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On malfunctioning refineries and Ajaokuta Steel Company

About 5,000 workers of four of the nation’s strategic assets are still being paid their salaries annually running into billions of naira without adding any value to the economy. Of the number, 758 employees are on the staff list of the Kaduna Refining and Petrochemical Company (KRPC), Port Harcourt Refining Company (PHRC) has 655 workers while the Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company (WRPC) keeps a staff strength of 3,000. The $8 billion structural investment, Ajaokuta Steel Company in Kogi State, is reported not to have produced a single bar of steel since attaining 98 percent completion in 1998. The country’s refineries bid farewell to the processing of crude oil in 2019.

The only exception was the KRPC. Considered to be the worst-performing refinery; it stopped production in 2017. New Telegraph, however, commends the Federal Government for resisting the temptation to offload about 5,000 workers of the Ajaokuta Steel Company and the refineries into the already- saturated labour market and for the continued preservation of the strategic national assets.

The comatose condition of referred national assets is partly responsible for the nation’s wobbling economic development. Nigeria is Africa’s largest oilproducing country, but has been relying on foreign countries to refine her crude oil Africa’s most populous country takes pride in exporting crude oil, which is basically a primary product, for which she earns a token of foreign exchange for her effort. The receiving nations now take the pains to process the raw material into petrol, kerosene, gas, diesel, clothes, plastic products, among other derivatives, and make crippling financial demands on Nigeria for the technologically-processed finished products.

The non-functionality of the Ajaokuta Steel Company leaves Nigeria without a facility to help provide the metal base for her infrastructural and other developments. This further deepens the economic enslavement of Nigeria as she continues to be a dumping ground for the manufactured products of the industrialized powers. What further institutionalization of the capital flight from Nigeria to the foreign countries! We note, with profound surprise and disappointment, that the Federal Government has continued to exhibit lack of will and commitment towards finding a permanent solution to the nation’s malfunctioning refineries and the Ajaokuta Steel Company.

This show of indifference has resulted in giving the impression that the identified national assets could not be transformed into exceedinglyfunctional strategic national institutions making the desired impact on the populace. This has therefore helped make the option of either privatization or outright sale of the facilities attractive.

Since the introduction of the Fourth Republic on May 29, 1999, the twin policy of priva-tization and sale of national assets has not only been given a pride of place but has been nourished and promoted by the political gladiators. The protagonists of the privatization or sale of national assets usually claim that the government “has no business in business” in order to elicit the imprimatur of the populace.

This is exactly the situation with the refineries and the steel company. Politics ought to be a call and platform for service to one’s people, and this actually is what politics ought to be. But regrettably, some politicians have, since the advent of the Fourth Republic, regarded politics as an investment from which they must accumulate turnover and profits for their earthly sustenance. Given their influence in government, the politicians will likely do everything humanly possible to ensure that the national assets are sold to them and their cronies at knock down prices as scraps. It is a shame that Nigeria, which pioneered steel production in West Africa, through the Nigersteel Company Limited, Emene, Enugu, established in March, 1961, no longer boasts a functional steel factory.

The Ajaokuta Steel Company set up in 1979 cannot be said to be too old to function just as the older Nigersteel Company Limited. The same could also be said of the nation’s first oil refinery constructed in Eleme, Port Harcourt, in 1965 and popularly referred to as Eleme One. The second and third refineries set up in Warri in 1978 and Kaduna in 1980 respectively could also not be regarded as being too old to be made to cater for the petroleum needs of Nigerians. Also in the same classification is the youngest of the four refineries, established in Eleme, Port Harcourt in 1989 and commonly referred to as Eleme Two.

That Nigeria, a country which enjoyed the fortune of oil discovery in 1956 in Oloibiri in then-Eastern Region but now in the present-day Bayelsa State, boasts no uninterrupted refining of crude oil just as the absence of indigenous steel factories, is a huge governance failure. We request the Federal Government to put an end to the hide-and-seek and ensure the immediate functionality of the Ajaokuta Steel Company and the four refineries. Governance, like every human endeavour, is not about lamentations or parroting excuses but about looking for and implementing policies and programmes that will eclipse challenges confronting the populace.

The four refineries, Ajaokuta Steel Company and Nigersteel Company Limited should not be sold or liquidated but should be retained as public assets and made to function for the good of the populace. Management of public assets is one of the critical tests passed by the political classes of First and Second Republics but has sadly exposed the political class of the Fourth Republic as one that lacks a convincing cumulative appreciation of the purpose for which government is instituted. Only a paradigm shift is fitting enough for Nigeria. And the time for it is now.

 

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