When the pieces of events that led to the timely intervention of the National Assembly on Ajaokuta Steel Company –foreclosing any option of concession in favour of completion of the project via provision of $1b from the Excess Crude Account- are finally put together, what pans out is a brutal reality which points to one indisputable fact. A lady single handedly roared from her comfort zone, dared all odds and brought back the fading apparition of the steel company in our national priorities into the front burner of national discourse. With the dizzying craze for socio- political visibility and the instant glamour it confers if waged successfully, not a few in the top rung of the social strata would resist plunging into an undertaking that assures viral visibility.
Be that as it may, there is however a very strong caveat – only to the extent that such an undertaking is risk -free and devoid of colossal controversy -meaning it doesn’t square you up with the big bears and dinosaurs of the Nigerian state whose interests must not only be protected but must not be toyed with. The sorry state of Ajaokuta steel company has already made it a potent indicter to all previous regimes for failing to migrate and align priorities to fulfil the dream for which it was conceived in the first place. As such, no lily-livered pretender would plunge into any revival advocacy for a project that is afflicted with atrocious signature of deficient vision of successive political leadership.
Hadiza Natasha Akpoti dared the odds – plunging into a deep morass of cheerless controversy with its entire miscellaneous risk complexion in order to rescue Ajaokuta from the jaws of slothful neglect in critical national considerations to the main stream of national discourse. She obviously knew what she was up against. Needless to say that until she appeared on the stage Ajaokuta was already orphaned and forsaken –mostly treated as a national embarrassment which should be dispensed off to lighten government’s burden. It is unarguable that except for one buoyed by purity of intention, deep conviction and incontrovertible patriotic spirit, embarking on such elephantine undertaking fraught with hostile clusters of competing interest amounts to self- immolation.
Guided by our national experience, the position of those who stood for the disposal of Ajaokuta can only be evaluated on the scale of the fate of previous national assets that were treated with mercantile proclivity. Natasha from the outset upheld a different philosophy on the issue of Ajaokuta – she is not for the sale or concession. She was pointedly ruthless in projecting her advocacy of revival and completion, superintended over by the government and the original partner, termination of any new agreement and the handover of both Ajaokuta and NIOMCO to a Russian company she identified as the original builders of the steel. She heated the public space to a boiling point and kept the issue steady in the mainstream of national discourse for well over one year via extensive media campaigns.
Rarely do such audacious outing seen to be hurting some interest come without a challenge. She was fiercely attacked and accused of fronting for some discredited shadowy groups who are sponsoring her outings in various media channels. In the course of time, as the accusations grew in volume and intensity, she responded with searing cadency of intransigence.
“I never received a penny from no one; neither did I settle for promises in kind to malign everyone connected to the Ajaokuta’s conspiracy. All I did was out of sheer patriotism and love for my country Nigeria. I exist today as a direct product of the relationship between the Soviet Union and Nigeria sake of the big industrialization dream both nations shared. It breaks my heart when I watch the steel mill deteriorate by the year and its direct correlation, the collapse of Nigeria’s economy due to its inability to diversify from the oil sector. Rather than being torn apart by the neocolonialist cabals, I expect to be appreciated”.
On the 1st of March 2018 she graduated her advocacy to a higher notch with an appearance on the floor of the National Assembly’s plenary debate on the Nigeria’s steel sector. Not a few believed the sectoral hearing was not unconnected to her vigorous and sustained campaign which dominated public space for so long that the National Assembly had to step in. The disturbing revelations she made at the plenary on the level of rot, corruption and outright conspiracy against the nation in the handling of Ajaokuta spurred the national assembly to further action on the matter. What came to light during the sectoral hearing was the fact that government had already settled for concession of the steel plant on the argument that $8b had been spent in the past and was therefore not ready to spend a dime any further on the project. The representative minister argued further that even if the remaining two per cent completion of the project was approved, government could still not operate it because there are no Nigerians to run it. The legislators were not persuaded by this argument as they appeared more disposed to get to the root of Natasha’s allegation that some vested interests are pushing for undisclosed agenda. Consequently, a motion tiled “Urgent Need to Investigate the Circumstances under Which the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Engaged the Globally Discredited PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to audit Ajaokuta Steel Complex for Purposes of Concession.” Was moved and adopted .
Locked in this battle to retrieve Ajaokuta from formidable vested mandarins and mercantilist moguls who almost succeeded in stampeding the government to settle for concession of the steel plant – her strong outing and argument, aided by deep cerebral and vocal capability caught the attention of the larger public and galvanized the national assembly to undertake a holistic patriotic action of rescuing the steel plant. Two very important bills were sponsored by 301 law makers and adopted by the house to provide for the Ajaokuta Steel Company completion fund and to amend the public enterprise privatisation and commercialisation Act to secure it against concession. The tireless amazon is on the trenches again –gunning for a seat in the senate in 2019. Good luck my sister!