- Says he won’t honour legislature’s invitation again Technical audit of plant ready in six weeks
Iyobosa Uwugiaren and Sumaina Kasim in Abuja
The face-off between the House of Representatives and the Ministry of Steel and Mines Development over the on-going process for the concessioning of Ajaokuta Steel Company may have taken a confrontational dimension as the Minister Dr. Kayode Fayemi, thursday said he and other officials of the Ministry would find it very difficult to appear before the House as requested by the lawmakers.
Also, contrary to the House opposition to the federal government’s plan to concession the Ajaokuta Steel Plant, as recently expressed by Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, the minister, added that the process would fully commence after the technical audit of the company, which he disclosed would be ready in the next six weeks.
Fayemi stated these in an emergency press conference he addressed in Abuja yesterday in company of senior officials of the ministry, including the Permanent Secretary, Dr. Abdulkadir Mu’azu.
Revealing that over $8 billion has been wasted in the concession process by the previous governments, he said the seeming opposition by the House of Representatives was after thought, as the National Assembly approved N2.096 billion for the concessioning in the 2017 Appropriation Act.
He said both the ministry and the National Assembly had been on the same page regarding the need to concession the steel complex, adding that the ministry had been canvassing the concessioning option in all its meetings and sectoral debates with the lawmakers.
“Government had taken a decision not to spend an additional one dollar on Ajaokuta, since over $8 billion had been sunk into the project since 1982. Instead, government felt it would be better to give the complex to an operator with proven technical record and financial ability to run it more profitably,” Fayemi added.
The minister noted that the inability to run the steel plant more profitably, necessitated the appropriation of over N2billion for the concessioning in the 2017 Appropriation Act by the lawmakers.
According to him, “We are just commencing what was passed by the National Assembly; that is why we are surprised how we have been subjected to massive attack over the matter in the last one week.”
Fayemi said the March 1, 2018, sectoral debate which himself and the Minister of State, Abubakar Bawa Bwari, could not attend, and for which they duly notified the law makers, was the first and only time they would be so absent at such debates, having attended previous invitations, which focused majorly on Ajaokuta and the steel sector.
The minister stated that most of the allegations made against him, the minister of state and the ministry officials were not only unfounded but malicious.
He said while the House members reserved the right to discuss and take decision on national issues, he took serious exemption to a member of the House going outside the hallowed chambers to make spurious allegations on another public servant.
The minister revealed also that the technical audit, which would determine the actual cost of fixing Ajaokuta Steel Complex, was still on going, and would be ready in six weeks.
Specifically, Fayemi said contrary to insinuations, the Russian Government had never approached the ministry nor the federal government to signify interest in running the complex.
He, however, confirmed that some companies in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Nigeria had expressed interest in taking over the Ajaokuta Steel Complex, but that the ministry’s stand is that they should wait till an open and competitive bid for the steel complex would be opened.
This, he said, would happen after certain things have been put in place including a technical audit.
Fayemi said the idea that the Ajaokuta Steel complex was 98 per cent completed can best be determined by the outcome of the technical audit, saying without it, anybody insisting on the 98 per cent completion is just involve in mere sloganeering.
“Ajaokuta steel plant is an inherited challenge and late President Yar’ Adua, revoked the steel concessioning without due process,” Fayemi said.
The minister added: “The fact that we are public officials does not mean we don’t have blood flowing in our vein; it does not mean we don’t have members of our families who express concerns over these unwarranted attacks. There is no longer any basis to honour invitation by people who have made up their minds on what to do; enough of these attacks.’’
Denying any financial impropriety by the ministry, as alleged by the lawmakers, Fayemi added that no institution or group of people could blackmail his ministry to do the wrong thing over the concession, saying Ajaokuta Steel company would be given to people who will participate in an open bidding, which will be transparent and open to qualified people.
Speaker Dogara stated recently that anyone who tries to re-introduce concessioning of Ajaokuta Steel, as a way forward would definitely had a problem with the House.
The speaker also stated that the lower chamber would seek avenues to raise about $500 million to complete the project.
The Steel Plant has been the subject of a long scrimmage between the federal government and the Global Steel holdings which won a concession bid midwifed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration. In 20111, the Senate Probe, accused Obasanjo of singlehandedly approving the concession of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex to Global Infrastructure Limited against due process.
Global Steel had been accused of cannibalising the plant and the agreement, which led to the cancellation of the deal by the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua-led government.
Global Steel took the government to court, but the matter was then resolved by arbitration, which ruled that the federal government could not do anything about the plant until the expiration date of the agreement.
As part of the terms, Ajaokuta will revert to the federal government while National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO) Itakpe, will remain under the control of Global Steel. NIOMCO was part of the original concession agreement.
The controversy and power play over the planned concession took another dimension recently, when the House of Representatives o passed a vote of no confidence in the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Fayemi, and the Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Mr. Abubakar Bawa-Bwari, over failure by the two ministers to honour the fixed sectoral debate on the steel sector scheduled by the House primarily to find solutions to the troubled Ajaokuta Steel Plant.
However, Fayemi and Bwari had described as draconian the vote of no confidence passed on them by the House of Representatives.
In a statement by Fayemi’s Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Olayinka Oyebode, the ministers said they had informed the House in two separate letters that they would not be able to attend the meeting, wondering why the House members took such a draconian stance against the two ministers who had very cordial relationship with the National Assembly.
According to Fayemi, “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 House and its leadership at all times. It is on record that Minister 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, Bwari, addressed the members on those two occasions.
“Given this past record, today’s action is most unwarranted and unfortunate.”