10,000 jobs await Nigerians at Ajaokuta Steel Company – Akaba, Sole Administrator

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Sumaila Akaba is the new Sole Administrator, Ajaokuta Steel Company. In this interview with Francis Kadiri, Akaba, a Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, reveals efforts that are being made by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to fully revive the tottering steel company. Excerpts:

Uba Group

How would you describe the commitment of the Federal Government to the resuscitation of Ajaokuta Steel Company and the development of the Nigerian steel sector?

I was appointed Sole Administrator of Ajaokuta Steel Company about a year and half ago. The company is getting all the attention it needs from the Federal Government to begin smooth operations. There is no doubt, it is still the bedrock of Nigeria’s industrialisation. Without fear of contradiction, Ajaokuta Steel Company is the hope of Nigeria’s industrialisation.

From what I have seen and felt so far, I can confidently tell Nigerians that the Buhari administration will resuscitate Ajaokuta Steel Company. Apart from the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari is a very honest man, the effort on ground further convinces me that the company will begin operations soon.

What was the state of the company when you assumed office about one and half years ago and what improvements have you achieved?

We began with what you may call the low-hanging fruits. On my part, here in ASCO, the first thing I did was to embark on a restructuring process through which we streamlined the unnecessarily large management team of the company.

We are conscious of the fact that Ajaokuta Steel Company is a Federal Government establishment, so we brought in competent people from across the country. After discussing with everyone, we determined the staff that had the resources that were relevant for respective positions, and we put them in charge appropriately. The aim was to enhance the effectiveness of management, and that has been achieved and we will sustain the feat. The restructuring was also to ensure that the right people occupied the right positions, irrespective of their religion, background and state of origin.

I believe that positions should be held on merit basis. The restructuring affected even people who hail from my immediate environment, and they handed over to the new team.

We have also worked on the Power Plant and we are still on it. Ajaokuta Steel Company has thermal power plants of 110 megawatts capacity. They can cater for the power generation needs of two states. Unfortunately, the plants have not been in operation for over a decade. The point is, we are determined to get them running. We started it, and it ran for two months and had challenges. We are addressing the problem and we are optimistic it will be solved soon.

The oil industry does not have the capacity to employ as many people as the steel industry does. Once Ajaokuta Steel Company begins operations, no less than 10,000 technical staff will be employed

In terms of job creation, what is the difference between the steel industry and the oil sector?

The difference is that the steel industry simultaneously creates a lot of jobs and wealth, but the oil industry creates wealth while very few people are employed. The oil industry does not have the capacity to employ as many people as the steel industry does. Once Ajaokuta Steel Company begins operations, no less than 10,000 technical staff will be employed. You would readily agree that the huge volume of dollars earned through oil and gas are not in many hands and the value chain may not be as long as that of mines and steel industry.

Your team embarked on a technical audit of assets of the company. Tell us about it.

Yes, we embarked on technical audit in order to know the exact state of various assets. The technical audit of the plant is to find out what has not been completed, what got missing and what went bad. We engaged the Nigerian Society of Engineers, which recommended competent teams to us. We also got two Ukrainian experts and got the staff of Ajaokuta Steel Company to work with them. We submitted the Technical Audit Report to the Hon. Minister of Mines and Steel Development in the last quarter of last year.

The point to make is that, we have a very clear idea of assets in Ajaokuta Steel Company; we know what needs to be replaced, repaired or what needs to be completed to get the plant functional.

We also embarked on a successful human resources audit, handled by a competent consultant. The human resource audit became necessary following conflicting figures of staff strength. As a follow-up, we put in place a biometric system via which the data of all staff and residents are captured.

What efforts have you made to improve security of lives and assets in the steel company?

We inherited a company which assets were plundered. We urgently engaged a reputable security organisation to help us solve the problem while we also got a retired police chief to head the team. Ajaokuta Steel Company is more secured now, than ever before.

A lot of the infrastructural assets of the company, like houses, have been abandoned for years. What is your management doing to get value from the wasting properties?

“CBN"

Ajaokuta Steel Company has over 10,000 houses, out of which about 5,000 are occupied. I inherited an establishment where residents live in houses but pay no rents; they do not pay water and electricity bills- government shouldered the accumulated bills spanning 15 years or more. I have said that I met electricity bill that was in tune of billions. 

What we are doing now is to ensure that unauthorised residents are ejected. Audit shows that more than 80 per cent of people occupying houses belonging to Ajaokuta Steel Company are illegal occupants. They incurred water and electricity bills at the expense of a company that has yet to generate revenue to cater for all its own bills. A reputable consultant was recruited to carry out the audit and evolve a system that can convey data in a way similar to what Abuja Geographical Information System is doing.

The geographical information system is able to capture the data of all houses and residents within the map of Ajaokuta Steel Company.

Ajaokuta Steel Company has a large estate known as RACCAFORM, inhabited by unauthorised persons. We have ejected the illegal residents and we have powered the estate.

How would you boost the capacity of staff to meet the high expectations typical of people who deliver services in the private sector?

Yes, we have already engaged the Industrial Training Fund, and we are already training our staff so that they will be able to live up to expectation. Ajaokuta Steel Company will be operated as a business that must generate earnings through the services it will render.

What is your take on the divergent opinion, especially the opinion of the National Assembly on the way to go about the resuscitation of the company?

The truth is that Ajaokuta Steel Company is being correctly repositioned to deliver its worth to the country. It is the bedrock of Nigeria’s industrialisation and it wields great social and economic promises for the country. The company is on the road to sustainable recovery, and it is getting the right direction.

Some groups have argued that the equipment in Ajaokuta Steel Plant have become obsolete. Do you agree?

The equipment here are first-class equipment. It is important to note that engineering equipment can be upgraded.

The National Assembly put in motion an effort to provide a one-billion-dollar intervention fund for the completion of Ajaokuta Steel Company. Do you think that would solve some problems?

That effort is yet to be cash-backed because the executive arm of government must assent to it before it can be valid. Like you said, it was proposed by the National Assembly. If the Executive feel that it is the right way to go, that would be fine. Signing the bill would mean that the money would be made available. But without signing the bill, privatising the company to a financially competent investor will cater for the provision of funds needed. So the company will be resuscitated any way. All we need is to ensure that a very competent company gets Ajaokuta Steel Company. The financial competence and technical expertise of the company is crucial, and I am sure that government will consider these factors.

Privatisation would work because the system is transparent and there is no room for failure.

Another point that will make privatisation successful is putting in place, a well-defined legal agreement that guarantees the interests of Nigerians, especially economic and political interests.

What is the state of external infrastructure needed to convey raw materials to Ajaokuta Steel Company?

One of the major trademarks of the commitment of the Federal Government is the completion of the rail line linking Ajaokuta Steel Company to the sea ports and sources of steel raw materials. The rail line has been completed, and it is a very important sign of the commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to the operation of Ajaokuta Steel Company and the industrialisation of Nigeria. The remaining external infrastructure is less than 13 kilometers.

The rail line to Warri is over 300 kilometers, and it has also been
fixed.