Ajaokuta Steel: Nigeria’s Odyssey of Unfulfilled Promise and the 98% Conundrum

“Ajaokuta Steel: Nigeria’s Odyssey of Unfulfilled Promise and the 98% Conundrum”

Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL) is a saga of unfulfilled dreams that stretches back decades. Conceived in 1958, it was only initiated in 1979, and as of 2023, it remains incomplete, despite claims of 98% completion. This article delves into the complex history of Ajaokuta Steel, the challenges it has faced, and the hope it holds for Nigeria’s future.

Vice President Kashim Shettima recently announced that Ajaokuta Steel was 98% completed during a campaign in Kogi State. This statement might elicit both laughter and concern, as it’s not the first time such a claim has been made. ASCL was already 84% completed in 1983, only to face decades of stagnation.

The article highlights the stark contrast between President Shehu Shagari’s rapid progress, achieving 84% completion in four years, and the military regimes that followed, contributing just 14% over 11 years. This stark difference underscores the challenges that emerged under military rule when it came to critical infrastructure like ASCL.

Wikipedia provides data on the 98% completion rate by 1994, with 40 of the 43 plants built. However, the status of the three remaining plants is unclear. The Ministry of Steel Development should offer transparency about the current state of ASCL to manage expectations and keep Nigerians informed.

The article emphasizes the importance of ASCL, not only as a source of national pride but also for its potential to create 500,000 jobs. It revisits the history of the railway project, linking ASCL to the iron ore mines at Itakpe, and the key role of the Warri-Itakpe rail track.

While military governments contributed to the stagnation of ASCL, elected governments, particularly during the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) rule, were also hindered by legal disputes. A lawsuit that began in 2008 further delayed the project until it was resolved in 2022.

The article discusses the controversial concession to Global Steel Holding Limited (GSHL) under President Obasanjo’s administration. The deal faced criticism and was eventually terminated under President Umaru Yar’Adua. The subsequent legal battle between GSHL and the Nigerian government resulted in a 14-year freeze on the project and a $496 million settlement.

Despite the settlement, much damage had been done to ASCL. Wikipedia’s assessment reveals that significant parts of the complex were abandoned. This includes the internal railway network and equipment factories critical for steel production.

Vice President Shettima’s statement about the potential creation of 500,000 jobs offers hope, especially considering the Ajaokuta-Itakpe corridor’s transformation into a free trade zone. The article concludes by questioning the timeline for realizing this potential and urges for transparency on the current state of Ajaokuta Steel.

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