The Ajaokuta Steel Project: Arise O’ Compatriots!

Fellow Nigerians, give no more sleep to your eyes, what really do you have to sleep on?
Able countrymen, allow your lips smile no longer, for our strength and joy is being robbed of us
From time immemorial, things have been bad in this nation
From when I could recite the national anthem, to this moment of typing this excruciating missive, Nigeria had never seem to work well: it almost always appears like a cardiac patient being treated like a panel beater
But alas!
Alas my gentle fears have suddenly skyrocketed.
My subtle worries has metastasized into a monstrous monster that’s threatens every hope, dreams and aspirations of mine
On Saturday, I was offered the chance to visit the decrypt site popularly known as the Ajaokuta Steel Company
It was supposed to be a wonderful day out where I was to behold amazing architecture, beautiful landscape and an unrivalled view atop the river Niger
But what I saw was the stuff of nightmares
What I witnessed was a nation gone bankrupt; a country who knows the way out of obscurity but would forever refrain from light and illumination
From the dereletic rail lines to the heavily underutilized chlorination room, Ajaokuta Steel Company emblazoned Nigeria’s failure at anything meaningful
This was supposed to be a 7billion dollars project that would transform Nigeria in general and even the whole of Africa
Unfortunately, it turned out the biggest waste of money, minds and men on the surface of the earth
The Steel Company was supposed to directly employ 30,000 persons, and fall out companies was supposed to recruit another 120,000 workforce
The big idea was for Ajaokuta Steel Company to drive industrialization. To help Nigeria aspire to the exalted corps of craft and car builders
The Steel Company would have made us satisfy our national quest for steel in construction, machine crafting and creation, and the general mechanization of our industries, agriculture and the society in general
But as I walked on the bushy lawns and dusty streets of the Mill,
As I snapped sorrowful pictures and beheld the creaking pillars and post,
As I gazed upon unused smelting plants, unfurnished airports, and dead and decaying sea port/shorelines, I wept within
I wept for the vast amounts spent and the little or no rewards gained
I wept for the many youths that could have been employed here, but who are jobless on many streets or have decided to engage in crimes, kidnapping and the likes to make ends meet
I wept for the fools that grinded this lofty project to a halt, and the crook who bettered their pocket at the expense of the nation at large
I wept for the dumb foreign accounts their loots was siphoned to, the many present workers who resume to a noiseless factory and return home to a joyless family
I wept profusely for a nation that cannot feel, a people that cannot think and a leadership that is helpless blind and visionless on how to make this work again
The real trouble is Ajaokuta steel has been there for almost 34years, doing nothing, contributing nothing and achieving nothing
The vast majority of the Mill has not been used for a day, and those which was used were sparsely or scarcely used
The biggest parts of the steel plants will work with minimal inputs or investments, while a critical part of it would require major tech upgrades and follow up training
Now the question is, how did the Obasanjo administration failed to spot this and stem the tide from its inception in 1999?
For if Ajaokuta Steel Company has been revived then, it would have spared the nation a further deprecation of 13years on the plant as well as input and output from staffs, machine and quality foreign exchange revenue for the government and people of Nigeria
How did the Yar’ Adua regime as well as the Jonathan administration miss the greatest opportunity for national change, job creation and industrialization in the middle belt?
How is it that we have had almost 10 Ministers of Power and Steel or Mines and Power with little or no input to the ongoing decay of the Ajaokuta Steel Company?
What have these Ministers being doing?
Against what metric have their tenures being adjudged?
How on earth did guys like Liyel Imoke, and other ex minister survive with their reputation intact?
How were they able to secure other public jobs without the nation or their people holding them accounting for their inability to even attempt a reasonable turnaround of Ajaokuta Steel Company?
Well, left to these leaders, they care not!
They care not if Ajaokuta steel project works or if regular saloon cars sell for 10million naira
These our leaders care less about the rising cost of steel or the shameless importation of same from countries like ivory Coast and Congo-when Nigeria has the capacity to out-produce both nations
Our leaders care not about the many mouths that the Ajaokuta project can feed, many souls the working project can house and how well that singular project can drive a drastic change in Nigeria
Well if they won’t, then we should MAKE them!
If they wouldn’t wake up to their responsibilities, then we should deprive their eyes of sleep
If they would continue to play the ignorance card, and would rather remain irresponsible with strategic project that would affect the mass of our people, then we should not allow them rest!
We should block their ears with our cry, puncture their peace with our wails, and never allow them any breathing space but that which screams for redemption
We must shout even louder, scream even madder and let it be known in their heavily-secured, highly fenced enclaves that ‘Enough is enough; The Ajaokuta Steel Project must work’
But not just this project, but also many more that would change the lives of our people.
The East-West Road, The new River Niger Bridge, a newly channeled and functional national railway, safer and saner roads, competent PHCN, regular power supply, revamped education, a dignified and re-mechanized agro industry etc
We should force these leaders to earn their lofty titles and ungodly allowances
We must MAKE them accountable in ways I can’t even begin to enumerate
Let the city lecturers hear and tell the village witches: let the school children hear and inform the homeless hoodlums (agberos)
Leaders derive their power and legitimacy only from the people
They may share the money as if it is their grandfathers own, or close down the 3rd mainland bridge (like President Jonathan allegedly did on Saturday) as if it was their uncle’s lawn,
But this country doesn’t belong to them alone
This nation belongs to us all, and they are deemed leaders and accorded whatever honors because we delegated our rights to them
So therefore, if we arise today…
If we arise today-on the streets, in the marketplace, in beer parlor, on the stadium stand, in the viewing centers, in our bedrooms, boardrooms or even our classrooms
If we arise on the internet and even in the spirit realms (using prayers, fasting, witchcraft, wizardry and other voodoo where applicable)
If we arise and say no to this incompetence; if we arise and demand more from these narcissistic ‘kleptocrats’
Then just maybe,
Just maybe the Ajaokuta Steel project that was dreamt 34year ago might become a reality after a whole generation has been lost
Just maybe these leaders can be shoved out of their reverie and awaken to the indescribable sufferings of their people
Just maybe the devil in them would be diluted and they would grow a conscience
Just maybe they would steal less, care more and think about how to preserve this nation for the next generation
Just maybe these tears welled up in me wouldn’t be for naught,
Just maybe this typing late into the darkest night (at 2am) would touch a heart and make a difference,
Just maybe our online campaigns and our offline crusade would yield some dividends
Just maybe this nation would not be confined to the dustbins of history as we seem to be heading
Just maybe one more child would have access to better quality education and one more pregnant woman would be subtracted from the ever increasing maternal mortality percentage
Just maybe a graduating youth would find jobs easier to come by, and our aged would find the conform of retirement homes to live in their twilight years
Just maybe primary healthcare and universal primary education would be available and affordable to all
Just maybe the change we have always dreamt but never seen will one day arrive
Just maybe another young Nigerian would never have to write this melancholic and depressing article again about Ajaokuta Steel project or Nigeria another 34years from now
My ink stands dried on this, I can only wait and hope that the revolution commences

P.S Have got some remarkable shots of the Ajaokuta Steel Company that I snapped with my Smartphone, if you care for any, just send the request to my twitter handle @basamta. Thanks

Lanre Basamta


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