Posted by By JOE EFFIONG, Uyo on
For the people of Ikot Abasi Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, Friday, February 22, 2007 could be regarded as a latter-day Christmas Day.
• ALSCON plants hum back to life after 8 years
For the people of Ikot Abasi Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, Friday, February 22, 2007 could be regarded as a latter-day Christmas Day. It was the day the giant plants at the abandoned Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) began to hum and from the productive furnace and consequently rolled out some large aluminium pellets called ingots after more than eight years of lying fallow and casting despondency on the naturally sleepy community.
The community had reasons to roll out drums for celebration as their cherished elevation to the pedestal of an industrial town in a massively civil service state, was brutally cut short in a politically motivated closure of the plants after the then bourgeois owners – the Federal Government with more than 70 per cent, Ferostaal AG of Germany, about 20 per cent and Reynolds of America, about 10 per cent shares, - decided to close shop over some irreconcilable differences bordering on operational cost and profit sharing.
Attempts to privatize the company went through several failures and legal tussles until the Russian Aluminim giant, Rusal, a company operating on the five continents of the world finally bought it up early last year through the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE).
At that event, where the BPE director general, Mrs. Irene Chigbue, was present to announce the outright sale of the plant to Rusal, and the former acting managing director of ALSCON, Mr. Murtala Muhammed took charge to hand over the keys to the new buyers, Rusal officials had pledged that by March 2008, the company would start operation.
Thus, when it announced that they were ready even in February to roll our ingots, the host communities were ecstatic.
The spokesman for the communities, Obong Obot Etukafia, summed up the feelings of the people thus.
“The present of Rusal has made us very proud today. With what we have seen today, ALSCON has been removed from the list of white elephant projects in Nigeria. We cried to the then President Obasanjo not to let ALSCON die and today we’ve seen the plant start work,” he said.
The paramount ruler of Ikot Abasi, HRM, Edidem Udo Ntukubom added, “Today is a day we’ve been waiting for. It is like the Israelites who went on a tortuous journey but they still arrived at the promised land. Within the short period that Rusal has been with us, Ikot Abasi town has enjoyed 24-hour uninterrupted electricity. We hope that it would be extended to the entire local government.”
But it appears it was only the immediate host communities and probably the Rusal management that felt proud of the return to operation of ALSCON as all agencies of government from even the officials of local government council which is sharing almost the same premises with ALSCON, the state government which has been fraternizing with the Rusal top brass and the federal, which actually superintended over the sale of ALSCON to Rusal, regarded as government preferred bidder, decided to be conspicuously absent.
The apparently shocked managing director of Rusal ALSCON, Mr. Andrey Partyanskiy, reacted thus: “We met early with all the authorities, all invitations had been sent, all protocol had been fulfilled. We’re surprised at this situation but we believe it is not going to create any misunderstanding between the government and us.
“The state government was very receptive of our start-up. But I don’t think it will affect our relationship.”
But the managing director of Russian Engineering Company, the parent of Rusal, Mr Valery Matvienko, appeared to have cared less as he put government absence in proper perspective.
“Rusal never deals with politics. We came to this country to work. We always like to fulfill our mandate. I believe we will hear from them (government).”
Matvienko said that they never bought ALSCON secretly, rather with strict obligations, which even included the dredging of Imo River estuary to provide access to the company’s vessels.
He said the dredging project would begin by October this year for full capacity utilization of the company to commence by 2009.
“Nobody knew how much it would cost to dredge the river. We came here with one policy – to start up the plant.”
Though Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information, Mr Census Ekpu, could not return the call as he promised, to explain state government’s absence at the event, Akpabio’s chief press secretary, Mr Usoro Usoro, told Daily Sun on telephone that the state government was not aware of the production launch by ALSCON.
“The governor is not in the state but even the deputy governor would have represented the governor. I think it is the fault of the company because we never got clear information about the commissioning. Initially, they said the president was coming and later it was the vice president and we were later told that the event would not hold. There is nowhere the vice president would be in the state without the governor being around to receive him,” Usoro said.
With eventually dredging of Imo River which cost is ejected to push the price of ALSCON to $300 million, Matvienko said when the company runs its full capacity of 197,000 tonnes of ingots per annum in 2010, it would provide about 1900 jobs. For now, a total of 617 people, both foreign and Nigerian, are working on the plant.
Little wonder the communities were happy with or without government presence.