Uche Usim, Abuja
Hopes of resuscitating the moribund $4.6 billion Ajaokuta Steel Complex Limited (ASCL) brightened on Wednesday as the Federal Government said plans are in top gear to concession the enterprise to qualified investors.
In line with the plan, key stakeholders comprising the Chairman, House Committee on Steel, Abdullahi Ibrahim; the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Alex Okoh and the Senior Special Assistant to President on Infrastructure, Imeh Okon, recently visited the complex on a fact-finding mission, preparatory to fully concessioning it.
Speaking at the visit, the BPE boss, Alex Okoh, said the main objective was to ensure the country taps into the potential of the steel sector to transform the Nigerian economy.
“Other objectives of the visit were to avail members the opportunity to physically inspect the complex in order to appreciate the quantum of investments made; meet with the management and obtain the management’s option(s) on the issues that affect the plant with the view to enriching the strategy to be adopted for resuscitating the complex.
“We want to address the issues of the steel industry and rescue it from its current state, foremost among which is the completion and operations of Ajaokuta Steel Complex Limited (ASCL).
“Government is desirous to achieve this through a robust framework to drive and guide the process for the revitalisation of ASCL and the steel industry in general,” he explained.
At the meeting with the management of the ASCL, Okoh emphasized the willingness of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to resolve the on-going legal issues between FGN and Global Infrastructure Nigeria Limited (GINL).
He added that the FGN was desirous to see that ASCL was completed and made operational, and thus solicited the support of the National Assembly, management of ASCL and other stakeholders in achieving the goal under this administration.
A physical tour of the enterprise to some of the major plants, installations and facilities in the complex was done by the team. Some of the plants and other facilities visited included, steel making plant (blast furnace), light section Mill, Wire Rod Mill, medium section & structural mill, thermal power plant, lime plant, machine/tools shop , water intake plant, rail tracks, road networks, etc.
The team verified and confirmed the management’s claim that many of the machines in the respective units were in good condition and would only require minor repairs to operate effectively.
Additionally, the team observed that the status of the ASCL plant was not as dilapidated as assumed generally, but that the plant was rather in a reasonably operational state.
The team commended the management of ASCL for maintaining the complex and for using the available internal resources with little external assistance to conduct a technical audit in February 2018 which would assist the government in fashioning out the way forward.
The Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development (MMSD) had given approval for the conduct of the comprehensive technical audit by ASCL engineers, technologists, technicians, craftsmen and other associated professionals, assisted by two Ukrainian consultants and two engineers assigned by the President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers. The technical audit was carried out to ostensibly determine the plant’s integrity and level of completion of the independent units.
The visiting team and the ASCL management agreed to work together along with other stakeholders for the realization of the Ajaokuta dream.
The ASCL was founded in 1979 and sits atop a 24,000 hectares of sprawling green-field land-mass. The steel plant itself is built on 800-hectares, though it was integrated with the iron ore and rolling mills in Itakpe (Kogi), Aladja (Delta), Osogbo (Osun) and Katsina (Katsina State). It was expected to produce 1.3 million tonnes of steel per annum, with an in-built capacity to double it to 2.6 million tonnes per annum and provide 10,000 direct jobs as well as 500,000 indirect employment opportunities.
Forty years after its establishment, it is still not in operation. All attempts by the government to get it off the ground have proved futile.
Strikingly, an internal technical audit between February and April 2018 concluded that the project was 95.7 per cent ready. The near-completion data has been the sing-song in government since the first phase was inaugurated in 1983, but no serious production is going on there.
So much money has been sunk into Ajaokuta. In 2017, the then Sole Administrator of the ASCL, Joseph Onobere, cited a figure of $4.6 billion, saying that an extra $400 million was required to complete it. Various other estimations put these sums higher.
Earlier, in 2016, the Federal Government took over the company from a concessionaire and returned to paying salaries and benefits to its redundant workforce. Two years after that, the then Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Abubakar Bwari, raised hopes that 11 companies – he did not name them – had indicated their interest in the ASCL. At the end of his tenure last May, it was all sound bite.