Executive and Legislature must be on the same page to make progress 

Just when Nigerians had thought that the resolution of the legal crisis between the Federal Government and the erstwhile concessionaires of Ajaokuta Steel – Global Steel Holding Limited (GSHL) – would herald a fresh start for the moribund steel complex, the National Assembly seems set to throw fresh spanner into the works.

Only last week, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, on a visit to the complex stated emphatically that the House would resist any planned concession of the multi-billion-dollar complex. Insisting that doing so will amount to mortgaging Nigeria’s future, he described it as collective shame to all leaders that the project had yet to be completed after so many years. Affirming the determination of the House to consult with stakeholders to work out ways to source for the $500m needed to complete the last phase of the project, he noted that the funds should not be an issue if the political will was there.

This is certainly at complete variance with the position of the Federal Government. In fact, an online media, Premium Times had in October last year quoted Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Kayode Fayemi, as stating quite unequivocally that: “…stakeholders have every right to suggest ideas but for me and for the president and all the critical people who have examined this, we don’t want a project that becomes another funnel for wasting the hard-earned resources of Nigeria because what has been proven is that this money has been spent and we have not seen result and we don’t have the capacity – technical or otherwise – unless we are deluding ourselves. We don’t have the capacity to complete it”.

While the lack of unanimity between the executive and the legislature on the future of the steel firm deserves to be deprecated, we see the latest dust generated by the Speaker’s intervention as unhelpful as it is needless.

No doubt, the position of the Speaker is persuasive, at least on the surface. First, previous attempts to concession the complex were bungled by officials who, having neither the capacity nor willingness to demonstrate utmost good faith in protecting national interest, threw the country into the quandary from which it is only just emerging. If for nothing, at least the fear of the country returning to that old route would appear legitimate. Second, the oft-bandied but hardly verifiable claim that the complex is 98 per cent completed and hence the erroneous impression of an entity almost ready to go – with $500 million cash. The Speaker mentioned the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF), Excess Crude Account (ECA) and recovered financial crimes’ loot as some of the possible sources to fund the completion.

On the whole, we see the Speaker as falling into the same error of assuming that the problem of Ajaokuta could be solved by sinking more of public funds, since in his opinion, the quantum of resources needed to complete the edifice is currently within the reach of the Federal Government. To start with, it is hard to see how his projection of $500 million in the absence of a comprehensive technical audit would qualify as an educated guess. It will merely take the country through another blind alley – a potential open licence and ultimately abuse of the treasury.

Next is the error that the country can plod on without some form of partnership with those who have long mastered the technology and the business side of steel making. We know that to be false, at best an illusion. Related is the assumption that the country, courtesy of the funds in the ECA, the SWF and so-called loot recovery account, is now rich – again another illusion.

We are in agreement with the Federal Government on the proposal to concession the complex to entities with the financial muscle and technical expertise for completion and subsequent management. That would seem more pragmatic than the Speaker’s option which is hardly borne of the nation’s experience nor reflect current realities. That way, the treasury will be saved the scarce funds that would ordinarily have been deployed, while the investors, drawn to put their money where their mouth is, could reasonably be expected to make a success of it.

Two key roles are expected of the National Assembly at this time; assisting to fast-track the on-going technical audit to determine what is required to ensure an early completion of the edifice; ensuring that the agreements with potential concessionaires are thoroughly vetted to protect the nation’s interest. Those – as against the obstructionist role that the National Assembly seems set upon – are far more useful roles to play in the circumstance.