Yakubu Dogara, the Speaker of the House of Representatives did the unusual and made history as the first sitting speaker to lead members of the House on an oversight tour to Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited, in Kogi State.
Mr. Dogara spoke to reporters after visiting the massive industrial complex whose completion has eluded successive governments, a situation which he declared a national shame. The speaker also stated categorically that the National Assembly will strongly oppose any moves to concession the completion of the company, but would support private partnership on the management aspect, since it is an established fact that government is not a good manager of enterprises.
The interview was sent to PREMIUM TIMES by Mr. Dogara’s office.
Q: Sir, can you tell us about your mission to Ajaokuta Steel Company?
Dogara: What I can tell you is that we are here because of our desire to see that we can kick-start the process of economic recovery and the bedrock of economic recovery of any nation is industrialisation and without developing your steel sector, you cannot develop. And as you can see, we have seen the potentials, as a matter of fact, anyone who comes here might say, “I have come to a fertilizer plant”, and he is right. He can 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. He can now say, “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.
Q: This company has eluded successive governments’ attempt to complete and put into operation, don’t you think your visit is going to be futile?
Dogara: The priority for us as leaders is to agree, first, that we want to immediately develop this place and put it into operation because of the humongous economic benefit that will arise from here; 10,000 jobs that will give automatic jobs to engineers, thousands of other jobs for technicians and other staff, and other lines that will open, engaging a lot of people that will bring prosperity to the country.
And then you can start to talk about plenty 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 to the south- south.
So all the incentives are there, all the infrastructure you need to develop this place are there. Once we have come to that determination, it is upon us as leaders to start the process, the due process of Nigeria’s industrialisation.
Then the next question should be, how do we fund it, how much is required? The argument has been made that it may require about a billion 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 dollars, but as legislators, we cannot pass legislation compelling the executive to devote that kind of money. That is not what we intend to do. We intend to work with, collaborate with the executive to see what sources available to government can be utilised to complete this plant. They can come through loots as suggested by his Excellency (Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello). What are we doing with the money, is the money yielding any interest for the country? If it is not, why can’t we use this money to complete this place? If the money is not enough, we can move to excess crude account, it belongs to all tiers of the federation, and when completed, the complex will generate income. Even if it means borrowing to complete this project, it would serve as a national pride, not only for Nigerians, but even blacks all over the world in foreign nations would be proud to say this is Nigerian steel we are using, and you know the prestige that can bring to us. Even if it means borrowing the money from excess crude account, they would need some form of legislative intervention as well, which we will be prepaid to give.
Q: The Executive seems to be favourably disposed to concessioning it which may put you on collision course or are you going to use your legislative powers to compel them on this?
Dogara: We are talking about collaboration. It is not about controlling anybody but bringing all the stakeholders on a table to agree that this is the project that we need to execute in the general interest, welfare and wellbeing of our people and saying that wherever the money is, as a nation, we must find it.
Like I said earlier, I believe the money is there. Right now, we are taking about building the power plant in the North-east, it is going to consume hundreds and thousands tonnes of steel. We are talking about Second Niger Bridge, do you know how many hundreds of thousands tonnes of steel it would consume? So, are we going to send all this money abroad in other to buy steel when we know that with a fraction of that amount, we can complete this plant, supply the entirety of the steel that we need to complete this power plant in Ajaokuta and build the Second Niger Bridge? So 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 are going to get this money from, as legislators, we are compelled to give the executive the legislative backing to get it to complete this plant. Once it is completed, we can now begin to talk about how to run it and for me, 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. What we are doing does not end at the middle of the road that it is completed but sustaining it for the economic prosperity of this great nation.
I want to restate that in view of the major promise as I said that this sector holds for Nigeria, I have been briefed that as soon as we put this plant into operation, immediately, there will be ten thousand jobs for engineers and technical staff, immediately. That is even at the level of the first phase, not talking about non-core engineering staff, thousands of jobs again and because of splinter economic activities on account of the plant coming into operation, there will be a projected two million jobs that will be out there. In these days when we can’t provide employment for our citizens and we are struggling for foreign exchange conservation, I believe that the responsibility of our government should be that we pay attention to this potential that is on the ground here.
Q: But the concern has been that there is no money to complete the plant. Now that you are insisting on its completion, where will the money come from?
Dogara: Those in the executive are always bothered about money. I heard the minister of state, who was once our colleague, talk about the fact that government does not have the resources to put in there to finish it. We have to look elsewhere, I beg to disagree with him. We don’t need money; all we need is leadership. Wherever you see development, wherever in the world, it is not money that brought it, some may say it is money, but it is leadership. As a matter of fact, it is even leadership that brings the money. Talking about leadership, we are not putting the blame on the door step of the executive, no. All of us are leaders and as a matter of fact, it is our collective shame that up till now, we have not able to finish and put in operation, this factory that is said to be started long ago in view of the major promises that it holds for the development of this nation but we want to thank God that we are now not short of leadership in this country.
As a matter of fact, I was told that for some years, the plant was dogged by a court action or some arbitration instituted somewhere in a foreign jurisdiction and it has taken leadership to end this thing, to exit from such arbitration that had been on since 2016 and it is just this leadership that we need to be able to complete this plant that is almost completed.
For me, I had heard so much stories of Ajaokuta, seen resolutions but I had never been there and that was why I thought that it was important for us as legislators to come and have a feel, see what is going on here so that we can build a partnership with the executive to see that we complete this plant in time by the grace of God.
I said it before that the issue is not money that the problem is just leadership and I assure you that we have the money. Whether we take it from the EFCC that is keeping some monies that they have recovered from some people, I don’t know how much it is that they have recovered, I am not in the position to say so because I haven’t seen it anywhere. Maybe we will begin to ask the question now that we need some money to complete this project. Even if it is not enough, we still have money, the Sovereign Wealth Fund is there, what are we doing with money? So the money is there, if we don’t do it, it means we have leaders and politicians who have decided that we don’t want give a future to our people.
Q: Do you think that this government is committed to reviving the industrial complex?
Dogara: Yes, and that is why I specially thank the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, at least, for giving us the basis for this visit. That is because, for some of us, Ajaokuta has always been on our minds but practically nothing could be done before now because there were some misunderstandings that stalled the operation and concession of this plant and that was before arbitration, not even in Nigeria, but in London. With the leadership demonstrated by the president, we have been exited from that arbitration. 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.
Q: With what you have seen in this industrial complex, will you say that the vision of those who conceived this project has been defeated?
Dogara: We are eternally indebted to those who conceived the vision of this plant that was proposed to serve as the bedrock of our social economic development in Nigeria. Imagine if this plant had been completed in 1986, where would Nigeria have been at the moment? Imagine that from thirty something years ago, we had provided job for ten thousand engineers, thousands of other technical staff , utilised all the potentials here; the power generating capabilities, the gas pipeline, all the basic infrastructure that an investor need to be able to set up a manufacturing plant around this area, by now Kogi State would have been a model state because we have everything; the raw materials, the power, the gas that will link this place for industries to be set up and flourish here but why haven’t we done it? Any patriotic Nigerian that visits this place will shed tears, it doesn’t matter which side of the country he is coming from, and any foreigner who comes here, by the time he leaves, even if he doesn’t say it, he will go with the wrong impression about us as a people.
To be candid, we have no reason not to have completed this plant, no reason and that is why when we were discussing among few of us, the option of concessioning, I did say no, you can’t concession your future, it is never done. I am yet to see a nation that ever concessioned the bedrock of its industrialisation and succeeded. If you find one single nation, just tell me. That is why past attempts to concession this plant or company have not succeeded and if we keep repeating the same thing and thinking we will arrive at a different outcome, then we will just be foolish. As a matter of fact, that is the very definition of stupidity and we are not stupid, we will not repeat that mistake.
Again, our global players will always want to hold us down so that we can keep importing some of these needed materials from them and what they sell to us, are sometimes not the genuine things. We were talking with the head of the company and some of the engineers, very experienced engineers, we went to one of the workshops and they said when you have problems with spare parts, they can even bring it to the workshop here and make it better than the original that you actually brought, so that means we can do better, we can make Nigeria better, we can make Nigeria proud and every black man in the world can actually beat his chest and say, yes, Nigeria is providing the kind of leadership that we are supposed to provide. So anyone who plans to outsource the completion of this plant will definitely run into problem with us.
But government privatised its companies because of poor management. Why are we insisting that this one should be different?
If it is concessioning the management, we agree that government cannot be a good runner of business. But talking about completing the plant, we must do it.
Q: What is the way out now and what will you do going forward?
Dogara: The resolve on my own part is by very soon, there will be more activities by the legislature in order to kick start activities that will lead to the completion of this project. We have what we call in the House, sectoral debate. We want to use that medium to call on the governor of Kogi State, representative of the community, the ministry as well as virtually 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 we will bring the management of Sovereign Wealth Fund, even those who are managing our excess crude account, if we can’t find any money, the money is there. Truly speaking, with just $500 million we need to complete this place, we have the money.
Certainly, I am over-convinced that we have the money. This is what we can do and what we must do and honestly speaking, we are not doing this for Kogi State at all, if we are doing it for Kogi State, perhaps I would not have even been here. I am not from Kogi State, I am not from North-central, I am not. We are here because we believe that if we complete this plant, Nigeria will be better for it. You can imagine if we have recruited ten thousand engineers, how can Kogi fill all these vacancies? It is impossible; they will come from south, from north, north-east, south-west, from all parts of the country, so we are here for Nigeria. And to be candid, because of the splinter economic activities that will spring up on the account of the completion of his plant, there is no investment in this that could be wasted, so no more concessioning.
We are tired of concessioning our various process of economic progress to asset strippers, people who just concession for the sake of concessioning and then stripe the asset and sell them elsewhere and I must commend the ingenuity of the people of this local government because we heard that there was a time some concessioners from here were trying to walk away with some equipment and even though they were not technical equipment, they were just like spare parts, but the brave people of this community stood against them and ensured these things were not taken away. I thank you for that.