Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development recently inaugurated the Board of agencies and parastatals under his ministry. Bankole Shakirudeen Adeshina, who covered the event, engaged Dr. Oluyomi Finninh, Chairman Board of Directors of the National Steel Raw Materials Exploration Agency in this exclusive interview.
Your appointment was long in coming. What is the feeling like for being able to make it eventually?
Like you have rightly said, this day was long awaited; but it’s better late than never. All we have been hoping for is to be given an opportunity to participate in the economic development of this nation. And the project of steel and raw materials exploration is one key that I think will contribute significantly to improve the country’s economic situation.
No doubt, it was bad enough that the country has depended so much on oil to power the economy for so long that this has affected the growth of the nation. It therefore suffices to say that it’s a good thing that the government is now looking into a wide range of alternatives to power the economy. And it is equally gratifying to know that the same government, under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari has identified and prioritized the Mines and Steel Development sector.
Your agency (NSRMEA) has long been abandoned and crippled due to decades of neglect and zero funding by the previous administrations. How prepared are you to assist this agency attain its full economic potentials?
The need to build an alternative to oil, as the baseline for the nation’s economy is now being understood by all. And that is good news. However, the next most prosperous and abundant sector that can do that is the Mines and Steel sector. And if we can be disciplined enough to remain focus on this pathway, we will be definitely making a lot of progress.
Yes, nobody can predict the outcome of what we can do now, but we are resolute to making an impact. And it is not only about this year or next year. The mandate is to make sure that whatever has been done before can be examined and improved upon, if need be and generally introduced productive and profitable ideas for strategic expansions in the sector. And once we can convince the Minister and the President that we mean well and are ready to bring steel and raw materials exploration into focus, I am sure there will be a lot more support into this agency.
Going by the enormity of funds required to achieve the needed milestones in mining and exploration in the country, with the FG admitting heavy reliance on FDI and loans as the way forward, what are the strategic ideas/values you are bringing on board as workable alternative?
The truth is that I have not been deeply entrenched in the aspect of project funding or provisions, but we have just been inaugurated today (then). We are going to study this area in all its ramifications and start working on how to galvanize the steel industry to the point where we can not only start using our own steel. We may even have to stop importing steel, due to self-sufficiency and start export around the world.
These are some of the ideas on our plate. Of course the Minister has given us a background into why we are here. It’s now left for us to go and work on what on it. And we shall do it so well that at the end of the day, the government would beat it chest that it has actually appointed credible people into the positions with results to show for it.
The Ajaokuta Steel Project and its abandonment have been described as a national embarrassment by the National Assembly. The failure of the project is also causing ripples between the Minister and the NASS. What impact can your Board make on its recovery efforts?
You see, it is very difficult to make a bold prescription at this time, but what I can tell you is that we know that there are some problems in Ajaokuta Steel Project. The problems are not insurmountable. And whatever we find out, in the course of this job, we will make proper recommendations to the Minister.
In fact, our own coverage, that is the National Steel Raw Materials Exploration Agency is not all confined to Ajaokuta. There are other agencies that are working on the rolling project. But we must all come together and join hands in this task. For instance, while our agency is exploring, some other agency should be rolling too, some marketing, and some doing meteorological survey among others; this will show clearly to Nigerians that our steel industry has taken off as expected.
During your inauguration, the Minister said the job of the Board is temporary and its statutory obligation is to provide oversight assistance to the agency and subsequently the Ministry. As the BOD Chairman, what values are you bringing on board to see these expectations to fruition?
Our statutory mandate is very simple. And it is to ensure that the raw materials and explorations are put into focus. We take all steps that are necessary to make sure that wherever there are deposits of raw materials that can help the steel project are identified and aggressively pursued for exploration. We will make sure that we don’t leave any stone unturned in discharging this duty.
We also must be scientific about our approach to this assignment too. For instance, we need to produce steel now. We need raw materials. And before you get raw materials, you must explore all over the place. There are places you get to that these raw materials exist, but you will find out that it won’t be economically reasonable to pursue the explorations.
And there are some places that you will receive bad report on reasons why the exploration may not go on. Therefore, all these are not possible to be foreseen or predict without fact. And at the end of the day, you want to try as much as possible to narrow down the margin of error so that you don’t start wasting money on places where nothing tangible is going to come out from. That is what we hope to do in terms of our oversight function.
Looking at the international goodwill and support, how valuable is the role of personal integrity on the part of the handlers of the process?
Yes, integrity and commitment are going to be the main factors. Because people who have been put into positions to produce result must not fail the nation. We must all work together to produce result. It’s not all about gallivanting around that I’m the Chairman of the Board of steel raw material exploration agency and that is all there is to it. No! It shouldn’t be. It should be that people will now be saying, see what has happened to the steel industry in Nigeria and that one Dr. Finnih was the one who pushed it to this height. Of course, I will be so delighted wherever I am, whether above (living) or below (in the grave) to hear this.
I will also be proud to say we have done this for this nation. And this is the basis upon which we accepted the invitation to serve. We want to do things for this nation. Sometimes, one gets so frustrated and wants to break down about the ways things are being done in the country. But it suffices to say that this nation must move forward.
What are your areas of focus, especially on leadership and administration?
It is commitment. To achieve anything at all, there must be commitment by the people. Do you understand the assignment you have been appointed to do? If the answer is yes, are you committed enough to be able to get the result delivered? People in charge of responsibilities must continue to be able to say yes to those questions.
If you fail to say yes to any of the questions, the question would then be why did you accept the appointment? If it’s a question of going to make a few bucks here and there, maybe such a person would have to look for something else, and not focus on this kind of serious national assignment that we have been given.
The industrial development of the nation depends on steel production. If we don’t have steel, we cannot manufacture anything, not even a pin. And we must be able to focus on it, so that all these things that we ordered from China, Japan can be produced locally too. Well, we are not saying we should start with 100% needs of the country, but let us start with something. And let us move forward gradually. At the end of the day, we want to be able to say that we want to manufacture cars, bicycle and others here at home.
Are you also aware of the rumored international conspiracy to thwart the industrialization dream of Nigeria, given the example of the failed Ajaokuta Steel Project?
Well, I have read about that a lot of times; I am not in the possession of all the facts. And so, these are one of the things we will look into and see where things went wrong and see how we can move on henceforth without toeing the wrong lane again.
Looking at the nation’s rich cool deposit, experts say it can be used to power the nation’s uninterrupted electricity supply for the next 200 years. But the challenge is getting to explore this resource. Can you make a promise that your Board would do something in this direction?
I can’t make any promise, simply because at some point, the world was looking a clearer alternative source of power. And I know that whatever you want to do in exploration, you will need coal; therefore, you always need coal to fulfill your ambition of producing steel for Nigeria, Africa and the rest of the world.
And of course, you need coal for electricity too. But there is so much politicking about coal for power, centering on the environmental impact of it. But I don’t think the world should worry about us on that. If they are looking for greater polluter of the air, they should go to America and China. In China, for instance, you can’t even see the pure sky. Everything is covered in smoke.