The federal government of Nigeria has set aside over four billion naira for the resuscitation of the Ajaokuta Steel Company. The total sum of N4, 272,797,371 is contained in the 2017 appropriation budget which was presented to the National Assembly in December by President Muhammadu Buhari. The amount is higher than the N3.9 billion budgeted for the company in 2016. The Steel Company is believed to be the largest integrated steel company in West Africa and has cost the federal government an estimated $7 billion (N1.1 trillion) since it was commissioned by the Shehu Shagari administration in the second republic.
Just last month, Economic Confidential reported that the neglect and lack of political will to resuscitate the abandoned Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL) and other inland rolling mills in the country has cost the nation a whopping N589.41 billion in iron and steel imports within the eighteen (18) months of the Buhari administration. This is in tandem to what the former the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Olusegun Aganga said few years ago when he lamented that Nigeria spends about $3.3billion annually in the importation of steel and yet the nation have iron ore in the country. Mr Aganga promised that Nigeria will implement the Backward Integration Programme in iron ore so that we can become a net exporter of iron ore just as we have done with cement. Thus this development may not be coming at a better time as Iron and steel industry stakeholders are of the view that revival of Steel Industry is the only panacea to Nigeria’s unemployment and industrialization debacle.
The plan to resuscitate the plant is coming at the back of several calls to the government to revive the steel plant in order to provide employment for Nigerians. One of such calls came from the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) who pleaded with the Federal Government to quickly move and resuscitate the moribund Ajaokuta Steel Company Ltd. (ASCL) in Kogi State. According to the former President of the Congress, Mr Abdul Waheed Omar, the company is critical in the ongoing efforts to create jobs for the teaming youths as it is capable of providing over 50,000 direct and indirect jobs if made to work and given proper attention. He further said that it would be difficult for the country to achieve its vision of becoming one of the best 20 economies in the world by year 2020 if the company was not quickly resuscitated and put on a sound track.
Similarly, the Iron and Steel Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ISSSAN) had lamented that the “death” of the steel industry in the country aggravated the nation’s unemployment rate. The Deputy-General Secretary of the association, Mr Adewale Okesola stated that the Ajaokuta Steel Company alone, if revived, could employ no fewer than 140,000 Nigerians, stressing that if Ajaokuta alone can absorb so much unemployed Nigerians, then we can be sure that the other steel firms, if also revived, would employ much more. According to him, the revival of the industry would definitely aid the growth of the country’s new automobile industry and the transformation of the epileptic Nigerian Railway Corporation. “Government knows the genesis of the nation’s calamity in terms of unemployment, except if they do not want to be sincere. “If the government can be sincere and focused; if they can pump money such that the steel industry will pick up, we will forget some of our current plagues,” he said.
Ajaokuta steel plant which has been tagged as the “bedrock of Nigeria’s industrialization” is a multifaceted mill expected to be used to generate important upstream and downstream industrial and economic activities that are critical to the diversification of the Nigerian economy into an industrial one and also intended to be the leading supplier of quality steel products in all the major economic sectors including construction, packaging and wire drawing/nail making industry. Nigeria continues to suffer unquantifiable and monumental losses from the multibillion dollar investment, due to asset depreciation, brain drain of man power that were trained in Russia, Bulgaria, and India for the steel plant according to the founder Builder Hub Foundation, Barr. Natasha Akpotio. According to her, the Ajaokuta industrial complex can manufacture stone crushers and any other industrial components, both for telecommunications infrastructure, spares for excavators, tractors, cars, ships, military hardware and steel of all sizes and shapes. ‘’Ajaokuta can produce over 110MW of electricity, to meet its own local consumption needs and puts the rest into the national grid adding the revival of this complex which has a Metallurgical Training Centre that can train over 3000 youths in Technical Craftsmanship, every year in over 37 different programmes,’’ she said.
Apparently in a bid to resuscitate the plant, the Federal Government had set in motion strategies to resolve the court action and the Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dr. Fayemi Kayode, also recently reiterated the commitment of the federal government to settle all litigations between it and Global Steel Holdings Limited (GSHL), as regards the steel company. According to Fayemi during his inaugural visit to the plant as the minister, “I want to let you know that the president is very passionate about the Ajaokuta steel company. We will take a look at the company holistically with a view to making it work for the benefits of Nigerians. I’m here on a fact-finding mission. I have read much about the steel complex and have been briefed by the sole administrator. We will make a final decision on the complex, which Nigerians would be happy about. “We are looking at the entire steel complex. We will not segment the plant. We are told that the captive power plant has been reactivated. After taking the one needed by the company, we will be happy if Kogi and its environs could benefit from the remaining megawatts.” In his speech, he hinted that the government would partner with relevant stakeholders that would help fix the moribund company for the country to be able to produce its own liquid steel for consumption by local industries.
“We want to build a sector that will support Nigeria’s industrialization, expansion of low- cost coal-generated power, earn foreign exchange and generate tax revenues for governments at all levels. Our strategic aspiration is to build a sustainable, globally competitive mining and related supporting sectors that will prudently use the finite resources available to improve the quality of life for Nigerians,” he said.
It is also cheering news that Ukranians, Russians and Chinese investors have shown interests in the complex as revealed by the minister. This may come with some level of apprehension as previous deals with foreign companies have collapsed for one reasons or the other. For example, the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, despite criticisms from steel workers and labour leaders, gave a special consideration of its management to the Global System Steel Holdings Limited, GSHL in 2005. The deal collapsed as the firm failed to meet the inherent contractual obligations. The Federal Government was subsequently forced to cancel the transaction in 2007. In 2008, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua terminated the agreement and set up an Interim Management Committee to oversee it. As a matter of fact, many stakeholders have at various occasions prevailed upon the Federal Government to revive the steel industry.
The National Council on Privatization, NCP should see to the speedy revival of the company and ensure that the steel industry is back to life. Also, Committees on Steel, Privatization and Commercialization and Justice in the National Assembly should get to the root of this protracted controversy that has hampered the plant over the years and they should also enact enabling laws that will drive industrial revolution in Nigeria.