By Michael Jegede
When Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman declared his intention to contest the Senatorial seat for Kogi Central on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) prior to the April 2011 general election, not many believed he was going to get anywhere in the race. He was perhaps seen as a political tenderfoot, who may not really have the financial muscle and understanding required to withstand the calibre of people involved in the race.
Nonetheless, Abatemi-Usman went into the contest with strong determination and conviction, and on April 9, 2011, he surprised the entire people of Ebira land, when he emerged victorious at the main poll after defeating thirteen known political heavyweights in the area to clinch Kogi Central PDP Senatorial ticket.
Popularly known as ‘Deen’, analysts interpreted his triumph to mean that the people of the area are apparently fed up of the old order. The people have for long sought for a change in the political climate of the zone, as they believed that their leaders so far have failed to meet their yearnings and aspirations.
This, however, is said to be the reason why the emergence of Abatemi-Usman as Senator representing Kogi Central was greeted with great joy and enchantment from the people. In fact, his total acceptance by the people was shown by the way Okene, the zonal headquarters of the senatorial district, erupted into wild street jubilation and celebration, when he was declared winner of the NASS election for Kogi Central. The Ebira people were of the belief that his victory against all odds has opened up a new vista and era that promised dynamic and robust representation for the zone.
Abatemi-Usman, the youngest Senator in the Upper Chamber of the current National Assembly is evidently living up to the expectations of the people. Since the inauguration of the seventh federal parliament on June 6, 2011, the vibrant, ebullient, eloquent and soft-spoken Senator has always been in the news on account of his laudable contributions on the floor of the Senate and his activities in the zone.
Without the slightest ado, the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) graduate had immediately kicked off the struggle for the completion of Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL), a project which has been heedlessly abandoned by successive governments, despite its significance to the growth and development of Nigeria’s economy. Before embarking on a three-day visitation programme to all federal agencies and institutions within Kogi Central recently, the Senator had held series of meetings with the Minister of Mines and Steel, Mohammed Sada, most of his colleagues and major stakeholders in the steel sector. The thrust of the meetings was basically on the way forward for the actualisation of the Ajaokuta Steel project, which is said to have the capacity to engage over 100, 000 Nigerians when completed.
During his visit to ASCL and National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO), Itakpe, as part of the visitation programme, Abatemi-Usman did not mince words on his pronouncement about the Ajaokuta Steel Project. He stated in clear terms that he would leave no unturned to ensure the completion of Ajaokuta Steel Company and full operation of NIOMCO, before the end of his four-year mandate in the Red Chamber.
Born on May 6, 1971, Abatemi-Usman an accomplished professional with a wide range of experience in engineering, agriculture and management consultancy, said he would not go to sleep until the project fully comes to fruition, noting that his assurance is anchored on the commitment of President Goodluck Jonathan to the Ajaokuta Steel.
He pointed out that “If the steel sector is properly developed, it will conveniently rival the oil sector. Nigeria for the past nine years has spent over N2.1 trillion to import steel into the country. This shows that the country would have saved a lot of money if the Ajaokuta steel company was working. So, Ajaokuta Steel project is a must-do deal.”
Many have commended the zeal, vigour and dynamism with which the Senator is pursuing the Ajaokuta Steel project. This is because they believe it has a strategic role to play in the industrialization of our great country. There is no gainsaying the fact that the economic wellbeing of Nigeria would be enhanced to a large extent if there is the willpower on the part of government to make Ajaokuta Steel come to life.
The Global contract for the implementation of the steel project was signed between the Federal Government of Nigeria and Messrs Tyajzhpromexport (TPE) of the defunct USSR on July 13, 1979 during the reign of General Olusegun Obasanjo as Military Head of State. It was originally programmed for completion in 1986. But a combination of factors including policy inconsistency and massive corruption was responsible for the failure to meet the deadline.
The country’s comatose steel industry seemed to have become one bottomless drain pipe on our national coffers. Upon assumption of office in 1985, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) visited the Ajaokuta Steel Complex and in 1986, he signed a new protocol agreement on the Project with the same TPE, rescheduling its completion date to 1989. This cut-off date was equally never met and operations at ASCL and NIOMCO had to be halted in 1992. Amazingly, the project was said to have reached 98% technical completion before work on it was stopped.
With the gigantic amount of about $5 billion said to have already been spent on the project, which requires about $650 million for it to become operational, enlightened Nigerians, have argued in line with the position of Abatemi-Usman that it would make much sense for it to be brought to finishing point. Minister of National Planning, Shamsudeen Usman, for instance, had in the course of the last ministerial screening on the floor of the Senate wept for Nigeria. He was responding to a question on the Ajaokuta Steel Company raised by the young engineer turned politician, who appears to have become a champion for steel development in the country. The minister lamented that in spite of the huge amount of money expended on the scheme, there was nothing on ground in the steel firm to show for it.
A PowerPoint presentation by an official of ASCL during the visit of the 40-year-old lawmaker to the Company painted a pathetic picture of the position of Nigeria in steel production among some countries of the world. It showed Nigeria as the least in the ranking of 41 countries according to the volume of steel production as at 2008. While China produced 489 million tonnes of steel in 2008, United States 97, United Kingdom 16, South Africa 9 and Australia 8, Nigeria could only manage to produce 0.30. According to data provided by the World Steel Association (WSA), the total world crude steel production in 2010 was 1,413.6 million metric tonnes (mmt). China, which is presently the largest steel producing country in the world, accounted for 626.7 mmt (44.3%) of world steel production in 2010. Nigeria is not on the WSA 2010 list of 40 countries ranked on the basis of steel production volume, which showed that Venezuela the least produced 2.2 mmt. Indubitably, Nigeria would have been among the top 10 countries in terms of steel production, if we had properly harnessed the great potentials in our steel industry, and our economy would have been better for it.
The same TPE which had a frustrating encounter with the Nigerian authorities on the Ajaokuta Steel Company, commissioned and delivered on schedule similar steel projects in China and other countries, where steel development have had significant impact in the advancement of their economies.
However, with the manner and way the Vice Chairman of Senate Committee on Niger Delta and a member of Pan African Parliament has carried on the struggle, I have no single iota of doubt that the neglected steel sector in Nigeria will soon come alive.