THE Ajaokuta Steel Company Ltd (ASCL) in Ajaokuta, Kogi State is the greatest signature of the failure of Nigeria to deliver one of its grand strategic national plans for rapid industrialisation. It is a generational failure which came as a result of deep seated corruption and selfish pursuits by vested interests in each succeeding regime since its incorporation in 1979.
By 1994, the Soviet experts handling the project announced that its completion had reached 98 per cent. In fact, at a point, some grades of steel products were already rolling out of the factory. However, apart from the general regime of corruption that bedeviled the project since it was first conceived as far back as 1967, the virus of selfish interests caught up with it when the gale of privatisation and commercialisation of government companies and enterprises gathered steam.
Several regimes attempted to sell the company to private operators, one of which was Global Infrastructure Nigeria Ltd (GINL) which initially won the right to run the complex. Following allegations that the nation’s interests were not being served by this concession the Federal Government settled with the owners of GlNL through arbitration for which the Goodluck Jonathan regime reportedly paid $525 million to retrieve the Complex to full federal ownership under a Modified Concession Agreement with GINL.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s regime has already announced its intention to source for a new “core investor with the financial and technical capacity to run the steel complex”, according to the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr Kayode Fayemi.
We share the concerns of the House of Representatives about the move to look for this new “core investor”. Though we believe that government has sufficiently demonstrated gross inability to run this complex, we wish to advise the Federal Government to first find out what went wrong with the first failed attempt to transfer the proprietorship of the company to private companies. Billions of naira has gone down the drain. Unimaginable corruption has bedeviled this project. Perhaps a high-powered judicial enquiry panel made up of non-political persons of integrity should be set up to probe the woes of the company and bring all perpetrators to book.
We need to do this no-nonsense house cleaning first before venturing into a new concession. Otherwise, it might simply end up as a repeat of our failed attempt under a new set of political cankerworms seeking to have a go at the ASCL cash cow.
It is a pity that the Buhari regime which promised to fight corruption did not set out early in the day to do this necessary house-cleaning but waited till close to election time to commence another questionable round of Ajaokuta concession.
When the house-cleaning is done, the concession process must be transparent, non-political and corrupt-free.