Ajaokuta Steel: Questions and More Questions

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Nurudeen Aliyu Musa raises questions about the ability of a Russian company to manage the project.

The response given by Natasha Akpoti on the various issues raised by the Association of Small Scale Steel Marketers and Scrap Dealers of Nigeria (ASSSMSDN) which bothers on her campaigns concerning which company should operate Ajaokuta Steel Company has raised more questions than answers. And Amoti owes the Nigerian public clear explanations on the matter.

Last week, ASSSMSDN alleged that Amoti is more or less campaigning for the Vaswani brothers, owners of Premium Steel and Mining Limited, to take over the Ajaokuta Steel Company in Kogi State. The group however noted that the record of Vaswani brothers in managing Delta Steel Company, Aladja, Delta State, which it acquired through their Premium Steel three years ago, is unflattering. Delta Steel is now a shadow of itself as no form of industrial or productive activity has taken place there since then.

On Friday, February 3, 2017, Natasha took to her Facebook wall and accused the Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, of sponsoring ASSSMSDN activities. She said that she initially suspected three people: former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Minister of Solid Minerals and Steel Development and Kogi State Governor Alhaji Yahaya Bello. But she later became convinced that it was Governor Bello.

Natasha should realise that she took up the campaign on Ajaokuta and other steel matters out of her free volition and from all indications, she is enjoying the public attention it is giving her. She has all the right to demand the best for Nigeria. But she has in process made various allegations against many highly placed members of the society including past presidents and ministers. It is therefore pertinent for her to know that her actions are generating and would continue to generate public interest and reactions from people some of whom may demand that she make clarifications on some salient issues like the ones raised by ASSSMSDN.

Accusing Governor Yahaya Bello of being behind the group that issued press statement on the matter do not in any way address the important questions raised by ASSSMSDN. One, what is Natasha’s background and experience in steel making? What qualifies her to become an adviser to government on the company with the requisite technical knowhow and financial capacity to operate steel companies? Two, why is she putting so much time, energy and resources on the Ajaokuta and other steel sector issues including her plan to organise a road show or rally as she has indicated?

Three, is Natasha aware that the consortium called TyazhPromExport (TPE) which originally built the Ajaokuta Steel Complex over 40 years ago was made up of different companies from the over 19 countries that made up the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) and are therefore not currently domiciled in Russia or Ukraine, the basis of which the group said Natasha Amoti’s alleged claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed willingness of his country to complete Ajaokuta is doubtful?

Four, is it true that “the federal government has made it clear it is not willing to put physical money in reviving the steel companies in Nigeria in view of the billions of dollars invested by previous administrations in the past which went down the drains and that the current administration fought very hard to rescue Ajaokuta Steel Company from its former operators following the settlement of the dispute arising from the termination of the previous concession by the Yar’Ádua administration”? Five, why then is Natasha Amoti criticising instead of commending the current Minister of Solid Minerals and Steel Development for the negotiations and successful retrieval of Ajaokuta?

Six, what is wrong with government’s insistence to hand over Ajaokuta to only a competent investor with proven records and clear evidence of both the expertise and financial capacity to put the company into effective operation through an open, transparent and credible bidding in line with the extant laws and rules governing privatisation in the country and to avoid mistakes of the past? And why is Natasha insisting that government bypass due process and handover Ajaokuta to the so-called ‘Russian’ company as raised by the group?

Explanations on these have become necessary because the group is right to say that the Russian company, whatever it is, should submit itself to compete with others in the bidding process being organised by government. This is because rehabilitation and operation of Ajaokuta and other steel companies in Nigeria would require billions of dollars and as the group pointed out, Russia is no longer a socialist country as was the case over 40 years ago when it was part of the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republic. Russia in its present state cannot afford to fund the building or rehabilitation of any steel company in Africa free of charge, especially under the leadership of Vladimir Putin.

Musa wrote from Shiroro, Niger State

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