By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
The Federal Government said, yesterday, that the ongoing Russia-Ukraine and outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic have thwarted efforts to revive Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill.
The government also, alternatively, has engaged a British firm to revive the struggling steel company for free, unlike the initial discussions with the Russian firm that would have cost $2 million.
Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, who stated this while fielding questions from State House correspondents at the weekly ministerial media briefing organised by the Presidential Communications Team at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said the promise to deliver the project in 2022 was no longer feasible.
“Where we are today, we may not be able to get Ajaokuta to work but I pray that we can start something permanent,” he said, expressing hope that something could be started on it that would be permanent.
The minister revealed that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the release of $2 million for the conduct of a technical audit of the mill as demanded by Russians before the restart of its implementation.
Explaining that the technical audit was necessary to ascertain the condition of the facility before restarting the work, he said: “In October 2019, Buhari and Russia’s Vladmir Putin met at the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi and agreed to revive the uncompleted Ajaokuta steel mill.”
He said just as arrangements were being made to commence the process, COVID-19 broke out and put a halt to all activities, forcing a force majeure.
He said as the government moved to continue the earlier negotiations with Russia, following the lockdown, progress was again stopped by the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war.
The minister, who maintained that the approved $2 million was still intact, as it had not been paid out, absolved government of blame over the non-completion of the project.
Adegbite said: “I told you on Ajaokuta, by the grace of God, we will start an irreversible process. The problem with Ajaokuta is actually what we call force majeure. Nobody thought of COVID because the plan was to deliver Ajaokuta this year.
“I’ve said it before, when we came back from Russia. Yes, I went to the public and said, look we will deliver Ajaokuta before the end of this tenure. And I pray that I’ll have a chance to go back and apologise and explain what happened to the people before I leave office.
“Yes, it is through no fault of ours, we were ready to go but unfortunately, COVID became a force majeure.”
Local bitumen processing
Adegbite noted that the country was blessed with huge bitumen deposits that had been left untapped, while the one required for road construction, bitumen, was being imported.
He said his ministry had finalised plans to auction the deposits for processing to serve Nigerian road construction needs, reduce cost and create employment.
He said: “We are going to auction now bitumen in June, this will bring a lot of money. A lot of foreign companies are showing interest in our bitumen. This is even better than bitumen is found in Canada.
“So, we have a lot of Canadian companies which have shown interest, because Canada supplies the largest volume of bitumen to the world now. So, we have a lot of companies coming from Canada.
“They want to participate in our bitumen project that will create jobs, give value to government, and, of course, help when it comes to our projects, road construction.”
44 minerals found in Nigeria
The minister disclosed that government was reviewing the Mining Act 2007 to bring it up to date, saying that 44 solid minerals had been found in over 500 locations in Nigeria, with many in commercial quantities.
According to him, the mineral deposits are broadly categorised according to their uses, into five groups.
Speaking on his achievements in office, Adegbite said his ministry was currently working on projects across the six geopolitical zones which would be commissioned by July this year,
Others include the launching of made-in-Nigeria barite, establishment of mining-related clusters in the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria, and Jewellery Making Training Center in Abuja, where 45 students recruited from all the 36 states and FCT are being trained on Jewellery making.
“We are about to conclude the Bitumen Auction, we have completed the automation of the Mining Cadastre System to meet international standards for online mining title and license applications and approvals
‘’The Ministry also has large scale gold production platform through Segilola Gold project and proposed refining through Dukia Gold and Kian Smith.
“ The famous Ladi Kwali Pottery Center is being remodelled and resuscitated to train Nigerians in Modern pottery and ceramic works.
He noted that the Nigeria Mining Development Company NMDC has signed a Memorandum of Understanding MOU with the DICON to produce alloys hitherto imported from China.
“Under the MoU, Brass will be processed for Armament and Lead for Ammunition. We have repositioned the SMDF and we are finalizing an amendment to the act to further institutionalize the fund along global best practices,’’ he said.
Adegbite revealed that Nigeria has commenced gold exports through the Segilola resource development, which is expected to export 100,000 ounces of gold annually
He said: “Their production capacity is 100,000 ounces per annum. You can plan on that. We know how much we are charging per ounce of gold at that rate. So you know that in a year, this is what we are expecting.
‘’We charge at 3% but the price will vary because our price is based on the cost that is going at the international market. The New York exchange will quote the price of gold at any particular point in time.’’