By Chineme OkaforÂ in Abuja
The controversy surrounding Nigeriaâ€™s concession of Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL), and National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO) to Indian firm, Global Infrastructure Holding Limited (GIHL), on Friday assumed a fresh dimension when a group of relevant metallurgical unions in the country filed a suit at the Federal High Court, Abuja against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for allegedly hoarding an interim investigative report on the operations of GIHL in the two national assets.
Â According to the court papers with suit number: FHC/Abj/CS/674/17, the unions comprising Nigerian Metallurgical Society; African Iron and Steel Association (AISA); Steel and Engineering Workers Union of Nigeria; and Iron and Steel Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, and their attorneys, Sulaiman Abduraheem and Natasha Akpoti, asked the court to mandate the EFCC to release to them certified true copies of its past investigation on GIHL’s operations in NIOMCO and ASCL, as ordered by late president Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua, in 2008.
Â Provided to THISDAY in Abuja, the court processes were served on EFCC, with their prayers including a request on it to immediately provide the plaintiff copies of its investigations on GIHL, as well as pay the sum of N500,000 for initially denying it request for the investigative report in contravention of Section 21 of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.Â The group noted that they filed their request to EFCC on June 13, 2017, but the anti-graft agency refused to provide it the requested report.
Â They also claimed that in its reluctance, the EFCC rather asked it to drop the case on the grounds that it was old and perhaps stale.
Â But convinced about the merit of its request, the plaintiff then sued the EFCC. It said it wants the court to issue a mandatory order on the anti-graft agency to provide it the investigative report.
Following the federal governmentâ€™s modified concession agreement recently signed by the Minister of Mines and Solid Minerals, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, on behalf of it to transfer the NIOMCO which is located in Itakpe Kogi State, and Delta Steel Company (DSC) to Indian firm, GIHL, the plaintiff reportedly wrote to the EFCC requesting its 2008 investigative report on the Indian firm as ordered by Yarâ€™Adua, but which it never made public.
The court papers which were dated July 21, 2017, equally asked the EFCC to provide the plaintiff with a status report as to its prosecution of GIHL in relation to the alleged criminal activities leveled against it in its operation of the assets, upon which Yarâ€™Adua’s order was made.
The unions had recently protested the government’s decision to invite back GIHL to take up the companies four years after their sales were reportedly cancelled. They said the decision was faulty and irresponsible on the part of the government.
They also explained that past records of GIHL in the two firms indicated that they left Nigeria with monumental losses, but huge economic leverages for them and their country, India, adding that the current government had failed in its responsibility to undertake appropriate due diligence on the firm it has given back the firms to.
The President of AISA, Dr. Sanusi Mohammed, had told journalists at a recent briefing that the association opted to galvanise relevant stakeholders in Nigeria’s steel industry including the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC); Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), and others to protest the decision of the government as acted out by Fayemi when he reportedly signed the modified concession agreement in August 2016.
Mohammed explained that from the modified concession agreement, GIHL has further demanded from the government to concede the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line and Warri Port to it to enable them efficiently operate the Ajaokuta Steel Company and DSC.
According to him, the modified agreement and subsequent request from the Indian company were part of steps by the Indian government and other external forces to deprive Nigeria of potentially competing with it in the global steel market, as well as frustrate her potential independence from importing steel from countries including India.
He noted that recently the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) stated that Nigeria imported steel products worth N23 trillion in the last 10 years, with some of the imports coming from India. This, according to him meant that a functional Nigerian steel industry was not in the interest of India.
“What we are saying in essence is that the processes that have led to the choice of concessionaires have been faulty and produced groups like Global Infrastructure Holding Limited which have done nothing to advance our steel industry.
“The Indian company led by Pramod Mittal, are perhaps acting out external scripts of forces that do not want our steel industry to grow. They have failed to maintain our assets, and we want the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to look into the modified concession agreement signed by Kayode because it is the same document with mistakes that was drawn up in the last government that he signed,” Mohammed said at the briefing.
Speaking however on the court action against EFCC, one of the attorneys, Akpoti, told THISDAY that the decision to sue was based on the report of a five-man administrative panel ofÂ enquiry set up by Yarâ€™Adua which indicted GIHL of asset stripping and other unwholesome practices in the companies, and which EFCC took up but couldnâ€™t complete the process.
She explained that the EFCC further erred when it refused to obey section 21 of the FOI Act, under which government agencies are obliged to provide relevant information on their operations to parties seeking such. She added that the unions wanted the government to realise its mistakes in the modified concession agreement with GIHL.