Corruption: Sen. Akpoti Calls for Immediate Investigation of Ajaokuta Steel, NIOMCO

by Ohepo Ohepo

In a significant development at the National Assembly, Senator Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan, representing Kogi Central senatorial district, took a bold step by proposing a motion to delve into the alleged corruption and inefficiencies plaguing the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASL) and the National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO), both situated in Kogi State. Senator Natasha’s motion, presented on Tuesday, aimed to initiate an in-depth investigation into the activities of these two critical establishments from 2008 to the present day.

Central to her concerns was the contentious re-concession of NIOMCO, which had seen its initial concession agreement, terminated under the administration of President Yar’adua, questioned anew. Moreover, Senator Natasha called attention to a substantial payment of $496 million allegedly made to the Chairman of Global Infrastructure Holdings Ltd (GINL) by the Federal Government in September 2022, purportedly to settle disputes related to ASL contracts.

Senator Natasha elucidated that the inception of Ajaokuta Steel and NIOMCO by the Federal Government in the late 70s was envisioned to position Nigeria as a prominent steel exporter. Despite reaching an alleged 98% completion by 1994, Ajaokuta Steel has remained dormant, largely due to political inertia and bureaucratic corruption.

She highlighted a pivotal moment in 2001 when Nigeria and the Russian Federation signed a bilateral agreement, aiming to revive the Ajaokuta Steel Plant. This hope was subsequently dashed by the controversial concessions of NIOMCO and ASCL in June 2003 to Solgas Energy Limited, criticized for its lack of financial and technical credentials.

The lawmaker criticized the concessions made contrary to the House Committee on Steel’s recommendations in 2004. Following an exhaustive review by the Inuwa Magaji Administrative Panel of Inquiry and the unanimous termination of the Concession Agreement by the Federal Executive Council in 2008, the agreements’ termination was rooted in operational breaches and dubious practices that favored GINL.

Despite the House of Representatives’ 2018 investigation into the Iron and Steel Sector, which proposed resolutions to rejuvenate the steel mills, the Federal Government has yet to implement these measures effectively. Senator Natasha also spotlighted Pramod Mittal of GSHL’s infamous track record of engaging in questionable business practices internationally, raising concerns over Nigeria’s repeated victimization through fraudulent contracts with GINL.

Expressing dismay over Nigeria’s annual expenditure of approximately $3.3 billion on steel imports despite possessing rich natural ore resources, Senator Natasha lamented the mismanagement and dilapidation of the Ajaokuta and Delta steel plants. She criticized the longstanding sole administration overseeing Ajaokuta Steel’s affairs, attributing it to the complex’s prevailing inefficiencies.

In response to Senator Natasha’s compelling motion, the Senate agreed to establish an Ad-hoc Committee tasked with scrutinizing the operational and financial dealings of ASL and NIOMCO from 2008 onwards. This committee is expected to engage with key stakeholders within the steel sector, particularly those with vested interests in the Ajaokuta Steel Manufacturing Plant and NIOMCO, to compile a comprehensive report for the Senate’s consideration. Furthermore, the Senate urged the Federal Government to reassess existing policies and legislation concerning steel development in Nigeria, emphasizing the sector’s pivotal role in the nation’s industrial and economic self-reliance ambitions.

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