By Kasim Sumaina in Abuja
The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi has said that the revitalisation of the Aluminium Smelting Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) in Ikot-Abasi, Akwa Ibom State was crucial to the diversification plan of the Federal Government.
Fayemi disclosed this to journalists shortly after taking a tour of facilities in the plant reputed to be the biggest in Africa, said revitalising the plant would help the governmentâ€™sÂ import substitution strategy.
Fayemi who undertook the tour of the various plants and the harbour in the complex in company of the Minister of State, Hon Abubakar Bawa Bwari, lamented that the huge national asset was left to rot, in spite of its potential to help boost the economy and create employment opportunities.
The Minister who was conducted round the complex by the Managing Director of RUSAL-ALSCON, Mr Dmitriy Zaviyalov, lauded the Russian company managing the complex for ensuring that the machines were kept in good shape despite the absence of production activities, occasioned by a legal tussle over ownership.
He said government could not do anything about the legal tussle other than to encourage the Supreme Court to expedite action on the ruling which would free the complex of any encumbrances.
He however said that government was fully prepared to tackle other administrative issues that might have crippled production processes at the plant once the legal aspect had been resolved.
Specifically, he said the ministry was ready to assist the company in resolving all administrative issues it might have with some organisations including the Nigeria Export processing Authority (NEPZA), the Nigerian Gas Company and the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) , in the bid to ensure that the plant comes alive again.
The Minister said that contrary to reports that RUSAL was involved in asset stripping, the fact on ground showed that the Russian group had maintained the plants as well as a small work force, since it has stopped work.
He said the power plant in the complex had the capacity to generate 540 megawatts, while all that the plant needed to function was about 350 megawatts, thereby leaving it with an excess of about 200 megawatts, which can be fed into the national grid.
The Minister said: â€œThis is a government that believes in the rule of law, so we cannot influence the judiciary over the matter. But we will help to resolve all other administrative issues that may arise between the company and other organisations in the interest of our economy.
â€œIt is in our interest for the issues to be resolved. I am sure the Vice President, who is also the Chair of the Privatisation Council of Nigeria, would invite all the parties concerned once I brief him on my findings.
â€œWe cannot have such a huge national asset like ALSCON and allow it to go into ruins, and If privatisation must work, there must be sanctity of contractual agreementâ€, Fayemi added.
He said the complex had the capacity to give about 2,000 direct employment and well over 10,000 indirect employment when put into use. The excess power it generates can serve Akwa Ibom and at least two other states.
The Minister later paid a courtesy call on the traditional ruler of Ikot Abasi, His Royal Majesty, Edidem U.J Ntuk Obom XII, who also urged the federal government to do everything possible to ensure that ALSCON was revitalised, so that economic prosperity of the town could return.
The monarch said ALSCON was the life wire of the community, stressing that the company gave the community 24-hour power supply, gave employments to its youths and awardedÂ scholarships to its students. â€œNow, we donâ€™t have anything, no jobs for our youth, no power supply. We plead with the Minister to ensure that something is doneurgently.
Also, Fayemi hinted the Federal Executive Council had recently approved the setting up of the National Council on Mining and Minerals Resources Development.
He said this atÂ a Town Hall meeting with stakeholders in the mining sector in Enugu State, attended by representativesÂ of the State government, traditional rulers, mining operators and other critical stakeholders in the South East region.
Fayemi said the need to bridge the gap on the relationship between the Federal Government and the States as well as other critical stakeholders in the sector necessitated the setting up of the Council.
The Council, according to him, is aimed at bringing together state governments, industry stakeholders, research institutions, commercial actors, host communities and civil society groups to brain storm on how to improve the sector. He said plans are on ground to host the first meeting of the council before the end of the year.
The Minister also spoke on the efforts taken by the government to improve the relationship between the federal government, state governments and host communities especially in the area of revenue sharing and multiple taxation.
He said government has extended derivation principle that applies to the oil sector to the mining sector. Whatever is derived from a state through mining, the state can benefit from the 13% derivation fund. On the issue of multiple taxation and consent by host communities, the Minister stated that efforts are been made to resolve these conflicts.
Fayemi observed that majority of miners in Enugu State were operating illegally. About two-third of the Cadastral Units in the State are not effectively utilised. He warned that the government will not hesitate to cancel and revoke mining licenses that are unutilised and make them available to more serious and genuine investors that are ready to put the licenses into use.
Other issues discussed include the need for government to provide enabling environment for mining operations, efforts made by government to increase funding for the sector, making coal a priority for energy generation and resuscitation of abandoned mines to make them attractive for investors, among others.
The Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Hon. Abubakar Bawa Bwari in a vote of thanks enjoined stakeholders to operate within the laws of the mining sector. He said that government is ready to partner and encourage genuine operators saying that by encouraging miners the government will be achieving three things to create employment, generate revenue and ensure environmental justice.