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‘Three reasons Ajaokuta steel complex failed to take off’

BY JIMITOTA ONOYUME
Mr SOLOMON Edebiri  is the president, Nigerian Institute of Welding, an affiliate body of the International Institute of Welding.In this interview, he  captures the recommendations of his institute to the Federal Government on the Ajaokuta Steel Company. According to him, practical steps should be taken to revive the project if Nigeria truly wants to be among the top economies in the world.

Excerpts:
Your  institute and its
technical partners from
the International Institute of Welding did a report on the Ajaokuta Steel Company. Can you give us insight into some of the key issues you came up with?

First, we looked at the stages of the firm. The first phase of the iron and steel plant was established in 1980 with initial capacity of 1.3mt per annum. The plant was based on the blast furnace process. Government’s aim of establishing the plant was mainly to pursue economic development, pursue industrial development,  provide steel for Nigeria and the West Africa sub region, and to forestall the dependence of the region on international market. The plant by 1994 was nearing  completion with some facilities 100% completed and some 98% completed.

The plant was installed with the following units: Sinter plant, lime plant, blast furnace, steel making shop, oxygen plant, billet mill, wire rod mill, medium section mill, power plant, forge shop, foundry and pattern shop, power equipment repair shop, machine and tool shop, rubberising and vu addition to the vulcanizing plant.
The steel plant also has a standard training school.

Certainly, anybody would like to know why the plant could not take off with all the government had done. Well, we blamed it on external, internal influence and the absence of political will to get the project going. A project as gigantic as Ajaokuta Steel plant needs a presidential committee to review activities on the plant.

Now, government seems to have shown interest in reviving the plant. Any piece of advice for government?
Our report is before government. But let me say again for the sake of emphasis that government should engage  professional bodies to supervise the completion, commissioning and operation of the plant without selling it to any organisation.

Government should continue to hold majority shares in the plant. If, for whatsoever reason, it is privatized, it should be partial privatization. Government should, as a matter of urgency, put into use the rolling mills.

This will help generate income to aid the completion of the other section. There should also be plant audit or facility audit of the plant. This should be done in collaboration with the professional bodies, technical experts and staff of the steel plant.

It should make efforts to build infrastructure in and around the facility. For instance, the railway link between Warri and Ajaokuta, Jakure and Itakpe, as well as roads to Ajaokuta, Okene and internally be completed.

When this project comes on stream, it will greatly transform our economy. The upstream sector of the steel making industry alone is capable of creating businesses  worth N50bn annually.  There are also opportunities in the downstream operations of the steel industry. They include transportation of raw materials, supplies of spares and equipment to the distribution of finished products.

Today, do you know we import steel worth over N60bn per annum? This ranges from billets, bloom to rolled items such as rods, bar sections, etc. It is argued that Nigeria’s current steel consumption level is about 2.5MT/A. This amount will be saved when the plant comes on stream.

In terms of jobs, the down and upstream sectors of the steel plant have the capacity to create over 315,000 jobs.
And this will help in reducing tension from youth unemployment in the country. As long as it is not business as usual, and government  heeds  the  advice of our  institute, we will be ready to give our service. We are a member of the International Institute of Welding, an international body with membership of countries running steel plants; we can get them to make this Ajaokuta project a major success. Enough is enough; government should get the steel running.


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