By Adedapo Adesanya
The federal government has said the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn back plans to resuscitate the Ajaokuta Steel Project by a further five months, putting pressure on progress made so far.
The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Mr Olamilekan Adegbite, made this disclosure on Monday during an interactive session on the government’s plans for the solid mineral sector during and after the current global health crisis.
Mr Adegbite said the COVID-19 pandemic had halted the government’s plans, which has adversely affected the solid mineral sector considering its operations were reliant on foreign experts, who had to be confined in their countries.
“The pandemic, for instance, has limited our ability to go forward on the Ajaokuta Steel project, we are four to five months behind schedule, according to government’s plans to resuscitate the complex before the pandemic,” he said.
This, he said, was specifically so because Russian experts who supposed to come for the technical audit of the complex could not come because of the pandemic and the ban on flight operations.
He added that the idea was for the experts to come into the country and be hosted for 12 weeks within which they were expected to do a proper audit of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex.
He said this had been put on hold until the lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ban on air travel was lifted.
“When this is lifted and we think it is safe enough, these experts will come into the country and we will continue where we stopped,” the Minister said.
He added that the Ajaokuta Project Presidential Implementation Team (APPIT) was, however, still working but that the audit was very important to it.
According to him, the technical audit report is necessary to enable the APPIT to know the cost implication.
He added that because of the complexity of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex, an online audit was not possible as people had to be physically present.
The minister added that government was, however, making efforts to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sector.
“Now, the government needs to come up with a response because the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected our sector, as a lot of miners could not go to work for obvious reasons.
“The consequence of this is that the output is zero and a lot of miners had been impoverished, this, however, is not peculiar to the sector, because it goes all round.
“What the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has decided to do is to face this head-on, and that is why we have come up with post-COVID-19 rescue operations.
“In this, the government proposes to spend N2.3 trillion, this is what the government intends to inject into the economy to counter the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
The minister said that the money had been allotted to different sectors of the economy, including the solid mineral sector.
“A large chunk of the money had been allotted to the sector to help counter the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We intend to spend this fund and some other funds that are available to us to improve artisanal mining in the country and deepen our explorative projects,” Mr Adegbite added.
He further said that the ministry was determined to take its roadshows around the world to attract foreign investors into the country post-COVD-19.
He gave an assurance that the government was working and putting measures in place to ensure that the country comes up ahead of the COVID-19 curve to ensure that its effects are minimal.
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