Last week’s disclosure by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, that the new $1.5 billion steel plant in Kaduna state may lead to Nigeria’s industrial breakthrough cannot be farther from the truth. When it comes on stream, the Kaduna steel plant, together with a revived Ajaokuta Steel Company in Kogi state, will, no doubt, accelerate Nigeria’s quest for industrialisation and economic diversification.
The minister also said the plant may make foreign auto firms to establish factories in the country that would produce cars for Nigerians and serve the region. Ahmed was also of the view that with a stable steel sector over the next five years, Nigeria may not import steel again. The minister stated this during the inspection of the ongoing $1.5 billion steel plant by the African Natural Resources and Mines Limited in Jere, Kaduna state.
“One of the main impediments has been the scarcity of high quality steel but with this project, we are now assured that we can attract the auto industries of the world to come into Nigeria and produce cars in Nigeria for Nigerians as well as for the region. From what I am told and I could immediately see, this is going to make a huge difference. This will be the first company that is producing steel, made in Nigeria high quality steel, that will be used by our industries and it will help us conserve our foreign exchange and help us fast-track our journey towards industrialisation.
I want to also say that what you are doing will be helping us very significantly in conserving our foreign exchange and the exportation of the steel will help us earn foreign exchange into the country. Producing one million metric tons of steel per annum means that Nigeria will really be well on its way of being independent of importing steel into our country and this will attract other investors to come into Nigeria,” the minister said.
While assuring the nation’s auto industry would also benefit from the ongoing steel revolution, the minister commended the company for being part of the nation’s policy on diversification. She said, “The design of your programme of mining the ore that will be used to produce high grade steel means it is a well-planned and thought out project. I can see a very significant value chain effect including the support that you have provided for the people of Jere local government area.”
Also speaking, Group Managing Director, African Industries Group, Alok Gupta, said the project would revolutionise the steel industry in Nigeria. He said: “Our work here will revolutionise the steel industry in Nigeria. We will be mining iron ore to produce DRI which will in turn allow African Industries to manufacture higher-grade steel more efficiently. This investment will elevate the profile of Nigerian steel industry at the global platform. In the long term, it will dramatically increase domestic steel production. On a national scale, the steel produced can be used by industries where more specialised steel is required, especially the auto industry. Ultimately, this will result in further development of industries, a reduction in import of raw materials and conservation of foreign exchange.
‘Within the immediate location, there will be significant economic and industrial development in this area by means of creation of several allied industries and social infrastructure. The surplus power we generate will further assist in developing other industries and residences and it will help in urbanisation of the local area. On a social level, we have been in the forefront of supporting many laudable projects. Our Group donated N1.35 billion to the federal government to combat the ravaging effects of Covid-19. Recently we donated the sum of N20 million to our host government, Kaduna state government under the leadership of Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, for the forthcoming Kaduna Marathon, to mention but a few.”
It is noteworthy that the Senate has expressed its readiness to work with the executive arm in reviving the Ajaokuta Steel Company project. This was disclosed by the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi, who led the Senate team on an oversight visit to Ajaokuta Steel Mill and the Itakpe National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO), recently.
The federal government had earlier in May, inaugurated the Ajaokuta Presidential Project Implementation Team headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, with the Minister of Mines & Steel Development as the alternate chairman. The SGF said the mandate given to the implementation team is to prepare and submit periodic work plans and develop concession contract terms towards reviving the company. The revamp of the steel plant will be supported with funds estimated at US$1.46bn from AFREXIM Bank as well as Russia Export Centre.
The initiation of a new steel plant for the country, especially the choice of Kaduna state as its site, is highly commendable. It is, however, expedient to warn that the plant should not be allowed to go the way of the Ajaokuta Steel Company which has been moribund since its founding in 1976. Ajaokuta steel is one of the foremost industrial projects conceived after the discovery of iron ore and coal deposits in commercial quantities in Nigeria in 1970 but has remained a victim of political and administrative rigmarole in the last four decades.