It’s our collective shame Ajaokuta Steel is not completed, says Dogara
• ‘Government Can Afford $500m To Complete Complex’
What is your mission to Ajaokuta Steel?
We are here because of our desire to see how we can kick-start the process of economic recovery. The bedrock of economic recovery of any nation is industrialisation and without developing the steel sector, there can’t be progress. Nigeria has the potentials. Indeed, anyone that comes here is likely to say, ‘I have come to a fertiliser plant.’ And he is right. He can also say, ‘I have come to a power generating plant,’ and because they have the power to generate 100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the entire Kogi and Edo States, you can say he is right. And if he says, ‘I have come to see a workshop,’ and because it is the biggest workshop in Africa, with provision for a jet that can take delivery of shipment, he will be very correct.
Why has it been difficult to fix the complex?
The priority for us as leaders is to first agree that we want to immediately develop this place and put it into operation, because of the humongous economic benefit that will arise from here, which is about 10,000 automatic jobs for engineers, as well as thousands of other jobs for technicians and other staff. This is beside other things that will open up from all that, engaging a lot of people that will bring prosperity to the nation. And then there is the aspect of lots of economic activities, with people coming here to establish industries because of the availability of cheap sources of energy due to power generated here, as well as access to gas links with the south south.
So, all the incentives are there, as well as the infrastructure you need to develop this place. Once we have come to that determination, the onus is on us as leaders to start the process, the due process of Nigeria’s industrialisation. Then the next questions should be: how much is required? How do we fund it? The argument has been made that it may require billion of dollars to put this plant into operation, but that has been faulted by our visit here. We understand that all we need is about $500 million. But we cannot pass legislation compelling the executive to devote that kind of money. That is not what we intend to do. Rather, we intend to collaborate with the executive to see what available sources government can utilise to complete the project. And as suggested by Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi, what are we doing with all the recovered looted money? Is the money yielding any interest? If not, why can’t we use the money to complete this place? If that money is not enough, we can look to excess crude account, which belongs to all tiers of government in the federation. When completed, the complex will generate income. So, even if it means borrowing to complete this project, it would serve as national pride, not only to Nigerians, but blacks all over the world, who would be proud to say this is Nigerian steel we are using. Borrowing money from the excess crude account would need some form of legislative intervention, which we are prepared to give.
Are there still plans to concession the complex?
We are talking about collaboration. It is not about controlling anybody, but bringing all the stakeholders to a table to agree that this is the project that we need to execute in the general interest, welfare and well-being of our people and saying that wherever the money is, as a nation, we must find it. I believe the money is there. Presently, we are talking of building the power plant in the northeast, which is going to consume hundreds and thousands of tonnes of steel. We are also talking about the second Niger Bridge. Do you know how many hundreds of thousands of tonnes of steel it would consume? So, are we going to send all that money abroad in order to buy steel, when with a fraction of that amount, we can complete this plant, supply all the steel that we need to complete this power plant in Ajaokuta and build the second Niger Bridge? This is the dilemma we are faced with as a nation, and our own resolve is that it must be completed, no matter where we get the money. We are compelled to give the executive the legislative backing to complete this plant. Once it is completed, we can now begin to talk about how to run it. Personally, I don’t care even if it is outsourced. The point is the sustenance over a long period of time, so that the job does not dry up; that what we are doing does not end at the middle of the road after completion, but is sustained for the economic prosperity of this great nation.
I have been briefed that as soon as we put the plant into operation, there will be 10,000 jobs for engineers and technical staff immediately. And that is even at the first phase, not to talk of non-core engineering staff, because of splinter economic activities, when the plant starts operation. There will be a projected two million jobs out there.
Those in the executive are always bothered about money. I heard the minister of state, who was once our colleague, saying government does not have the resources to finish it, that we have to look elsewhere. I beg to disagree with him. We don’t need money; all we need is leadership. Wherever in the world you see development, it is not money that brought it. As a matter of fact, it is even leadership that brings the money. We are not putting the blame on the executive’s doorstep. All of us are leaders and really, it is our collective shame that up till now, we have not been able to finish and put into operation this factory that started long ago, especially in view of the promises it holds.
Is there any commitment on government’s part to revive the complex?
Yes, and that is why I specially thank President Muhammadu Buhari for, at least, giving us the basis for this visit. For some of us, Ajaokuta has always been on our minds, but practically nothing could be done before now, as there were some misunderstandings that stalled the operation and concession of this plant and that was before arbitration, which was not even in Nigeria, but in London. And that is why we are calling on him to show the same kind of leadership, that just exiting from the arbitration is not enough, this plant must be up and running.
What is the way forward?
Personally, I have resolved that very soon, there will be more activities by the legislature to kick-start activities that will lead to this project’s completion. We have what we call in the House, sectorial debate. We want to use that medium to call on the Kogi State governor, community representatives, the ministry, as well as all stakeholders, we will bring them to the floor of the House during live debate and we can even bring the chairman of EFCC to tell us how much they will give us and the management of Sovereign Wealth Fund, even those who are managing our excess crude account. We just have to complete this project.