Buhari has charted right path for Ajaokuta’s future – Ex-NMS president

Benjamin Adewuyi is a professor of Production Metallurgy at Federal University of Technology, Akure and a former president of the Nigerian Metallurgical Society (NMS). He spoke to NOSA IGBINADOLOR about the Ajaokuta imbroglio

What is the current situation with Ajaokuta?

The Ajaokuta Steel Company Ltd (ASCL) was designed and built by the Russian steel company, Tyazhpromexport (TPE), with capacity to produce 1.3 metric tonnes of steel per year. ASCL is an integrated plant comprising 43 small industrial units.

The level of completion of these units can be categorised into four: units that were completed, commissioned and fully operated up to 2005; units that were completed, load-tested and waiting for commissioning to start full operation; the main units that were 95-98 percent completed, unable to operate due to deficit of internal and external infrastructures.

Steel is an important factor in the realisation of the Economic Growth and Recovery Plan.

It is unfortunate that the bulk of steel structures that are currently being imported can be produced in the completed-but-awaiting-commissioning units: Medium Sections and Structural Mill with a capacity of 60,000 tonnes per year (t/y) of heavy sections of varying channel sizes (equal and unequal angle); beams (standard beams–80mm–122mm and parallel I–beam, 80mm – 300mm), etc.

This mill can also produce our much-needed rail steel (if installed) with capacity for 100,000 t/y. The billet mill, with a capacity for 795,000 t/y, to produce steel billets of various dimensions for the rolling mills is also completed, awaiting commissioning.

With proper exploitation of the metallurgical sector, ASCL can meet the national desires in job creation, wealth creation, steel production for energy, automobile, defence, agriculture, transportation, etc.

What in your view is responsible for the current state of Ajaokuta steel plant?

Despite enormous resources expended on Ajaokuta, we have almost nothing to show because of lack of focus, misinformation, maladministration, policy somersault and lack of genuine patriotic zeal.

The steel plants should not be managed with civil service bureaucracy. It will not be out of place to return the Ajaokuta steel complex to the Presidency. Until we put square pegs in square holes, we will continue to remain or even take several steps backward.

Why did successive governments fail to deliver Ajaokuta?

The failure of successive government is a product of world politics and lack of political will. The incubation period started from 1958, (when the idea of having a steel industry was conceived).

There was stiff western opposition, but late Sir Abubarkar Balewa and late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe accepted proposals on the feasibility of establishing steel complexes, followed up by [Yakubu] Gowon and [Olusegun] Obasanjo.

Late Shehu Shagari laid the foundation stone of Ajaokuta Steel Plant in 1980 and by 1983, 84 percent of equipment were erected. Premature commissioning of few completed units by Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida in 1984 and 1986 respectively gave the wrong impression that the steel plant was “producing steel”.

Babangida’s rescheduling of the commissioning date from 1986 to 1989 further compounded the problem signifying the beginning of the end of ASCL. The era of late Sani Abacha saw that the main contractor (TPE) vacated the plant site due to non-availability of external infrastructure and poor funding.

When in 2000, former President Obasanjo commissioned TPE to carry out a technical audit of the steel plant, there was generally mixed feelings.

Predictably, after the auditing in 2003, against all professional practices and advice, instead of recalling TPE, the original and core metallurgical construction company, to come and implement the contents of the audit report to complete the project, ASCL was conceded to SOLGAS – an energy company from USA.

Little wonder that within a year, due to non-performance, the agreement with SOLGAS was terminated. Despite the failure of SOLGAS, a 10-year concession was granted to Global Infrastructure Nigeria Ltd (GINL).

In 2008, the concession was terminated for “non-performance” by the late Musa Yar’Adua.

Read also: Reps urge FG to make Ajaokuta steel company operational

In 2010, [Goodluck] Jonathan, carried out another technical audit of Ajaokuta Steel Plant. This time, the administration engaged the services of “economists and meteorologist”. Ostensibly, the difference between a “metallurgist” and a “meteorologist” was lost.

It was not until 2016 that Buhari decided to revisit the controversial concession agreement with GINL. Against all odds and professional advice, the agreement to “re-concession” NIOMCO to GINL was signed. To date, GINL is yet to resume operation in NIOMCO since 2016.

What does the future look like for Ajaokuta and what should be done to get it working?

It’s worth noting that in 2018, the National Assembly recommended that privatisation and concession of Ajaokuta should stop and advised the government to remove Ajaokuta from the list of enterprises to be commercialised.

Thereafter, President Buhari decided to personally have a government-to-government discussion with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in 2019 and set up Ajaokuta Presidential Project Implementation Committee, which was inaugurated in 2020.

The chairman, Boss Mustapha, at the inauguration lamented that the bedrock of our industrialisation has languished in economic unproductivity for too long.

Though the committee is yet to make its report public, fund is already approved to engage “consultants to consult the concession” of Ajaokuta by MMSD, more or less taking us back to the Obasanjo era. Already, President Buhari has charted the right path for the future of Ajaokuta; he must not allow any form of sabotage this time around.

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