Friday, February 3, 2017 2:39 pm
A group, Association of Small Scale Steel Marketers and Scrap Dealers of Nigeria (ASSSMSDN) has raised alarm over activities of one Natasha Akpoti , a Kogi born woman who has been campaigning against the revised Concession Agreement entered into by the Federal Government on Ajaokuta Steel Company and the National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO).
Akpoti has for over one year engaged in extensive media campaigns alleging that President Muhammadu Buhari, Minister of Solid Minerals, Dr Kayode Fayemi and other top officials of the Ministry short-changed Nigeria over the concession agreement.
Akpoti had instead argued that the Russian company which began the construction of Ajaokuta should have been brought back to complete and manage the steel complex.
But in a recent statement, ASSSMSDN said though Akpoti claimed to be working for the Russian company, its investigations revealed that the controversial Vaswani Brothers have been discreetly funding her campaign against the FG’s deal on NIOMCO.
The group alleged that the Vaswani brothers who also owned Premium Steel and Mining Limited have been behind the campaign, including a recent rally organized by Akpoti out of their bid to discreetly take over the steel complexes.
However, Akpoti told an online newspaper through one of her partners, Dr. Arome Okeme that the claim of the group is baseless. Dr. Okeme added that Akpoti has been advised by her lawyer not to speak on the issue at the moment, but will issue a statement on the allegations later.
Dr Okeme had earlier told an online newspaper the claim that their group, NAIRA or Akpoti were being sponsored by Vaswani was false.
He said Akpoti , contrary to claims of the group, was working inline with the diversification agenda of Federal Government to ensure Ajaokuta returns for the good of all.”
But in a statement signed by Mallam El-Habib Ibrahim, National President, ASSSMSDN had alleged that the Russian company that Akpoti is projecting was a fictitious alibi created by Vaswani brothers and their Premium Steel as a front to take over the entire steel sector in Nigeria.
The termination of the concession granted by the Obasanjo administration on Ajaokuta by the late president Umaru Musa YarÁdua’s government in 2008 had resulted to a dispute at the International Court of Arbitration in London which lasted for many years.
Because of the dispute, the Nigerian government was barred from putting Ajaokuta into use until the current government negotiated and resolved the case thereby taking Ajaokuta back.
By the new agreement, the former operators of Ajaokuta are to take over and operate NIOMCO for seven years while Ajaokuta is now free for Nigeria to operate.
But Akpoti has been campaigning for termination of the new agreement and handover both Ajaokuta and NIOMCO to a Russian company, the original builders of the steel plant.
But ASSSMSDN said there was no Russian company interested in rebuilding Ajaokuta as the original the company which built the steel plant over 35years ago are no longer in one country following the demise of the old Soviet Union.
“We are shocked that over the last six months however, Natasha has taken her negative activities to a new level by making appearances on several television and radio stations across the country as well as granting interviews to national newspapers, magazines and online platforms in which she has made new allegations against almost everybody in government both previous and the current.
“In one of her recent television dramas, Natasha alleged that the current Kogi State governor and the traditional ruler of Ebiraland have betrayed the people by welcoming and supporting the Revised Concession Agreement on NIOMCO.
She also openly called on the Federal Government to handover both Ajaokuta Steel Company and NIOMCO to a Russian company she claimed originally constructed the Steel Company, boasting that she has been communicating with President Vladimir Putin of Russia whom she claimed has assured her of Russia’s willingness to complete the project.
But according to the statement, the group said they know who drafted the script Natasha is playing.
“There is no such Russian company as Natasha is claiming. We will not even bother with her claims of speaking with or dinning with the Russian president.
The truth is that Natasha is fronting for her clients, the Vaswani brothers and their Premium Steel which she knows very have no capacity to participate in a transparent bidding competition and therefore her resort to public campaign of calumny as a way to blackmail government to hand over Ajaokuta to them without following due process and laid down privatisation rules.
The group further noted that the Federal government has made it clear it is not willing to put fresh funds in reviving Ajaokuta and other steel companies in Nigeria in view of the billions of dollars invested by previous administrations in the past which went down the drains.
“It is for that reason the current administration fought very hard to rescue Ajaokuta Steel Company from its former operators following the settlement of the dispute arising from the termination of the previous concession by the Yar’Ádua administration.
“Having successfully retrieved Ajaokuta, the government has declared that it would hand over the company only to a competent investor with proven records and clear evidence of both the expertise and financial capacity to put it into operation without government putting in its own money into the project,” the group said.
Furthermore, the group also noted that the federal government has initiated a process of privatization of the steel plant in which any interested company is free to participate.
“To achieve this objective, the government has set up machinery in place to conduct an open, transparent and credible bidding in line with the extant laws and rules governing privatisation in the country and in which Natasha’s so called Russian company is free to participate alongside other interested investors.
“But Natasha is carrying out campaigns that government should forget about the bidding process and handover Ajaokuta Steel Company to her so called ‘Russian company’.
“The questions Nigerians should ask Natasha are: Why is she asking the government to hand over Ajaokuta Steel to the so called Russian company without following due process of bidding as provided by privatisation laws; If the Russian company has both the expertise and financial capacity to invest as she is claiming, why is the company not willing to submit itself to compete with others in the bidding process?
“Why is Natasha saying government should not conduct the biding competition?”
The group also condemned the use of classified documents including ones claimed to be correspondences between former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the Ajaokuta Steel Company and other issues by Akpoti to argue against the concession.
In the same vein, the group also faulted her claim of traveling to Russia to meet and speak with President Putin on Ajaokuta.
While urging the Federal Government to go ahead with the concession plan, the group affirmed there was no Russian company interested in taking over the steel complex.
“The truth is that there is no such Russian company that will bring its own money to operate Ajaokuta as was the case nearly 35 years ago.
“How can Natasha be asking the Federal Government to handover the steel companies to the so called Russian company even when available facts are clear that the defunct Tyanjpromexport (TPE), the company that initially built the Ajaokuta Steel Company was a consortium of several construction companies from different countries that made up the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) and that TPE is no longer in existence.
“These companies are scattered in the 19 countries that made up the old Soviet Union and it is a known fact that president Putin of Russia has been muzzling those countries.
“There is no way Putin can call those companies to come together and rebuild Ajaokuta, even as we know that almost all the companies have been grounded, with the demise of the Soviet socialism,” the group explained.
“In those days, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) was willing to invest its resources in other countries especially in Africa as part of its superiority contest with the United States in what was then known as cold war.
“And don’t forget, Russia was just one of the 19 countries that made up the defunct USSR. Today’s Russia is a capitalist country and cannot come to Nigeria with its money to operate our steel company for us and Natasha knows this.
If an independent Russian company has the capacity to operate Ajaoukta, it should come up and submit its credentials alongside other bidders. How does that concern President Putin? Or is Natasha stating that Russian government would come and operate the Company?
The group also warned against handing over of Ajaokuta or NIOMCO to the Vaswani brothers because of their records in the country, especially their recent dismal performance in Delta Steel company.
“Anybody that doubts us should please make a trip to Delta Steel. You will see how the place has become an abandoned national museum. There is no single industrial or operational activity going on at the plant site.
“The entire place has been overtaken by weeds while workers go about aimlessly, looking forlorn and totally dejected. The only remarkable thing you can notice in Delta Steel is that Premium Steel has removed Delta Steel signboard, replacing it with Premium Steel name and logo,” the group stated.