BY SONI DANIEL
Workers of the Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) and Ikot Abasi community youth groups have raised the alarm over alleged asset stripping in the company, which has been without a legal management since the court sacked the Russian firm, UC RUSAL, from running it.
Although UC RUSAL suspended production in the first quarter of the year, it has nevertheless continued to lay claim to the ownership of ALSCON, insisting that the Supreme Court ruling of 2012 does not stop it from manning the steel firm.
While production has been halted, RUSAL is allegedly engaged in systematic stripping of the assets in a bid to cripple the plant and frustrate the American firm, BFIG, which the court recognised as the bonafide buyers of the firm. RUSAL dismissed the allegation, saying it was merely ridding its territory of obsolete assets.
The workers, under the aegis of the Metal Products Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (MPSSAN), alleged that UC RUSAL had been dismantling and selling for cash stem rods and anodes, vital components of the plant used in the manufacture of steel ingots.
A spokesman of the workers association told reporters in Abuja that the Russian firm, which had failed in recent times to pay salaries to workers, was also cutting and melting the bussbar/risers used in transmitting electric current to the production pots for melting aluminium and selling them as ingots.
It was also gathered that about 20 fairly-used company cars are slated for immediate disposal.
The MPSSAN spokesman, who pleaded that his identity be protected to avoid being victimised, said the cut stem rods and anodes were often sold to some Chinese customers.
Industry experts gave the current estimated market value of the bussbar/risers, which have never been used since the completion of the plant in 1998, at over N1billion, while each of the about 4,200 stem rods and anodes at the plant was valued at over $100,000.
The workers alleged that the Russians, working with three top Nigerian managers in the plant, have been actively selling off core assets of the firm without rendering accounts to anyone.
An aggrieved worker alleged, “The Russians have put everything in place to sell the remaining coke and alumina from the silos.
“When they took over the plant in 2007, they inherited over 8,000 metric tonnes of alumina; 5,200 pieces of anode blocks; 5,820 pieces of cathode blocks; over 8,000 anode stems; over 200 tonnes of cryolite and over 170,000 tonnes of cast iron. Why they now want to sell even cast iron blocks, together with the pots, is mind boggling”.
The workers said they were compelled to bring the matter to public knowledge after reports to government representatives on the Board of ALSCON, including the Director General, Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Benjamin Dikki, and the Deputy Director (Steel) in the privatization agency, Mohammed Dikko, about the development at the plant failed to yield result.
Following the allegation of the cannibalisation of the plant, community youths, under the platform of ‘Mboho Ikot Abasi’, wrote to the Managing Director of ALSCON, Stanislav Kruglyashav, demanding to meet with him to express their concern, and requested to tour the facility to verify the allegations.
But the request was turned down.
Dissatisfied by the company’s action, the community, in a letter to the Managing Director, dated August 2 and signed by the President General, Donatus Uko, and Secretary General, Genesis Udoh, the “Mboho Ikot Abasi” expressed concern over the rejection of their request, saying the firm must discontinue the “systematic cannibalisation of the plant facilities.”
UC RUSAL Director, Communication/Meida, Tatyana Smirnova, in response to media enquiry, described the allegation by the community as “misleading and does not correspond to reality.”
According to Smirnova, ALSCON is presently cleaning its territory of unrealizable assets, obsolete and not suitable for use equipment, which cannot be utilised for production of aluminium.
“In addition, I would like to emphasise that the acquired equipment is the property of RUSAL and makes a part of modernisation program that was implemented from 2007 till 2012. RUSAL has put around $US159.4 million of its own investments into the plant,” she added
DG of BPE, Dikki, denied knowledge of any letter from the community on the issue.
When told that BFIG also claimed to have sent a similar letter to the BPE to intimate it of the issue, Dikko said, “Any such letter from BFIG would not be taken seriously,
“Nobody will act on any letter on the issue from BFIG. They have not been fair to us. All the reports about ALSCON in the media are from BFIG, which is causing us troubles”.
But BFI Group’s Executive Vice President, Public Relations, Frank Shearer, in a telephone interview, said his company, which he described as the real owners of ALSCON, was surprised “at the level of sabotage at the plant”, saying after the allegations from insider sources, BPE was promptly notified with a view to ensuring that steps were taken.
“Yes, we are aware of the on-going attempts to bring the plant to a state that it would become difficult for any investor to resuscitate and operate successfully after the Russians must have left”, he said..
“We feel that the ongoing assets stripping of ALSCON by the Russians, who are supposed to transform it into a national productive asset for job creation and foreign exchange earnings is a deliberate attempt to further undermine Nigeria’s efforts to transform her economy into a leading player in the world.”