Mr Olamilekan Adegbite, Minister of Mines and Steel Development, has re-emphasised the Federal Government’s determination to ensure that Ajaokuta Steel Complex is resuscitated within the shortest possible time.
The minister, who made this assertion when he featured at the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) forum, explained the government’s plans and the situation of the complex, which is on 24,000 hectares of land in Ajaokuta, 38km from Lokoja.
He said though the COVID-19 pandemic affected the government’s efforts to resuscitate Ajaokuta Steel Complex as planned, some milestone achievements were made before the lockdown that was necessitated by the pandemic.
According to the minister, the Federal Government is determined to ensure that steel was produced again from Ajaokuta for both local consumption and possible export.
“We will continue to build on the momentum that has been set by others, but among other things, we are working on Ajaokuta Steel Complex and we have made some milestone achievements to resuscitate the complex working with Russians and Afrexim Bank,” he said.
The minister added that contrary to the opinion of some persons, the about N3 billion yearly budget for the complex was necessary to pay the salaries of staff who kept it alive even though it was not producing.
The minister said on assumption of office in August 2019, he actually questioned the rationale behind the government’s decision to maintain a yearly budget for the complex even when it was not producing, but had a rethink when he visited it.
“It was the first thing I questioned, that look, if Ajaokuta had not been producing since 1994, they did some epileptic production, but that had stopped since 1994, how can we be budgeting about N3 billion for Ajaokuta every year.
“What is the use over it, a place that is not producing and I questioned it, but upon my visit to Ajaokuta I had to now take that word back, realising why government had been paying, and why it was necessary to do so.
“If you go to Ajaokuta today, Ajaokuta is a whole city on its own and government had expended so much money, they have expended about $6 billion dollars establishing Ajaokuta, not just the plants, the residential areas, the infrastructure.
“If government had not been budgeting this kind of money for the staff, who are still there which I saw, there won’t be any Ajaokuta to talk about again today.
“We all know what it is in Nigeria, if you abandon a building for even six months, you go back there you will not find any window again, it is unfortunate, Nigerians are just who we are,” the minister said.
According to Adegbite, but for the staff of the complex who are still being paid salaries by the Federal Government, the infrastructure and metals there would have been vandalised and the place would have become a ghost town.
The minister explained that the yearly budget for the complex was essentially for staff wages and some running cost.
He said he was impressed by what he saw at the complex when he visited it in October 2019, adding that even the equipment at the complex were taken on dry runs.
He added that with this, what the Russians were coming to do to ensure the resuscitation of the complex would be a lot easier compared to if the complex had been completely abandoned since 1994 with nobody there.
Adegbite admitted that while some of the equipment at the complex may have become obsolete, especially the electronics in terms of technology, the state of its physical infrastructure was impressive.
“Money being spent there over the years is money well spent.
“It is not just to rehabilitate, but to keep the place alive, which is what government is doing by budgeting about N3 billion yearly for staff salaries and running cost, ” the minister said.
He further explained that the government was banking on Russians to resuscitate the complex because they were its original builders.
According to him, Russians are pledging $450 million dollars while Afrexim Bank is pledging $1 billion dollars, totaling $1.45 billion dollars to fix Ajaokuta and the National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO).
The minister had earlier said that the COVID-19 pandemic had limited the government’s ability to go forward on the Ajaokuta Steel project, saying that it was four to five months behind its planned schedule to resuscitate the complex before the pandemic.
This, he said, was specifically so because Russian experts who were supposed to come for the technical audit of the complex could not come into the country because of the pandemic and the ban on international flight operations.
He added that the idea was for the experts to come into the country and be hosted for 12 weeks within which they were expected to do a proper audit of the complex.
He said this had been put on hold until the lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ban on international air travel was lifted.
“When this is lifted and we think it is safe enough, these experts will come into the country and we will continue where we stopped,” he said.
He added that the Ajaokuta Project Presidential Implementation Team (APPIT) was, however, still working but that the audit was very important to it.
According to him, the technical audit report is necessary to enable the APPIT know the cost implication to resuscitate the complex and make it fully operational.
He added that because of the complexity of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex, online audit was not possible as people had to be physically present.
NAN reports that the complex, conceived in 1976, was aimed at establishing a metallurgical process plant and engineering complex with other facilities.
The company is meant to generate important upstream and downstream industrial and economic activities that are critical to the industrialisation of Nigeria.
The complex tagged: “Bedrock of Nigeria’s Industrialisation’’, is also designed to produce iron and liquid steel from mines at Itakpe, in Kogi, some 52km from Ajaokuta.
The project has achieved over 90 per cent completion.(NAN)