- Ministers: We duly communicated our inability to attend debate
James Emejo in Abuja
The House of Representatives yesterday unanimously passed a vote-of-no confidence on the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Mr. Kayode Fayemi as well as the Minister of State for Solid Minerals Development, Mr. Abubakar Bawa Bwari, for alleged boycott of the sectoral debate on the steel sector, particularly on how to revive the moribund Ajaokuta Steel Company in Kogi State.
None of the three invited ministers, including Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun attended the debate which was organised by the House, chiefly to established the reasons why the moribund steel plant which is critical to the industrialisation and diversification of economy has not been completed by successive administrations.
Curiously, the Sole Administrator of the steel plant was also said to have been barred from attending the debate.
This came as the House further approved the setting up of an ad-hoc committee to investigate the whole issue relating to the non-completion of the steel company as well as past concession agreements and report to the House.
It also directed the ministers to put ongoing plans on concessioning of the plant on hold until the ad-hoc committee turns in its report and while the House reach a decision on the matter.
The ad-hoc committee will be constituted after due consultation.
However, the lower chamber, in arriving at a resolution to pass a vote-of-no confidence on both ministers, said their boycott was a clear case of contempt of the House, adding that their actions further showed they are incompetent to remain in their offices.
Lawmakers further cited past instances where invited members of the executive arm had jettisoned such invitations on baseless grounds.
They also charged the House to rise to the occasion by putting an end to the existing romance with the executive so they could respect the parliament, going forward.
But Adeosun, who had at the onset of the debate communicated to the Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, that she hoped to join the proceedings at about 4p.m didn’t turn up as at the close of the debate.
The development compelled the lawmakers to interpret their absence as a calculated attempt on the part of the executive to sabotage ongoing legislative intervention to revive the steel plant which had been abandoned by previous administrations.
The development could further threaten the relatively fragile harmony between both arms of government in recent times.
However, the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development has said the inability of the Fayemi and Bwari to attend the debate was duly communicated.
The ministry in a statement through the Special Assistant to the Minister on Media said: “The attention of the ministers has been drawn to the vote of no confidence reportedly passed on them by members of the House of Representatives following their inability to attend the House’s sectoral debate on iron and steel sector.”
According to it, “ While the offices of the two ministers have been inundated with countless media enquiries regarding their absence shortly after the pronouncement, it is important to state unequivocally that the inability of the two ministers to attend the debate was duly communicated to the leadership of the House in two separate letters.
“One then wonders why the House members took such a draconian stance against the two ministers who have very cordial relationships with the National Assembly.
“It is rather unfair for the House members to categorise the ministers absence as ‘boycott’, when they were adequately notified.
“Tolerance and moderation are essential ingredients in public service engagement. In this particular case, they appear to be in short supply and the ministry believes that there is more than meets the eye on this matter.
“After all, the ministers are always willing to engage the honourable House and its leadership at all times. It is on record that Fayemi was the first Minister to address the sectoral debate in 2016 and the Ajaokuta Steel Complex was extensively addressed on that occasion.
“Subsequently, the House Committees on Privatisation and Public Petitions held special sessions on Ajaokuta and the Minister of State, Hon Bawa Bwari addressed the members on those two occasions.
“Given this past record, today’s action is most unwarranted and unfortunate.”
Meanwhile, the suspicion by the lawmakers that the Ministry of Mines and Steel currently has vested interests towards the concessioning of the plant was buoyed by startling revelations by guest speaker, Ms Hadizza Natasha Akpoti, a lawyer with special interests in iron and steel, who during her presentation, indicted past administrations and including the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari of a grand ploy to fraudulently concession Ajaokuta to their cronies.
Her submission had also indicted the Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello who was said to be among those who planned to acquire stakes in the plant against the interest of Nigerians.
She was able to demonstrate to the House, with facts, how Fayemi had in August entered into a concession agreement on Ajaokuta.
She further Bello had wanted to acquire the plant at all cost.
She indicted several other politicians in the previous Debt Buyback scams and recommended among other things that the concession of Ajaokuta to Global Infrastructure be terminated with immediate effect.
Akpoti, also encouraged the government to hold a meeting with Russian President, Vladimir Putin on the steel complex as the initial bi-lateral agreement is still open- as a way forward to reviving the plant.
She also called for a redesign of steel complex by calling back on the Russian to conduct a new survey to bring it in tune with modern reality.
According to her, Global Infrastructure Limited, the concessionaire of the steel complex had direct links with Bello who probably is a co-owner of the company.
Akpoti said: “The government of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had indicted Global Infrastructure after an administrative panel had recommended it should not run the affairs of the complex.
“The company went into arbitration and finally won and the Goodluck Jonathan government paid Global Infrastructure $525 million as compensation.”
She said: “It’s this same company that has returned as concessionaire working with a company suspected to be owned by the Governor of Kogi State.”
The guest speaker had also wondered how Nigeria could have concessioned a mega company which has capacity to manufacture weapons which are made of steel, citing related security implications.
However, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Mine and Steel Development, Abdulkadir Muazu, who had written to inform the House that both ministers will not attend the debate due to other official engagements, in a latter communication to the lower chamber, also said there was no option to concessioning of the steel complex.
However, Dogara said the actions of the ministers was an attempt to force a fiat accompli on the House
He said the ministers lost the opportunity to have convince the House that there was no alternative to concessioning.
He said he had come to realised that the so called concession is only an avenue where unscrupulous public officers who are at best, asset strippers posed as genuine businessmen to defraud the country.
The Speaker noted that two previous concessions had failed, leading to painful arbitration in the international community.
He said: “If we concession, nothing will happen and we tend to postpone the completion.”
Also, as a caution to the permanent secretary, “who’s in the habit of writing letters to House,” Dogara said: “It will amount to stupidity for anyone to engage in a boxing match with legislature.”
House Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabialmila had moved a motion that the executive puts put a hold to whatever is being based on revelations by experts who had made presentations to the lawmakers.
The Deputy Speaker, Hon. Yusuf Lasun also championed the call for an investigative hearing on Ajaokuta and be followed through by the House.