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LAGOS. NIGERIA.     Monday, June 03 2002






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U.S., Japanese firms to revive Ajaokuta steel
From Alifa Daniel, Ajaokuta

ANOTHER step in steel development was taken at the weekend when the Federal Government secured the partnership of an American consortium and a Japanese company to complete and roll out liquid steel from the N50 billion worth Ajaokuta Steel Company in Kogi State.

Power and Steel Minister, Dr. Olusegun Agagu, yesterday in Abuja led a team, comprising Minister of State for Power and Steel, Mallam Murtala Aliyu and Chairman of Ajaokuta Steel Company board, Major General Chris Ali (rtd), to sign for the Federal Government, while Solgas Energy of United States was represented by its President, Arthur Milton Odum.

In a separate agreement, Japanese giant Kobe Steel, signed a pact to increase the capacity of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex by an additional 500,000 metric tonnes. The Japanese are introducing the Fast Melt Technology to achieve the feat. Vice-President Takiya Negami signed the agreement on behalf of his company, Kobe Steel.

Negami gave the credit for the joint venture partnership to President Olusegun Obasanjo's trips. He said it was the president's visit to Japan last year that facilitated the agreement.

The Guardian learnt that over $1 billion will be pumped into the Ajaokuta Steel Complex by the two firms and the Federal Government.

Solgas Energy had proposed to the Federal Government the expenditure of $986 million on rehabilitation and commissioning of the complex, on partnership, in funding and profit sharing basis while Kobe Steel may jointly with the Federal Government expend about $200 million to introduce a new component to the steel plant.

The component will raise production to 1.8 million metric tonnes yearly, from its initial 1.3 million metric tonnes.

Speaking yesterday, an elated Agagu said the new partnerships will make Nigeria's steel plant one of the best in the world.

"You know why it is said that it was built by the Russia and now it is being run by Germans, Japanese, Americans and Nigerians all on one spot. I don't think there is any other steel plant in the world that can boast of such," Agagu added.

The minister described the steel making part of ASC as the "most stubborn" problem of the complex, adding that the venture with Solgas would set ASC on course for full operation.

He described ASC as the "single largest investment" in the country, having gulped $4.5 billion, even as he gave an assurance that dividends would soon start accruing as a result of the government's renewed zeal.

He said: "A lot of foreign exchange goes into the purchase of these items and it is interesting that we can now produce them locally".

The minister commended the efforts of ASC officials and promised to keep the tempo going until the ultimate goal is attained.

Signing the agreements on behalf of their companies, Arthur Odum of Slogas and Takuya Negami of Kobe, assured their business partners of their commitment to the ventures and lauded the improved business climate in the country, adding that on completion of the project, Nigeria would be the largest producer of steel in Africa.

He stated: "There will be new jobs, the economy will improve with an enhanced capacity utilisation and a tremendous amount of new jobs for the Nigerian people".

The Ajaokuta Steel Complex was conceived in 1963 and if completed next year as scheduled, it would have taken 40 years to realise the dream of its founders and Nigerians, Agagu added.

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