By Barr. Natasha Akpoti
I have been advised to use pseudo names in publishing this piece, but that’s not my nature. I am one who bolds up to situations and thus, I shall bear my name and consequences this report might stir.
From the 14th of August 2015, the day I had an interactive and empowerment session with the black smiths of #Ebiraland; the pains in their voices daunted me. A people, whose ancestors carved a niche in ironworks way back as the 7th century suffered for want of materials to support their trade while a steel giant lay raped in their backyard by a series of unfortunate events and conspiracies.
In October, I took online to issue a petition pleading with #President #Buhari to revive ASCL; and with your support we were able to get hundreds of signatures. Since that day, I left no stone unturned to discover the happenings so as to better understand the best path forward. I have taken time to make this report as brief and as simple as possible and urge you all to take time and read.
1958 to 1979
1958 – the colonial administration conducted a feasibility study on iron ore deposits in Nigeria.
1967 – the #United #Nations #Industrial#Development #Organisation survey identified Nigeria as a potential steel market which led to the signing of a bilateral agreement between Soviet Union and Nigeria.
1971 – the Nigerian Steel Development Authority was established by Decree No.9 to bring to reality a steel plant.
1979 – during the administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, TyazhPromExport (TPE) a #Russian leading engineering company commenced construction works on #Ajaokuta #Steel Company Limited.
1979 to 1994
In less than 12 years, TPE transformed a wide expanse of land to contain some giant size network of machinery meant to process the exploration of steel for #Nigeria. Indeed, billions were spent and its evident in the state of the art townships , roads, bridges, power plants, air strip, port, rail that were put up in Itakpe and Ajaokuta in #Kogi state.
In 1990, as the project approached completion, TPE on monthly bases for 4 years wrote to the #Federal#Government reminders on the need to commence works on the necessary infrastructure needed to successfully operate ASCL and Nigerian Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO). They are access roads to the mines and rail system from ASCL to Onne sea port in Port Harcourt. TPE also suggested the possibility of dredging river Niger which could offer a better and more convenient route of importing raw materials. This infrastructure TPE argued would benefit the public especially Northern part of Nigeria where finished steel manufactured products such as cars, parts, construction materials etc could be shipped to other states and nations once the state is fully functional as an industrial hub. The government never responded.
THE INTERNATIONAL CONSPIRACIES
A lot of people talk about the international conspiracies surrounding ASCL but very few know what actually they were or are. Here;
In 1992, when the project was near completion and while the Russians (TPE) called on the government to work on needed infrastructure; powerful countries namely #France, #America, #Germany, Britain etc including the organizations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) started reaching out to Nigerian government to terminate the project with the Russians. The Ohinoyi of Ebira land HRM Ado Ibrahim witnessed firsthand a plot by the IMF during a conference in NewYork where a team of Nigerian officials and foreign agents connived that ASCL should be completely dismantled and forgotten. To them, Nigeria did not need to have a steel plant. Nigeria could as well buy steel from them if needed for its development.
Nigerian government listened to the negative solutions without ever considering the true intentions of the so called experts from these powerful foreign countries. Russia all through stood its ground alone against France, America and co and kept on reminding Nigeria of the need to ignore the adverse opinions. Russia told Nigeria that this conspiracy was cooked by the West to stop Nigeria from achieving the economic strength strong enough to uplift not only itself but the whole of Africa. To them, Nigeria and Africa needed to be kept as a market for all junk goods from the West. This is in line with the colonial economic model brought in by the British and so, to have Nigeria turn around its economy and that of weaker nations hitherto being exploited by the super powers, and by implication, impact negatively on the extent of influence of the richer countries sent shivers at the smart future awaiting Nigeria.
Nigeria’s government was too busy focusing on ushering the 3rd Republic, June 12 saga and all. No attention was given to the Russians. TPE was no longer being paid. In 1994 TPE left Nigeria.
SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS
The Dept Buy Back
Nigeria’s contract with TPE was to construct ASCL for five billion German Deutschmarks (DM) and such that the Nigerian steel authority gave TPE promissory notes guaranteeing payment to the company. When Nigerian government suspended payment and TPE left, TPE sold off these instruments to recover some of the debt owed to the company.
In October 1995, a series of secret debt buy-back transactions took place whereby the debt instruments were sold at inflated prices to Liberian companies purportedly owned by the Abachas – Parnar Shipping Corporation and Mecosta Securities .This involved the withdrawal in 1996 of $2.5 bn of public funds to settle debts owed to Russia for the construction of the Ajaokuta steel plant, but which in reality had been discounted to only $500m. Obasanjo in 1999 settled debt through OMPADEC .
SOLGAS – the first Concessionaire
In 2003, Nigeria under president Obasanjo realized the need to complete Ajaokuta and so, SolGas, an American company which specialized in petroleum was given concession. For a year and a half, Solgas zero progress raised questions as to their technical capacity to operate ASCL. Even though they claimed Senator Liyel Imoke and Gbenga Obasanjo brought in Global Steel Holdings Limited/ ISPAT to short- change it from performing. To this end, Nigeria terminated contracts with Solgas. There were no minutes recorded to document deliberations engaging or terminating with Solgas.
GLOBAL STEEL HOLDINGS LIMITED (INDIAN) – the second Concessionaire
An Indian company first operating under the name ISPAT then changed its name to Global Infrastructure Holding Limited and now #Global Steel Holdings (GSH) were helped into Nigeria by Sen. Liyle Imoke and Gbenga #Obasanjo under President Obasanjo’s tenure in August 2004. The agreement was such that company would own 60 percent of the shares of the steel mill. The Federal Government would keep 30 percent while 10 percent shares would be sold to the public. This company GSHL owned by Mr. Primod Mittal is not affiliated with ArcelorMittal, which the world’s renowned steel giant. #ArcelorMittal is owned by #Lakshmi #Mittal and a cousin to Mr. Primod Mittal.
This concession which saw the taking over of ASCL and Itakpe is termed one of the biggest scams. The plant was hugely undervalued for $300m and GSH was to pay nothing to the government but inject its funds to revive the plant with a number of conditions some of which were:
– 1. That the Federal Government should give GSHL two oil blocks.
– 2. That GSHL be allowed to be lifting crude oil from Nigeria.
– 3. That the Sapele Power Plant be given to GSHL to operate.
– 4. Concession of Delta and Warri Ports to GSHL to operate.
– 10. The supply of Natural Gas to GSHL at “competitive and reasonable tariff”.(GSHL came up with this condition after it failed to sign a Gas Supply Agreement with the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company. GSHL offered to pay N5.00 per cubic meter of Gas as against the market price of N30.00). It also inserted in its conditions that “Gas price should be kept reasonable and consistent.
After all these conditions, ASCL still deteriorated as equipments of ASCL were moved to Delta steel (which GSHL took over in 2005) while some to other private owned Indian owned steel factories in Nigeria in the name of “borrowing”.
The federal government under President Yaradua realized the huge mistake Nigeria once again made and sought to terminate the contract with GSHL. The then Director General of the BPE, Ms Bolanle Onagoruwa stressed that the approval of the concession of Ajaokuta by president Obasanjo was in violation of the BPE Act.
At Senator Ahmed Lawan led Adhoc Committee, Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Architect Mohammed Musa Sada also revealed that the federal government under Obasanjo single handedly sold ASCL to GSHL and that GSHL ruined the Ajaokuta complex by stripping it of all valuable equipment and machineries. It led to the cancellation of the entire process by the federal government.
This act didn’t go too well with GSHL and they dragged Nigeria to the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in London, UK and demanded Nigeria pays them $1B for termination.
In 2013, after 6 years of heated negotiations at the ICC, the Jonathan’s administration successfully took back ASCL. GSHL also lost their $1B demand.
2013 TILL DATE – INDIANS HOLD AJAOKUTA TO RANSOM
One would have assumed the drama over in 2013 but alas, the Federal Governments hands are tied on progressing with ASCL. GSHL shrewdly crafted an arbitration clause in the contract between the government and GSHL which prohibits Nigeria from dealing with anybody until all matters with GSHL are resolved. In other words, the Indians do not want Nigeerian government to proceed on completing Ajaokuta until an unreasonably selfish condition is met – they want the Nigerian government to give Itakpe Iron Ore company to them free for 25 years.
At the moment of this report, there is a modified contract containing such ridiculous terms before the minister of solid minerals in favour of the Indians. GSHL wants to tap Iron Ore from Itakpe and move to Delta Steel which was in June 2015 taken over by Premium Steel, a company set up just months before the purchase of Delta Steel . Premium Steel is owned by another powerful Indian conglomerate headed by the #Vasuwani brothers (owners of the controversial Stallion group).
Truth is that Itakpe was set up as a captive mine to ASCL. The original plan holds that iron Ore would be moved from #Itakpe to ASCL which will in turn distribute to other smaller rolling mills, Delta Steel inclusive.
If GSHL succeeds in its bid to take charge of Itakpe, ASCL will become a sad history as there will be no Ore to feed from. That means Kogi state will have no steel plant of its own ever again. So no matter that amount of pacifying information the government publishes for the public on the urgency and good intention they have towards ASCL, nothing shall be done until the arbitration is terminated.
Patriotic Nigerians must call on the Nigerian Government to immediately terminate every agreement in whatever form with GSHL. Nigeria is too big a nation to be held captive by an Indian company. TPE, a whole Russian government owned company who built the complex did not cause this much pain to Nigeria… why would a private Indian Company who has never operated any steel plant in its own country India do such a thing to us? A more worrisome question to answer is – Who’re the heavyweight Nigerians behind GSHL selling us this cheap? I don’t believe Mr. Primod Mittal would have the courage to stand alone and dare this much pandemonium; so who are the greedy Nigerians toiling with the present and future of Kogi state and Nigerians? No matter what, Nigerians must remember that the masses are always majority and the power to determine our future truly lies in our hands. Our silence and ignorance has only cost us this much.
RUSSIAN TyazhPromExport (TPE) IS BACK WITH HOPE FOR NIGERIA
The Sole Administrator of ASCL Egnr. Onobere has repeatedly said that since the Russians left in 1994, no progress has been realized on the project. The following questions kept hovering my mind :
– the moment Nigeria realized their mistake in not completing ASCL and were ready to commence completion, why were the Russians not called back to resume works? Why did we settle for SolGas and GSHL in the first and second instances?
– From the quality of work evident in Ajaokuta, is there any doubt on the expertise of TPE that questioned their invitation?
– Could it be that TPE wasn’t invited because the Russians are too straight forward and don’t engage in “smart business”?
My research led me to uncover a lot of conspiracies on how TPE is no longer interested in doing business with Nigeria and some even said TPE no longer exists. My curiosity took the better part of me and I decided to look them up the internet and initiate contacts.
I sent an e-mail to TPE in mid November and another early December 2015, none were replied.
It is said that desperate times require desperate measures and that when you truly want to do something, you shall find a way; so I contacted a dear friend of mine who lives in Russia and who happens to be the acting Chairman of Russia’s Arbitration Court on International Economic Matters – Mr. Tunde Adewon. As God would have it he is also a Nigerian; born to a father from Ondo State and a Russian mother. His father late Engr. Moses Adewon was one of the senior engineers who worked to build the Itakpe Iron Ore complex.
Mr. Adewon on behalf of Builders Hub visited TPE in Moscow, Russia in the 2nd week in December 2015. After the first brief meeting, TPE, as precautionary measures ran a security check on me. Then Mr. Adewon was called for a detailed meeting and this was noted;
– TPE expressed deep sadness at the manner in which ASCL was handled.
– TPE said their heart was poured into the project in other to give Nigeria, the greatest country in Africa, the biggest steel Complex in Africa.
– That never, in all of their works across the world, not even in India, did they build a steel city as big as Ajaokuta complex.
– That it was sad Nigeria did not heed to their warnings about the international conspiracies and Nigeria turned their back to them instead of seeing the bright future they dreamt for us. That we, by our own hands allowed our economy to be trampled amidst negative interests by other powerful countries.
– That over the past years, they had tried reaching out to the Nigerian government to allow them come back and complete the project. Nigeria did not respond positively.
– That they would want nothing more than to work to revive Ajaokuta and help Nigeria create jobs for its people and take itself out of poverty. Nigeria, they said must wake up from its slumber and be greater than ever before for itself and for Africa.
During a skype meeting, TPE was advised to write a letter of intent to the Minister of Solid Minerals. I also made it clear that neither I nor Mr. Adewon were interested in any monetary reward. We were only good citizens of Nigeria trying to use our best arsenals to contribute our quota in helping our country. They appreciated our honesty.
On the 25th of December 2015 (Christmas day), TPE wrote and sent the letter (which I have attached to this post) to the Minister of Solid Minerals Dr. Kayode Fayemi. TPE is expecting to be invited over to discuss a path forward which would first entail technical evaluation of ASCL to ascertain damage and recommend modernization and upgrade plans for completion. TPE said they are very ready to come to Nigeria even at a week’s notice.
On Monday the 18th January, I paid a courtesy visit to the Minister himself; Dr. #Fayemi acknowledged reading the letter from TPE and mentioned the Ministry would look into it. I pleaded with him on the need to expedite actions regarding ASCL and reminded him of the TPE’s intentions should be considered a priority.
4 weeks after the letter was sent to the Ministry and no response from the Minister’s office, I visited the Department of Steel within the Ministry. To my shock, no one had seen or heard of the letter of intent. Question – what happened to the TPE’s letter after the Minister read it. Is it not supposed to be sent to the Steel and Legal departments for action?
Do you also know that till today, no committee has been set up to investigate into ASCL?
KIND WORDS FOR HON. MINISTER DR. KAYODE FAYEMI
My dear Minister, sorry if I sound a bit hard. I don’t like it myself but like I told you in your office, I tour rural communities and interact everyday with the unemployed; the pains in their eyes are unbearable and that’s what I pour out right here… the pains of Nigerians and the huge expectations from your kind self and Mr. President. You visited Ajaokuta on the 14th of December 2015 and promised an urgent action first by composing a think tank whose report would be submitted to the President; that’s 40 day ago!!!
The Russians worked even on Christmas day to get the letter to you. When are you going to respond and extend an invitation to at least hear out their plans for ASCL and Nigeria? When would you constitute the fact finding committee? How long a time would the committee have to prepare its report? When would the President digest the report? When would decisions be made? Your administration is Please note that Nigerians expect your efficient office to act quickly as we are fast drowning.
Mr. Minister, I am aware you were misinformed that the Russians are not interested in the constructions works in ASCL, that’s not true sir. Please do not be trapped by misinterpretations. For that sake, I have decided to post TPE’s letter out to Nigerians to read. Also, my team met with the senior management of TPE in Russia today the 26th of January and they once again expressed their readiness to work with Nigeria on Ajaokuta and other projects if need be.
Sir, do you know that TPE Russia constructed 3 of India’s largest steel plants namely – Bhilai, Bakaro and Visakhapatnam? Do you know that Bhilai is eleven time winner of the best integrated steel plant in India? They say the blast furnace technology in Ajaokuta is old, no sir. Do you know that India recently contracted TPE Russia to reconstruct and modernize Rourkela (originally built by Germans) and Durgapur steel plants? It shall interest you to know that TPE is installing the largest blast furnace in India as part of Rourkela upgrade.
Sir, please join as we ask ourselves why India, with all its steel expertise keeps calling on TPE Russia? It’s because they are good and honest and that is what Nigeria needs now. GSHL was not invited by their government to work on their plants? Better still – has GSHL ever done any steel works in India? Was Nigeria supposed to be a guinea pig? Little wonder they can’t let go of Nigeria and are holding Ajaokuta hostage. Sir, please see that the arbitration with GSHL is terminated as soon as possible. In the meantime, TPE is at this moment writing a comprehensive letter of intent to the president, your office shall be promptly copied sir. Thank you .
Today the 26th of January, I printed copies of the letter and again took a set to the Minister’s office and a set to the Director of Steel Engr. Also Abdullahi promised to follow up with the Minister.
Dearest Nigerians and Kogites, it is said that you can’t make the same mistake twice, the second time you make it; it’s no longer a mistake but a choice I don’t know what a third mistake is called. We have watched our God given economic destiny being tossed twice by a few; we cannot sit back and watch it happen the third time around. It will be a big shame unto us.
Anger will do no good. We shall forgive everyone for every negligent decision made in the past. Sadly we have found ourselves in the most despicable of times; we should be courageous enough to seek to take the best path forward. Let us think deep quickly and ask ourselves – what do we have to lose or gain if the Russians come back to rescue Ajaokuta?
Now that God has ushered us a new government in Kogi state, let us demand of our Governor and National Assembly members to make ASCL their watchword. Let our dear royal fathers HRM the Attah of Igala, the Ohinoyi Ebira land, the Obaro of Kabba and others keep interceding on behalf of ASCL. Let every Kogite realise that there is no better time than now to unite and seek that justice is done to ASCL. Let every state in Nigeria join forces to call on the federal Government to revive Ajaokuta because that single project coupled with Nigeria’s intellectualism can usher us into unprecedented greatness. We are too poor, our youths are jobless, our future is bleak, we cannot continue to suffer this much. The time to speak up and act is now!!!
Natasha Hadiza Akpoti.
NOTE: This report took weeks of constant research with me meeting with the Minister of Solid Minerals Dr. Fayemi, Director of Steel Ahl. Also Abdullahi, Sole Administrator Engr Onobere, TPE Russia and so many others. No part of this excerpt expressly stated, though all true, was made by any of the above mentioned.
The picture herewith attached was taken at TPE headquarters in Moscow, Russia with Builders Hub representative on international matters Tony Adevon(second right) and three top management officials of TPE.