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EDITORIAL

Factoring Ajaokuta Steel In Next Level Agenda

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The recent statement by the minister of mines and steel development, Olamilekan Adegbite, that the federal government was making serious effort to ensure that some sections of the Ajaokuta Steel Company Ltd resume partial production before the end of 2019 will gladden the hearts of many Nigerians who  have been looking forward to when the steel firm will become functional and begin to yield results.

The minister was said to have made this comment when he received the Russian Ambassador to Nigeria, His Excellency Alexey Shebarshir, who was on a courtesy visit to his office in Abuja.  The company that built up Ajaokuta has a Russian background.

The minister’s statements are well received but it is in actualising his assertion that the matter lies.

It has been Nigeria’s well considered dream to have a reliable steel industry that will not only form the bedrock and pivot of her industrialisation, but also place her in a competitive position with her counterparts worldwide.

It is this industrialisation quest that led the federal government to initiate the establishment of several steel projects in Nigeria, such as Delta Steel Company Ltd, Aladja, Jos Steel rolling mills, Inland rolling mills in Osogbo, Katsina rolling mills, the Nigeria Machine Tools Ltd, also in Oshogbo and Ajaokuta Steel Company, the biggest and most ambitious of them  all.

It is unfortunate that most of these steel projects are today moribund, especially Ajaokuta Steel Company Ltd, the largest steel industry in Africa and potentially the third largest in the world.

Some of past administration’s effort to address the issue of the steel plant have been counterproductive, such as the signing of dual concession agreements at various times between the federal government, Solgas Energy Ltd and Global infrastructure Holdings Ltd in the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, which set the project backwards.

It took the pragmatism of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to review the concession agreement and rescue the project from total derailment, and it is to the credit of the Buhari administration that all pending legal issues related to that concession have been settled in the country’s favour.

It has often been speculated that the project had been the victim of international politics: that certain foreign powers were adamant on frustrating and sabotaging the country’s effort to have its own steel industry which will compete with a share of the world market.

However, in our opinion, this kind of sabotage cannot succeed without local collaborators. The federal government, therefore, needs to take its anti-corruption war to this sector to ensure that a few selfish individuals do not derail the collective aspirations of Nigerians in this sector of its national life.

During the first term of President Buhari, the administration had mulled the idea of privatising the company, seeing that the government had expended huge resources on the project for over three decades without it bearing fruit, but the federal lawmakers had rejected the idea, opting instead that the government spend $1billion toward its completion.

This  proposal of the 8th National Assembly was rejected by President Buhari on technical grounds. We are not unaware that government’s resources are dwindling amidst rising and competitive demands, but this administration needs to muster the political will to pursue this project to a conclusive end, for the multiplier effects on the country’s quest for economic diversification through industrialisation have never been in doubt.

For a start, apart from stemming the $4.5bn worth of steel imports annually, which is expected to rise to $15.1billion with massive building infrastructure anticipated in the country’s expanding economy,  the steel plant has the potential to provide hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect jobs to the country’s teeming youth population, which will in turn curb the crime rate.

This is one way towards achieving President Buhari’s  second term plan of removing 100 million Nigerians from the life of poverty.  He should, therefore, take 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.

It is our opinion that the federal government should revisit the privatisation idea, but it should consider only companies that have demonstrable capacity and track records in the steel industry to avoid the fate that befell the public corporations privatised under previous administrations.

Now that the president has chosen a new economic advisory council made up of notable experts, one their first tasks is to advise the president on how best to get this steel giant on track.

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