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FG To Probe Ajaokuta Steel Company’s N33bn Electricity Debt

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The Federal Government yesterday said it would investigate how the non-functioning Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited accrued N33billion electricity debt which prompted the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) to disconnect the company from the national grid.
The Minister of Steel Development, Shuaibu Audu, disclosed this to State House correspondents after meeting President Bola Tinubu at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, yesterday.
On Wednesday, the TCN disconnected ASCL from the national grid as the moribund company failed to clear a debt of N33billion owed to the NBET and service providers.
The N33billion comprises N30.85billion for energy and capacity delivered by NBET and N2.22billion owed to service providers.
Addressing correspondents, Audu vowed to consider the matter.
He expressed surprise at how the company accumulated such debt in electricity consumption when it had not been operating in full capacity.
“I mean these are some of the things that need to be clearly looked into. One of the things I spoke to the MD of Ajaokuta today, and this was one of the questions I asked and we’re going to get to the bottom of it: why consumption of so much electricity in a place that is not operating at full capacity?
“Part of what we also need to do is that we’re trying to revive Ajaokuta in a collegiate system, in piecemeal, and so we may not have the capacity to be able to pay all those outstanding amounts immediately.
“Part of what the MD of Ajaokuta told me is that most of the money is in interest payments. And NBET, the electricity company that has disconnected it is also a government agency,” Audu explained.
Audu also said the Federal Government would not allow its agency, NBET, to hinder the effort to revive the steel company, which has been out of operation for about 45 years.
He said, “So, if we as a government ministry, government agency are trying to revive Ajaokuta and working hard to do that, we should not have another hand within the same government making things very difficult for us.
“And so, part of what we plan to do is to sit down in the next few days as quickly as possible to be able to come up with a plan so that they can put it back on the grid and put things back in order.
“It is a gradual process, Ajaokuta cannot be revived overnight. This is an institution, this is a plant that has not been working for 45 years, and it is a difficult task to try and get it back on track.
“So, we need the support of the entire government apparatus, we need the support of stakeholders, we need the support of everyone to be able to do this difficult job.”
He said that neither the President nor himself can execute such an undertaking alone, adding that “We need the support of everyone including the electricity company to be able to help us to get this project back on track so that we can create the hundreds of thousands of jobs I want to create for Nigerians.”
The minister also revealed that his ministry has received Tinubu’s nod to create a committee to scout for an appropriate site to establish a new steel plant in the country.
He recalled that Tinubu had engineered an agreement to establish the $5bn plant with Jindal Steel of India on the sidelines of the G20 summit in India last September.
Audu explained, “So, I briefed Mr. President and I’ve met with representatives of Jindal Steel, and they’re very serious about their commitment.
“And we’re currently looking for a land that is close to a gas station that has a port and is close to the natural or mineral resources such as, you know, iron ore and the likes to be able to get them the ideal location. Either they set up a greenfield or they acquire an existing plant, such as the Delta steel plant.
“So, those are the things on the table. Mr. President has given us go ahead to set up a committee with some very critical stakeholders within the government, including the likes of the minister of finance the CME, including the likes of the Minister of trade and investments, the Minister of Defense, Minister of Solid Minerals and myself to be able to get this thing running and get it off the ground.”

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Customs Suspends Rice Sale As Seven Die In Stampede

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The Nigeria Customs Service has announced the suspension of the sale of foodstuffs following a stampede that reportedly killed seven persons at the NCS Old Zonal Headquarters in the Yaba area of Lagos State, last Friday.
A Chief Superintendent of Customs and National Public Relations Officer for Comptroller General of Customs, Abdullahi Maiwada, disclosed the suspension of the exercise in a statement on Monday.
Nigeria Customs had said it was selling seized food items at N10,000 per 25kg to alleviate the people’s suffering as a result of the current high cost of living and other economic hardships.
Last Friday, a pregnant woman and six others reportedly died in a stampede after some suspected hoodlums attempted to force their way into the Yaba Customs office compound.
Some Lagos residents who thronged the NCS office in Yaba expressed disappointment on Monday following the suspension of the initiative.
However, in a statement on Monday evening, the NCS said the suspension became necessary considering “the recent unfortunate event.”
“We regrettably announce the suspension of this exercise until we establish what transpired on Friday, February 23, 2024,” the NCS spokesman said.
He explained that: “The disposal of the food items got off to a smooth start at about 0800hrs. We enjoyed the cooperation of the large crowd that obliged us, giving preferences to the elderly, people living with disabilities, pregnant women, and other vulnerable Nigerians who showed up for the exercise.
“This was the case up until about 1700hrs, as attested to by the over 5,000 beneficiaries and members of the press. However, unforeseen challenges arose when we ran out of stock and announced the continuation of the exercise the following day, leading to a regrettable outcome.
“The crowd became desperate and charged through our barricades in search of rice bags inside emptied containers. In the stampede that ensued, some fatalities and injuries were regrettably recorded.”
The Customs extended its “heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives during the unfortunate incident.”
The service said it was working with health authorities to establish contact and engage directly with the victims’ families on their next steps.

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Court Dismisses Police Objection Against Fubara’s CoS …Restrains Police From Arresting Ehie

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A Rivers State High Court in Port Harcourt, yesterday, dismissed the preliminary objection by counsel to the Nigerian Police, Celestine Dickson, challenging the jurisdiction of the Court to hear the fundamental rights suit by the Chief of Staff to Governor Siminalayi Fubara, Hon. Edison Ehie against the police for lack of merit.
The trial Judge, Justice Sika Aprioku, in a ruling, yesterday, assumed jurisdiction and held that the non-joinder of the Nigeria Police Force in a matter that the Commissioner of Police is a party to does not render the suit incompetent.
Justice Aprioku said the application by the Police lacks merit and thereby dismissed it with a cost of N100,000 in favour of Hon Edison Ehie.
Aprioku also granted the prayers of the counsel to Edison, Damian Okoro to restrain the Police from arresting, detaining, harassing, or inviting Ehie based on the trumped-up charges in the suit by Rt Hon. Martin Amaewhule in connection to the destruction of the Hallow chamber of the Rivers State House of Assembly.
Speaking to newsmen outside the courtroom, counsel to the Police, Celestine Dickson, said he would study the judgment and advise his clients accordingly.
Dickson stated, “That is the wisdom of the court and we cannot criticise the wisdom of the court. The outcome of court decisions must bind parties.
“If you are not satisfied I think you study the judgement and take the next step. The court made it clear that in a couple of minutes, we were going to have copies of the judgement. That will give us the opportunity to look at the judgement and advise our clients accordingly.
On his part, one of the counsel to the Chief of Staff, Ibioku Mac-Barango said the judgment reflects the position of the law.

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Fubara Expresses Confidence In Tinubu To Address Labour Concerns

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In the midst of the ongoing nationwide protest organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Rivers State Governor, Sir Siminalayi Fubara, has expressed confidence in President Bola Tinubu’s ability to address the concerns raised by the organised labour and alleviate their fears.
Fubara gave the assurance during the NLC’s protest to the Government House, Port Harcourt, yesterday .
The State NLC, led by its chairman, Alex Agwanwor, had joined its counterparts in other parts of the country to protest against high cost of living in the country occasioned by the fuel subsidy removal by the Federal Government in May last year.
Recall that there have been a series of protests across the country over the cost of living, inflation, insecurity and hardship among Nigerians.
The NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) had on February 8 issued a 14-day nationwide strike notice to the Federal Government over the failure to implement the agreements reached on October 2, 2023 following the removal of the fuel subsidy.
Responding to a letter of demands presented to the governor by the State NLC, Fubara noted that the grievances outlined by the protesters primarily fell within the purview of the Federal Government.
The governor, who was represented by the Head of the Rivers State Civil Service, Dr. George Nwaeke, said, “To all who listened to every presentation of the labour leader as it is being read out, we can find out none is local, not originating from local source here. They are all national issues and we have hope in the Renewed Hope Agenda of the Federal Government. We have hope. And I know Governor Fubara will also deliver this message as presented by you to the President.”
Fubara further assured the protesters that his administration remained committed to alleviating the economic hardships faced by the people of Rivers State.
He highlighted initiatives such as the provision of palliative buses in response to the fuel subsidy removal and the ongoing development of 20,000 housing units for low-income earners.
The governor also emphasized his administration’s dedication to improving the welfare of civil servants, citing measures such as the employment of 10,000 youths into the state civil service, promotions, and the provision of bonuses.
He affirmed the significance of the issues raised and reiterated his commitment to prioritizing the welfare of workers in the State.
He, however, assured that the NLC’s demands would be conveyed to the President as presented.

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