Secretary-General of the African Iron and Steel Association, Dr. Sanusi Mohammed, tells PATRICK ANDREW that the concession of Itakpe Iron and Coal Mine to an Indian firm by the federal government was ill-advised
How can your association assist in the development of the iron and steel industry in Nigeria, particularly with respect to diversification from mono to multiple economy?
All serious nations are not only fully aware but have taken the bull by the horns that iron and steel is the bedrock and foundation of any development. No nation has developed without iron and steel. When a nation depends solely on importation such nation is relegating itself to the dictate of whatever the exporter nation gives. But ownership is what is the in-thing and ownership of the steel industry makes a nation highly developed. Iron and steel is therefore the basis of the development of all the highly developed nations. Nigeria made very big effort in the 1980s to develop iron and steel unfortunately in subsequent years the ego meddled down as successive governments failed the nation. The final nail on the coffin of iron and steel development in Nigeria was hit by a gentle whom respect highly in Nigeria, who died recently, Mr Rasheed Gbadamosi, who was once the former Minister of National Planning, during his tenure as minister in 1996 he announced that no kobo from the public fund will be expended on any steel project in Nigeria. That was what led to the degrading of the activities of iron and steel industry in Nigeria uptil its comatose stage of no production at all.
Before the pronouncement Delta Steel was very good and producing at 25 percent capacity, the rolling mills in Oshogbo, Katsina and Jos were producing, the research centre in Jos- the Meteorological Development Centre was active, the exploration agency in Kaduna and the Meteological Training Institute in Onitsha were all active until Mr. Gbadamosi’s pronouncement and implementation everything collapsed.
Oil is an asset that dries up and we have seen it all over the world, yes new wells are being found but they too will dry up and even the oil requires steel before they could perform: the foundation, the platform and equipment are based on iron and steel. So the development of iron and steel ought to have been one of Nigeria’s prime concerns and oil should have been a secondary source of revenue. Unfortunately, Nigeria put all her eggs in one basket and because of easy money from oil all efforts were concentrated on it and people stole as much oil money as they could a situation that has led to economic recession today. It is a very precarious situation.
Considering that Nigeria has so much untapped iron and steel, one would have thought that the development of iron and steel would be policy driven, why is it not?
We have ourselves to blame, but the major cause is an international sabotage. Many international organisations have not hidden their dislike for Nigeria to own the steel industry. The World Bank has been so vocal and in fact they warned that any bank that gives Nigeria loan to develop its iron and steel will be blacklisted. The World Bank has sent so-called expert to come and assess Nigeria’s iron and steel product and recommend action. And according to our position, they were given the conclusion of what they were to investigate. So the investigators were to work their activities towards the already given conclusions. That means to them the Ajaokuta Steel Company was not viable and it should be abandoned. We have documents to prove that.
In 1988 forced the Nigerian government to carry out a survey of the iron and steel market and needs. They sent a Canadian firm called Hatch Associate and concluded with about 89-page document and there was nothing that supported the execution and completion of Ajaokuta steel company. The killing of Ajaokuta was very much prevalent in the report.
Is it that the Nigerian government does not know the usefulness of your association, and how far have you been speaking to the government?
We have had discussions with the presidents. We have been to the Villa to advice President Buhari but it seems he is not ready to listen. There was a visit to President Olusegun Obasanjo in Villa and we had a prepared document to advice him that was likely to happen would not be in the best interest of Nigerian iron and steel industry. We had given a copy of the document to the then Director of Steel, Mr Bayo Kolade, but while we were waiting in the hall for the president to come because he was attending another meeting, the director quickly ran out to the Minister Liyel Imoke to discuss and within five minutes thereafter Mr President walked into the hall and immediately from the way he entered it was obvious he came for war. He started lambasting us: “You Africa Iron and Steel Association what advice are you going to offer me? I am the president of Nigeria with your little knowledge about steel what advice are you going to offer me? He attacked us with intent to derail us. I mentioned this because our perception was the director of steel and the minister when they saw that we had attacked the company they had brought into Nigeria, that the company was going destroy Nigeria so the duo decided to spoil the mind of Mr President against us. In fact, you would think from his mood and utterances and the ferocity that he would ask the military to come and whisk us out. Eventually that was the end of the matter.
Is Ajaokuta still commercially viable?
Thank you very much for that question. Ajaokuta steel company is not a chocolate making industry. There are 43 independent individual companies all conglomerated on the same line and each one is a revenue earner. So Ajaokuta is a conglomerate of industrial activities. Ninety percent of the industries were fully completed and some of them were fully operated commercially.
The only plant that did not get the final touch was the steel producing plant and it contains the blast furnace and the steel making furnace. These were the workshop or the tool making industries that were not fully completed but had reached 98 percent technical completion. The rolling mills were all fully completed and some were already operating commercially, in fact the aluminium silicate company was fully completed and even the silicate aluminium plant was operated now many industries in Nigeria could benefit. The capacity of the plant is far beyond what Ajaokuta needs.
So there is still room for meeting the Nigerian market, instead they are importing all these things now. There a refinery in Ajaokuta and in the process of producing steel a lot of the reaction that happens i.e chemicals can be converted into very many usable products: things like oxygen, nitrogen, and other gases which are derivable thereof and converted into other usables.
There is also oxygen plants which can supply lots of hospital facilities so the refinery is there 100 percent but only needed the reaction or derivable from the steel production in the blast furnace and steel production to be able generate these gases.
Today, if the government have the will because there was a time when an estimated $1.1 billion was required to complete not only the Ajaokuta steel plant including all the standard infrastructures needed: rail, road and water transport etc, and so far about $5 billion has been spent on the Ajaokuta steel industry, i don’t know the current figure needed to complete the plant but we think the $1.1 bn could go a long way to fix the plant including external infrastructure. These infrastructures are not only for Ajaokuta: rail linkages, water transport to bring in bigger ships into Nigeria and drop imported materials in Ajaokuta, The completion of Ajaokuta would bring massive benefit to Nigeria. Unfortunately, our leaders are not in that line of thinking because the advisers are ill-advising them.