The Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited, established in 1979 and built to 90 percent completion as at 1983, can play a prominent role in the country’s economic quest for diversification, industrialisation, mass employment, foreign exchange earnings, and increased economic opportunities. However, in spite of this awareness, successive governments have paid lip service to its completion, while unpatriotic public servants have continued to connive with fraudulent foreign companies to plunder it and prevent Nigeria from benefiting from its potential. Every year, money is appropriated for the steel company, yet it is unable to yield the desired results. A recent report that some N20 billion had been sunk into the company in the past six years without a commensurate return on investment is another sad commentary about government’s lack of commitment to national development.
Though, President Muhammadu Buhari, during his presidential campaign in 2015 in Lokoja, promised to prioritise the revival of the gigantic steel company, six years into his second tenure, with barely two more years to go, there is no visible structure in place to demonstrate that he would fulfill that promise. As a result of the economic benefits of Ajaokuta, foreign companies have shown interest in it, but with government’s half-hearted commitment, these companies have either ripped off the company or were frustrated out. First was the Russian company, TYAZHPROMEXPORT (TPE), which started the project in 1979, followed by Messrs SOLGAS ENERGY Limited of the USA, then Messrs Global Infrastructure (Nig) Ltd (GINL), and REPROM Company Nigeria Limited, which did an audit of the company, before government handed it over to a sole administrator. None of these efforts have delivered the goods.
A careful study by experts in the sector has shown that if government demonstrated the political will to revive Ajaokuta, nine of its units could be activated within six months. The units include, wire rod mill; light section mill; medium section and structural mill; power plant; machine and tool shop; lime calcination plant; electrical repair shop; mechanical repair shop; and quality assurance section. Working with the Nigerian Iron Oil Mining Company, Itakpe, for liquid steel production, Ajaokuta could provide thousands of jobs and save Nigeria billions of dollars spent on steel import annually for construction industry, railway project, petroleum sector, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and even defense and armament. The bane of achieving this goal includes; corruption, unnecessary but multiple legal entanglements, and management failure. Government has failed to be decisive in dealing with these besetting problems, causing Nigeria to hibernate as a country with potential, instead of realising the economic potential in steel development.
The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, said government had initiated a Private Public Partnership (PPP) deal with some Russian organisations on the reactivation of the steel company. Going by the initial plan, which began in 2019, the Russian experts should have gone to Ajaokuta to assess the state of the company, and by the third quarter of 2022, Buhari would have commissioned the factory for full scale steel production. However, this schedule was said to have been truncated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding this PPP should not be difficult because of inherent huge return on investment.
We call on government to go beyond theorising on the potential of Ajaokuta and rather take practical steps to roll out steel from the factory. It must follow through the current agreement with the Russian investors. If government showed the necessary commitment to the completion of this project, Ajaokuta Steel Company could supply the tonnes of steel needed for the construction of the strategic Mambilla hydropower project being handled by the Chinese. From all indications, it is within the capacity and reach of the Buhari government to revive Ajaokuta. Instead of just talking about it, this government should just do it – activate the giant steel company.