By Emma Ujah & Emman Ovuakporie
ABUJA—Federal legislators are in a fresh push to ensure the completion of the multi-billion dollar Ajaokuta Steel Complex, ASC, as a public company.
Sources at the National Assembly, NASS, disclosed that high-level consultations are ongoing between members of the House of Representatives and senators, as well as between principal officers of NASS and some influential members of President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet to reach an amicable resolution on the firm.
The Federal Government has invested over $5.1 billion in the ASC in the last 30 years. The complex now requires only about $1 billion to be completed and put into operation.
Last Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed a Bill asking the Federal Government to spend $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to complete ASC.
Steel experts said the plant has the capacity to generate $1.7 billion annually, which implies that the $1 billion needed to complete it can be generated in the less than one year of its operation and it will save the nation huge sums of foreign exchange on steel importation.
In five years alone (2012-2016), Nigeria imported steel worth N2.215 trillion, according to the Bureau of Statistics.
The Green Chamber also amended the National Council on Commercialisation and Privatisation, NCPC Act, by removing the steel complex from the list of public firms that can be privatised or commercialised.
Vanguard, yesterday, in a chat with two lawmakers— Uzoma Nkem-Abonta and Toby Okechukwu— who participated in the debate, both gave a verdict of no retreat, no surrender.
Nkem-Abonta, who incidentally is the chairman of the ad hoc committee to midwife the completion of the project, told Vanguard that the House will override President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto if he declined to assent to the bill compelling the Federal Government to complete the steel complex.
Okechukwu, who chairs the House Committee on Works, had this to say: ”You saw for instance how the House unanimously took up the issue of Ajaokuta Steel.
“Ajaokuta is critical; it is the backbone of our economy. I am passionate about it and I have suffi-cient knowledge about it.”
“Even as a private business person, I had gone there to look for opportunities. So I am quite knowledgeable about what is happening there and it is a complexity on its own.”.
He said apart from having the potential for making the country an industrialized nation, the complex was capable of creating jobs for youth in the country and saving the huge foreign exchange spent on steel imports.
Nkem-Abonta added that under the new legislation passed by the House, states and local government could on their own volition, contribute to the completion of the project.
According to him, beyond shooting Nigeria to the enviable height of a steel producing nation, the ASC would create employment benefits for over 75,000 Nigerians outside the ancillary jobs that will be opened from service companies that will service the steel firm.
“This is a project that the current administration, especially President Buhari should take serious because it will be his legacy that it was during his tenure that the country finally became an industrialized nation.
‘’Anybody who is opposing the Ajaokuta completion law is an enemy of Nigeria, who does not want the country to develop,” he added.
Moreover, he stated that it would be a credit to the Buhari administration if he signed the bill into law for the completion of the project, insisting that he was confident that the president against all odds would sign the Ajaokuta Completion Bill into law.
“It will be a credit. He should sign the bill into law so that Ajaoukta will be the project he will go home with, but if he declines, l can assure you that we will veto him,” he added.