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Timothy: Blame government, BPE for ALSCON’s sad story

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Friday Akpan Timothy


Former Chairman of the National Union of Steel Engineering Workers (NUFEWU) ALSCON Chapter, Comrade Friday Akpan Timothy, spoke to ANIETIE AKPAN on the fate of the former workers, allegations of asset stripping among others. Journey With ALSCON

My association with aluminium outfit started in 1991, that is, from the point of clearing the land, when we had FEEROSTAAL AG, Julius Berger and other companies that were part of building ALSCON. I had the dream of growing with the firm. Not long after work commenced on the site, I was engaged by FEEROSTAAL AG, which was working with Julius Berger to erect the structure. So, from the clearing of the area, to sand filling and the erection of the building, I saw everything, and was part of the cable laying having been trained in it. I later moved from FEEROSTAAL AG to ALSCON when the latter started production. 
 
Upon commencement of production, the first consignment that was produced known as aluminium ingots was shipped out of ALSCON in 1997. This was at a time I had metamorphosed into a crane operator, and I lowered the first batch, which was the very first consignment that went out. At a point production was going on smoothly as the Americans, under Reynolds International, were running the plant. They worked in collaboration with FEEROSTAAL AG. At a point during the Abacha regime, there was an administrative issue with the Federal Government and the plant was temporary shut down. During that period, we had in place, a maintenance strategy to make sure that the plant was running. At that point, we had six gas turbines running. So, with the arrangement in place to maintain the plant, everything went on smoothly until 2003, when then President Olusegun Obasanjo, declared that the plant should be privatised. At that time, KPMG valued the plant at $3.2b. Initially the value was $4.2b, but at the time of privatisation, it was valued at $3.2b.
 
Many firms bid for the plant, but in the end, it was BFIG, with its $410m that won ahead of others and was proclaimed the winner of the bid by the BPE. But after about two months, the plant was handed over to RUSAL that were not even in third place. Consequently, it was alleged that Obasanjo and others had interest in the outfit, the reason they were handed the plant.  

Once that took place, BFIG sought legal redress, which started in 2004 till 2012 that it got a favourable verdict. The firm was about being handed the plant only for a restraining order at the behest of RUSAL to stall the process. From that point, a cocktail of litigations on several fronts, including from the BPE tossed the outfit back and forth. Since then, it has been from one court case to another. As a matter of fact, whenever the case is ruled in favour of BFIG, the other parties would promptly secure another injunction. So, as matters stand, it is RUSAL and BPE (which is a Federal Government parastatal) that are crippling this plant.
 
The plant was eventually shutdown in 2013. But before the shutdown, some of us indigenes noticed some anomalies that were taking place there, so we took steps to get the state government to appreciate the situation, since we felt it was part of our responsibilities as locals to protect a Federal Government investment in our domain. However, by the time the government decided to take some steps, the management stopped it and they were not allowed access the plant to see what we were telling them, instead they took her and her entourage to the Township Estate. There, every other member of her entourage, except her was not allowed access to the place. She was very upset and left. 

Within ALSCON, we had an association made up of locals known as Mboho Ndito Ikot Abasi in ALSCON. Among us, we gathered and feed our larger group with information about the anomalies within the complex, and the larger group took up the issue up to the state and national assemblies. Things went so bad that whenever visitors come around, they would only be shown the beautiful part of the plant, and not the vandalised parts. So, the local government council met and agreed that since the state government would not be allowed access to the plant, we should stop the vandalisation that was going on in the place our way. We reasoned that since ALSCON’s slogan is “turning waste to wealth,” there should be no room for anything like scrap to be sold at the plant. It was at that point that a group of 15 known as “ALSCON Boys Vigilante” was formed to stop trucks that were carting things away from the plant. What happened was whenever the trucks left the plant complex, we stopped them to ascertain what they were carting away. But at a point, we were sacked by ALSCON’s management. 

Just about a year after the plant was shutdown, in 2014 another judgment came in favour of BFIG, but there was still an Appeal Court injunction at the Federal High Court. And on January 23, 2018, the Appeal Court gave a ruling and it was discovered that RUSAL and BPE were the ones truncating the process of the actualisation of ALSCON. The court now fixed May 28, 2018 for another ruling on the matter. That is what we are waiting for.
 
On Plant’s Vandalisation
ALSCON has four Pot Room Lines, and FEEROSTAAL AG did the installation in Pot Rooms 1 and 2. As a crane operator, I offloaded so many imported materials and stored in Pot Room Lines 3 and 4, but all these have been vandalised. Whenever visitors come calling, RUSAL would block them from having access to the vandalised parts, and veer their attention to places like the Administration Block and few other places. But as I speak to you now, there is nothing left in Pot Rooms Lines 3 and 4. The amoured cables that were buried in all the vital areas have been dug out; all the six turbines that were working are now dead, and no facility is currently working. The cast camp that is supposed to remain active has been used in the melting of iron, instead of aluminium. The place is completely dead, and what remains now is dismantling of the roofs and the pillars. Even those things that were kept for recycling have been vandalised; and the petroleum coke is gone. Also, as a result of the poor handling of equipment, workers started having serious health problems, including having blood in their sputum when they cough. Even up till now, you still see trucks going out of the plant. As we speak, there are two billet bars of about 12 metres each that were intercepted as exhibits as they were being carted away. They are still in the council now. So many things that were kept as spare for the firm to use are all gone now. 
 
FEEROSTAAL AG built three big warehouses for replacements; they had that vision, and so kept so many things there for future use, but they are all gone through vandalisation. Sometimes when you intercept the trucks, they would tell you that, “Oga at the top is involved.”

In 2013 alone, over 50 trucks loaded things and left the plant, but we have exhibits of the items that were carted away now at the police station. When we intercept the trucks, some of the looters would petition law enforcement agencies claiming that we are armed robbers, but as far as we are concerned, what we were doing was in the interest of the country. I dare say that we were backed by the Supreme Court judgment.

RUSAL, as far as we are concerned has no right to sell anything belonging to ALSCON. Between 1999 and 2008, the place was under maintenance, and nothing was removed until RUSAL arrived and commenced the process of carting things away. Some of the looted items have been traced to a warehouse in Ota, Ogun State. They connived with the traditional and community leaders to sell out these things. The community head is backing them, and we reliably gathered that the firm did the same thing in Guinea and was driven away by the Guinean government.

Fate Of Workers 
“In the camp where the workers are living, they have not paid us our terminal benefits but they want us to leave the quarters. They are now sub-letting the quarters out to members of the public, who have money to pay, meanwhile they have not paid us our entitlement since 2006, and people are dying on daily basis. Some women have deserted their husbands and some of our colleagues are dying due to ailments that could have been treated with a little cash, while some husbands have committed suicide out of frustration. We are appealing to the Federal Government to intervene in the ALSCON matter and promptly end the sufferings of the workers. Keeping quiet while the frustration and the pains of former workers continue is a form of corruption.


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