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 to the establishment of several steel projects in Nigeria such as Ajaokuta Steel Company Ltd, Delta Steel Company Ltd, Aladja, Jos Steel rolling mills, Inland rolling mills in Osogbo, Katsina rolling mills and the Nigeria Machine Tools Ltd, also in Oshogbo.
It is unfortunate that most of these steel projects are today, liquidated and under lock and key. The Ajaokuta Steel Company Ltd, the largest steel industry in Africa and third in the world, has remained moribund and is yet to see the light of the day because its final completion has become a political issue with successive governments.
Part of several failed efforts by past administrations to fix this integrated steel plant and give a boost to the country’s industrialisation drive, gave birth to the idea to concession the steel project, thus leading to the signing of dual concession agreements at various times between the federal government, Solgas Energy Ltd and Global infrastructure Holdings Ltd, under Olusegun Obasanjo’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 a machinery to review the concession agreement and set the project back on track.
Today, it is interesting to learn that all legal issues that trailed the review of the concession agreement has finally been resolved by the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, courtesy of the deserving reappointment of Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
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.
But some critics of the Buhari administration claim that the completion of the steel project is far from Buhari’s heart, adding that it accounted for the president’s casual comments on the project when he came on campaign visit to Kogi State before the last general election.
However, after a robust debate in which they showed their patriotic zeal, both chambers the 8th National Assembly towards the end of its tenure, 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 aside for the completion of the steel plant.
Sadly, this lofty proposal was rejected by President Buhari on the grounds that the recommendation did not have the input of relevant organs, such as the Ministry of Power and Steel.
No doubt, the 8th Senate and the House of Representatives must have thoroughly considered various options before choosing to complete the steel plant, in order to make it not only fully operational, but also achieve the goal of making Nigeria the steel giant of Africa.
The above action of both chambers of the National Assembly summarises the wish of Nigerians on the issue of Ajaokuta Steel Project. Therefore, President Muhammadu Buhari should reconsider and adopt the resolution of the immediate past 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 has compounded the problems of the company. I’m of the strong opinion that, to a large extent, situations determine the direction of a government.
It is therefore my hope that in his second term, the president would focus on lifting the country to the next level of development, industrial growth inclusive. President Buhari should use this opportunity to lay the foundation for the industrial growth of the country, by ensuring that Ajaokuta Steel Project is fully completed and operational. If he does this, the president would prove that that Nigeria’s progress is not subject to the whims of foreign powers on this count.
President Buhari should jettison the idea of privatising ASCL/NIOMCO Itakpe by aligning himself with the resolution of the 8th National Assembly on the need to complete Ajaokuta steel project in line with the wishes of the generality of Nigerians. This is because records have shown that the privatisation of public utilities like NEPA, NITEL and others by past administrations did not bring about the expected improvement in service provision to citizens.
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.
To demonstrate commitment, the President should direct the ebullient Minister of Mines and Steel, Olamilekun Adegbite, to reassess the current condition of the steel plant and report to him (president) before Mr President pays 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.
The president should come out with a reform in the supervising ministry in order to ensure that the best hands are allowed to manage the steel company.
It is worth mentioning that since his appointment as the new sole administrator of Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited, Engr. Ismail Abdul-Akaaba has breathed life back into the steel complex with his industry and vision. With the necessary support, the steel plant will grow under his supervision and contribute to the success of President Buhari’s next level agenda.
– Adoke, a public analyst, wrote from Adavi.