Uyo — The fate of over 750 staff of ALSCON hangs in the balance following the Apex court's declaration of BFIG as the preferred bidder of the Aluminium firm. Daily Trust examines the circumstances and anxiety.
All is not well in Ikot Abasi local government area of Akwa Ibom state, the operational base of Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON). There is a general feeling of anxiety and fear among the over 750 staffers of the Russian firm and indeed the host communities.
Since the Supreme Court stripped Rusal of its ownership of the country's former state-owned Aluminium processing plant, all has not been well in the company.
The apex court had, on July, in a lead judgement read by Justice Afolabi Fabiyi, held that the Nigeria-America consortium, Bancorp Financial Group (BFIG) was the preferred bidder.
According to Justice Afolabi Fabiyi, Russal should have refrained from buying the company when it was aware that BFI Group which was chosen as the preferred bidder before the Bureau for Public Enterprise (BPE) unilaterally frustrated the contract, was already in court challenging BPE's refusal to consummate the transaction
He also held that the reason given by BPE for terminating the contract was untenable in view of the various documents tendered in court which showed the agreement between the two parties.
The crux of the dispute, however, started in 2004 during the privatization option of the federal government. It was gathered that the BFI Group tendered for ALSCON in the same year, but was later disqualified by the Nigerian regulator because of alleged bribery, having failed to pay the 10 percent of it proposed bid price within a stipulated time frame
On disqualification of BFIG, Rusal, in 2006, almost two years later, purchased ALSCON as a bidder who proposed the second highest bid price and subsequently acquired a 75 percent stake for $250 million and currently owns 85 percent, while the Nigerian government holds the rest of the asset.
ALSCON became part of the United Company RUSAL since 2007. Its assets in Nigeria include an aluminium smelter with annual capacity of 120,000 tonnes, a gas-fired power station and a port. A year after the privatization process was over, precisely in February, 2008 it was gathered that ALSCON started production and still produce aluminium despite the fact that before privatization the plant was non operational for more than 8 years.
Albert Dyabin, the company's Director Public Relations in charge of governmental affairs said in spite of the challenges and adverse trends at the global aluminium market "RUSAL has rehabilitated the plant which was idle for a lengthy period of time, restarted production and produces aluminium for over 4-5 years and realising the purpose for which ALSCON was built."
Since then he noted that the firm has been committed to its corporate social responsibility, maintaining the best standards of environment and quality management and also regularly meet with community leaders and other companies present in Akwa Ibom to jointly work out ways to improve the economic and social situation in the town of Ikot Abasi, home to ALSCON.
However, the questions that have continued to border the minds of the people, especially the staffers and the host community are; what would be the expectation of the Smelter if it is taken over by another company? What happens to over 750 staffer of the Russian company? What about the host communities of Ikot Abasi who have continued to benefit from local job and contracts?
The local government of Ikot Abasi, which is the operational base of ALSCON, is called Alu-city, what happens if BFIG comes to Ikot Abasi? Will it remain Alu-city and continue with the aluminium production?
Does BFIG have the technologies and expertise for the production of aluminium? Does it have well tried logistics for delivery of raw materials for the production of aluminium?
These questions from both experts and the local population have continued to agitate the minds of the workers and host communities, who have expressed concern about the possible outcome should there be a change.
The firm's director of Public Relations and governmental Affairs says the current trends in the aluminium market are so difficult that only a company that has the expertise would be able to manage it successfully.
He said: "In case BFIG has intention to produce aluminium at AlSCON, the current situation on aluminium market is extremely difficult due to sharp drop of price on the metal which gives almost no chance for a company without experience to succeed in aluminium business."
What about the fate of the workers and their dependants who have continued to enjoy free medical treatment provided by the plant? He asked.
There are over 750 Nigerian staff working with in ALSCON in various positions from ordinary to director. 80 percent of all Nigerian staff are indigenes of Akwa Ibom state what about the fate of over 3000 members of their families?" he asked.
This statistics underscored the worries and anxiety among workers and the residents to ALSCON problem.
According to information posted on its website, ALSCON has created over 900 indirect jobs by means of a network of contracts with local contractors for the supply of goods and services. These jobs represent a huge contribution of the plant to the support and development of the host communities.
Daily Trust gathered that since 2008, ALSCON has been providing free electricity to residents of Ikot Abasi, the operational base of the company. Aside, the plant is implementing projects for portable water supply to local villages in Ikot Abasi. A source told our correspondent that about 12 villages are currently using water provided by the plant.
"We have something to lose and reason to fear changes," says a worker who preferred not to be mentioned.
He told our correspondent that Nigeria today is passing through economic recession where job is the highest value for one's family, stressing that in a situation where no one knows what is going to happen calls for great concern and anxiety.
"Our country is in a terrible economic situation where anything you have, that fetches you and your family a living becomes the highest value. There are no jobs, companies are folding up, so what one has become one's greatest asset," he said.
He disclosed that the youths and the traditional council would soon meet to write formally to the presidency to protest against any disruption in the set establishment.
However, Rusal while reacting to the judgement has said the ruling between BPE and BFI Group cannot affect its ownership of ALSCON shares, as it concerns the claims of BFI Group against BPE of Nigeria.