Reviving Ajaokuta Steel Mill, by Isah Mohammed

Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL) was designed to be the driving force of Nigeria’s technological advancement.

The construction of the plant itself commenced under the administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1979 and was commissioned in 1983, when the project had achieved about 95 per cent completion rate. At that time, the following rolling mills of the steel plant were in operation: light, billets, wire rod, medium section and structural mills. It was planned then that profits generated would provide the needed funds for the completion of the remaining 5 per cent of the plant.

Alas, after President Shehu Shagari’s removal from office in 1983, the steel plant was abandoned while most of its engineers, trained in Russia to work in the plant, left to join other companies, and some retired. The four mills in the company between 1985 and 1987 started optimal production. But regrettably, international politics played a devastating blow to the dream of steel development in the country which led to shut-down of the steel complex. Since then, successive governments have made some efforts in resuscitating the ailing industry, but to no avail due to lack of political will. The administration of former president Olusegun Obasanjo, despite criticisms from steel workers and labour leaders, concession it to Global System Steel Holdings Limited (GSHL) in 2005, with yet another disastrous outcome. Realising that the future of the steel company is not effulgent under that concession deal, President Umaru Yar’adua terminated the agreement in 2008 and set up an interim management committee to oversee it because the concession company GIHL was trading in iron ore and making billions of naira without showing commitments to revitalizing the company. Through the Ministry of Mines and Steel, the Federal Government said the steel plant would not be closed down after the speculation that the equipment and facilities were obsolete. In one of the company’s press briefings in 2012, its officials debunked the insinuations that the steel company’s plant was obsolete. He said the plant’s facilities and equipment are in good conditions generally.

There was a technical audit report by Ukrainian engineers recently which states that the situation of the steel plant’s equipment and facility are satisfactory. “Technically, the Ajaokuta plant’s equipment and facilities are generally in good condition”. According to them, the blast furnace model which Ajaokuta steel plant has is the best in the world. “In 2010, the world statistical year book put the total crude steel rates produced globally at 1.4 billion tones, of which 74 per cent was through blast furnace. This is the technology adopted in Ajaokuta steel plant, then how can a technology that produces such percentage of world steel be considered as obsolete?”

Experts have said that the steel plant, if completed, has the capacity of producing 1.3 million metric tonnes of liquid steel and serve as a net provider of employment.

What is required in Ajaokuta is adequate funding and maintenance. There is a steel plant in Ukraine that is over 105 years old and still working perfectly with minimal maintenance. President Jonathan should develop the will to reactivate the steel company. At optimal production level, the steel plant at Itakpe can generate over two million jobs for youths if properly funded because many cottage industries that will make use of the by-products from the steel mill would be established. The Federal Government cannot create jobs through the establishment and duplication of agencies which in many cases would be scrapped due to policy inconsistency by successive governments. The surest means of creating jobs in developing countries like ours is true technological initiative and advancement which will lead to industrial revolution. India is a typical example; the Tata Motor Company of India was established the same period when Ajaokuta steel company was established. Today, Tata is the major supplier of military trucks and other vehicles to Nigeria.

It is ridiculous that in the 21st century, the giant of Africa is still importing slabs, roofing sheets, simple agricultural tools such as hoes and cutlasses, glassware etc from countries which became independent after Nigeria. High cost of materials for the construction of distillation units, pipelines for feedstock and products transfer are the major reasons why we cannot establish functional refinery as a country, but this are materials that could be gotten from Ajaokuta steel company with no cost of importation. The neglect of the company is not just a neglect of Kogi State, but a grave neglect and marginalization of the Middle-Belt region of Nigeria and an attempt to endanger the future of the Nigerian youth in general. If a whopping two billion naira can be approved for the construction of an airport in a state with a population of less than a million people, same amount with foreign loan and public-private-partnership initiative can reactivate the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited which can create millions of jobs for Nigerian youth.

Isah Mohammed writes from Lokoja, Kogi State