Abel Inabo Obaka
On Thursday, December 13, 2018, the mass media were bombarded with the gladdening news of The Senate approving $1billion from Excess Crude Account (ECA) to complete the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL). While commending the lawmakers for this patriotic bipartisan collaboration, I am using this medium to make a passionate appeal to President Muhammed Buhari, to kindly muster the political will and sign this bill into law, which will lead to the completion of the steel complex.
Before I state the potentials of the steel plant, let me put it on record that the Ajaokuta steel plant is not obsolete as erroneously put across to the public by some people who are largely ignorant of steel technology. Let me quote from the then technical au¬dit conducted by the Russians (the original builders of the plant) on the plant: “…the situation of the steel plant’s equipment and facilities are satisfactory. Me¬chanically, the steel plant equipment and facilities are generally in good condition.”
Indeed, Ajaokuta steel plant is a great opportunity for the Nigerian nation to get quickly industrialized as rightly stated by former military President, Rtd. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, during his working visit to the plant in the eighties. Gladly, the present management of ASCL ably led by Engr. Sumaila Abdul-Akaba, and the sole Administrator is determined to ensure that it does not miss the great opportunities this steel plant has for Nigeria.
It is indeed gratifying to note that Ajaokuta is 98% technically ready in terms of equipment erection. Completed are the rolling mills (actually produced iron rods and sold), thermal power plant (generated electricity to national grid), an imposing modern administrative block, housing estates and access roads.
Also completed is the Engineering Works Complex, which is made up of Equipment Repair Shop, Forge and Fabrication Shop (repaired huge Equipment for PHCN and NNPC), Foundry and Pattern Making Shop, Machine and Tools Shop, and Rubberizing and Vulcanizing Shop.
For a nation like Nigeria, the merits of a completed and operational steel plant like ASCL are numerous. A functioning ASCL, for instance, will generate employment for the citizenry because the steel plant has the capacity to produce 1.3million metric tons of liquid steel per annum. This will enable ASCL to become a net provider of employment with direct engagement of about 15,000 skilled workers and indirect employment of about 500,000 of unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers as well as various professionals in the downstream and upstream industries/services.
Ajaokuta steel plant will also facilitate technological take-off and growth, acquisition of technical expertise and transfer of technology, provision of inputs for rapid infrastructural development, thus adding value to our vast natural resources(minerals) that abound and untapped across the nation.
It is trite to argue that without developing our own indigenous steel industry, we will end up exporting our natural minerals at very cheap rates, and import the finished products at exorbitant prices as it is with oil today. In addition, a developed steel industry will save our scarce foreign exchange as well as create opportunities for wide-ranging capacity building. Obviously, attaining the goals of Vision 2020 and the federal government’s change agenda/next level will be a mirage without a productive steel sector. Without a doubt, a fully completed and commissioned Ajaokuta steel plant will greatly increase economic opportunities for its host communities in particular and Nigerians in general, reduce poverty through job creation and wealth generating activities. Since experts have predicted that oil boom would end and we have indeed started witnessing dwindling global oil price, there is the need to diversify the Nigerian economy by developing the non-oil sector such as the steel industry. Hence, the need to complete Ajaokuta steel plant!
Since his appointment as the Sole Administrator of the ASCL, Engr. Sumaila Abdul-Akaba, FNSE, has held series of consultations with the workforce and sensitized them to brace up for the task of starting up operational activities in some key selected areas of the plant. Kudos to him and his predecessor (Engr. Isah Joseph Onobere), the current Sole Administrator (Engr. Sumaila Abdul-Akaba, FNSE) maintained industrial harmony in the workforce and the union/association. I strongly believe a new salary structure should be adopted for the steel workers in recognition of the peculiar nature of their jobs. They should also be paid hazard allowance due to exposure to dangerous conditions in their workplace.
Lending voice to the debate, Comrade Otori Saliu, the former National President of Iron and Steel Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ISSAN), hereby made a passionate appeal to Mr. President to surmount the courage to sign the bill for the $1billiondollars funding for ASCL from ECA.
This, according to the widely respected labour leader will give job opportunities to our teaming unemployed youths. He said it will also make Nigeria to be technically self-sufficient and economically buoyant, and urged the President to also bring back the original builders to complete the plant (the Russians). Comrade Otori said that what is needed now is the President’s political will.
Also, Comrade Nuhu Salawu, Chairman, IS-SAN-ASCL chapter on behalf of the Exco and members of ISSAN wish to thank both NASS for the speedy passage of the $1billion funding bill of ASCL from ECA. He urged Mr. President to sign the bill into law and direct the release of the money for the rehabilitation and completion of the steel plant as well as supporting infrastructure, which he said can generate 10,000 direct jobs and 500,000 indirect jobs for our teeming unemployed graduates, Engineers, craftsmen, artisans and commercial staffers.
In conclusion, I earnestly and passionately beg President Muhammed Buhari, to kindly sign the Ajaokuta’s $1billion refurbishment bill passed by the Senate into law. Thereafter, due process be followed in the disbursement of the fund to ensure early completion and commissioning of this gigantic steel plant, the biggest in the Sub-Saharan Africa.
Obaka is a lecturer at NOUN, Jabi