Jonathan and zero allocation for Ajaokuta Steel

“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.”
The above statement was made by President Goodluck Jonathan at his
Presidential electioneering campaign rally in 2011 in Lokoja, Kogi State
capital. This assertion by Jonathan, no doubt, clearly agrees with the
position of many Nigerians on the need to advance the country’s economy
through the entrenchment of a vibrant and viable steel sector.  But what
baffles most observers is that after three years of making such
pronouncement, nothing much seems to have been done by the President for the
completion of Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL).
Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Nurudeen
Abatemi-Usman, for instance, said recently that Jonathan has not shown
enough commitment to steel development in Nigeria. He made the observation,
while condemning the zero allocation for capital projects in Ajaokuta Steel
Company in the 2014 budget proposal, during the budget defence of Ministry
of Mines and Steel, conducted by Senate Committee on Power and Steel.
Abatemi-Usman, a member of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, representing Kogi
Central Senatorial District, where the Ajaokuta Steel firm is located, noted
that steel development is the bedrock of any industrial revolution,
wondering how the federal government wants to achieve the vision 20:2020
without the full operation of the largest steel complex in the Sub-Saharan
Africa.
Questioning the Minister of Mines and Steel, Architect Musa Mohammed Sada at
the budget defence, Senator Abatemi-Usman said: “We spent billions for staff
salaries every year, yet we are where we were as far as the revitalization
of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex and National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO)
are concerned. 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 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.”
Responding, Sada insisted that despite the fact that fund was yet to be
allocated for the completion of Ajaokuta Steel, the Federal Government (FG)
remains fully committed to the revival of the steel outfit.  He explained
that government was working hard to clear some of the issues impeding the
actualization of the steel project.
Senator Abatemi-Usman, who has become a known campaigner for steel
development and has never relented in drawing the attention of Jonathan to
the need for the completion of Ajaokuta Steel Company, had equally suggested
that FG should source for one billion dollars loan to revamp the steel firm.
He made this suggestion last year at an interactive session with the Mines
and Steel Minister in Abuja, perhaps, as an alternative means of ensuring
the actualization of the steel project, for which the government has refused
to allocate money for its completion over the years.
The neglect of Ajaokuta Steel by successive governments has always been an
issue of great concern to most Nigerians. Many believed that corruption and
lack of political will on the part of government may have been responsible
for the non-completion of the project, whose contract was awarded since in
the 70s.
Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, is one of those who believe that
corruption has been a major factor militating against the completion of the
Ajaokuta Steel Complex. The Senator representing Cross River Central in the
Red Chamber had in an interview last year said but for corruption, the
project, which was started almost 40 years ago, would have been completed.
Obviously worried by the pitiable condition of the steel company, believed
to have the capacity of creating over two million jobs for Nigerians, he
said: “I feel sad each time I remember the story of Ajaokuta Steel Company.
The project was started when I was an undergraduate. In a few years, I would
be a graduate of 40 years. Yet, the project is still ongoing. That the
company hasn’t functioned is as a result of corruption. For Heaven’s sake,
even for the pride of the nation, I think the project has dragged on for too
long that we should be embarrassed that almost 40 years later, we are still
talking about an uncompleted Ajaokuta Steel Company.”
On whether he agreed with the argument in some quarters that there were
external forces teaming up with some selfish individuals within the country
to discourage the government from completing the project, Ndoma-Egba said,
“I don’t have evidence. I don’t have any fact. So, I can’t draw a
conclusion. But one thing I can say with certainty, if we are determined to
complete Ajaokuta Steel Company, we will complete it, external forces
notwithstanding. I mean, no amount of external forces should stop the
completion of a project capable of bringing transformation and advancement
to our economy.”
As noted in one of my previous write-ups on this issue, captioned:
“Ajaokuta Steel: An abandoned national treasure”, it is indeed unimaginable
that a project which has reached 98% technical completion as at 1992, after
engulfing over $5 billion with just about $1 billion to see it through, has
been recklessly abandoned all these years.
We must understand the fact, as accentuated by Abatemi-Usman that the
continued refusal by the federal government to make funds available for the
completion of Ajaokuta Steel is really not good for the growth and
development of the steel industry in Nigeria. Jonathan must be resolute in
making the actualization of the Ajaokuta Steel project a dream come true.
Mr. President should know he would forever be remembered and have his name
written in the Guinness Book of Records, if only he could do everything
within his power to give us a completed and fully operational Ajaokuta Steel
Company in his time.
It is expected that the National Assembly as the lawmaking body should be
able to do something about the inclusion of allocation for the completion of
Ajaokuta Steel in the country’s budget. For all intents and purposes, our
federal parliamentarians at the two chambers should, as a matter of urgency,
make provisions for Ajaokuta Steel and NIOMCO in the current budget before
them and pass a resolution on why the President must execute the project.

Michael Jegede, a journalist and public affairs analyst wrote from Abuja
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