A coalition of Civil Societies on Thursday, identified poor funding as ‘the biggest challenge hindering the timely revival of the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited,’ noting that the Year 2022 Budget Proposal of the Federal Government grossly undermines efforts being made to industrialize Nigeria.
In a communiqué issued at a one-day National Conference on the Revival of Ajaokuta Steel Company and President Muhammadu Buhari Industrialization Agenda, the conference which was convened by NGO Network in collaboration with the Institute for Governance and Leadership Studies in Africa and CSO Coalition for the Revival of Ajaokuta Steel Company, in Abuja, on Thursday November 25, 2021, stakeholders agreed that the ‘current statutory allocation of meager one hundred and fifty million Naira as yearly overheads should be increased in three folds or more, to enable the steel sector function effectively,’ while it is strongly advised government to collaborate with the organized private and non-profit sectors of Nigeria to seek alternative funding sources for the mines and steel industries, including fundraising.
While commending the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari for his commitment to reviving Ajaokuta Steel Company, as well as commending the NGO Network, Institute for Governance and Leadership Studies in Africa and the CSO Coalition for the Revival of Ajaoukta Steel Project for their patriotism, selflessness, steadfastness and commitment to a national project of serious importance, the participants observed that there has been long delay in the completion of the Ajaokuta Steel Company due to lack of Political Will until President Muammadu Buhari came to power in Year 2015.
According to the communiqué, which was signed by the Chairman of the Conference, Otunba Dele Ajayi-Smith, Dr. Idris Jimoh and two others, ‘the delay in the revival of the steel industry spanning over thirty years has caused untold hardship to workers, retirees, youths and women across borders that have skills, and trained but not utilized, thereby increasing redundancy, capacity gaps and unemployment in large scale, crimes and drug abuse among teenagers.’
Stakeholders lamented that infrastructural development has been undermined along the mining and steel areas which include roads, electricity, water supplies and has set the nation steadily backwards over a long period of time. They called on the government and the organized private sector and communities to work together to restore the lost glory of the Nigerian steel sector.
Participants observed that there has been a disconnect between the local people, state and federal government on the value addition of local communities, a problem stakeholders said was responsible for the crises recorded in the past that led to destruction of properties and wrecking of national assets at the feeder Agency – the National Iron Ore Mining Company, Itakpe.
The communiqué said: ‘Participants commend President Muhammed Buhari’s commitment to the revival of the steel industry as exhibited in his visit to Russia, setting up the Ajaokuta Presidential Project Implementation Team (APPIT) and a recommendation to negotiate with foreign partners on the legal tussles caused by the termination of the contract, but appealed that he should go a step forward by ensuring adequate and regular order to the supervising Ministry to ensure the foreign partners commence the Audit of Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL) and National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO).’
The stakeholders encouraged the government to include representatives of civil society organizations in the Ajaokuta Presidential Project Implementation Team (APPIT) as a way of promoting inclusiveness and ownership by the people.
It said in order to reduce unemployment among youth in the country, government should ensure the commencement of audit of Ajaokta Steel Company and its feeder company, National Iron Ore Mining Company, Itakpe, adding that there is need to initiate the recall of retired staff who have the experience and technical knowhow to help in training of the younger generation, noting that it will help to reduce the cost of foreign experts to train inexperienced workers.
Stakeholders also called on government to declare a state of emergency on the federal roads connecting Lokoja, Ajaokuta, Itakpe, Okene and environs for enhanced social economic activities, while noting that the revival of the steel plant will assist greatly in revamping the power generation to the companies and adjourning states and FCT.
While hailing the ongoing proposal at the National Assembly for the establishment of a Steel University in Nigeria to be situate in Kogi State for the purpose of training of youths without capital flight, participants encouraged the Buhari administration to set up a Community Relations Initiative that will identify certain statutory benefits to the people of the host communities, as compensation should be put in place by the Federal Government with adequate funding and monitoring.
The conference, which theme was ‘Ajaokuta Steel Project and President Muhammadu Buhari’s Industrialisation Agenda,’ re-emphasized the notion that Ajaokuta Steel Project remains a legacy Project of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration, while identifying gaps in the completion of the Project and recommend appropriate remedial actions.
The conference attracted over one hundred participants drawn from relevant sectors of the economy, including the government, organized private and the not-for-profit sectors. These include the Presidency and relevant officials from Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Management Staff of Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited and National Iron Ore Mining Company of Nigeria. Others include a coalition of civil society organizations from across the country, media chief executives, relevant unions, NGOs, non-state actors and community based organizations.
In his keynote address, titled ‘Ajaokuta Steel Project Revival as a Legacy Project of President Muhammadu Buhari,’ the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Arc. Olamilekun Adegbite explained that several attempts have been made to complete and operate ASCO, noting that the establishment of an Interim Management Committee and the signing of Memorandum of Understating with private sector investors for operation of some of the completed units of ASCO was one of the efforts of the administration.