Capturing Ajaokuta Steel in Buhari’s Next Level

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The dream of Nigeria to have reliable steel industry that will not only form the bedrock of the country’s industrialisation, but also place her in a competitive position with her counterparts worldwide led the federal government to come up with the idea to restructure its priorities. This culminated into the establishment of several steel projects in Nigeria. They include Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited, Delta Steel Company Limited Aladja, Jos Steel Rolling Mills, Inland Rolling Mills in Osogbo, Katsina Rolling Mills and the Nigeria Machine Tools Limited also in Oshogbo.

Unfortunately, most of these steel projects are today liquidated. The Ajaokuta Steel Company, the largest in Africa and third in the world, remains moribund because it’s final completion has politicised by successive governments.

Part of several failed efforts by past administrations to fix this integrated steel plant and boost to the country’s industrialisation gave birth to the idea to concessionaire the steel project, thus leading to the signing of dual concession agreements at various times between the Federal Government of Nigeria and Solgas Energy Ltd and Global infrastructure holdings Ltd, under Olusegun Obansajo’s administration.

Expectedly, this untidy move further held down the process of actualising the interest of Nigeria to be the steel giant of Africa, until the coming of the administration of President Umar Yar’Adua who set up machinery to review the concession agreement and set the project back on track.

Today, it is interesting that all legal issues that trailed the review of the concession agreement have finally been resolved by the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. It is also heartwarming to note the efforts of the Buhari administration in the area of the completion of the Itakpe – Warri – Ajaokuta rail project for the movement of goods/services and people.

There is no doubting the fact that it is for the above reasons and the belief that the steel project will get a head way under the Buhari government that Nigerians, the people of Kogi state in particular, voted massively for President Buhari’s second term.

However, of serious concern to this writer is the recent notion in some quarters that the present administration has listed Ajaokuta steel company as one of the state-owned outfits to be disposed of.

Some critics of the Buhari administration even claimed that the completion of the steel project is far from Buhari’s heart, adding that it accounted for the president’s casual comments of the projects when he came on campaign to Kogi state before the last general elections.

However, while this negative opinion persists, both chambers of the National Assembly recently passed a resolution for the government to remove ASCL/NIOMCO Itakpe from the list of outfits billed for privatisation and recommended that government should put $1 billion for the completion of the steel plant.

No doubt, the senate and the House of Representatives must have thoroughly considered the options of privatising the steel plant or completing it, in order to make it not only fully operational, but also attaining the goals of making Nigeria the steel giant of Africa.

The action of both chambers of the National Assembly summarises the wish of Nigerians on the issue of Ajaokuta steel project. Therefore, what Nigerians are waiting for President Buhari to assent to the resolution of the national Assembly by releasing the appropriated funds for the completion of the steel plant.

Even though it has been argued in some quarters that the problem militating against the completion of the steel plant borders on international politics, the deficiency in the capacity of the leadership of the country and the inefficiency in the civil service/management of the facility itself, this writer is of the strong opinion that, to a large extent, situations determines the operations or direction of a government.

In my opinion, the Buhari leadership or administration is not one that would rush or make a fire brigade approach at issues, which is why during this his first tenure he has carefully chosen to tackle three major challenge of insecurity, corruption and job creation that is facing Nigeria. He believes that the country needs cleansing to allow for a proper growth.

As an optimist my hope is that with the second coming of President Buhari for another four years, he intends to lift the country to the next level of development industrial growth inclusive.

Whereas some critics have variously described President Buhari as not too good in the management of the country’s economy, some said he lacks the political will to tackle the industrial growth of the country, but in my candid view, no reasonable leader will not wish the development of his/her constituency well.

As reasonable followers too, what our leaders expect is our support, by way of good suggestions/advice. Both the leader and followers must resist the temptation of trivialising and politicising issues.

It is therefore my candid opinion that the President should use the opportunity of his second coming to lay the foundation for the industrial growth of the country, by ensuring that Ajaokuta Steel Project is fully completed and operational.

By so doing, the president would have not only proved that Nigeria’s progress is not tied to foreign dictates but also that he is capable of managing well the economy of the country.

First, President Buhari should jettison the idea of privatising ASCL/NIOMCO Itakpe by aligning himself with the recent resolution of the National Assembly on the need to complete Ajaokuta steel project in line with the wishes of generality of Nigerians.

This is because records have shown that public utilities like NEPA, NITEL and others privatised by past administrations did not bring about the expected improvement or positive result in terms of economic gains and services. Rather, the exercises tend to enrich the various individuals/management of the utilities so privatised to the disadvantage of the public.

Apart from the fact that the completion of Ajaokua steel project will lead to the industrialisation of the country and by extension enable the country to attain economic, viability, the project when completed will generate mass employment for the citizens; reduce joblessness and crime in our society.

At this juncture we call on President Buhari to break the Ajaokuta steel project jinx by listening to the yearnings of majority of Nigerians who felt that the best for the country’s development is for government to complete and make the steel plant operational.

To demonstrate commitment, the president should pay a working visit to the steel plant with a view to having a personal assessment of the gigantic project that have remained neglected and wasting.

Apart from assenting to the resolution of the National Assembly on the steel project, the President should come out with a reform in the supervising ministry in order to ensure that best hands professionals are given the opportunity to manage the steel company.

In this regards, this writer who has interacted with First Republic leaders, the military leaders all through Nigeria Civil War 1967 – 1970 applauds the choice of the new Sole Administrator of ASCL, Engr. Ismail Akaaba. Since his assumption of office, he has ensured that the power plant functions.

It is our conviction that with every necessary support, the steel plant can grow under the supervision of the new sole administrator and move to the next level in line with President Buhari’s second term agenda.

– Ahmed Adoke writes from Km8, Okene Lokoja Road Nagazi Uvete, Adavi LGA Kogi state.

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