With what a completed Ajaokuta Steel Company (ASCO) holds for the growth of Nigeria’s economy, it is sad and disheartening to see that successive governments in the country have absolutely failed to do the needful to ensure the steel firm comes fully on board after about 40 years after awarding the contract. Most pathetic is to hear that the project which has consumed over $5 billion and required just about $650 million to be completed, reached about 98% technical completion before work was stopped on it in 1992.
Prior to the election of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as President in 2011, he had asserted during his campaign then that “One thing that is dear to Nigerians is the Ajaokuta Steel Complex and until we revive that complex, we cannot talk about Vision 20:2020. This is because for you to play big globally, you must industrialize and for you to industrialize you must produce steel. The Ajaokuta complex must be revived.” Despite this proclamation by Jonathan, not much was done by his government towards the revitalization of the abandoned national treasure. All through Jonathan’s years as President, it has been zero allocation for Ajaokuta Steel in the annual budget.
The outgoing Senator, representing Kogi Central Senatorial District in the seventh Senate, Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman, for instance, had noted that the outgoing President did not demonstrate enough zeal towards steel development in Nigeria, while flaying the zero allocation for capital projects in the budget for Ajaokuta Steel Company in 2014. Abatemi-Usman, a champion of steel development known for his frontline crusade for the completion of Ajaokuta Steel, had asked: “Where is the place of Ajaokuta Steel in our bid for industrial revolution? Do we seem to understand the importance of steel and the significant role it can play in enhancing our economy? If you ask me, I will say Mr. President (Jonathan) is just paying lip service to the issue of Ajaokuta Steel and steel development in general. When he (Jonathan) came to Lokoja, Kogi State during the electioneering period in 2011, the thrust of his campaign promises for which our people voted for him was his pledge to revive the Ajaokuta Steel Complex. Over three years down the line, we’ve not seen much from him in that regard.”
However, the questions in the lips of many observers now are: will the Buhari government taking off from May 29, 2015 make significant difference in the actualization of the Ajaokuta Steel dream? Is it going to be another four years of lip-service to the issue of steel development in the country? Will Buhari on his own part strive to fulfill his pledge on Ajaokuta steel, the largest integrated steel complex in the Sub-Saharan Africa?
Just like Jonathan in 2011, Buhari was reported to have vowed to resuscitate ASCO if elected president of Nigeria during his electioneering campaign in the build up to the 2015 presidential election. The ex-General explained in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital that the revival of the company which has remained moribund for years will generate employment for the country’s teeming youth population and create wealth for Kogi State and the nation as a whole. He gave assurance that the fortunes of the steel complex will change for the better the moment he assumed office.
Since his victorious outing in the presidential poll, several calls and appeals have gone to Buhari not to renege on his promise to make Ajaokuta steel work. Many have noted that it will do the country a world of good for Buhari’s government to use steel as the basis and launch pad for the outright diversification of the country’s economy. The monolithic status of our economy where we seem to depend solely on oil as our only major source of revenue is, in the thinking of keen observers, not an ideal situation when we have other numerous natural resources at our disposal left untapped.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the umbrella body for all Nigerian workers emphasized the need for the administration of Buhari to focus on the revival of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex located in Kogi State at this year’s May Day celebration. President of the Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, in his address maintained that the revitalization of the steel complex would spur industrialization and pave way for job creation.
According to him, “This edifice (Ajaokuta Steel Complex) was conceived to be the cornerstone of our administration. Unfortunately, our political class has refused to accept the simple truth that no country can truly industrialize without any iron and steel industry. The fate of Aladja, Oshogbo, Jos and Katsina steel rolling mills post privatization is too grim to recall here.”
In the same vein, Chinedu Nwozor, the deputy President, Nigeria Union of Mine Workers (NUMW), equally implored the President – elect to resuscitate the Ajaokuta Steel. The NUMW President stressed that solid steel base remains the true pillar for industrial revolution, describing ASCO as the economic hope of Nigeria.
The Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society (NMGS) also joined their voice to the call on the President – elect to keep to his words on Ajaokuta Steel in the interest of our dear country, Nigeria. President of NMGS, Prof. Olugbenga Okunlola, at a press conference in Abuja recently, said Buhari should leave no stone unturned to see to the full operation of Ajakouta Steel and Itakpe National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO) when he kick-starts his government.
According to Okunlola, ASCO and NIOMCO have the potentials to serve as the backbone for economic diversification and industrialization of the country. He said: “The potential of solid minerals sector is overwhelming and diverse; the diversity enables it to have the capacity to absorb any economic shock locally and globally. A nation that has more than 36 mineral types in about 8000 locations and still counting has no reason to complain about the poor state of the economy.”
Mr. Dan Kunle, a business development consultant with special interest in energy and steel had once lamented in an interview that “We have all the natural resources to build a robust and competitive iron and steel industry which will consequently stimulate the other industries in Nigeria for our economic growth, but appropriate leadership has eluded us since 1966. It has been hope!, hope! hope! And yet failure, failure, failure. So, something is fundamentally wrong with us…”
Arguing that a nation without a robust Steel industry can never be a global player, Kunle said: “Nigeria with a population of about 160 million needs iron and steel of her own in order for her to make any meaningful economic and technological development… Egypt produces about 4% of the total world iron and steel output. Iran produces about 5-6%, Pakistan and India have moved up on the graph, while China, Australia, Canada, South Korea, USA, Russia are the big steel power countries. No nation can flex its muscle or show her strength of influence when she has no steel production competency and capacity.”
Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Libya, Venezuela, Indonesia and Mexico are oil producing countries with exceptionally excellent oil reserves. Yet, they considered it necessary to likewise have robustly viable steel industries. Buhari must therefore not hesitate to put in place necessary machineries that will dismantle all the stumbling blocks (including the alleged external influence) militating against our entrenchment of a solid, vibrant and reliable steel sector upon his enthronement as the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Michael Jegede, writes from Abuja