The federal government says President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration will no longer complete the Ajaokuta steel plant in 2022, as earlier promised.
The COVID pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war were blamed for frustrating the project on several fronts.
Olamilekan Adegbite, minister of mines and steel development, disclosed this on Thursday while addressing state house correspondents in Abuja.
He said the federal government had, before the pandemic, successfully convinced Russia to complete the steel facility but could not proceed with the negotiations.
The deal with Russia involved a $2 million fee for technical audit required to ascertain the state of the facility before work would begin.
Adegbite further explained that the government moved to continue the negotiations with Russia after the lockdown, but progress was stalled again due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
He, however, said the federal government would initiate irreversible processes to ensure the resumption and eventual completion of the steel facility after Buhari’s administration.
“Where we are today, we may not be able to get Ajaokuta to work but I pray that we can start something permanent,” he said.
“I’ve said it before. When we came back from Russia, yes, I went to the public and said, ‘look we will deliver Ajaokuta before the end of this tenure’. And I pray that I’ll have a chance to go back and apologise and explain what happened to the people before I leave office.
It is due to no fault of ours. Everybody was ready to go, but unfortunately, COVID came in. So, it is a force majeure.”
Fielding questions from journalists about gold mining in Zamfara state, the minister said the government had halted mining activities in the area.
On the government’s effort against illegal mining, he said: “We try to nip them in the bud wherever they rear their heads.”
“With the community reporting to us, we have a quick intervention force. We can’t be proactive; it is too expensive to maintain. But we have a quick intervention force,” he added.
“If we hear any mining happening in any nook and cranny, we move in there and dislodge them. Those that are arrested, we confiscate their equipment and they are prosecuted.”
Adegbite also said Nigeria has attained self-sufficiency in barite production and would no longer need to import from October 2022.