Thirty-three years after its inauguration, the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited, Ajaokuta, Kogi State, has succeeded only in running itself aground, in the process dashed the dream to industrialise Nigeria. However, the moribund state of affairs of the complex has continued to attract the attention of governments, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and stakeholders. One of such concerned stakeholders is Mr. Bashir Mohammed Sani who has pioneered an NGO – Initiative for Actualisation of Itakpe Iron Mill to rally support and efforts towards its resuscitation. He highlights such efforts in this interview with LEADERSHIP SUNDAY’s PEMBI STEPHEN-DAVID. Excerpts:
Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL), arguably the largest integrated steel complex in black Africa, is one of the most valuable industries in the country. Located in Kogi State, the steel industry, when in full operation, would generate jobs for more than 10,000 personnel. As a tool that would boost the operations of the country’s industrial transformation, ASCL, is, to say the least, critical to the country’s industrial development.
Designed to be an integrated steel complex, Ajaokuta Steel Company Ltd (ASCL) certainly represents the hope of Nigeria. As a result of a feasibility study prepared by a firm from the defunct USSR in 1973, the nation’s first iron and steel plant was projected for Ajaokuta.
By the report, the plant was to utilise the vast iron ore deposit in Itakpe, as well as a blend of local and imported coals in the production of steel products. Inaugurated in 1979, therefore, the ASCL was to be developed in three phases.
At full completion, it was designed to produce long and flat steel products, as well as other assorted finished and semi-finished steel products, including heavy plates and sections.
Thirty years after, the company is still a toddler.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, Mr. Bashir Mohammed Sani, an illustrious son of Ajaokuta, says the ASCL is a paramount concern both in terms of potential and job opportunity that will arise from the resuscitation of the plant. He says because of that, he has taken it upon himself and has decided to pioneer an NGO whose main focus is to rally round as many stakeholders as possible in order to make it functional.
‘‘We at Initiative for Actualisation of Itakpe Iron Mill (IAAI) held a round table late last year which brought together all stakeholders in and outside the government to discuss the way forward. We are planning another round table as a follow up based on development that has taken place since then’.’
He said the IAAI as an NGO has a passion to make things happen. “This is a different NGO, you see, this is my catchment area, I am directly involved in the whole thing. I was a kid when the project started and now I am an adult, more than thirty years later; the project is still a pipe dream, this is not the best for us.”
Sani explained that IAAI has consulted with the grassroots people, the traditional rulers and the chiefs around the cooperating communities as well as technocrats and other past administrators.
We spoke to the various stakeholders because this is a huge project. Let me tell you something, between the Shagari administration and the Goodluck administration, successive governments have included the project in their budgets but nothing seems to be working.
But in the stakeholders’ communiqué, issues like if the government cannot handle the project, it should allow the private sector to buy into the stock were mentioned. This will eventually bring about the actualisation of Ajaokuta Steel Complex. Besides, the federal government should complete the project and allow individuals to buy into it as a finished product.’’
The communiqué, according to Sani, was developed after the meeting held at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja. “We had stakeholders’ from all nooks and crannies in the country and came out with a blue print which we intend to share with other stakeholders across the country. We physically visited the complex and consulted with stakeholders from different levels and brought them to the conference.’’
He, however, added that “President Jonathan should visit the complex and see things for himself. I am sure he will not be happy to see the waste that has been generated from the installation of Ajaokuta Mega Steel Industry. Since the creation of Nigeria, we have been busy importing but have not made anything towards the development of Nigeria.
Iron and steel are the backbone and workshop through which all our youths and engineers can develop iron and steel to enable Nigeria move forward.
Speaking on maintenance, Sani argued that ‘‘there are bound to be matters arising as a result of the initiative. These include staff matters. We will not stop at the completion of the project; we will continue to aspire for higher grounds in terms of overseeing fair play among staff and union members’’. Sani added that IAAI has gone beyond Kogi State, “ it is a national NGO, we are located in Abuja and we catered for Jos Steel Rolling Mill in Plateau State, Katsina Steel Rolling Mill in Katsina State and Delta Steel Rolling Mill in Delta State.
It will interest you to know that we have entered into agreements with people from these areas and they are finding it exceedingly interesting to come up on board with us and find out ways in which we can cooperate with one another and share resources together and come up with a viable successful campaign for the federal government to listen because we are key to realizing the Nigerian dream of vision 20:2020.’‘
On whether the NGO can handle the move to make the ASCL come out of the woods, he said aside few donations from a few individuals, financing the entire project has been a one-man affair. “But we intend to get support from well wishers among the catchment areas and stakeholders who know that this is a collective fight. You see, money talks and money brings result and if I am right, we need money to reinforce our arguments.
Arguing that the federal government is serious on rhetorics and not serious in action, Sani enthused: “We intend to keep the pressure on the federal government through persistent campaign in the media. This is not to score a point but to make the federal government see reason in making the project work. We intend to do this through peaceful means and I am sure that the government will listen to us’’.