Time to Declare State of Emergency on Ajaokuta Steel Company

Sumaina Kasim writes on the need for President Muhammadu Buhari to take a decisive action on Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL) and National Iron Ore Mining Company Limited by engaging the 100-man Nigeria audit team and engineers since the Russians are far from sight or in fact, declare a state of emergency on the project.

Despite huge uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic which have left sour tastes in the mouth of many world over, serious governments in other climes find ways to administer governance without resorting to much excuses nor distorting already laid-down programmes.

To this end, there is the need for President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Mr. Olamilekan Adegbite, to up the ante in fixing the moribund steel plant soonest.

Bequeathing a stable economy to Nigerians means leaders taking critical decisions in their various sectors as these leads to results. The recent pronouncement by the minister that the pandemic had slowed down the plan to resuscitate Ajaokuta steel plant and that travel restrictions and cumbersome protocols had prevented the 60-man technical audit team from Russia from coming to Nigeria to perform a comprehensive technical audit of the plant is slap on the face of many.

While it is a welcome development to turn to the Russians, the original builder to come resuscitate the plant, plans should have be in place to ensure that the 60-man team is given a waiver by the federal government and possibly get them vaccinated since the Russian government already have a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in place signed in Sochi two years ago with the Buhari-led administration.

Adegbite had stressed that the first step towards the resuscitation was to have a technical audit. He added that the Nigerian government was expecting a 60-man team from Russia which are to be joined by a 100-man team from Nigeria. The resuscitation of Ajaokuta he noted was such a loft goal and was in full speed, but then the pandemic struck, to this end, prevented the Russians who are supposed to conduct the technical audit from coming to Nigeria.

He had said, “I hope very soon that they can come and that we kick start the plan to resuscitate the plant again. It will help our industrialisation because production of liquid steel will take us to the next level in industrialisation as we will be able to do produce parts for vehicles, engine blocks and so.”

He noted that a lot of work has been done towards the completion of Ajaokuta Steel Plant but for the pandemic which has prevented the arrivals of the Technical Auditors.

According to him, I’m hopeful that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari would start something irreversible that will lead to the completion of the Steel Plant.

Experts say, if waiting for the Russians will take centuries since no one knows the direction of the pandemic as many countries are still battling to contain it, it is advisable for the Nigerian government to engage the 100-man team from Nigeria to carry out the account audit till the coming of the Russians.

Adegbite also said that Ajaokuta steel plant was meant to be a game changer for the country when fully functional, this has been a rhetoric forty years after even as there is a 2021 Ministry’s proposed Budget before a Committee amounting to N22, 058,222,139, of which, N10, 188,565,772 is for Capital.

They had said: “One of the mandate that the president gave me was to use the sector to diversify the economy and create employment. And Ajaokuta is one place that would readily employ like 10,000 Nigerians if it is working fully. About 14 minerals are going into the production of steel through the blast furnace. We have got all these minerals in Nigeria. Production of these other minerals which we need to produce steel will also create jobs.” He revealed that about 13 other minerals were required in the production of steel. Ajaokuta steel would have brought development to the 13 other minerals which would have presented opportunities for investors to develop and would have created thousands of jobs for Nigerians.”

The federal government through the ministry should take advantage of the railway modernisation projects, especially now that the Itakpe-Warri rail line is operational whose corridor was initially planned to transport steel materials and other mineral resources from Aladja, Warri to Ajaokuta, Kogi state

The Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Dr. Oluwatoyin Akinlade, like her Principal had paid a two-day working visit to the two companies to see the level of preparation.

Akinlade revealed that the federal government has put in place machinery to ensure conducive environment for operation of the Russia Technical Audit Team billed to arrive the country for the resuscitation of Ajaokuta Steel Company (ASCL) and the National Iron Ore Mining Company Limited (NIOMCO).

The Permanent Secretary had during a meeting with management and staff of National Iron Ore Mining Company Limited (NIOMCO) and Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited respectively in Kogi State, praised them for their passion and commitment toward keeping the infrastructures of the companies in good shape and the environment habitable in spite of the daunting challenges confronting them, while also reiterated government’s commitment to resuscitating both companies.

She said that the Minister and Minister of State, Dr. Uchechukwu Sampson Ogah, are assiduously working towards seeing the dream of the two companies starting full operation come to past.

Akinlade said, “Ajaokuta is the future, the bed rock of Nigeria development and the resuscitation ‘must be done, and can be done. However, she noted that Ajaokuta without NIOMCO, is like a “car without tyres,” hence efforts are being made to resuscitate both companies at the same time to achieve the desired result.

The Permanent Secretary urged the staff to sharpen their skills to meet up with upcoming task, as well as to continue to maintain the good industrial harmony, assuring them that efforts are being made to address some of the welfare challenges, especially salary arrears.

The Sole Administrator of NIOMCO, Mr. Nkechika Augustus informed Akinlade that the mandate of the company is to provide the basic raw material for iron and steel production, and that NIOMCO is required to supply the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited with 2.15 million tonnes of iron ore concentrate with iron (FE) content of 63 – 64% in its first phase of operation during which it is expected to produce 1.3 million tonnes of steel. He informed that the need to fully complete the rehabilitation of the plants and also acquire additional mining equipment early cannot be overemphasized.

This according to Augustus is because to meet the first phase of ASCL’s production level alone, NIOMCO should produce and process seven million tonnes of raw iron ore annually.

In the same vein, the Sole Administrator of Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited, Engr. Sumaila Abdul-Akaba, informed the Permanent Secretary that the staff are fully prepared to work with the Technical Audit Team and the Ministry to achieve the set goal, stating: “I have had the rear opportunity to meet with you severally since you came on board and have found you to be focused, full of energy and drive. In fact, your leadership style at the Ajaokuta Presidential Project Implementation Team (APPIT) Secretariat gives me hope that our collective efforts of bringing back the Ajaokuta Steel plant back on track is in safe hand.”

“Your visit is an opportunity for you to physically see and feel the steel plant and understand what the workers of this steel plant are doing to ensure that the plant remain safe and serviceable”, he said.

The Senate, during a recent working visit to the plant in Lokoja, Kogi State, expressed its resolve to cooperate with the executive arm to make the Ajaokuta Steel Company work.

In his remarks, Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi, who led the Senate team on an oversight visit to Ajaokuta Steel Mill and the Itakpe National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO) in the state, commended the efforts of the federal government towards reviving Ajaokuta steel company, noting that they were sent to assess the situation on ground.

He said, “All of us are aware of the efforts being put in place by the federal government to revive the company. Ajaokuta is a place that if visited by anyone, he/she would shed tears, but there is hope now going by what is being done.”

Speaking in same vein, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Solid Minerals/Metallurgy and immediate-past Governor of Nasarawa State, Senator Tanko Almakura, expressed the readiness of the National Assembly to cooperate with the executive arm in making the steel company work.

Having stated this, it is time for the government to fashion out a well-thought-out plan for indigenous companies to be involved in resuscitating and rehabilitating government owned infrastructures. The federal government needs a strong commitment to building a substantial stock of human, social and physical infrastructure by engaging indigenous companies. Most indigenous companies across the country can rehabilitate and revitalise what others can do as it is not necessary to invite companies to do it because we have the resources and it will also save the country the legacy of accumulating debts.

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