Why FG Must Revive Ajaokuta Steel Project Now

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Ajaokuta Steel Company located in Ajaokuta, Kogi State about 38 km away from Lokoja, the state capital, was established 35 years ago. It was conceived and steadily developed with the vision of erecting a Metallurgical Process Plant Complex with other ancillaries and facilities. The plant was meant to generate important industrial and economic activities that are critical to diversification of the Nigerian economy.

Looking at the intentions behind the establishment, Ajaokuta Steel is therefore tagged the “The Bedrock of Nigeria’s Industrialisation.” But since 1994 when the Federal Government of Nigeria, owner of the plant, stopped funding the completion of the project, the plant has remained at 98 completion status. The rolling plan, for the third decade running, remains tailored towards the reactivation, completion and commissioning of the first of three phases of the project, of  1.3 million tonnes per annum of liquid steel production. The vision 2020:20 economic blueprint document even goes beyond the rolling plan to envisage the actualisation of the third phase of the project – 5.2million tonnes per annum of liquid steel production.

However, the project has had a chequered history occasioned by interplay of forces that have made the integrated commissioning of the Steel plant elusive till date.

According to the Sole Administrator of Ajaokuta Steel, Isah Joseph Onobere, an engineer, “there is so much misconception and misinformation about this project. This is born largely out of ignorance and some orchestrated campaign of calumny against the Nigerian state aimed at ensuring that we remain perpetually a dumping ground for steel products from developed countries.”

Onobere stated this during a 3-day Media Training workshop for Journalists and Reporters designed to cover Steel and Mining Sector, held in Lokoja, recently.

He said that the Ajaokuta Steel Plant (ASP) project is the development of an integrated iron and steel production and engineering works complex embarked upon by the Federal Government of Nigeria as a strategic industry, job creator and foreign exchange earner and with a foresight on industrialisation and diversification of the national economy.

The sole administrator said that among other expectations, the project “would provide materials for infrastructural development technology acquisition, human capacity building, income distribution, regional development and employment generation.”

He also disclosed that the project would directly employ about 10,000 technical staff at the first phase of commissioning;  the upstream, downstream industries and service providers that would evolve all over the nation and would engage not less than 500, 000 employees when fully operational.

According to him, the present management of the company has been working round the clock to see how to put some of the completed facilities into use.  “We currently produce spare parts machines and accessories in our captive shops for industries, organisations and individuals. We also have subsisting MoUs with private investors for the use of our facilities for educational training. The management has also taken action to salvage the Central Technical Archives to ensure the safety of millions of the Steel plant engineering drawings and documents there,” he said.

He also informed that the company, in respect of the above, has so far taken delivery of some important machines for the purpose of electronic storage and retrieval of technical drawing and documents.

This, according to him, is the realisation of over 20-year-old dream. The goal however, is to complete and commission the first phase of the project which is to produce 1.3million tonnes of liquid steel per year, and subsequently work for other stages of its development.

Onobere also disclosed that government has begun to commit resources towards the maintenance and preservation of the equipment and facilities of the plant, adding that this is pending the decision from the appropriate quarters regarding the completion, commissioning and continuous operation of the Steel plant.  He further said that government is currently considering the report on various options on the way forward as advanced by a nominated Transaction Adviser concerning outright sale, concession or involvement of joint ventures.

He urged the journalists to always bring the issue of the project to the front burner in their reportage.

“The Nigerian steel sector qualifies for declaration of national state of emergency by government. Strategic industries like ours cannot be completely left to the vagaries of the private sector alone. This is because there are numerous socio-economic benefits that cannot be quantified in naira and kobo that will accrue from the full blown development of the Steel sector. As members of the fourth estate of the realm, we hope you will serve as the catalyst we seek and need to catapult Nigeria into the league of steel-producing nations,” the sole administrator said.

Akin Omotosho, an engineer, observed that the Russians gave Nigeria the best in Ajaokuta, lamenting, however that successive governments in the country have abandoned the project and left it to rot away, “while our graduates that are supposed to get employed in Ajaokuta are now roaming the streets in search of employment.”

Credits: Victoria Nnakiaike | BusinessDay

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