Senate probes Ajaokuta Steel Coy, NIOMCO over $496m payment

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By Olugbenga Salami

Worried by the alleged incidences of corruption and inefficiency at the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited and the National Ore Mining Company, NIOMCO in Kogi State, the Senate, on Tuesday, set up an investigative panel to look into the affairs of the two companies from 2008 to date.

Specifically, the Red Chamber resolved to unravel the mystery behind the payment of $496million allegedly made to Mr. Pramod Mittal, Chairman, Global Infrastructure Holdings Ltd, GINL by the federal government in September 2022 as settlement over said contractual disputes.

It is also investigating the circumstances that led to the re-concession of NIOMCO even when the initial concession agreement was validly terminated by the Umaru Yar’Adua administration with positive review by the International Chamber of Commerce, London.

These resolutions followed a motion sponsored by the Senator Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan (PDP Kogi Central) during plenary.

To this end, Senator Adeniyi Ayodele Adegbonmire SAN (APC Ondo Central) is to be the chairman of the investigative panel while Senator Kawu Suleiman (NNPP Kano South) is to be the deputy chairman.

Other members of the committee are: Senators Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan (Kogi Central), Onawo Mohamed (Nasarawa South), Joel Onowakpa (Delta South), Sen Onyesoh Allwell Heacho (Rivers East) Abdullahi Yahaya (Kebbi North), Patrick Ndubueze (Imo North), Tokunbo Abiru (Lagos East) and Osita B. Izunaso (Imo West).

While the committee is to report back to the Senate in two weeks, they are also to invite and interface with relevant ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs and other critical stakeholders in the steel sector especially those with interest in Ajaokuta Steel Manufacturing Plant and NIOMCO to obtain relevant information and submit a comprehensive report to the Senate regarding the affairs of the two plants from 2018 to date.

The Senate is also urging the federal government to review extant policies and laws on steel development in Nigeria with a view to adopting a strategic implementation Plan on Steel Development in Nigeria bearing in mind the importance of steel to Nigeria’s quests for industrialization and economic self-reliance and also investigate alleged incidences of corruption and inefficiency at the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited and NIOMCO.

Presenting the motion, Senator Akpoti-Uduaghan, said the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCI) and the National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO) located in Kogi State were established sometime in the late 70s by the Federal Government with a potential to put Nigeria on the path of technological and industrial advancement, and establish the country as one of the leading exporters of steel products in the world.

She noted that decades after their establishment, the Ajaokuta Steel Mill and NIOMCO, have remained inoperative and unable to produce steel despite seeming efforts by several administrations due to lack of earnest political will and bureaucratic corruption.

“As at 1994, when the Tyazuromexport (TPE) exited the Ajaokuta Steel Plant on alleged ground that Nigeria did not discharge fully its financial obligation to the TPE, the Ajaokuta Steel Plant was reportedly at 98% completion yet remains inoperative to date,” she said.

The lawmaker also recalled that sometime in 2001, Nigeria’s hope to have the Ajaokuta Steel Plant completed and put into operation was rekindled following the signing of the bilateral agreement between Nigeria and the Russian Federation which was unfortunately diminished following the surreptitious concessioning of NIOMCO and ASCL in June 2003 to unqualified Solgas Energy Limited, a company that lacked both financial and technical expertise as it were uncovered never to be in the business of ore and steel.