The company’s core mandate is to produce and deal in iron and steel products. With zero capital budget, this mandate being unrealizable at the present stage of development of the steel plant project coupled with the non-completion of the associated external infrastructure, without which the Steel Plant cannot be commissioned.Recently the Sole Administrator of the company, Engr. Joseph Onobere Isah presented some facts on the challenges and progress of the steel plant before the members of the House of Representatives Committee on Steel Development in Abuja. At the meeting Isah described the Ajaokuta Steel Plant as a fully Integrated Iron and Steel Plant that is wholly owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria and that it was being developed in three phases. He said the plant was designed based on the blast furnace technology which is the most popular process for steel production accounting for about 70 per cent of liquid steel production worldwide for several years. Plants similar to Ajaokuta, he added, are known to have remained in production for over a century in Ukraine and Russia. According to him, “Most of the local raw materials required for iron and steel making occur within quite proximal locations, about 100km radius from Ajaokuta.”He said following the Technical Audit of the Plant in 2010, it was estimated that about USD 1.2billion is required to achieve the total rehabilitation, completion and commissioning of the plant and balance of external infrastructure. This is made up of USD513million for the Plant andUSD687million for the external infrastructure.Work on the first phase, Isah said, “has remained at about 98 per cent completion stage since 1994. Government stopped further capital development on the plant ostensibly due to dearth of funds.”He said the plant is not a rolling mill as many people believed, explaining that the Ajaokuta Steel Plant has indeed, four rolling mills namely; the Billet Mill, the Light Section Mill, the Wire Rod Mill, and the Medium Section and Structural Mill. The four mills themselves constitute only a part of the Steel Plant. He stated that as an integrated plant by design it has all the facilities to sustain the production of iron and steel from the basic raw materials and further process it into finished products.However, Ajaokuta Steel Plant was still a project, because some of its primary plant units were yet to be completed and commissioned for liquid steel production, saying that about 40 of the 43 units that make up the Integrated Steel Plant have been completed.Isah, who was summoned by the House Committee on Steel to defend allegations that the plant was unproductive and that the staff were being paid N3.4 billion monthly for being idle, refuted the wage-bill and the alleged 6,000 staff-strength, stating that the number of staff was far less and that they were necessary to keep the plant running until all components were ready for the production of liquid steel.He explained that “The construction of the plant is by backward integration philosophy and a number of units towards the finishing end of the process line have therefore been completed, commissioned and operated at one time or the other, ahead of the primary plants. For instance, the Light Section Mill was commissioned as far back as 1983.“It is a strategic industry, implying that there is actually hardly any need to do a cost-benefit analysis for the project. (Though this has been done several times over and shown to be more than attractive.) For this reason, all steel producing countries jealously and zealously guard and protect their steel plants- both privately and publicly owned.”According to Isah, “There are certain agents in our midst that have not been comfortable with the modest achievements we have recorded in Ajaokuta so far and the course of action we are charting towards making liquid steel production a reality in our country. They all know that the day Nigeria begins liquid steel production there would be no going back for the country technologically.”These facts are known to all, he said, explaining that after the takeover of the company from the Indians (GHIL/GINL concessionaires) in 2008, Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited has been on zero capital allocation and an overhead of less than N45million. “All such information are in the public domain and on the website of respective ministries.”He said, “It is common knowledge that any piece of commissioned equipment left idle will sooner than later be lost to rot, due to corrosion. Thus, while the plant awaits the putting in place of the relevant external infrastructure and eventual completion and integrated commissioning, it is important that the pieces of wide ranging equipment that make up the plant be kept intact, secure and preserved in good health.”Maintenance task, he said was indicated for all Plants, whether or not they were under operation, adding “Staff of ASCI who are engaged to do this all-important job and to secure the plant from pilferers are paid a paltry 0.4 per cent of the investment on ground annually.”Isah said, “The point must be made clear to all that the fact that Ajaokuta Steel Plant is not under productive operation does not mean that the skeletal staff strength it maintains now are idle or redundant.”He said Dr. Emmanuel Eboga, who had an impressive career in NNPC and later served as Special Adviser to the President on Petroleum, visited Ajaokuta Steel Plant in 2010 and liked what he saw. Owing to sustained preservation and maintenance of equipment and facilities undertaken by the staff since the Russian and Ukrainian vacated site in 1994, he said the plant has continued to enjoy a clean bill of health as attested to by technical audit reports conducted by various competent international experts.He said an abridged conclusion of the latest audit report by a Ukrainian-backed company states inter-alia that: “The situation of the steel plant’s equipment and facilities are satisfactory. Mechanically the steel plant’s equipment and facilities are generally in good condition.”The company’s management sought and obtained Ministerial approval to enter into Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) variously with investors who have shown interest in collaborating with the company in rehabilitation and completion of some of the completed units of the steel plant.This approach seeks to achieve the following: Generation of revenue; retention, improvement and sustenance of manpower skills; value addition to plant equipment; preservation of the steel plant equipment and facilities; and to stem the effect of deterioration.Isah said in line with international engineering best practices, the plant’s management put in place a sustainable mechanism for plant maintenance and preservation. This measure is responsible for the successes being achieved at the light section mill and the thermal power plant. The vast array of equipment, facilities and infrastructure that make up the steel plant are under constant preservation to ensure that the status reported during the 2010 technical Audit of the Plant is maintained and that the strategic national investment that Ajaokuta Steel Plant constitutes is not left to decay.Isah said, “We do not expect any Nigerian to think of or even suggest the scrapping of Ajaokuta Steel Project at this point in time unless he is an agent of national doom.”
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