The Nigerian government says 11 companies have indicated interest to take over Ajaokuta Steel Company on a concession basis.
Three of the 11 bidders are Russian companies, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, said Thursday in Abuja while listing his ministry’s achievements.
The steel company, located in Kogi State, was built by the Soviets between 1979 and the mid-1990s but has never produced steel as the project was never completed. It was also mismanaged.
In September, the Nigerian government agreed to pay $496 million to settle an Indian firm’s claim over Ajaokuta steel.
The dispute followed the federal government’s revocation in 2008 of an agreement that handed control of the steelworks and the National Iron Ore Mining Company to Global Steel Holdings Limited, an Indian firm. In cancelling the deal, the Umar Yarádua administration said the terms of the concession at the time were not favourable to the country.
“One of the major albatross on Ajaokuta was the concession that occurred under President Olusegun Obasanjo to Messers Global Steel Industries,” Mr Adegbite said on Thursday. “Things went sour and they took us to court. The court case went on for about 12 years, but thanks to a patriotic Nigerian lawyer in the UK who handled the case very effectively.”
“Global Steel came with a demand of $7 billion, but our lawyer was able to puncture holes in their case and in the end, they had to settle for $496m. The judgement was favourable to Nigeria,” Mr Adegbite said.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic deterred the current government’s plan to make Ajaokuta steel company functional before the end of 2022.
“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 effort 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,”he said.
“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.