*Call Obasanjo a Devil

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*Pray for Buhari to live long

By Jon Egie

 

 

Delta Steel Company, Aladja besieged by protesting pensioners

In 1982 when the Delta Steel Company, Aladja  was commissioned about 3000 persons were in its workforce and by the end of July, 2018, 20 per cent of the workforce who were retired compulsorily or made redundant have died of economic frustration.

Mr Peter Mordi, a retiree of the company said he joined the DSC as a young man but as at the time of speaking with this reporter, he was in his early sixties. He said he was retired in 1995 and was paid his monthly pension until the year 2005 when the payment stopped.

“All that time we have been surviving by the grace of God but for those who could not find other means, menial jobs, to survive, it has been very difficult and that is why over 600 retirees of the company have died because of hardship as they had no money to buy food and drugs when they took ill.

“Today (Saturday, August 4, 2018) three retirees who died last week were buried. Apart from the dead, a good number of the retirees are bed ridden with stroke.”

According to him, the problem of the workers began in 2005 when the Indians took over management of the company.

The Delta Stell Complex (DSC) was built on 172 hectares of land at the cost of 1.89 billion USD at a time the US Dollar was exchanged for 60 kobo at the parallel market. The steel complex was the first and only integrated plant in Nigeria, consisting of units such as Beneficiating and Pelletizing plant, Direct Reduction (DR) plant, made up of two modules: the steel melting shop, the continuous casting melting shop; the air separation plant, the foundry and the general maintenance shop with feeder units in various process departments. No other plant in the country has such complete units. It was the place of pride for all workers selected from different parts of the country. But later, decline set in, not because the company was performing poorly but because government officials became more brazen and greedy.

Mr Peter Mordi who hails from Ogwashi-uku, Delta state was one among the workers who suffered the ill fate of the company.

Narrating his experience so far, Mr Mordi located the blame of the fall of DSC on former president Olusegun Obasanjo who he described as a devil.

“The negligence of DSC began in 2005 when Obasanjo the Devil connived with Indians to sell the plant. Since then, our hope has been forlorn. The Indians did not come to reactivate the company; they came to make money for themselves. They said it was sold but we know the Indians did not pay anything for its acquisition and I guess Obasanjo sold it to himself.”

He informed that redundancy of workers of the company was done in phases: first in 1985, then 1995 and finally in 2005 when the company closed shop.

“And that was when DSC closed down before the Indians took over. “ He said.

It could be recalled that DSC was sold to a private company, Global Infrastructure Nigeria Limited (GINL), a subsidiary of Global Steel Holding Limited owned by an Indian businessman, Pramrod Mittal, in 2005 when the FG started privatization of most of its struggling enterprises including the DSC.

It was reported that the sale of DSC to GINL was controversial as four companies bid for DSC in 2004. The bidders include BUA International Limited, Dangote Industries Limited, Niger-Benue Transport Company Limited and Osaka Steel Limited. The company that was later granted approval (GINL) did not participate in the bidding process but was handpicked by former president Olusegun Obasanjo in breach of Public Enterprise Act.

Obasanjo undermined the Act by unilaterally directing the agency to transfer DSC to Global Infrastructure instead of the winner of the bid, BUA Group, owned by a Nigerian, Isiyaku Rabiu.

In the deal, DSC that was then valued at 1.5 billion USD was sold to GINL for 30 million USD only. The issue of the illicit sale of the company has been a subject of probe by the Nigerian Senate and the EFCC with accusing fingers pointing at Obasanjo who was alleged of being motivated by pecuniary interest. The senate then, after its investigations, recommended that individuals involved in the corrupt practices surrounding the sale of public enterprises, including DSC, be further investigated by the EFCC.

In December last year, a human rights group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari to revisit and refer the allegations of corruption and abuse of process in the privatization of public enterprises in Nigeria between 1999 and 2011 to anti-graft agencies.

After they took over, GINL promised to invest 450 million USD to double production capacity at DSC to 2.4 million tonnes per annum in a couple of years but rather than keep its promise, GINL used DSC assets as collateral to acquire loans of more than N31 billion from five Nigerian banks that was never repaid.

“The Indians exported not fewer than 32 ships load of DRI from Delta Steel without ploughing back the earnings yet they were declaring losses to the government” a source said.

“The Indians were not only ‘cheating’ the government, but also cheating the workers that worked for them. 38 months of our contributions were not remitted to Pencom (National Pension Commission)” the source added.

In 2008, late President Musa Yar’adua revoked the ownership of DSC to Mittal but then GINL already had a loan of N31 billion hanging on DSC and when they failed to repay the loans, Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) bought DSC from the banks from which GINL obtained the loans and took control of DSC.

After acquiring the assets of DSC, AMCON on December 9, 2011 appointed Ajibola Aribisala (SAN), a Lagos based lawyer as receiver/manager to sell DSC to the highest bidder through an open and transparent bid process.

The company was again sold to Premium Steel and Mines Limited (PSML), another Indian owned company in controversial circumstances according to Aribisala who alleged fraud and refused to be used to defraud AMCON and hence his appointment was terminated and he was replaced by Dr Joseph Nwobike. The latter has been fired by President Buhari.

Meanwhile, the DSC has remained comatose though its management had been optimistic of improvement in its production capacity. But the workers did not share in the optimism and expressed doubts that the company could ever be back to life again.

“So, that has been the situation and it has been so hopeless even through the administrations of late Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan our own brother who was aware of our plight and did nothing about it” Mr Mordi continued.

“The late Senator Pius Ewherido took our complaint to the Senate and before he could pursue it further he died. If Ewherido had not died our suffering would have ended long ago” he said lamenting that Senator Emmanuel Aguarivwodo and Chief Ighoyota Amori did not do anything about the payment of the retirees of DSC.

But in March 2017, the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD0, under the directive of President Buhari visited the DSC and met with the retirees to assure them of the FG’s commitment to the welfare of Nigerian pensioners.

Subsequently, a biometric verification exercise of the retirees was carried out in November 2017. The exercise held concurrently in Abuja, Lagos and Aladja where DSC is located.

PTAD successfully verified 4,182 regular pensioners and deceased pensioners’ Next of Kin (NOKs) and at the end of the exercise, 3,542 pensioners who were cleared by the Federal Audit were bankrolled for payment in August, 2018 and will start receiving their monthly pension for life.

During the exercise, Barr Sharon Ikeazor, Executive Secretary of PTAD expressed satisfaction that President Buhari has eventually come to the aid of the retired workers of DSC, almost 13 years after they retired and were buffeted by hunger and privation.

“I am elated and I feel much fulfilled that our government under the leadership of President Buhari has been able to come to the aid of DSC retirees after almost 13 years of neglect.

“You can see the joy amongst the people because to me, one of the greatest injustices is that workers will serve the country, finish their work and are not paid at the end of the day. The government is doing all it can to ensure that it pays all the arrears being owed for the past years.”

Barr Ikeazor disclosed that after the verification exercise, the pensioners would receive alerts of payment directly from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)

A retiree, Mr James Otuabola had exclaimed in ecstasy, “what is happening is a blessing to DSC staff and retirees, they have been suffering for decades without payments but President Buhari has come to our rescue, he will not die.”

Chairman of Nigeria Union of Pensioners, DSC chapter, Mr Matthew Akpoteghor also expressed relief that almost 13 years of neglect, suffering and marginalization has come to an end through the benevolence of President Buhari.

It was this great news that prompted this reporter to visit DSC Camp in Aladja on Saturday, August 4, 2018 to get an update on the fall out of the PTAD verification and hence, the chance- encounter with Mr Peter Mordi, one of the DSC retirees.

“Now payment has started” an elated Mr Mordi told this reporter. He brought out his phone and showed me the payment alert—N7, 130  ( Seven thousand, one hundred and thirty naira) being monthly pension payment for a level 8 officer. He said the expected payments are on arrears of pension since 2005.

“Well, I am happy. I feel happy because I am alive. I got alert on Wednesday (August 1, 2018) when they started paying. Almost every person who has been verified has been alerted. They paid only one month of the arrears since 2005 as a test-run” he said.

Asked who he would give the credit to for this good news, Mr Mordi screamed, “Buhari is the Messiah! I give the credit to Buhari, the messiah is Buhari.

“Listen, I am from Ogwashi-uku, I led a delegation of the suffering retirees to see Ngozi Iweala the then Minister of Finance who is from my village. We went to complain of our plight to her but she said they had paid the money. We asked who they paid the money to and she said we should ask Obasanjo.

“So, the messiah is Buhari, if not tor Buhari the money would not have been paid. I joined DSC in March 1982 as a young man and retired in 1995, I am over 60 years now. I will live longer now because there is hope of something coming every month” he enthused.

But Mrs Bukola Ezekiel, a widow whose husband, a retiree of DSC died last year said of the over 600 widows of DSC retirees a good number were yet to get alert because they have been asked to reprocess their papers.

Mrs Bukola appealed to Senator Ovie Omo-Agege to use his good offices to intervene in their case by helping to procure and facilitate their letters of administration as some lawyers demand the payment of ten per cent of the money when paid.