Experts in the steel industry have kicked against the Federal Government’s alleged move to engage a British firm in reviving the Ajaokuta Steel Company.
Speaking with the News Agency of Nigeria on Friday in Abuja, the stakeholders expressed displeasure over employing a British firm to revive Ajaokuta steel, saying it would cause more problems for the company.
They noted that a Russian company called TyazhpromExport had started the foundation and construction of the steel company back in 1978 up to its present stage, adding that engaging the service of a British company to complete the project would not “be a good decision’’.
The experts were reacting to a recent announcement made by the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Mr Olamilekan Adegbite, that a British company would be engaged to complete the Ajaokuta steel company.
The NAN reports that Adegbite, at a recent ministerial media briefing in the Presidential Villa, had ascribed the option to fall back on a British firm in reviving the steel company, to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.
He explained that the arrangements with the Russian firm that was supposed to complete the revival of the company had failed because the contract was awarded to a company with vested interests in both the Russian and Ukrainian governments.
In rebuttal, the former President of the Nigerian Metallurgical Society, Prof. Benjamin Adewuyi, however, opined that the engagement of a British firm to revive the steel company “is as good as burying the company forever”.
He said that every bit of work done on the steel company was handled solely by the Russian engineers and all core equipment used for the project was provided by the same Russian company, adding that if care was not taken, the Ajaokuta steel might be eventually cannibalised in the same way the National Iron Ore Mining Company in Itakpe of Kogi state was cannibalised by the contractor it was then awarded to.
Adewuyi stated, “We know what happened at NIOMCO, how it was cannibalised by the contractor that the project was awarded to. The contractor went away with valuable equipment belonging to the company.
“Handing over Ajaokuta steel company to a British firm is just like handing over our big asset to them to incur more problems on the company.
“A Russian company, the original builder of the Ajaokuta steel knows the nitty-gritty of the project and how to revive the steel company. Why engage a British firm; did the Russian firm say it is not coming to revive Ajaokuta steel company again?
“Agreement is agreement: has Russia cancelled the agreement it signed with the Nigerian government in 2019 to take the audit report of the company and complete the steel plant?
The don said the fact that some Nigerians had an axe to grind with the agreement should not be used as a pretext for the FG to blame its decision on the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
Also, in his professorial submission, the Publicity Secretary of the NMS, Prof. Ocheri Cyril, said engaging a British firm to revive the company might even compound the moribund state of the industry.
He said, “I was not surprised to hear that Ajaokuta steel will not be completed as promised by the Federal Government.
“It is a pity that a gigantic investment such as Ajaokuta steel company that the foundation was laid in 1978 on 24,000 hectares has gone through several setbacks under past administrations.
Cyril noted that the steel company had suffered under President Obasanjo’s administration when it was a concession to an Indian company known as Global Infrastructure Nigeria Limited, stressing that the concession had generated ”lots of problems whereby the company sued the Nigerian government in the Court of Arbitration in London. I guess the case is still pending”.
He advised the FG to leave the steel company in its current form, instead of using the British company to destabilise it in the name of reviving it.