Face-off looms as Dogara warns ministers against ‘boycott’ of reps’ debate on Ajaokuta Steel Company

A face off appears imminent as the two ministers of Mines and Steel Development are set to be absent at a debate on the steel sector scheduled for Thursday by the House of Representatives.

The exercise is a continuation of the Sectoral Debate series by the House, with Thursday’s event focusing on the steel sector and specifically on how to revive the moribund Ajaokuta Steel Company in Kogi State.

Although the lawmakers are talking about reviving the steel company while keeping it under government control, the ministers have been working to concession it to the private sector.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how the Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, recently said the government must do everything possible to complete Ajaokuta, even if it means borrowing funds.

The House had several weeks ago invited the Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Kayode Fayemi, the minister of state, Bawa Bwari, Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, and a host of others to the debate.

PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development on Tuesday wrote to Mr. Dogara that the ministers will not be able to attend.

In the letter with reference No MMSD/S/BUDG2017, the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Abdulkadir Muazu, said the ministers “are slated for official engagements during the scheduled period of the debate.”

He added that “The Honourable Minister has prior diplomatic schedule engagement in preparation for the focal labs of ERGP relating to the Mining Sectors while the Minister of State will be leading the Ministry’s delegation to Canada to attend the PDAC Conference”.

Apparently irked by what he described as the ministers’ “apparent boycott” of the event, Mr. Dogara, in a letter signed by his chief of staff, Jerry Manwe, Wednesday,asked the ministry to send at least one of the ministers to the debate due to its crucial importance.

The letter partly reads “I am further directed to respectfully state that the House considers the attendance of one of the Ministers in the Ministry of crucial importance to its legislative intervention in the Steel sector to ensure timely completion of the Ajaokuta Steel Plant, and consequently requests you to reconsider the apparent boycott of the House’s sectoral debate.

“We think that the debate presents an opportunity for the Ministry to debunk the widespread allegations that the proposed concessionaires have tied the hands of the Ministry.

“We are worried that the apparent boycott of the session by your ministry can only lend credence to the allegations that the top echelon of your ministry are deeply conflicted in the matter.”

The speaker went on to inform the minister that the debate will go on with or without their attendance.

“In view of the cordial relationship that has always existed between the two Honourable Ministers and the Speaker and the institution of the House of Representatives, we urge you to take all reasonable measures to reinforce this relationship, more so that the session is widely advertised and will go on with or without your participation,” the letter concluded.

Sources in the National Assembly told PREMIUM TIMES that the lawmakers believed that the ministers are bent on concluding the proposed concession of the steel company, hence their reluctance to attend the debate.

When contacted to comment on the development, the spokesperson to the House speaker, Turaki Hassan, declined comment.

Also, the spokesperson to Mr. Fayemi, Olayinka Oyebode, said he was not aware of the invitation and seeming boycott.

“I wouldn’t know. Honestly, I’m not aware of that,” he said.

The Sectoral Debate is an initiative of the 8th House of Representatives encapsulated in the Legislative Agenda introduced by Mr. Dogara, with the aim of reviving Nigeria’s economy.

The first phase of the debate was held in May 2016 in the chamber of the House and was attended by ministers.

SOURCE: Premium Times