By Nwabueze Okonkwo
Dr. Philip Atanmuo, the erstwhile General Manager/Project Director of the moribund Ajaokuta Steel Complex, Ajaokuta, Kogi state has revealed how tribal sentiment, corruption and financial recklessness killed both the multi-million naira Ajaokuta and Delta Steel Complex, Aladja, Delta state. Excerpts:
What is the position of Ajaokuta and Aladja at the moment?
Their positions are nothing to write home about. While Aladja is still functioning on a shaky ground, Ajaokuta died a natural death immediately after the government board of directors who were mainly northerners forced me into retirement and replaced me with their anointed son. I came back from the United States of America in 1977 where I studied engineering up to doctorate degree level and obtained many years of working experience. In 1981, I joined Aladja as Acting General Manager but along the line, I discovered that tribal sentiment from government functionaries was weighing down the complex.
I also discovered then that our leaders were not devoted to the people’s welfare. Developed countries do not allow their steel industries to die because it gives them employment, helps them to train people and above all, help them to produce vehicle components and other components.
In the first place, the Ajaokuta steel complex was originally proposed to be sited in Onitsha, Anambra state but due to ethnic sentiment and political motive, it was moved to Ajaokuta. A steel complex of that nature could be regarded as a school which needed time to break even. We established Aladja first and it went to 10 to 25 percent production capacity.
In Aladja, somebody was supplying us certain quantity of raw materials at a cheaper rate of N600 per ton and after using the material to produce a certain quantity of iron rod, we would sell it at about N1,100. But at a stage, some government officials went and negotiated with someone else to be supplying the same quantity of raw material at a cost of N1,000.
I kicked against it but I was only a lone voice in the wilderness and eventually, the government officials dropped the contractor who supplied us the material at N600 and handed it over to the one who supplied at N1,000. It was when I expressed my disappointment about such a decision that the officials redeployed me to Ajaokuta.
As an obedient servant, I went to Ajaokuta with an open mind and settled down for work. By then, we were importing bloom and working at a low capacity with the expectations that in time to come, we should have 20,000 direct employees and 150,000 or close to 200,000 indirect employees.
Based on such an expectation, I assembled some senior staff and led them on a delegation to General Ibrahim Babangida, the then military President and appealed to him to release at least 1 billion as lifeline for us to expand.
After some persuasions and contacts, Babangida released a cheque of N500 million as part payment and promised to release another N500 million in due course, depending on our efforts to revamp the industry.
To my greatest surprise, the moment I called a meeting and showed the government officials the cheque from Babangida, they collected the cheque from me, retired me instantly and replaced me with someone else. The unfortunate aspect of it all was that they just shared the money after I had left and folded up the company.
Another unfortunate thing was that most of my assistants who were northerners, were fresh graduates. Some of them had only one or two years working experience after the National Youth Service, yet because they were northerners, they were placed on levels 14 to 16 as assistant general managers for each department. To crown it all, they brought some money to my house here after the cheque had cleared and told me it was my own part of the N500 million shared among themselves. But I drove them away with the money and told them I was not interested in their corruption.
I told them that as Chairman of Governing Council/Pro-chancellor of Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi and immediate past Dean of Studies, Faculty of Engineering, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, COOU, Uli, Anambra state and the incumbent Head of Department of mechanical Engineering, COOU, Uli, I did not need their money to survive, more so, when I was still a pensioner with Ajaokuta.
So, it would have taken about N1 billion as far back as 1992 to put Ajaokuta into full capacity production but now it will take billions upon billions of naira to start from somewhere because for the government to start from somewhere, the dilapidated water supply plant must be resuscitated, trained personnel must be assembled, the corroded electrical switches must be serviced and a lot of other things.