As fight over Ajaokuta Steel rages, dream still a mirage

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Vested interests and lack of political will have been identified as the factors militating against the completion of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex. However, stakeholders are back to the drawing board to ensure that the Complex is completed as soon as possible. ELEOJO IDACHABA, SALIHU OYIBO, TAIYE ODEWALE, EZREL TABIOWO and JOSHUA EGBODO report.

The on-going war of words between the House of Representatives and officials of the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, as well as stakeholders on the way forward in resuscitating the comatose Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL) has shown that vested interests and lack of political will are largely the reasons the largest steel complex in Africa has remained comatose for years.

Investigations have revealed that mutual suspicion among top government officials and vested interests among key players are the major reasons not much has been done to turn around the Complex many years after the idea was conceived.

Public hearing uncovered ‘shady deals’
During a recent sectoral debate organised by the House aimed at reviving the Complex and reviewing its attempted concessioning, it was gathered that top government officials and major stakeholders have not shown genuine commitment towards the realisation of the project; while in some cases, vested interests of a few individuals within the corridors of power are part of the reasons for the bad state of the Complex.
While testifying before the House recently, an activist, Hadiza Natasha Akpoti, for example, fingered the governor of Kogi state, Yahaha Bello, as one of the people whose vested interest, according to her, clashes with the genuine intention of reviving the complex since the complex is too sensitive for an individual to acquire.

According to her, Global Infrastructure, a company to which ASCL was concessioned some years back and later cancelled, is now a business partner of Bello as records at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) reveals.

She said the government of Shehu Musa Yar’Adua had indicted the same company after an administrative panel recommended that it should not run the affairs of the complex for some reasons.

However, she noted with dismay why the same company should be called up now to complete the project for which it has no capability to do.
She said: “Following the indictment of Global Infrastructure, it went into arbitration and finally won. Goodluck Jonathan’s administration paid it the sum of $525 million as compensation.

Regrettably, it is the same company that has returned as concessionaire working with a company suspected to be co-owned by the governor of Kogi state whom investigation reveals is working for some unknown faces in the Presidency. The Corporate Affairs Commission has confirmed the registration of this sister company owned by Bello.”

According to her, every effort made to get the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate Global Infrastructure has proved abortive.

Speaking earlier, the fiery activist disclosed that the problem of ASCL is due to the insincerity of previous administrations in the country, for example, she said as at the exit of the Russians who built the complex in 1994, it was 98.2% completed. However, due to the failure of Nigeria to honour the contractual agreement, the original builders had no choice but to leave.

She said: “What is, however, amazing here is that on March 7, 2001, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo visited the State of Russia, he signed, among other agreements, the transfer of high technology on behalf of the country and part of it was the refurbishment of ASCL. Instead of Nigerian government to invite the Russians to return and complete it, a few months, to the dismay of everyone, SOLGAS Energy was contracted and because it did not have the technical and financial capabilities, they brought in Global Infrastructure, a company which Nigerian government officials fraudulently sold the complex to leading to an arbitration and out of court settlement to the tune of $525 million.”

Lawmakers summon ministers
Prior to this revelation, the Lower House, allegedly suspecting foul play in the way ministry and top government officials were handling the project, had summoned the minister, Dr Kayode Fayemi, and Abubakar Bawa Bwari, his minister of state, to appear before it. However, in a letter written to the House and signed by the permanent Secretary in the ministry, Abdukadir Muazu, it noted that the two men would not honour the invitation as they were away on official assignments. This development did not go well with the lawmakers who felt slighted, saying that both ministers were avoiding them because they have something to hide. Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, while reacting to this said he was amazed by the ministers’ conduct which, according to him, suggests that indeed some powerful interests in the ministry has concluded plans to concession the complex secretly.

“The state of Ajaokuta today is as a result of our ineptitude as a government. All that the government needs to complete the plant is leadership. Somebody is trying to hide certain facts, so we want an end to this national embarrassment,” he said.

On his part, Leader of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, speaking on the action of the two ministers, said “I consider the action of the ministers as contempt of the House. You, the Speaker, personally signed the letter to them; unfortunately, none of the ministers would sign their reply, rather, they asked the permanent secretary to respond to you two weeks after. This presentation gives an ample opportunity for fair hearing. There are allegations. I will personally take it as an assault on the common sense of this country for the two ministers to ignore the House.”

The House, subsequently, took a decision and passed a vote of no confidence on the two ministers.

Reps want govt to halt concessioning
In the meantime, the Lower House, which is leading in the investigation, has asked the government to halt every move towards either privatisation or concessioning until all the issues are addressed and relevant stakeholders are made to explain their role in the project. It, therefore, set up a committee to investigate all the allegations, indictment and factors militating against the completion of the complex.

The minister had prior to the invitation by the Lower House disclosed before Senator Enyinanya Abaribe-led joint committee on Power, Steel Development and Metallurgy that the government was not prepared to concession the Complex until all legal issues arising from previous concessions are settled.

In a chat with Blueprint Weekend, Senator Chukwuta Utazi (PDP, Enugu North) said the absence of a robust steel plant in the country is affecting full implementation of the local content policy.

According to him, the Senate has urged the federal government to immediately get the complex to work and as well rehabilitate the rail-line and waterways around the complex based on a motion sponsored to that effect by Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West).

Melaye had, in that motion sponsored late last year, after lamenting the ‘quantum of investments and potential’ of the Complex, said “the ailing Ajaokuta Steel Company is a threat to Nigeria’s industrial growth.” Senate President, Bukola Saraki, also wondered why the project remained moribund 40 years after.

However, Senator Ahmed Ogembe (APC, Kogi Central) in his remarks, expressed the hope that the project would soon be completed.
Ogembe, in a conversation with the Blueprint Weekend, said: “We are doing everything possible to make sure that the company comes back to life. We shall not rest until this objective is achieved.”

…Query PwC selection as audit firm
Meanwhile, the House of Reps has queried the selection of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as the firm to carry out a technical audit of the Ajaokuta Steel Company preparatory to its concessioning by the government without due process.

Hon. Ahmed Yerima and 24 other members in a joint motion on the matter, which was adopted by the House during the week, described the firm as a ‘globally discredited company,’ and wondered why it should be engaged for such project.

They said the firm have been sanctioned in India, with a two-year audit ban for infractions of over $1 billion; sanctioned in Brazil for which it paid $50 million as fine; Fined in the United Kingdom for £5.1 million, the largest ever sanction imposed by the UK Regulator; Paid $225 million and $25 million, respectively, as fines to TYCO shareholders in the U.S and Bank of Tokyo – Mitsubishi, where it was implicated for money laundering for Iran, Sudan, and Myanmar, blacklisted for roles in terrorism and human rights abuses, among other infractions.

The House, therefore, directed its Ad hoc committee on the Ajaokuta investigation to ascertain whether or not the minister, Dr Fayemi, has a pecuniary interest in appointing the audit firm for the job.

While declaring the steel sector as a major sector of the Nigerian economy, and urging the Senate to concur with its resolution, the House resolved to commence the process of amending the Privatisation Act, with a view to deleting the Ajaokuta Steel Company from the list of companies in the schedule to the Act, as well as removing the powers of the National Council on Privatisation to amend or modify the law as provided in Section 38 of the Act.

NASS got it all wrong – Fayemi
Meanwhile, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr Kayode Fayemi, has taken a swipe at the Lower House for its decision to pass a vote of no confidence on him over the Ajaokuta debacle, wondering why the lawmakers were crying foul and deceiving Nigerians on the Steel Complex.
Fayemi alleged that “in the first place, there is a plan by the House to inject the whopping sum of $500 million into the ministry’s budget for ASCL.” Report indicated that he allegedly refused the invitation because he felt the ministry cannot source for such fund. He noted that the audit report on ASCL showed that the Complex requires about $1.049 billion to be fully on stream and not $500 million; therefore, the plan of the lawmakers, he alleged, was one of their plots to inject the money under the guise of padding.

He said: “There was no way the ministry could source for $500 million but the House insisted that the allocation must be in the Ministry’s budget. Where will either the federal government or the ministry get such an amount from?”

At a press briefing in Abuja, last week, he said: “People will tell you that it is at 98 per cent completion and that it is remaining only two per cent; all that is hogwash. We requested in 2017 budget and the House approved only N2 billion for the concession of Ajaokuta. If this same National Assembly passed this law and we are trying to implement the law, what is our offence?

“It is surprising that the speaker will be bent on attacking this ministry, stressing that the position of this government is very clear and it has nothing to do with me as a minister, but the government’s decision that we will give Ajaokuta to only those that have participated.”
Also, Fayemi in a statement issued through his Special Adviser on Media, Olayinka Oyebode, on Thursday, this week, said the “lawmakers lacked proper understanding of the Ajaokuta matter.”

According to him, no transaction adviser has been appointed for the Complex as claimed by the Reps without the approval of the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

No justification for concessioning – APC youth leader
On his part, the Kogi state chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Youth Caucus, Alhaji Abdulrahman Dansebe, said many prominent Nigerians have visited the complex in the last 20 years, but the visit could not yield any tangible result.

“Many of the government officials, especially ministers, came and expressed their concerns over the sad situation here with promises that proactive measures would be taken to resuscitate the Complex, but the moment they step out of here, those promises are forgotten,” he said.
He appealed to President Buhari to go back to TYAZHPROMEXPORT (TPE), a Russian company that signed a contract with the federal government in 1970, to complete the project in the interest of the people.

“There is no moral justification in concessioning the project to investors because it is not the solution to the problems militating against the plant. We expect Mr. President to learn from the situation in Itakpe Iron Ore Mining Company where it was concessioned by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and eventually resulted in endless litigation,” he said.

Activist appeals to President Buhari
Also commenting, the executive director, Centre for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Lokoja, Mr. Idris Miliki Abdul, appealed to President Buhari to develop the political will and complete the project, saying that the Complex has suffered enough neglect.

“If former President Shehu Shagari funded the project to 98 per cent completion as it is being stated and after 30 years, no administration can summon the courage to complete it, then we have to ask ourselves some questions,” he said.

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