…Targets making Ajaokuta free trade zone to attract FDI
By Abiodun OBA
The Federal Government has unveiled plans to bring the hitherto abandoned Ajaokuta Steel Company back to life and make Ajaokuta a free trade zone to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
The Minister of Steel Development, Shuaibu Audu, who made the disclosure during his recent familiarization and facility tour of the Steel Company, added that the project will also diversify the economy of the country.
According to the minister, the company shall be revived through a three and five-year roadmaps.
Noting that the task ahead to ensure the sleeping steel giant is awakened and running is enormous, Audu is optimistic that it will be an achievement to produce steel even though in small volume before the end of the first or second term of President Bola Tinubu-led administration.
The Minister revealed that Russians, Americans, Chinese, Arabs, and others are showing interest in Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited, and said they accompanied him to see the project.
Audu said: “For more than 40 years we have this steel plant in Nigeria and one of the largest in West Africa, which has not functioned.
“But the President knows that in order to industrialize Nigeria we need to get the steel industry working and we need to get the steel plant which is the largest in the land to work as well.
“And if you look back into history, the United Kingdom, UK, had their own industrial revolution the 1900s
“So the President’s vision is for Nigeria to start an industrial revolution with his renewed hope agenda if we are able to get this plant to work.
“There are two things. We are going to put together a three-year roadmap for the revival of the Ajaokuta Steel Company, and we are going to put a five-year roadmap for the revival of the steel industry in Nigeria.
“A lot of foreign investors have shown interest in terms of partnering with us to first of all do some technical audits to be able to determine which of the production units can be resuscitated within the shortest possible time.
“There are 48 production units in Ajaokuta and some can be rehabilitated within the shortest possible time.
“Part of the things is the roadmap to designate the 24,000 hectares land of Ajaokuta an Industrial Park, to create a Free Trade Zone that will further attract Foreign Direct Investment,” he said.
He emphasized that his job was to ensure that all those typical issues that held the plant from producing be resolved.
“The foreign investors have shown interest in bringing Foreign Direct Investment for unlocking capital for us to be able in carrying out this task
“The foreign investors are broad based and some have shown interest and are coming from Russia, USA, China, Arab countries.
“Different investors will be given different components of the plant to be able to make it work, and I think part of the strategic roadmap that we are putting in place also involves making me Ajaokuta Steel plant and Ajaokuta Park, where we can make it a free trade zone that would attract investors.”
He added that with the extensive tour there is hope and opportunities in the steel company.
“If we are able to unlock the opportunities we will be able to create 500,000 jobs over the next four to eight years,” he said.
A Russian investor in the entourage of the minister Mr Jalil Hkoodshoev, from Novostal-M Company in Russia, said: “I assisted His Excellency with this trip to Ajaokuta, I am mesmerized about the size of the plant with over 150,000 hectares.
“It is amazing and I think that the initiatives that have been taken by His Excellency, the President of Nigeria will have a big impact not only for Nigeria but all the sub-region and all of Africa.
The Sole Administrator, Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited, Sumaila Abdul- Akaba, while speaking, pointed out that there is hope for the steel project, and efforts are made to ensure harmonious relationship with workers and create cordial relationship with the host community for smooth running of the company.
According to Akaba, $1.5 billion is needed for the project: “On funding required, we have an approximate value, we want to do the evaluation.
“Previously we are looking at $1 billion to $1.5 billion but we want to reevaluate as the minister has said. There is going to be reevaluation, auditing and more people are coming to ensure we get the best of all these.”
Abdul-Akaba, thanked Mr President for reviving the hope of Nigerians by making Ajaokuta a priority again and commended the Minister for his great vision and plans in reviving the company, noting that Ajaokuta is a land of vast opportunities.
“Unlike the thinking of so many people, Ajaokuta is not obsolete but only requires the right attention to get the multi-billion dollar running again.
“All we have to do as staff is to join hands with the vision of the President and also key into the plans of the Minister,” Abdul-Akaba said.