Since inception over 46 years ago, Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL), in Kogi State, is yet to fulfil the yearning of Nigerians to have localised steel products to boost the manufacturing industry and the economy. Abimbola Akosile and Kasim Sumaina write on the federal governmentâ€™s effort to reverse the trend
Nigeria needs steel products and plenty of it, to help elevate her into the level of industrialised nations and to fill the yawning gaps in the manufacturing industry. For this reason, governments from long past have tried to revive the various steel mill projects and related plants around the country.
A few readily come to mind, especially the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL) in Kogi State, the Delta Steel Company in Aladja, and the feeder National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO) in Itakpe, also in Kogi State.
However, a good aspect is that the Federal government and the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development have expressed commitment to the resuscitation and effective operation of the Ajaokuta Steel Company and the Delta Steel Company, with the involvement of the Global Steel Company in NIOMCO to help produce iron ore, which is the key raw material needed for the two steel companies.
With ready availability of steel products from the nationâ€™s steel plants, Nigeriaâ€™s dream of a vibrant industrial sector and its positive ripple effects would have been realised long ago. However, the nation is yet to boast of a single subway system, which is almost a prerequisite in major capitals and mega-cities around the world, e.g. London, Paris, New York e.t.c.
Interplay of Forces
The Sole Administrator of Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL), Engr. Isah Joseph, has disclosed that the project, since inception over 46 years ago, has had a chequered history occasioned by an interplay of forces that have made the integrated commissioning of the steel plant elusive till date.
Joseph explained that there was so much misconception and misinformation about the process route and the steel plant. This, he hinted was borne largely out of ignorance and some orchestrated campaign of calumny against the Nigerian State aimed at ensuring that the country remains perpetually, a dumping ground for steel products from the developed nations.
The Sole Administrator while delivering a speech, during the recent visit of the Ministerial Team and Media Executives to the Plant in Ajaokuta, Kogi State, said, â€œIt is a known fact that the pen profession has always played a significant role in shaping the course of history and events and given your status as an influential force in government and politics, your visit is noteworthy.
â€œWe will leverage on your immense power to alert the nation on the state of affairs here and hence positively change the narrative of this strategic sector, towards realising our dream of becoming a steel producing nation.”
State of Emergency
According to Joseph, â€œThe Nigerian steel sector qualifies for the declaration of national state of emergency by government. Strategic industries like ours cannot be completely left to the vagaries of the private sector alone before its maturity.
â€œThis is because there are numerous socio economic benefits that cannot be quantified in terms of naira and kobo that will accrue from the full blown development of the steel sector, which requires the steering guidance and patronage of governmentâ€, he added.
He said, â€œAjaokuta Steel Plant (ASP) project is the development of an integrated iron and steel production and engineering works complex embarked upon by the federal government of Nigeria as a strategic industry, job creator and foreign exchange earner/saver with a foresight on industrialisation and diversification of the national economy.
â€œIt was envisaged that the project would generate innumerable socioeconomic benefits and increase the productive capacity of the nation through its linkages to other industrial sectors. But, since 1994, when the federal government, owner of the plant, stopped funding the completion of the project, the plant was at 98 per cent completion status.â€
Joseph revealed that the rolling plan, for the third decade running, remains tailored towards the reactivation, completion and commissioning of the first three phases of the project, of 1.3 million tonnes per annum of liquid steel production if it were working.
â€œThe Vision 20:2020 economic blueprint document even goes beyond the rolling plan to envisage the actualisation of the third phase of the project of 5.2 million tonnes per annum of liquid steel productionâ€, he added.
Joseph stressed that the plan takes into cognizance, the technical audits of the plant conducted by two reputable international firms in 2000 and 2010.
â€œBased on the TPE Audit, a work schedule spanning 24 months duration and involving of about $400 million is the chief feature of the rolling plan. The project has however had a chequered history occasioned by an interplay of forces that has made the integrated commissioning of the plant elusive till date.â€
Continuing, he stated that the present management of the company has been working round the clock to see how to put some of the completed facilities into use, adding that, the management has also taken actions to salvage the central archives to ensure the safety of millions of the steel plant engineering drawings and documents.
â€œIn this respect, we have taken a delivery of a high definition scanning and plotting machine for the purpose of electronic storage and retrieval of technical drawings and documents. This is the realisation of a dream of over twenty years. The goal, however, is to complete and commission the first phase of the project which is to produce 1.3 million tonnes of liquid steel per year and subsequently work for the other stages of its development.â€
The project he hinted, if it were 100 per cent operational, would have directly employed about 10,000 technical staff at the first phase of the commissioning, adding that the upstream and downstream industries and service providers that would evolve all over the nation will engage not less than 500,000 employees.
â€œBut, recently however, even though not adequate, government has begun to commit resources towards the maintenance and preservation of the equipment and facilities of the plantâ€, Joseph noted.
This he stated was, pending the decision on appropriate way forward regarding the completion, commissioning, and continuous operation of the steel plant. To this end, government is currently considering the report on various options on the way forward as advanced by a nominated Transaction Adviser concerning outright sale, concessioning and joint ventures.
â€œThe necessity to reposition the steel sector in Nigeria has geared up to be part of this worthwhile aspiration, as history is yet to reveal a nation that ever industrialised without a viable steel sector. Nigeria cannot be the exception,â€ said the Sole Administrator.
Nigeria has to prioritise the activities at Ajaokuta, Aladja and Itakpe, in a bid to achieve that dream of being an industrialised nation, and the day the first steel billets roll off the conveyor belt in the steel plants, then will Nigeriaâ€™s industrial sector spring back to life. The earlier this takes place, the better for the nationâ€™s overall development starting from the vital steel sector.