W HEN President Muhammadu Buhari promised during his electioneering campaign in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital last year January to revive the Ajaokuta Steel Company (ASCO) if elected, I was not in any way thrilled by the pledge. I was not excited because I saw it as one of those political statements that we have become used to from politicians anytime they want to get the votes of Nigerians for the purpose of winning elections.
The question I asked then was: Did we not hear a similar vow from Goodluck Ebele Jonathan before the 2011 presidential election when he came to Lokoja to canvass for votes from my people in Kogi State? Jonathan in much stronger words had said: “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.”
In the four years of Jonathan as elected President, we did not see anything meaningful from his administration to bring this great national asset of ours back to life after years of total neglect. All efforts to get him to fulfill the promise he made to secure the votes of Kogites and Nigerians as a whole in 2011 did not yield any fruitful result, as he left Ajaokuta Steel almost the same way he met it. I recall how Senator Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman, former Senator of Kogi Central Senatorial District, who brought Ajaokuta Steel matter to the front burner in the Senate then, mounted pressure on Jonathan’s administration for the resuscitation of the steel firm.
After Buhari emerged victorious in the poll, just before he was sworn in, I made it a point of duty to remind him in a piece of his covenant with Kogi people on the Ajaokua Steel posing the following questions which were on the lips of many – 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?
As one who has visited the Ajaokuta Steel Company (ASCO)/National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO), Itakpe in Kogi State, and done a lot of write-ups on the need for their revival and full operation, it is heartwarming to see that the Buhari administration has taken a very important step towards the completion of the Ajaokuta Steel project. On Monday, August 1, 2016, a renegotiated concession agreement was signed between the Federal Government (FG) and the Global Steel Holding Limited (GSHL); a development which has freed the Ajaoukuta Steel Complex from all the legal and contractual encumbrances, giving way for its revitalization.
In the new arrangement, GSHL retains NIOMCO, while FG takes full control of the Ajaokuta Steel outfit. GSHL is the Indian company the Olusegun Obasanjo administration concessioned ASCO and NIOMCO to in 2004 and 2005 respectively, after an earlier concession pact with SOLGAS of the United States of America failed to turn around the steel facility. The Indian firm equally did not live up to expectation and the government under the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was compelled to revoke the contract in April, 2008. It was alleged that the GSHL was involved in dealings that were causing more damages to the steel complex and NIOMCO.
Dissatisfied with the revocation of the concession agreement by the late Yar’Adua, GSHL took the Nigerian government to the International Court of Arbitration. The case dragged on until FG opted for out of court settlement in 2013 which eventually led to the latest modified concession agreement that has now paved way for the return of ASCO to the Nigerian government.
In his speech, at the brief ceremony presided over by him in the Presidential Villa, where the new concession agreement was signed, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, hailed the mediation process which led to the resolution of the impasse that had mired the operation of the two national assets for over eight years.
According to the number-two citizen, “It is one of the cases of failures. It is a tragedy of immense proportion that we have both Ajaokuta Steel Complex and NIOMCO and couldn’t get anything out of them for years.” The VP emphasized that the top priority of Buhari’s administration was to make ASCO and NIOMCO work. He implored GSHL to keep to the different timelines and conditions in the new deal in the spirit of mediation, noting that “it is important the concession works so that Ajaokuta can take off too.”
A major highpoint achieved by the government in the renewed concession agreement was a higher concession fee payable to it from 3% of turnover to 4%. Also, GSHL will ensure a guaranteed and continued supply of iron ore to Ajaokuta Steel Company as a priority customer. The renegotiated concession is expected to last for seven years as against the revoked one that was for a ten-year tenure.
Now that NIOMCO has been released to GSHL all in a bid to resolve a protracted legal tussle that has hindered its operation and prevented any major work on Ajaokuta Steel, the Nigerian government must not go to sleep. The Indian firm must be properly monitored to ensure strict adherence to the terms of the new agreement. Ordinarily, if not for the legal entanglement we found ourselves and needed to get out of it, for the sake of Ajaokuta Steel, GSHL is one company that the Nigerian government should never again engage in any business dealing with.
In any case, we must move on in our dream to actualise the Ajaokuta Steel project. Therefore, I urge our people in the host community to cooperate with the Indian company in the new arrangement that has brought them back to NIOMCO. FG, on its part, must, as a matter of necessity, keep a very close watch on the activities of the Indian firm.
- Jegede, a journalist and public affairs commentator, writes from Abuja.