Unlocking Nigeria’s Steel Potential: PEEF’s 7th Annual Conference Unveils Path to Progress

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Ify Onyekwere

In the heart of Nigeria’s economic landscape, the steel industry stands as a symbol of untapped potential, holding the key to vast economic growth and infrastructural development. On the 23rd of November 2023, the People Expertise and Excellence Foundation (PEEF) hosted its 7th Annual Conference, a pivotal event that delved into the challenges, opportunities, and strategic recommendations for the revival of the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (ASCL) and the broader steel sector in Abuja, Nigeria.

For four decades, the Ajaokuta Steel Company, once a beacon of industrial promise, has languished in a state of dormancy. The challenges haunting its revival are deeply rooted in systemic issues, ranging from policy vacillation to financial complexities and international influences. The Nigerian government’s lack of steadfast commitment, coupled with inadequate training, technology integration, and political pressures, has stifled the industry’s growth.

The conference illuminated the multifaceted opportunities that lie within Nigeria’s steel sector. Abundant natural resources, government support, significant investments, and a burgeoning market present a canvas of potential waiting to be painted. The steel industry, strategically intertwined with manufacturing and construction, has the power to bridge the nation’s infrastructure gap, catalyzing growth in railways, roads, power, and mining.

In response to the challenges identified, the conference participants crafted a set of insightful recommendations. Foremost among them is the call for a long-term and focused national plan, underscoring the imperative for the Nigerian government to prioritize the resuscitation of ASCL. Patriotic leadership, a declaration of a state of emergency on steel, and strategic partnerships with other governments and the private sector are proposed as vital elements for success.

Furthermore, the remodeling of privatization and concession models, a narrative shift away from obsolescence, and the exploration of a Nigerian LNG model for resuscitation were highlighted. The emphasis on funding arrangements, including a bilateral government-to-government approach, ensures that the original builders are involved, guaranteeing expertise for the upgrade and rehabilitation of ASCL.

The second focal point of the conference illuminated the critical role of efficient procurement processes in the success of steel production. Corruption risks, from bidding to post-award project execution, were dissected, emphasizing the need for transparent, accountable, and well-managed structures.

To enhance procurement integrity, the conference proposed a comprehensive set of measures. These include integrating the steel production value chain into the procurement value chain, compliance monitoring by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), and the establishment of the National Council on Public Procurement. The recommendations also advocate for a reduction in selective tendering, the promotion of competitive tendering, and the certification of procurement professionals to ensure efficiency and effectiveness.

The third dimension of the conference addressed the deeper issues of corruption and ethical lapses within the procurement management of the steel sector. The unprofessional practices, lack of international collaboration, moral bankruptcy, and inadequate criminal prosecution were acknowledged as systemic challenges.

The recommendations emphasize the registration of all stakeholders in procurement as members of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply Management (CIPSMN), strengthening the CIPSMN as the sole regulator, and promoting competitive tendering. The establishment of a professional procurement team, certification of professionals, and an increased focus on corruption prevention were underscored as essential measures.

The final dimension explored the interconnected challenges of the extractive and solid minerals sector, recognizing them as pivotal to the growth of the steel industry. Leadership gaps, inadequate infrastructure, security concerns, policy inconsistencies, and the lack of regulation were identified as hindrances to the sector’s development.

The opportunities lie in Nigeria’s abundant natural resources and the establishment of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI). The recommendations advocate for sustained advocacy, proper harnessing of resources with value-added approaches, the constitution of specialized teams for monitoring and advocacy, and proper regulation of the sector at all levels.

In conclusion, PEEF’s 7th Annual Conference serves as a compass pointing towards the resurgence of Nigeria’s steel industry. It weaves a narrative of hope, outlining a roadmap that requires patriotic leadership, international collaboration, and ethical foundations to unlock the nation’s steel potential. As Nigeria stands at the crossroads of economic transformation, the lessons from this conference beckon the nation to forge ahead, embracing a future where steel becomes the cornerstone of prosperity.

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