From Adetutu Folasade-Koyi, Abuja

Eleven foreign interests, including three Russian firms,  are locked in a bid to win the concession for the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited.

The new arrangement is coming 12 years after a concession agreement for the steel plant was fought in an international court.

Already, the Federal Government has begun payment of $496 million to Indian firm, Global Steel Holdings Limited, the initial concessionaire of the plant, that won the concession during the administration of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo.

The concession which was for 10 years was, however, revoked  after the firm was accused of asset-stripping by the Federal Government. The cancellation of the agreement, had  led to litigation before it was resolved, through arbitration.

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Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, told newsmen, yesterday, that from the initial $7 billion claimed by Global Steel, Nigeria would pay only $496 million, spread over a period of time.

He said the Ajaokuta Steel project was bogged down for years by  foreign interferences and that even the plan to resuscitate it by President Muhamadu Buhari-led government was also  truncated by the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. He, however, said efforts to bring back the plant has received a boost with some foreign interests willing to take it up under a concession agreement.

“As of today, the process is on. In 2019, I had promised that Ajaokuta Steel would start (operations) before we leave office. That is not possible anymore; not because of lack of efforts but, especially because of COVID-19. We started the process in October 2019, when we went to Sochi, Russia, to attend a summit with Mr. President.  On the sidelines of a bilateral meeting, we met with the Russian government, led by President Vladimir Putin and President Muhammadu Buhari and we requested, among other things, that they should help us to resuscitate Ajaokuta Steel because the Soviets built Ajaokuta steel and they acceded to that request.

“I came back to Nigeria and explained our plans to resuscitate Ajaokuta Steel and we will make sure it works. The first thing we were to do was the technical audit, ascertain what was wrong, what needed to be done, what needed to be serviced and all that. That was what the technical audit was meant for. And, the Russians were going to come in in March 2020; to start the technical audit for three months. We agreed on the price, everything was concluded and made available by the Nigerian government and everyone would recall that COVID-19 started and we couldn’t do the technical audit. It was put in abeyance. That went on, all through 2020 and 2021.  “Then, we said, ‘let’s go another route, let’s expand our net.’ Now, we are no longer talking to only Russians, we are talking to 11 foreign interests. Of the 11 interests I mentioned, of course, three are Russians. People are interested in bringing their money to invest in Ajaokuta Steel and make sure it works. If we put in the right amount of money, people would start producing steel in the next two years.The process is ongoing and, before we leave office, we will concession Ajaokuta to people who would bring money and make sure it works,” Adegbite said.