Tayo AFOLABI

 

The House of Representatives Committee on Steel, has commenced investigation into the collapse of Delta Steel Company Limited, Aladja, Warri.

The steel plant, which was built in the 1980s at an estimated cost of $1.89 billion, has been the subject of controversy since its privatisation in 2005 by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.

At the commencement of the hearing into the complex on Monday, members of the host community accused Premium Steel Limited, the new owner of the company, of stripping its assets.

Recall, the Senate ad hoc committee in the 7th Assembly led by Ahmad Lawan, the current senate president,  investigated the process of the concession of the company to Global Infrastructure Nigeria Limited in 2011. 

The committee resolved that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should investigate those involved in the sales of Delta Steel.

In 2015, the steel plant was subsequently sold to Premium Steel Company Limited, a company owned by Indian billionaire, Sunil Vaswani, by Asset Management of Nigeria (AMCON) for N28 billion.

AMCON, under the leadership of Mustapha Chike Obi, acquired the plant by virtue of the Loan Purchase Agreement that certain banks as creditors of Delta Steel Company entered into with AMCON due to DSC’s inability to pay up the debt owed these banks and subsequently sold the assets to Premium Steel Limited.

The takeover led to a row between AMCON and the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) over the assets. In 2020, BPE had claimed that AMCON can only take over the core assets, not the non-core assets. In a rejoinder, AMCON claimed ownership of core and non-core assets of the plant.

At the hearing, Jite Brown, Chairman of Udu LGA, Delta State, where the company is located while speaking on behalf of the community, said Premium Steel has failed to invest money to revive the plant. According to him, there are less than 20 staff working at the plant.

He said Premium Steel has been stripping the company of the assets at the plant.

“We have called several security meetings to address the residents and Premium Steel; the only response we get from them is that they don’t have any obligation with the government, they only have business with Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) and AMCON has given them all the right to do all what they are doing.

“We want this committee to revoke the sale of DSC. They can’t handle the company; the company is dying,” he lamented.

Responding to the remarks, a representative of AMCON, Albert Anozie, said AMCON only sold the assets used to secure loans.

“What we took over was the asset that was charged to the loan which the banks gave to the company,” Mr Anozie said.

Also, the Minister of Mines and Steel (State), Uche Ogah, said the ministry was not carried along in the process that led to the privatisation and outright sales.

“So for us at the ministry, when all the assets were transferred to BPE, we had little or nothing; we were not carried along. So, we may not have much to say,” he said.

However, the investigation took a different turn when Premium Steels management were asked to speak on the issue. The leader of the delegation refused to be placed on oath, stating that he is a lawyer.

The lawyer, who had not introduced himself, was not permitted to speak by the Chairman of the Committee, Abdullahi Ali (APC, Kano).

Mr Ali had ruled that the managing director of Premium Steel should be the one to appear before the committee.

At this point, the delegation of Premium Steel walked out of the hearing.

The action of the management of the Premium Steel caused mild rowdiness at the hearing, as members of the host community protested it. The protest by the host community lasted for about five minutes.

Consequently, the committee ruled that the MD of Premium Steel must appear before the committee on November 3, or risk contempt of the House.

“You have all seen the criminal behaviour of Premium Steel and everybody is embarrassed. They cannot walk out on the parliament because this committee is an offshoot of the parliament and we cannot tolerate that,” he said.

“In view of their criminal behaviour—for Premium Steel to have walked out of the parliament is a disgrace to this nation; I hereby summon the MD of Premium Steel to appear before the parliament on the 3rd of November.”

The hearing was adjourned till November 3, by the chairman of the Committee.

The decision to investigate the steel company was a sequel to a motion moved by Rolland Igbakpa (PDP, Delta) in 2019.

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