands today, after the revocation.

“Our survival as a business especially our Lagos sugar refinery is a legacy handed to us by a loving father who, seeing his son’s distress, did what only the noblest and kindest of hearts could do. With unwavering faith, our Chairman’s late father—may his soul rest in eternal peace—handed him the land on which our Lagos Sugar Refinery stands today. This land was the location of one of his thriving businesses with a warehouse, which he shut down and handed to us without asking for compensation. He just saw the pain of our chairman, Abdul Samad Rabiu, called him one day and handed him the papers to the land. His gesture was a beacon of hope in one of our darkest hours. And so, BUA survived again another Dangote trap. Today, we are now the largest Sugar refining concern in West Africa,” the statement added.

It went further to recount  how it faced resistance and harassment from Dangote and some government officials when it ventured into the cement industry in 2007, following the visionary mandate of late President Yar’Adua to break the monopoly in the sector. BUA said it introduced a floating terminal, BUA Cement, as a stopgap while it was securing its land-based cement plant. However, it said Dangote tried to deport its expatriate crew and take over its terminal in Port Harcourt, until the intervention of the President and his Chief Economic Adviser.

BUA said, “What followed, however, was another act intended to drive us out of business. Our application to dock the floating terminal in Lagos met with resistance. We then decided to berth the ship at the terminal we owned in Port Harcourt. Despite this, we faced considerable pushback and it took the decisive intervention of late President Yar Adua, who directed that the Minister of Transport and the Chairman of NPA honour our right to contribute to the nation’s growth.”

BUA said it also faced a sudden strike by a Deputy Comptroller General of Immigration, who was also an older brother to a Dangote staff, who attempted to deport its vessel’s entire expatriate crew.

The company added, “It was a Friday that is forever seared into our memory—the shock of our expatriates rounded up, their confusion as they were shepherded onto a Dangote-funded one-way local flight from Port Harcourt to Lagos en-route Asia via Emirates. Upon hearing of what had happened, we reached out to Tanimu Yakubu, the then Chief Economic Adviser, who acted with the urgency that the situation demanded. His call to the CG of Immigration was a lifeline, and our expatriate team was brought back from the Emirates aircraft and not deported. The aftermath was swift action by the President, who ensured that such a misuse of power would not go unchecked. DCG Brown, caught in a tangle of undue influence, admitted what he did to the Minister, and he was later dismissed.”

BUA further stated that it faced similar issues with its Edo cement plant and its Port Harcourt sugar refinery, which it said were the only ones outside Lagos. BUA said Dangote used leaked emails, thugs, and bad press to foment trouble and close its factory in Edo, and also tried to take away its terminal in Port Harcourt. BUA said it had to seek presidential intervention again to protect its rights and interests.

BUA said: “We also know what transpired whilst we were building our Edo Cement Plant. Everyone knows the issues we faced. The plant we are operating in Edo would not have been operating and contributing immensely to the economy, if not for the former President Buhari who had to intervene by calling Governor Obaseki that no staff must lose their jobs and the plant must not be shut down, no matter what happens. We cannot say more as the matter is currently sub-judice – and is at the Supreme Court. During that time, Edwin Devakumar and Sunday Esan (two long-time and current staff of Dangote) were caught in leaked emails, whose content were not limited to sending thugs to foment trouble, close our factory as well as pushing bad press against us.

“Same thing happened again with our Port Harcourt sugar refinery – the only sugar refinery in Nigeria that is outside Lagos. Dangote utilized every means possible to ensure the refinery did not take off and we raised the alarm. At some point, the terminal was taken away from us and was to have been given to someone else at the behest of Dangote. There had to be a presidential intervention again for NPA to do the right thing. Yet, we survived.”

BUA said it had survived and thrived despite these tribulations, and had contributed to Nigeria’s economy without resorting to subterfuge. BUA said it had nothing to do with Dangote’s self-inflicted issues and blamed no one but himself.

“To Mr. Dangote and the Dangote Group, we say: Let us build, not belittle. Let us cultivate, not conquer. While we may share the marketplace, we need not share malice. We have nothing to do with your self-inflicted issues. Blame no one but yourself.”

BUA said it remained committed to its ethos of innovation, integrity, and inclusiveness, and its activities were rooted in the prosperity of Nigeria, undeterred by the winds of unfounded criticism. It added that it would continue to serve the country and its people with the diligence and honour they deserved.

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