Nigeria: Contractors Handling Ajaokuta Project Have No Knowledge of Steel

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RECENTLY, the Nigerian Institute of Welding (NIW) paid a courtesy call to Vanguard.

At the head of the NIW delegation was Mr Solomon Iyobosa Edebiri, President of the Institute and CEO of Typhacenia Nig Ltd. Edebiri’s delegation was received by Vanguard editors, and in the course of the visit, he acquainted his hosts with the activities of the Nigerian Institute of Welding, including the contribution of his professional group towards solving the national problem that the Ajaokuta Iron and Steel project has become.

 

Excerpts:

On training of welders

When you are trained as a welder in Nigeria, you get a certificate that will allow you practice in Ghana, Sierra-leone, and other ECOWAS countries. For that reason, we expect every Nigerian welder to take advantage of this opportunity to ensure that they are well trained by the Nigerian Institute of Welders so that they can carry a certificate that will allow them practice in other African countries.

That is what we called a regional certification scheme. Now there is an international certification scheme, and members of Nigerian Institute of Welders will have access to it. So any welder that we trained in accordance with international standards and specifications will be issued with the certificate. But when we talk of national certification, it is something that is used in Nigeria and issued to Nigerians.

When you look at it critically, the most viable certificate that is going to be issued here is that of IOU and ECOWAS region because you can carry our labour and sell it anywhere in the region. We are also building a centre that will be a hub for welding training and research development in Africa. We are collaborating with the Federal Government to bring that to reality.

You will recall that in the year 2005, the Norwegians partnered NNPC to research into the gap analysis in the oil and gas sector in welding. This shows that we will begin to have welding professionals in the country and this will ensure that no foreigner will come into the country to weld any more.

But further analysis done in South Africa when we went for seminar looking at Africa’s welding skills and gap shows that Nigeria will require 34,000 welders by 2012 while it is expected that the world will be require 200,000 welders as the minimum by 2012. Now, it has become a major concern bridging those gaps and of course, no individual company can train people with that magnitude, so luckily, we put up training in conjunction with NDDC.

In the last two and half years, the training has been successful. We sent out people on training in South Africa, welding engineers in Turkey. These people will come back home to support the welding development in Nigeria. And by the time they come back, we must have completed training of over 500 welders and those ones will be graduating in August and September, after which another batch of 700 will commence.

 

This is in our effort to bridging that gap that was discovered for 2600 welders. We are looking at bridging the gap for the 10000/12000 welders. NDDC and other agencies played role. NDDC at the moment is training 700 welders, after it successfully trained 25 welding practitioners, that is, welding instructors from South Africa. The next thing we aspiring to ensure is to develop competency is underwater welding.

On Ajaokuta steel project

Talking about Ajaokuta, in April 2009 we concluded a research on Ajaokuta Steel. I personally led the team that conducted the research and our investigation showed that the project was already 90 % completed. We saw that Ajaokuta was designed to run on coking coal and coking coal does not exist in Nigeria.

What can we do about that?

The problem with Ajaokuta has to do with many of the contractors, most of whom don’t know anything about steel. When you bring a round peg and put it in a square hole, no matter what you do, it can’t work. But I know clearly and I can tell you that in the down stream, over, 3000 jobs were created and in the upstream, more than 15,000 jobs will be created. Also, all the vicinity around that steel plant will not lack power because, the power plant is large enough to supply them. We have the steel making shops which is 99.9 % ready. We have the oxygen shop which will supply oxygen no matter what the environment is.

Wired object

We have a wired object which will help us get back to the original platform of Ajaokuta when it was established and completed to run on backward integration. We can create jobs for over 200,000 people at that time through distribution and marketing.

Welding will get people off the street and that will have multiplier effects, but what happened? They produced for a while and shut down. Those mills are still there and from our investigation, all we need do is service the mill. When we do that, those mills will start running. Ajaokuta steel plant has one of the best workshops I have seen. It has a massive warehouse, the machines from the two shops can be compared to that of DICON or something bigger than that.

What you’ve said is the most optimistic thing we’ve heard about Ajaokuta steel. So, why are they privatizing?

It’s supposed to be a fifty-fifty arrangement between buyers and the Federal Government. In my report to the minister, I said every nation that wants to industrialize and be a leading economy must ensure that it is independent in steel production.

This is the only way manufacturing and production can be guaranteed. We therefore recommended that the government should make very strong commitment in the steel sector by laying emphasis on completion and commissioning of Ajaokuta steel plant. Only the executive can do that. The operation of this plant will earn Nigeria over 40 per cent of our current earnings from crude oil.

 

We said that government should be involved directly because we will never see the truth about Ajaokuta steel in any attempt to bring individuals in under the name of privatization. So, government must be directly involved in the steel plant, get involved in rolling it back again. Let us get it back on track so that Nigeria will be in the trench of industrialization. Let’s work with the Ministry of Science and Technology and the engineering profession — the NSE, the COREN etc and lets utilize the foundry shop.

It is foundry that can give us manufacturing because the engine block has to come from the foundry; so many things have to come from there and if we develop foundry and machine shop, we are on the verge of producing our machine. But still, we need liquid steel. All these have to come from the furnace. These are the issues. Ajaokuta can provide this nation 40% of what we are looking from oil. If we are making 100 billion dollars from oil today, Ajaokuta will give us 40 billion. It bothers me why a nation with such a goldmine abandoned it; it shows how completely ignorant we have been.

When you submitted your report to the minister, what did he say?

He said oh, this is a wonderful report, that we should go and get him a proposal on how we can get it going. However, we wrote the proposal and I said the simple way to get it done is to get some experts to work in partnership with the Federal Government and we are not going to get them from America, Germany, China, etc. We know where to get it.

Where?

The Nigerian Institute of Welding is a member of an organization that is in charge of welding in the whole world. We have 56 country members, not individuals. Government knows what to do and this is to allow professionals handle any project that has to do with professionalism. We know where to go, we know countries that were recommended to Nigeria that will be happy to come here and work with Nigerians.

Volume of steel import

But if government keeps saying America, Germany, Britain, etc, we will never get anywhere because, that’s where we have been importing our steel from. Do you know the volume of steel we import?

So, what should Nigeria do about Ajaokuta?

The major problem we have at Ajaokuta is the furnace and the firing system. The coal we have in Enugu cannot power it and it becomes a major problem. You will be amazed the growth Nigeria will experience if Ajaokuta steel plant is functioning. We need a strong wind of success. We need government to say to hell with any pressure and interest groups. We want the right people to do the right thing and if we can do that, Ajaokuta steel plant will run.

Our research team is working on producing a vehicle in two years but the issue is that if we get this research completed, we are going to import the plastic, the fan belt, the engine block etc. whereas Ajaokuta’s rubberizing and vulcanizing plant can produce all the fan belt that we need. The question is; if we finish our research and ready for work, what happens to the raw materials? Anyway, we want to continue on our research on how we can come up with a Nigerian made something.

What is the difference between qualification and certification in welding?

There is difference between qualification and certification. They are two different things. You can be educated but you may not be qualified. You can have skill but it maybe deficient. There are 126 graduates at the moment that have been accredited by IWO (International Welding Organization). To be honest, a lot of Nigerians are showing interest in welding and that’s why we want to help.

We are training over 500 people and they will graduate in four months. There are welders but their competency level needs to be improved on.

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