By Abdu Abdullahi
“Is there any nation on this earth that will sink more than 5.1 billion dollars of its hard earned money on any project and walk away from it when it is 98 percent completed?” Mr. Pandhi, an Indian who worked at the Ajaokuta Company queried. But come to Nigeria and see the Ajaokuta becoming a ghost industry!
However, Mr. Pandhi did not know that in Nigeria, one can mischievously attempt to square the circle regardless of the severe repercussions. Afflicted by the colossal failure of Ajaokuta, we are paying the price of gross insensitivity and national tragedy as a people. With all its hugely economic potentialities capable of making us an industrialized country, how can our leaders be so unjingoistic that a 42 year old gigantic project that gulped billions of dollars and reached 98 percent completion will be allowed to go to the hungry vultures, rejecting 2 percent of its requirement to put life into it and move the nation forward? It has been estimated that this complex company needs just 650 million dollars to make it fully operational. However, it seems the strongest political will that can rescue the project is not forthcoming and we will continue to be nationally tormented by this resource plundering.
By the Ajaokuta economic loss estimation therefore, Mr. Pandhi was proportionally irritated to describe Nigeria’s depthness of degeneration and developmental woes. In his words, ” Nothing is running in this country. There is no discipline here. With my experience, if you kill the steel plant, you kill employment, you kill GDP; you kill the intellectuality of the country”. Perhaps, Pandhi’s stormy anger was informed by the fact that he had more than 20 years experience in steel production and had worked for about 10 steel companies in India and was fully aware that Nigeria had chosen the path to a tragedy.
Analysts believe that steel production and consumption levels are indices of national power. According to the World Bank therefore, steel is a major indicator for measuring economic progress and a key driver of other high investment and job- creating industries. As hope smiled at us in 1973, iron ore of the required quality was discovered in Itakpe, Ajabanoko and Oshokoshoko. Interestingly, Nigeria is believed to possess the 12th largest iron deposits in the world and the second largest in Africa.
Experts insist that Ajaokuta Steel Complex has the capacity to become a major producer of industrial machineries, auto- electrical spare parts, ship building, railways and carriages. However, we are deliberately committing development suicide and the world is mocking us because steel experts feel dejected that years of neglect means that many of the units at the steel complex might be old and obsolete, thus mindlessly squandering our hard earned resources.
The Ajaokuta project was established on the 18th of September, 1979 with the formation of Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited charged with the responsibility of constructing and operating the Ajaokuta integrated iron and steel plant. The foundation laying was conducted by the late President Shehu Shagari ( may his soul rest in peace) in 1980 and had reached 98 percent completion in 1994, with 40 of the 43 plants at the facility having been built.
It is downgrading that South Korea, which started its steel construction around the same time with Ajaokuta Steel, now has a revenue base of over 60 billion dollars per annum and employed over 65,000 staff. It is also baffling to know that South Korea and Japan have inadequate raw materials like iron ore and steel but are today among the world top 10 countries in steel production!
Setting up the project met global standards, having proximity to raw materials, rail, water and good weather condition. Hence, the contract for the project was signed in 1979 between the federal government and Messrs Tyajzhprom Export( TPE) of the former Soviet Union. When completed, it is hoped that the steel plant will have the capacity to generate about 1.7 billion dollars per annum, employ over 10, 000 engineers and technicians, recruit over 10,000 other personnel and lead to the creation of over two million indirect jobs. It is capable of enhancing our GDP and launch the country into the orbit of industrialized nations. But with all these developmental opportunities, the gigantic plant is left to die like a patient with a prolonged illness! However, it is quiet disturbing that our leaders have persistently denied the right prescription to make the company fully operational.
It is also expected that upon completion, there is good news that Nigeria’s export earnings are expected to increase by over 1 billion dollars per annum and could save over 15 billion dollars worth of steel products imported into the country yearly. Also on completion, it is envisaged to produce 1.3 million tonnes at first stage, 2.6 million at its second stage and 5.2 million per annum at the third phase of long and flat products. But there was a sad story published in the Punch of 5th May, 2022 that after spending over 8 billion dollars on Ajaokuta, Nigeria imported N837 billion iron, steel and metals in the third and the fourth quarters of 2021!
Curiously therefore, why is Ajaokuta deliberately frustrated and abandoned despite its enormously economic benefits to the nation? There are diverse answers to this question. But unfortunately, the answers still provide no solution to the lingering problem. For instance, this is not the first time that successive governments have been indicted for allowing the project to be conduits for siphoning the nation’s wealth.
This is not the first time we are disappointedly told that poor management of the company is taking high toll on the nation. Also, this is not the first time we are cowardly informed that powerful nations of the world are uncomfortable with the prospect of Nigeria becoming a big steel producer and that Nigeria’s potential for steel production and its oil wealth give the West reasons for worry.
With a particular reference to the devastating corruption as a chronic disease afflicting the company in particular and the nation in general, it stands contextually meaningful to recal the confession of Mr. Paul Unongo, former Minister of Steel Development. ” I was forty. I wanted the project to work. We produced steel for six months. But I was made to resign through political pressure because I stood in the way of those who wanted to move money from Ajaokuta for selfish purposes.”
Meanwhile, an activist, Hadiza Natasha Akpoti fingered the Kogi state governor Yahaya Bello as one of the people having vested interest which clashes with the genuine intention of reviving the complex. To buttress her argument to its logical conclusion, the Global Infrastructure, a company to which Ajaokuta Steel Company was concessioned some years back and later cancelled is now a business partner of Bello. She concluded that the late Yaradua had indicted the same company after a panel recommended that it should not run the affairs of the complex.
With this brief analysis therefore, the greatest question is, when are we going to depart from the prevailing festival of a national tragedy to observe the festival of development by making the Ajaokuta Complex a living and industrial reality?