By Great Imo Jonathan
My article on Ajaokuta SCL was published in 2015, not knowing that my boss will be appointed to a related ministry four years after. Today one curious Facebook friend made a comment on it in one of the platforms it was shared then, a kind of subtle reminder that I once wrote concerning Ajaokuta and the possibility of bringing it back on stream and now it is within our purview. He more or less wants me publish it if I believed in what I said then. Though a long read but I wish to reproduce without changing a thing, less someone begins to think that I changed because we are now involved. No. I wrote this article even when I was the National Spokesman of a None Governmental Organization under the current First Lady Of Nigeria. I wrote to draw the attention of the current administration and to encourage us all to support our government towards its restoration.
In 2015, this post came under the title: AJAOKUTA SCL: THE TRAGEDY OF VISIONLESS LEADERSHIP
On the 4th of October, 2015, we visited Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL), located in Kogi state, North Central Nigeria. Before now, I have read stories of this national monument but sincerely, the way and manner these stories were reported and the reactions we have been getting from those in authority on those reports makes one think Ajaokuta was just like any other abandoned Nigerian company out there. What a tragedy!
Our visit to the complex as the Buharian Culture Organization (BCO) with myself being the Project Manager of Corruption Kills – Make the Connection, led by the Convener, Hajia Mariam Yakubu Ikunaiye, in company of other youth executives was indeed an eye opener. Understandably, it is difficult to give a complete account of this great industrial complex, but my worry is that our leaders who have known and have visited this landmark structure have been quiet about this national tragedy.
In case you are not aware, there is no industrial complex anywhere in Africa as we speak today that has the same potential as Ajeokuta SCL. There is an erroneous believe that it is just a steel rolling mill. That is quite unfortunate. Ajeokuta SCL is not a steel rolling mill, it is the real goose that will lay the golden eggs for Nigeria in the future if taken seriously. But the current state of the complex is a manifest evidence of how feeble minded and visionless some of our leaders have been and it is indeed the tragedy of the Nigerian nation.
Ajeokuta was conceived in 1958, two years before Nigeria’s independence. It was envisioned as the bedrock of Nigeria’s development. This is an industrial complex with 43 plants and 40 are already completed and ready for use. Don’t believe the lies that have been told over the years concerning Ajaokuta, the plants are all still very new with minimum life expectancy of about 100 years going forward. The Russian engineers who designed Ajaokuta complex, knew Nigeria is a developing nation and they went the extra mile to design a world class industrial hub with the future in mind. They did this not only as a business but also as a landmark project to stamp their authority in engineering technology on the continent of Africa and as a signature project to challenge western powers on the African soil. The attestation of the state of this complex is the result of the three consecutive technical audit on the facility by foreign assessors. They have certified the complex healthy for operation on those three occasions.
Some of the components of Ajaokuta include: Raw Materials Preparation- Sinter Plant. The raw materials preparing/sintering is equivalent to the entire structures, inclusive of plant & machinery in Delta Steel (DSCL). There are also Rolling Mills. One of the 4 rolling mills is greater in scope than the 3 inland rolling mills in Jos, Katsina and Oshogbo put together. There are Auxiliary Units also. The auxiliary units of the Lime Plant and the 2 refractory plants are technically equivalent to 3 cement plants.
Then there is an Engineering Complex. The engineering complex, though similar, is greater in scope than Nigerian Machine Tools, Osogbo. There is also an Erection Base. The entire steel structures, pipelines, equipment etc were all sub-assembled in the erection base before installation in the steel plant. And then the Utilities Section. This section comprising the power plants, industrial gases, water, etc are more sophisticated than any utility facility in the country.
Then there is a Coke Oven By-Products Plant. The infrastructure within the Coke Oven By-product plant is greater in scope than all the 4 Refineries in the country put together.
Just in case you are not also aware, Ajaokuta, has cement production component ten times bigger than Obajana cement factory. Ajaokuta has a mini see port, an air strip for emergency landing and takeoff. This beautiful industrial facility is neighbouring 6 states of the federation and is seating eastward on the bank of River Niger, with a 12 story underground building deep inside the river for water management and river control. Ajaokuta produces 1.2 million litters of water per hour, much more than Abuja gets daily. Ajaokuta blast furnace is the same as you have in all the flourishing steel plants across the world; be it Japan, USA, Europe, Russia, China and India where you have the exact capacity as we have in Nigeria. By the way, Nigeria has the same industrial potentials as any of these flourishing nations, the difference is in leadership.
Ajaokuta steel plant has the capacity to produce 17 million metric tonnes of steel per annum when the first, second and third phases are completed. This industrial complex can manufacture stone crushers and any other industrial component, both for telecommunications infrastructure, excavators, tractors, cars, ships, military hardware and steel of all sizes and shapes. With little modification, the complex can also produce rail tracks and locomotives. Currently, the complex has about 60 kilometres of rail track and locomotives within the complex for ease of operation.
Imagine a complex with such length of rail track and 24 kilometres of underground tunnel. A tunnel big enough that luxury buses can drive through it. Then, there is a cooling system for the entire industrial complex seating 144 feet under River Niger. It is indeed a wow structure.
The Nigerian military can conveniently locate its arms production factory within the complex.
Ajaokuta SCL produces over 120 megawatts of electricity, which meets its local consumption needs and donates the rest to the national grid. Within the industrial complex, iron can be produced, steel can be produced, telecommunication infrastructure can be produced, cement can produced, electricity can be generated, bricks can be produced, heavy industrial metals can be produced, rail tracks can be produced, thug ships can duck, plane can land, train operates, furniture factory exist. There are all manners of industrial capacities that Nigerians can least imagine.
Another interesting component of this complex is the diploma awarding higher institution that can train 3000 youths every year in 12 different industrial and craft skills areas and empowers the graduate to become self employed and employable on graduation. To imagine that we have this kind of school lying fallow while the Presidential Amnesty under Goodluck Jonathan has spent over 400 billion Naira abroad to train just a few number of youths from the Niger Delta is quite disheartening. Nigeria is spending huge amount of money to train youths abroad notwithstanding the existence of such an institution with the capacity for training millions of Nigerian youths. It is quite sad.
Based on design, Ajaokuta is potentially the biggest industrial facility in the whole of Africa and it has the capacity to open up the economy of over 26 states in Nigeria and instigate industrial revolution in the continent. I was told by a staff that an Indian who once visited the complex told some of the workers that Russians will never forgive Nigeria if she allows that complex to go down the drain. In Ajaokuta, Russia poured out her soul to Africa, by handing over an engineering design and industrial complex that can bring Nigeria at par with other great nations of the world.
Although many believe that the west does not want the complex to flourish because Russians are involved. Whatever be the case, Nigerian leaders should find the courage to tell the west to allow the nation to have peace. Even if the west is in a proxy war with Russia in many countries of the world, they should not punish Nigeria for seeking to develop her industrial base and to contribute to human development. Nigeria is not against America, neither is she against Russia; all that the country wants is the well being of her citizens.
It is unfortunate this is the tragedy that some weak and visionless leaders have brought upon the nation. They shutdown Ajaokuta complex; the same way they shutdown refineries and resulted to fuel importation because of what they can make out of their wicked decision. And this is at a very criminal cost to the nation. Some of these cheap characters that have had access to power have connived with outsiders to deny Nigeria the opportunity to fulfil her industrial potentials. Many Nigerians believe that western powers do not want Ajaokuta to work and Nigeria to make advances in industrial productivity, especially because Russia is involved in the project.
There is a perception amongst Nigerians that outsiders have been conniving with some past Nigerian leaders and other elements within who are only interested in primitive acquisition to frustrate the Ajaouta steel project. For example, a story has it that since Julius Berger was informed by one of Nigeria’s former leaders that at the completion of Ajaokuta complex, all the company’s metal needs especially for construction within the country should be sourced from the mill, and because of that the project have known no peace. It is believed that, that instruction did not go down well with Germans. And that because of that instruction the outside forces have mobilized their European accomplices to ensure that the project does not see the light of the day. The story also has it that Since Julius Berger was so instructed, there has been sustained attack on Ajaokuta. They are suspected to be one of those working hard to kill the complex.
At some point they were able to convince some Nigerian leader in power at the time to collaborate with western steel mafia group to create company in Liberia that was used to buy back $2.5 billion dollars Ajaokuta’s debt from Russians. At first, they made Russians believe that Nigeria was no longer ready to continue with the Ajaokuta steel project; thereby forcing Russians to seek to recover whatever they could from the $2.5 billion dollars they were being owed. In order not to lose everything, these Russians agreed to sell the $2.5 billion dollars debt to a Liberian based company for $500 million. Not knowing that the company was owned by Nigerians who were close to the seat of power at that time. They had finalized arrangement to pay themselves $2.5 billion dollars in the guise of debt buy back.
This was how these Nigerian collaborators defrauded the nation to the tune of $2.5 billion dollars, and then went ahead to ensure that any form of production in the Ajaokuta complex was put to a complete stop.
Eventually, all Russians who were involved in the debt buy back deal died ;probably for sabotaging the Russian nation. But till date, those that struck the deal at the Nigerian end have not been queried. Not only have they not been queried, no former leader have said anything about the debt buy back. Leaders after leaders have either been lily-livered that they couldn’t find the courage to do with Ajaokuta what is necessary.
The situation came to a head when former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo sold the complex to an Indian company. Eventually, the Indians themselves were not interested in operating the complex but in holding the complex down as a strategic means to advance Indian interest in steel business in Africa. To this end, Nigeria has imported over N23 Trillion naira worth of steel products in the last decade. That represent the amount of capital flight arising from abandonment of Ajaokuta SCL.
But for late President Yar-Adua who insisted on getting back the complex, Nigeria would have lost about $6.4 billion dollars investment in Ajaokuta and over 34 years of Labour by hard working citizens who have dedicated their lives to preserving the complex. There was a time when workers in the complex who have been keeping vigil and maintaining the facility were not paid for 18 months. These workers trekked 26 kilometres to the complex to ensure that equipments are safe and protected. They told us that they have dedicated their lives to making sure Nigeria does not lose this investment.
As we speak, the complex is at 98% completion. Out of 43 plants, 40 are ready for operation and workers are ever ready to go to work. Although many of the workers who were trained in Russia and who have the technical know-how to operate the machines are getting old but they are ready to train young people take over if the complex eventually becomes operational.
But what is the problem of Ajaokuta SCL you may ask? The complex needs an investment of about $500 million dollars. And this money can be sourced not from government but from investors. There is also a need for external rail lines, roads and other infrastructures beyond the facility. They are needed for bringing in raw materials and evacuating finished goods from Portharcout port to Ajaokuta and to other parts of Nigeria. Interestingly, these are facilities that will also serve the nation generally for the improvements of businesses across the country. The truth is that what is required is not just money but government attention and endorsement. With private public partnership agreement and guarantee from government, the complex can start operation today and in the next two years it can gain full operational capacity and industrial revolution can begin.
This project is a must for President Buhari if he is interested in building the economy, providing jobs for youths and instigating industrial revolution in Nigeria.
Ajeokuta SCL is located on a beautiful rocky mountain plain, covering about 10, 000 hectares of land, designed to engage 500, 000 workers and over 1. 5 million support workers, which brings the number of direct labour needed to about 2 million. With the multiplier labour effect that will influence employment in over 14 surrounding states, including Enugu, Adamawa, Kwara, Anambra, Niger and many others like Rivers. This will go a long way to reduce youth unemployment, improve national productivity and reduce crime.
Ajeokuta is also designed to accommodate 10, 000 workers in residence, with primary and secondary schools and 50 ancillary industries that can employ minimum 500 persons each within the city, bringing employment potentiality of Ajaokuta to almost 2.5 million. You can’t beat that.
Presently, the population of primary school pupils in Ajaoukta is over 6,000. Ajaokuta connects commercial activities and movements of persons from 26 states of Nigeria daily. This is a city that holds the ace for Nigeria’s industrial revolution, a tourist attraction and training ground for Nigeria’s future engineers and industrial workers.
Notwithstanding the long years of abandonment, the technical readiness already achieved has not diminished significantly as preservation of equipment and facilities are constantly undertaken by very determined and commited staff of the complex. This was confirmed by the Technical Audit Report of 2010.
Ajaokuta SCL facilities are robust, rugged and designed with 25% safety factor. Similar plants in Russia and Ukraine have been in operation for over 100 years. It will be a disaster if the nation fails to get Ajaokuta working today.
Even if there is no better rationale for revitalizing ASCL, we must at least do it in order to improve the nation’s productive capacity. At least we all know that the capacity to create value through productive labour is a key defining characteristic of human beings. Nations and civilizations have always developed through the application of human, mental and manual labour to extract a higher standard of living from nature.
Again we must desist from the belief that public sector cannot be run efficiently. That moral acclaim cannot prevail over ethics, because human institutions are expected to run on ethical standards. At worst case scenario, we can evolve a private public partnership model to strengthen the public service and moderate capitalism.
Published on October 2015
Great Imo Jonathan