By By Dapo Akinrefon, Emman Ovuakporie & Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA—Witnesses at a sectoral debate on the revival of moribund Ajaokuta Steel Company organised by House of Representatives, yesterday, revealed that politicians and government officials were frustrating the completion of the complex.
They also stated that the balkanization of the complex, which had given vents to moves to concession the complex, was being championed by officials with vested interest.
In the meantime, the House of Representatives has directed the Federal Government to halt the concessioning moves.
The House also resolved to set up a powerful adhoc committee to probe all the allegations raised about the consessioning and the completion of the company.
Testifying before the House, one of the witnesses, Hadiza Akpoti, specifically fingered Governor of Kogi State, Yaya Bello as one of those deeply involved in the Ajaokuta Steel Complex scam.
In her presentation, Akpoti alleged that Global Infrastructure, the concessionaire of the steel complex has a direct link with Gov Bello, who probably is a co-owner of the company registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission,CAC, as Ajaokuta Company Ltd.
She said: “The government of Shehu Yar’Adua had indicted Global Infrastructure after an administrative panel had recommended it should not run the affairs of the complex.”
The company went into arbitration and finally won and the Goodluck Jonathan government paid Global Infrastructure $525million as compensation.
A former Attorney General in the Yar’Adua government was said to have played a prominent role to ensure the company won.
Regrettably, Akpoti said: “It’s this same company that has returned as concessionaire working with a company suspected to be owned by the Governor of Kogi State.”
The witness also stated that she had made several calls to the Economic and Crimes Commission, EFCC to reopen the case against Global Infrastructure but to no avail.
“Last year, we wrote to EFCC several times to reopen the case because we believe that a crime against Ajaokuta is a crime against Nigeria”, she said.
Akpoti also numbed the argument that Nigeria lacked the financial capabilities to complete the project.
“If the Minister of Finance were to be here, I would have asked a very. Important question. How can we say that Nigeria doesn’t have the financial capabilities to revive Ajaokuta? It is not true. We do have funds.”
Also revealing the participation of the former minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, the activitst cautioned against concessioning the complex to individuals.
“Concession agreement by Adoke in Jonathan’s era. Did he review the agreement of the same agreement.
“Ajaokuta is too important to be in the hands of one individual. A company that as it is should be the property of the federal government of Nigeria. The idea that somebody can own such a magnificent building create an uncontrollable greed.”
She also asked the federal government to turn to the loots stashed in foreign accounts by the former Head of State, Sanni Abacha as an avenue to fund the project.
Other presenters which included Comrade Isa Aremu from the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, Engr. Sanusi Mohammed, Chairman, African Iron and Steel Producing Countries had underscored the importance of the complex to the Nigerian economy, asking the lawmakers to stand against its concessioning.
Halt concession, Reps tell FG
Suspicious of under-hand dealings in the unapproved concessioning of Ajaokuta Steel Company, the House of Representatives asked the Federal Government to halt the moves.
The House also resolved to set up an high powerful adhoc committee to investigate all allegations, indictments and factors militating against the completion and operation of the company, said to have the capacity of generating millions of jobs for Nigeria.
Members of the House while taking the decision expressed concerns that government could fathom such thought to commit an-all important sector of the economy into the hands of a few individuals.
In his contribution, the Deputy Speaker of the House, Yusuf Lasun, said: “We are not ready for development. It touches on how we are running our government.’’
Also, the leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila said the ministry of Solid Minerals and Steel Development should halt the concession moves.
He said: “That the ministry should put hold on whatever they are doing. How does a nation concession a company that has the potential of manufacturing weapons? It is unconstitutional to concession a major sector of the economy. I think it’s time to roll our sleeves and dig deep on what is going on with Ajaokuta.”
Also speaking, Aminu Shagari from Sokoto State recalled that a certain European had boasted that Nigeria wouldn’t be made another “Japan” of Africa.
“Most of what we need to do about Ajaokuta steel company has already been said. A highly placed European told my Dad that we cannot allow Nigeria to be another Japan of Africa”, he said.
On her part, Betty Apiah from Rivers State suggested the setting up of an adhoc committee to probe the matter.
“The House should set up an adhoc committee to collate the various perspectives”, she said.
Tajudeen Yusuf stated that “No country would love Nigeria better that Nigerians. Corruption has no party affiliation. Let’s commit ourselves to see this to the end.”
Ruling on the matter, speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, said that the company must not be concessioned.
He said: “All of us are deeply touched. It must not be concession. Concession to Global Infrastructure wouldn’t work. The decsion of this house is that we will constitute a powerful adhic commiitee and I want to implore the Minister and all those working with him to avail themselves of this opportunity to cooperate with the committee.
“Halt any further plans to concession. Until that adhoc committee is able to turn in their decision. There is no country out there that will help us except if we do this moreso now we are borrowing money from China. When we talk about the money, we have the money and I believe we can find unless we are not serious.”
Reps pass vote of no confidence on Ministers Fayemi, Bawa
Earlier, the House had passed a vote of no confidence on the Minister of Solid Minerals and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi.
Equally declared unfit to occupy a portfolio in public office was the Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Abubakar Bawa Bwari.
The vote followed the non-appearance of the two ministers to the sectoral debate.
Most members of the House had taken turns to describe their non-appearance as a contempt to the House and executive recklessness.
This came after speaker of the House, Dogara read a series of communications between the ministers and the leadership of the House in response to their invitation to the debate.
The Ministers through the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Abubakar Mu’azu, had cited foreign engagements as their reasons for not attending to the debate, subscribing to the concessioning as the only option available to the government.
Pained by the position of the Ministers, especially their non appearance. the House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila said in a motion: “ I now move that this House does move a vote of no confidence on the two ministers of the federal republic of Nigeria.”
In his remarks, the Speaker of the House, Dogara warned that it would be an exercise in futility to “fight” the House.
He said: “It will amount to stupidity for anyone to engage in a box match with the institution of the legislature. We represent the people. We were elected and the Perm Secretary wasn’t elected and that the difference. If they choose to engage us this way, because they are our friends, we can only wish them hard luck.”
Why we passed vote of no confidence on the ministers-House Spokesman
Briefing journalists after the sectoral debate, spokesman of the House, Abdulrazak Namdas, said the ministers showed no respect for the institution of legislature.
He said: “Their action simply point to the fact that they have no respect for the legislature and make people insinuate that there’s crisis between the executive and the legislature.
“The essence of organizing the debate is to enable the ministers meaningfully contribute to the debate and proffer the way forward but see how they rubbishes the whole exercise.
“The steel industry has potential of employing over 20,000 workers yet they chose to treat it with levity.”
Reacting to the vote of no confidence passed by the lawmakers, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr Kayode Fayemi, said it was unfair for the legislators to categorise their absence as a boycott, even as he described their action as “most unwarranted and unfortunate.”
Special Assistant to the minister, Mr Yinka Oyebode, stated that “while the offices of the two ministers have been inundated with countless media enquiries regarding their absence shortly after the pronouncement, it is important to state unequivocally that the inability of the two ministers to attend the debate was duly communicated to the leadership of the House in two separate letters.
“One then wonders why the House members took such a draconian stance against the two ministers who have very cordial relationships with the National Assembly. It is rather unfair for the House members to categorise the ministers absence as “boycott”, when they were adequately notified.
“Tolerance and moderation are essential ingredients in public service engagement. In this particular case, they appear to be in short supply and the ministry believes that there is more than meets the eye on this matter.
‘’After all, the ministers are always willing to engage the honourable House and its leadership at all times. It is on record that Fayemi was the first minister to address the sectoral debate in 2016 and the Ajaokuta Steel Complex was extensively addressed on that occasion.
‘’Subsequently, the House Committees on Privatisation and Public Petitions held special sessions on Ajaokuta and the Minister of State, Bawa Bwari, addressed the members on those two occasions. Given this past record, today’s action is most unwarranted and unfortunate.”