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We waste and we want

Ours is a wasteful nation in search of progress. I refer you to the front-page story of the Daily Trust of March 23, to wit:…

Ours is a wasteful nation in search of progress. I refer you to the front-page story of the Daily Trust of March 23, to wit: “5 years after commissioning, multibillion naira Baro Port remains dormant.” Baro port is an inland port in Agaie local government area of Niger State. It is an old inland port that served important commercial and transportation needs dating back to the colonial period. It saw better days and then fell from grace to utter neglect and was forgotten.

The decision to rebuild it into a modern port could not have been taken in jest by the powers that be. The port has the potential to  a stimulate local commercial enterprises. Money was poured into it in billions of naira. It was duly completed and commissioned five years ago, according to the newspaper, by President Muhammadu Buhari. And then the story developed k-leg. The port is once again forced to become a cruel reminder of our criminal waste of important national assets. I am sure the former president took no further interest in the port after he commissioned it.

Most of us who read the Daily Trust story must have shrugged it off and asked ourselves soto voce, what else is new? There are many such cases in the land. The culture of neglect and waste is ingrained in our national system. Anywhere you go in the country you are more likely than not to stumble on abandoned development projects that litter the landscape. They are sorry victims of our national short sightedness and together constitute a metaphor for a country that is anxious to be a player in the global economy but finds no contradiction in chaining itself to the mill stone.

Every time an industrial or commercial project dies in the country, it kills our hope and our dreams in our national development. It throws workers back to the streets and the unemployment queue gets longer. In our nearly 64 years of independence, we have witnessed the rise of such numerous projects conceived in the best interests of our national development that should have moved the country from point A all the way to point Z and pulled millions of our compatriots up from the bottom and placed them above the poverty line. Sadly, we also witnessed their neglect, abandonment, and eventual collapse.

Let me cite one instance of an industry that could have changed our fortunes but became a victim of criminal policy summersaults and corruption. Steel is the bedrock of every nation’s industrialisation and development. The Yakubu Gowon administration established the Nigerian Steel Development Authority, NSDA, in 1971. It carried out the survey of local raw materials for a steel industry and presented its preliminary report in 1974. The report indicated that there was a huge iron ore deposit at Itakpe in the Ajaokuta area of Okene division in Kwara State.

A more detailed project report in 1977 confirmed the preliminary findings in respect of the availability of the necessary raw materials for the steel industry in the country. The Obasanjo military administration approved the report as well as the recommended steps to kick start a steel development project in the country. The military administration thereafter dissolved NSDA and formally set up the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited, ASCL, on September 18, 1979, under decree 60.

The company defined its vision in its website as “the production of quality steel for the industrialisation of Nigeria while meeting all standards.” The company’s potentials were huge. It would be the most strategic industry in the country. “It would provide materials for infrastructural development, technology acquisition, human capacity building, income distribution, regional development and employment generation. While the project would directly employ about 10,000 staff at its first phase of commissioning, the upstream and downstream industries that will evolve all over the nation will engage not less than 500,000 employees.”

The late President Shehu Usman Shagari wasted little time in giving effect to our national dreams. He poured his heart into it and expected to see steel roll out of the factory during his tenure as president. The Russians, willing partners in the project, came and Ajaokuta gradually became the talk of the country.

And then this strategic industry became a metaphor for our myriads of unrealised national dreams. The dream died; the factory is a monument to our attempts to rise to greatness only to descend into the bottom as a bewildered nation, wondering if it is suffering from the curse of nature’s endowments and kindness. No one knows for sure how much money has been poured into Ajaokuta. What is known is that our riches were squandered, turning our industrialisation dreams into a nightmare.

Former Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo once described it as “… one of the cases of failures. It is a tragedy of immense proportion that we have both Ajaokuta Steel Complex and NIOMCO and couldn’t get anything out of them for years.”

That this major and welcome industry capable of employing directly and indirectly more than half a million workers was crippled by those who needed no one to help them appreciate the place of steel in modern industrial, commercial, and economic development tells you in no uncertain terms the depth of our collective ambivalence in our national development. The collapse of Ajaokuta inevitably became the collapse of the steel rolling mills in Jos, Katsina and Oshogbo.

Nigeria enjoys sabotaging itself and its development. Think of the difference the steel industries alone could have made in our industrial, commercial, and economic development. Then, if you please, think of the loss the nation suffers from their collapse. The net result, of course, is that we have failed to rise and instead become, to borrow from the coup speech of the late General Sani Abacha, a beggar nation burdened by external loans and forced to march on the same spot, savouring the hollow ritual of cosmetics of development.


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