Ajaokuta Steel Company not obsolete – Sole Administrator

By Chimezie Godfrey

The Sole Administrator, Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited, Engr. Sumaila Abdul-Akaba has said that a nation without a sound Iron and Steel foundation is weak and the diversification of its economy in jeopardy.He has also said Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited is not obsolete.

He made the assertions at a roundtable tittled,”Ajaokuta Steel, Potentials and Challenges,” organised by the CSO Coalition For The Revitalization of The Steel Plant held on Saturday at Lokoja.

Engr. Abdul-Akaba expressed delight on the noble effort by the esteemed group to redirect attention of government and all well-meaning Nigerians on the need to galvanize support for the completion and operationalization of the Ajaokuta Steel Plant.

He recalled that Steel Production remains a distinctive classification between 1st and 3rd world; that is between the rich and poor nations, adding that history has shown that no country has ever become rich or developed by exporting raw materials as Nigeria does.

He therefore stressed that a nation without a sound Iron and Steel foundation is not only weak, diversification of its economy is equally in jeopardy.

He said,”I do not want to sound repetitive on matters of Ajaokuta Integrated Iron and Steel Plant, as most of us here if not all are very conversant with the trajectory of the Ajaokuta Dream.

“However for the records and the purpose of this roundtable, it is expedient that we take a look at the Status of the Plant especially with the unending biases and mis-conceptions usually peddled to de-market the Project.

“Ancient Nigeria before the arrival of the British has had its own basic capacity for foundry and fabrication practices which had thrived in the empires and kingdoms, the vestiges of these practices abide till date in Ilorin, Bida, Benin, Kano, etc. From these practices, crude as they were provided farming game hunting tools, implements for works, and weapons for defence.

“This foundation defined our powers and capacity, though these colonial powers had a more improved iron and steel technology with which they overwhelmed our Kingdoms.

“Therefore, Iron and Steel production connotes and a nation such as Nigeria without a sound Iron and Steel foundation is not only weak, diversification of its economy is in jeopardy.

“Steel Production remains a distinctive classification between 1st and 3rd world; i.e between the Rich and Poor Nations and history has shown that no country has ever become rich or developed by exporting raw materials as Nigeria does without also having an industrial sector to add value to them, and in modern terms an advanced services sector. In fact, the more a country specializes in the production of raw materials only, the poorer it becomes.”

According to the UNDP, Engr.Abdul-Akaba noted, the threshold of industrialization in any nation is measured in terms of steel consumption on a global average of 130 kilograms (per capita), adding that Nigeria’s average steel consumption with its population is less than 10 kilograms (per capita).

He therefore said that to achieve the UNDP standard, Nigeria must up its capacity to produce about 18million tons of steel and related products per annum.

“Sadly our Nation imported Steel products valued $USD683.17 Million as at 2019 and China alone accounts for $USD364.64 Million according to United Nations Comrade Data.

“This is where Ajaokuta Integrated Iron and Steel Plant comes in.Nigeria’s steel production in spite of its huge capacity is placed at a negligible 1.3million tons per annum while Egypt and South Africa with technologies and smaller population figures are producing 5.5 and 6.4 million tonnes respectively.

“Sadly even this locally produced steel products are from some small steel rolling mills that use 100% scrap as raw material because Ajaokuta Steel Plant (ASCL) and Delta Steel Plant (DSCL) are not available for the production of crude steel which is the main stay of the steel sector anywhere in the World,” he said.

The Sole Administrator, on the engineering concepts and technology of the Ajaokuta steel Company Limited, declared that the ASCL is not obsolete as it is termed by some persons or group.

He disclosed that the Ajaokuta Integrated Iron and Steel Plant was conceived and steadily developed with the vision of erecting a Metallurgical Process Plant cum Engineering Complex, with the prime objective of generating upstream and downstream industrial and economic activities critical to the diversification of the Nigerian economy into an industrial one.

“It has an assemblage of Engineering Workshops where engineering components like spares and facilities can be produced. This is why Ajaokuta Steel Plant is aptly tagged as the “bedrock of Nigeria’s industrialization”.

“The development of the plant is based on a 3-Phase commissioning sequence in the order listed below: Phase I: 1.3million tonnes of steel per year; Phase II: 2.6million tonnes of steel per year; Phase III: 5.2million tonnes of steel per year. The Steel Territory has a land space of some 24,000 hectares out of which the phase one of the project seats on an 800 hectares of land by the Niger.

“This phase is estimated to be over 95.3% technically ready as confirmed by the 2018 Technical Audit; meaning that 95.3% by weight of equipment and steel structures as per original design have been erected before the Global Contract with TPE was determined in 1996

“Let it be known that, this Integrated Steel Plant is serviced by critical engineering infrastructures such as; the Township Housing facilities, Water Treatment facilities, Road Networks, Electricity facilities, Police Station with complimentary support from other Security Agencies, Court facilities, a Rail Bridge intended to link Ajaokuta to the Eastern Rail line at Oturkpo, a Dual Carriage Way from Okene linking Kogi East with a Road Bridge to Itobe, an Air Strip at Adogo, a Port etc.

“The concept of engineering generally is universal. Technology and its application do not change or get obsolete rather they get improved for efficiency of operation and application with new ideas.

“In the case of the Steel industry the key technology of application and process are the Blast Furnace (Basic Oxygen Furnace –BOF), Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) and a few others that are little known.In Nigeria, the two major steel plants of Ajaokuta and Delta Steel Plants adopted these two major processes of Steel making, however, the choice of technology, that is Blast Furnace – Basic Oxygen Process (BF=BOF) adopted for Ajaokuta Steel Plant as it is today, is still the best and the most popular worldwide.

“For several years till date, over 70% of world steel production is via the Blast Furnace Process Technology. Distinguished Guests, it may also interest us to note that, the technology of Iron and Steel making process adopted for Ajaokuta that is being dubbed ‘obsolete’; remains the most acceptable and applied technology in Iron making process; most established technology; quite energy efficient; has capability of processing even the least acceptable grades of iron ore; quite flexible in operation; and easily adaptable to modernization and automation.

“These attributes of the Blast Furnace are the catch here and flexibility in engineering is what makes it last and in this case, the world Crude Steel Production in year 2018 for instance stood at about 1, 600, 000,000 tons representing 75% of total crude Steel production all came from the Blast Furnace process,” he said.

He added that as at 2018, Ukraine completed its third Blast Furnace with a capacity of about 1719m3 net volumes. The plant even has improved refractories facilities to make it operate for up to 15 years without repairs. India; in August 2013, added another Blast Furnace at its Rourkela Plant.

According to him, it is the largest Blast Furnace of 2.5 million Tons per annum capacity code named ‘Durga’. It has a capacity of 4060 cubic metres. On December 1, 2014, it added another Blast Furnace at its 75-year old Plant in Burnpur, West Bengal State.

“It is India’s largest Blast Furnace. Named ‘Kalyani,’ the Plant’s Blast Furnace no. 5 has a capacity of 4160 cubic metres and will produce some 8,000 tonnes of hot metal per day.In the case of China; it built 22 Blast Furnaces in 2013 and 38 blast Furnaces in 2012 giving them additional capacity to produce well over 25million tonnes of liquid steel per annum.

“On April 6, 2015, China’s Shaogang Steel successfully ignited its sixth Blast Furnace being the Leading Steel Producer in the World Not Withstanding, ditto South Korea.So the issue of Ajaokuta Steel Plant being obsolete does not arise because it is an engineering element that is flexible and amenable to improvement, but the main question would be, is the Blast Furnace process of iron and steel making still relevant?

“The answer is Yes. Is the Ajaokuta Steel Plant process amenable to upgrade and improvement especially in the areas of automation, yes will be the answer. For our level of development, this process remains the best and most friendly to employment and downstream economic activities for a developing nation.

“As even developed nations are still building blast furnaces,” he asked.

On the current efforts to rekindle the light of the Ajaokuta Integrated Iron and Steel, Engr Abdul-Akaba noted that the current administration of President has worked very hard in the last few years to free the Steel Plant from several entanglements.

He revealed that Mr. President for the first time in a long while by any government personally leveraged on participation at the Russia-Africa Summit of 23-24 October, 2019 in Sochi, to discuss the resuscitation of the Ajaokuta Steel Plant with Russian counterpart, President, Vladimir Putin.

According to him, following that bilateral discussions in Sochi, Russia, the Ajaokuta Steel Project is to be resuscitated on the basis of Government-to-Government agreement, adding that this is being pursued vigorously by the Federal Government and all issues inhibiting the progress of the project are in the final stages of being resolved by the Federal Government.

He commended the efforts the organizers of the roundtable for adding their voice to the efforts of getting the Ajaokuta Dream back on track.

He stressed that the completion and operationalization of the Plant will not only help government to diversify its economy from a mono-product economy, it will also galvanize small, medium and large scale economic activities in Kogi State especially with emphasis on skill acquisition, taxes, employment and of industrial facilities in and around the host State.

He therefore appealed to everyone to sustain this patriotic zeal and ensure it remains alive to the glory of God.

“Let us make a wise choice like the Egyptians who chose the Multiplier effect, technology, security, and economic-potentials of Steel for their people and the Koreans who remained resolute in their quest to develop their Steel Industry that has today made them one of the top Steel industry players in the World.

“Nigeria can do it and its people have the capacity to do it. All we need is to galvanize support across all strata of leadership. What you are doing today is part of that efforts,” the ASCL Sole Administrator advised.