So much has been said over the years about resuscitating the moribund Ajaokuta Steel Industry, but little has been done in terms of giving the place a human face. About $7bn had been sunk into the plant since 1979 in a bid to get it up and running. The comatose state of the steel industry has been a source of worry to well meaning Nigerians who are hitherto calling on the Federal Government to summon the political will it requires in getting the plant back on track.
Unfortunately, the plant which was once the pride of the country, is now a shadow of itself. It is obvious that the high rate of youth unemployment in the country will surely nose-dive if this largest integrated steel industry in West Africa and other cottage industries in the country are revived. The comatose nature of the industry had made the country to rely heavily on the importation of iron and steel from other countries. In 2012, Nigeria was said to have spent about N1.3trn on capital flight alone. Lo and behold, Nigeria is now paying dearly for neglecting the plant that would have been the envy of other industrial plants the world over.
In the 2014 budget, the Federal Government sets aside N3.921bn for the salaries of the idle workers and other recurrent expenditure at the Ajaokuta Steel Industry. A total of N4.58bn was budgeted for the workers in 2012. Currently, government needs about $1bn to bring the plant back on stream.
It is regrettable that at this technological age, Nigeria is still importing slabs, roofing sheets, simple agricultural tools such as hoes, cutlasses, glassware etc from other developing countries, thus enriching these countries. This has to stop if the country must attain its target as an industrial giant.
It is indeed sad to note that the frantic efforts made by successive governments in reviving the ailing industry, was all to no avail due to lack of political will. Of course, lack of commitment, corruption and politicization, are part of the reasons the plant had remained in coma for a long time.
The administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, despite criticisms from steel workers and labour leaders, gave a special consideration of its management to the Global System Steel Holdings Limited, GSHL in 2005. The deal collapsed as the firm failed to meet the inherent contractual obligations. The Federal Government was subsequently forced to cancel the transaction in 2007. In 2008, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua terminated the agreement and set up an Interim Management Committee to oversee it.
Many stakeholders have at various occasions prevailed upon the Federal Government to revive the steel industry. In May this year, the House of Representatives directed it
Committees on Steel, Privatization and Commercialization and Justice to investigate the concession and failure of the industry following the controversy and non-performance of the steel from inception.
It should be emphasized that the employment potentials of the plant is capable of generating over 15, 000 direct employments. Experts are of the view that what is required to revive the Ajaokuta plant is adequate funding and maintenance. There is therefore no point dilly-dallying on whether to inject more funds into the plant or not. A detailed feasibility study and requisite manpower appears more auspicious at this moment to get the place operational. Of course, Ajaokuta Steel Industry remains one of Nigeria’s dying heritages that must not be abandoned to rot away. Spending billions yearly in the name of paying idle workers’ wages and other entitlements is simply a waste of resources.
Since the concession that the Federal Government entered into with the Indian company has failed, it is now left for the government to take a step further in ensuring that the country’s priceless asset is back on track.
In view of this growing concern, the Federal Government has continued to assure Nigerians of its commitment to the speedy reactivation of the Ajaokuta Steel Industry so as to promote the development of the country’s industrial sector. It is imperative that the plant be revived to further enhance the huge socio-economic opportunities that are available to Nigerians through a viable steel industry. If resuscitated as promised, it will also generate indirect employment for millions of Nigerians. The revival of the industry will definitely aid the growth of the new automobile industry and the transformation of the epileptic Nigerian Railway Corporation.
Again, the National Council on Privatization, NCP should see to the speedy revival of the company and ensure that the steel industry is back to life.
Nevertheless, Committees on Steel, Privatization and Commercialization and Justice in the National Assembly should get to the root of this protracted controversy that has hampered the plant over the years and they should also enact enabling laws that will drive industrial revolution in Nigeria.
Apparently, the steel industry appears more viable for creating millions of jobs in a developing country like ours. It is therefore expected that President Jonathan, as part of his genuine commitment to industrial growth, should summon the political will and courage in reviving the steel industry. This is one sure way the Nigerian government can create jobs for the teeming unemployed youths being used by desperate politicians to perpetuate crimes.