Last week, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, led members of the House Committee on Steel Development, on an on-the-spot assessment visit to the Ajaokuta Steel Company in Kogi state. JOSHUA EGBODO writes.
$500m to complete Ajaokuta
Like so many Nigerians, the Speaker, who was accompanied by the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, on the visit expressed dismay over why and how such investment, which figures released showed that just about $500 million would complete the last phase of the massive factory, to put it to life.
Statistics released on the complex suggested that just on take-off if the last phase is completed, about 10,000 Nigerian technicians and engineers would be engaged, and another potential of two million other jobs inherent. So why has such an investment, akin to a goldmine for the country been left unattended to over the years? Why will government keep paying the over 3,000 staff of the company without commensurate outcome, and not working to get the factory on its feet to even engage more of the teeming unemployed citizens?
The above and many more questions, according to pundits may have spurred the Speaker into action. And true to such postulations, Dogara, visibly pained and disappointed did not conceal his pains. He said after the tour of facilities in the company that “any patriotic Nigerian who visits this complex will shed tears, and any foreigner who comes here, even if he did not say anything, he will leave with a very bad impression of Nigeria”.
Mired in concession hiccoups
The company, which at a point was concessioned to an Indian company, was reportedly taken backward, with attempts by the concessioner to even remove some of the equipment. But for the reported vigilance and resistance of the Ajaokuta locals, the story would have been different today. So, when the idea of another possible concession came up, Dogara, who said the country had in the past make such concessions to “assets strippers”, noted that the parliament will resist any move to again, concession the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited.
The Speaker, who insisted that making another concession of the company was tantamount to mortgaging the future of Nigeria, also said it was a collective shame to all leaders that the project is yet to be completed after so many years. Also, he disclosed that the House will consult with stakeholders to work out ways to source for the $500 million needed to complete the last phase of the project. According to him, except the political will was lacking, getting the funds to complete the company shouldn’t be an issue.
Ample avenues to source $500m
He stated, however, that the government of President Muhammadu Buahri has shown direction by first ending an arbitration case in foreign jurisdiction, Hon. Dogara disclosed that there are many ways through which the $500 million can be sourced, including the Sovereign Wealth Fund, Excess Crude Account and recovered financial crimes loot.
Further, he stated that the House will hold another sectoral debate, during which members will engage relevant agencies, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) whose chairman, Ibrahim Magu, will be expected to brief the House how much it has recovered from corruption proceeds, and whether part of such can be applied to complete the project.
“We are not here because of Kogi State, we are here because of Nigeria, the Speaker stated, as he explained that his determination to ensure that the steel company is revived is borne out of the promises that the company holds for Nigeria’s teeming population in the form of power and gas development, economic boost, thousands of jobs creation, development of manufacturing sector, development of infrastructure, investor appeal, among others, as he though conceded that only the daily administrative running and management the company can be concessioned after completion, as to him, government is not a good manager of businesses.
“Imagine if this plant had been completed in 1986, where Nigeria would be at the moment. We have no reason not to complete that plant. You cannot concession your future, it is never done. I’m yet to see a nation that even concessions its bedrock and still succeeded. If you see one, just tell me. And that’s why previous attempts to concession it were not possible.
“We keep repeating the same things and expecting to get different results. That’s the definition of stupidity and since we are not stupid, we will not repeat it. We can make Nigeria proud so that every black man in the world can beat his chest. Anyone who plans to outsource the completion of this plant will definitely run into problems with us”, he submitted.
Empowering youths through Ajaokuta
Earlier at a brief reception by Gov Bello, he explained that the members were in the state over “a major promise to the country that is located here in Kogi State, which is the Ajaokuta Steel Company Ltd. We all know the benefits of steel development. You cannot be an industrialised nation without developing the steel sector. Of course, I’ve seen the resolution that was passed and adopted by the Kogi State House of Assembly but I feel that this is just not a Kogi issue, this is a Nigerian issue in view of the major promise that this sector holds for Nigeria”
Like many others, including the Minister of State for Steel Development, Bawa Bwari, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Steel Develooment, Lawal Idrisu, Speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly, Prince Kolawole Mathew, Governor Bello commended Dogara for partnering with President Buhari to ensure that the idle Ajaokuta Steel Company is revived and put into use again.
“What you and the House of Representatives members are doing is giving the younger generation their future. We are simply taking our destiny in our hands, not only will posterity be kind to you, God almighty will also be pleased with you”, Bello stated.
Interest groups may have understood the concerns of the Speaker, as a visit to the complex will naturally anger any genuinely concerned Nigerian. To many, the power of appropriation is constitutionally in the hands of the parliament. But will Dogara work the talk as promised Nigerians after the tour? That, they say only time will tell.