By Kola Adeyemi
Lokoja – The Ajaokuta Steel Company Ltd. ( ASCOL) built at a cost $4.6 billion may eventually collapse unless the country quickly confronts foreign and local interests working against its completion.
The Sole Administrator of the company, Mr Joseph Onobere, disclosed this at the weekend while briefing a team of journalists at the company’s complex.
They were led by the President; Nigeria Union of Journalists ( NUJ), Alhaji Waheed Odusile, and the President of the Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE), Mrs Funke Egbemode
The journalists were on tour of the steel complex as part of activities marking 2017 Democracy Day lecture organized by the Kogi State’s Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).
Onobere said that should the project collapse finally, Nigeria might never be in a position to build another one.
“Successive governments have been paying lip service to the project and, painfully, leave it the way they met it,” he said.
The Sole Administrator said that project had remained at the stage where it was abandoned by the Russians in 1994.
Onobere said that only $400 million was required to complete the project which the country had already spent $4.6 billion.
“The project is 98 per cent completed and the problem is not within Ajaokuta itself but external infrastructure.
“ Since 1994 when the plant was abandoned, nothing has been done,” he said.
As at 1994 when ASCOL was abandoned, Onobere explained that 40 units out of the 43 units of the integrated steel plant were 100 per cent completed.
“The main reason why the plant could not be inaugurated in 1994 was just the logistics that would be involved in the supply of imported raw materials, especially, the coking coal.
“ The rail bridge for the company was completed in 1983 by the Shehu Shagari-led administration, this ought to have been the costliest aspect of the plant.
“Between 1983 and today, not one metre has been added. After getting to that percentage of completion, the plant could not be inaugurated then because there was no way to bring the coking coal.
“That has been the main factor for 24 years and nothing has been done in that respect,” he said.
However, he said that the present administration had been taken steps to do something about the steel plant.
According to him, the gang up against the project has been so enormous but the luck Nigeria has is the type of dedicated and patriotic staff working in the company.
“ Otherwise, there would have been no place like Ajaokuta Steel Company anymore. All the steel plants are built on top of water because their water requirements are very much,’ he said.
He also described the equipment and other facilities at the plant as very durable but can deteriorate over time.
“So, in essence, for us to inaugurate this plant to produce liquid steel, the rail line must be inaugurated to service the plant.
` This has been the situation and up till now, the way forward has not been finalized,” he explained.
The Sole Administrator commended the journalists for seizing the initiative to visit the company, describing the action as patriotic.
He, however, appealed to them to be part of efforts to resuscitate the company, saying that journalists should be vigilant and guide against being used to kill the company.
The President of the NUJ, Mr Waheed Odusile, who responded on behalf of the team, described the state of things at the company as an embarrassment and an indictment of previous administrations.
He urged the present administration to write its name in gold by revamping the company which he said was critical to Nigeria’s quest for economic growth and self reliance.
Also on the tour are the Director -General, Kogi State Bureau of Information and Grassroots Development, the Chairman of the state council of the NUJ, Alhaji Adeiza Momoh Jimoh among others.