The near one year speculations over who is funding the various media campaigns and outright blackmail of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, especially the Minister of Solid Minerals and Steel Development Kayode Fayemi and other stakeholders in the Nigerian Steel sector by one Ms. Natasha Akpoti may have come to an end as a group has revealed that the Kogi State born Natasha is fronting for the controversial Vaswani brothers, owners of Premium Steel and Mining Limited who they say have been paying her millions of Naira for her activities. The group also alleged that Natasha recently collected huge sums of money to organise a rally to further drum support for her clients, the Vaswani brothers with a false claim that she was working to bring back Russians to complete the Ajaokuta Steel Company.
In a statement on Wednesday sent to this medium, the Association of Small Scale Steel Marketers and Scrap Dealers of Nigeria (ASSSMSDN) described Natasha Akpoti as an unstable and half-clever woman who is taking advantage of her Ebira origin to enrich herself while claiming to serve public interest. The statement which was signed by Mallam El-Habib Ibrahim, National President of the group, also claimed that Vaswani brothers are behind Natasha’s campaigns for Federal Government to handover the Ajaokuta Steel Company to a Russian company, adding that the so-called Russian company that Natasha is projecting was a fictitious alibi created by Vaswani brothers and their Premium Steel as a front to take over the entire steel sector in Nigeria.
It would be recalled that Natasha Akpoti has for over one year engaged in extensive media campaigns with various allegations against President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration, at various times, singling out the Minister of Solid Minerals Fayemi and other top officials of the Ministry, accusing them of short-changing Nigeria in a Revised Concession Agreement the government entered into with the former operators of Ajaokuta Steel Company to operate the National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO) as part settlement for Nigeria to take back the Company from the former operators.
The termination of the concession granted by the Obasanjo administration on Ajaokuta by the late president Umaru Musa YarÁdua’s government in 2008 had resulted to a dispute at the international court of arbitration in London which lasted for many years. Because of the dispute, the Nigerian government was barred from putting Ajaokuta into use until the current government negotiated and resolved the case thereby taking Ajaokuta back. By the new agreement, the former operators of Ajaokuta are to take over and operate NIOMCO for seven years while Ajaokuta is now free for Nigeria to operate.
But Natasha is campaigning for government to terminate the new agreement and handover both Ajaokuta and NIOMCO to a Russian company which she claims are the original builders of the steel plant. But ASSSMSDN said there was no Russian company interested in rebuilding Ajaokuta as the original builders of the steel plant over 35years ago are no longer in one country following the demise of the old Soviet Union.
“We are shocked that over the last six months however, Natasha has taken her negative activities to a new level by making appearances on several television and radio stations across the country as well as granting interviews to national newspapers, magazines and online platforms in which she has made new allegations against almost everybody in government both previous and the current.
“In one of her recent television dramas, Natasha alleged that the current Kogi State governor and the traditional ruler of Ebiraland have betrayed the people by welcoming and supporting the Revised Concession Agreement on MIOMCO. She also openly called on the Federal Government to handover both Ajaokuta Steel Company and NIOMCO to a Russian company she claimed originally constructed the Steel Company, boasting that she has been communicating with President Vladimir Putin of Russia whom she claimed has assured her of Russia’s willingness to complete the project.
But according to the statement, the group said they know who drafted the script Natasha is playing.
“There is no such Russian company as Natasha is claiming. We will not even bother with her claims of speaking with or dinning with the Russian president. The truth is that Natasha is fronting for her clients, the Vaswani brothers and their Premium Steel which she knows very have no capacity to participate in a transparent bidding competition and therefore her resort to public campaign of calumny as a way to blackmail government to hand over Ajaokuta to them without following due process and laid down privatisation rules.
“The Federal government has made it clear it is not willing to put physical money in reviving the steel companies in Nigeria in view of the billions of Dollars invested by previous administrations in the past which went down the drains. It is for that reason the current administration fought very hard to rescue Ajaokuta Steel Company from its former operators following the settlement of the dispute arising from the termination of the previous concession by the Yar’Ádua administration. Having successfully retrieved Ajaokuta, the government has declared that it would hand over the Company only to a competent investor with proven records and clear evidence of both the expertise and financial capacity to put the Company into effective operation without government putting in its own money into the project.
“To achieve this objective, the government has set up machineries in place to conduct an open, transparent and credible bidding in line with the extant laws and rules governing privatisation in the country and in which Natasha’s so called Russian company is free to participate alongside other interested investors. But Natasha is carrying out campaigns that government should forget about the bidding process and handover Ajaokuta Steel Company to her so called ‘Russian company’.
“The questions Nigerians should ask Natasha are: Why is she asking the government to hand over Ajaokuta Steel to the so called Russian company without following due process of bidding as provided by privatisation laws; If the Russian company has both the expertise and financial capacity to invest as she is claiming, why is the company not willing to submit itself to compete with others in the bidding process? Why is Natasha saying government should not conduct the biding competition?”
The group therefore derided Natasha for what it described as a clear unpatriotic attempt to hoodwink the public while smiling to the banks, adding that those who are paying her for her activities would later realise that their efforts and money would be in vain, urging the Federal government to ignore her antics and do the rights.
“The truth is that there is no such Russian company that will bring its own money to operate Ajaokuta as was the case nearly 35 years ago. In those days, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) was willing to invest its resources in other countries especially in Africa as part of its superiority contest with the United States in what was then known as cold war. And don’t forget, Russia was just one of the 19 countries that made up the defunct USSR. Today’s Russia is a capitalist country and cannot come to Nigeria with its money to operate our steel company for us and Natasha knows this. If an independent Russian company has the capacity to operate Ajaoukta, it should come up and submit its credentials alongside other bidders. How does that concern President Putin? Or is Natasha stating that Russian government would come and operate the Company?
“That is why she is going about blackmailing everybody in a desperate bid to arm-twist the government to handover Ajaokuta to her clients, Vaswani brothers and their Premium Steel who are hiding under the so called Russian company to take over Ajaokuta after bringing Delta Steel to ruins. Vaswani brothers know that because of their records in the country, especially their recent dismal performance in Delta Steel, that they would not attempt to submit Premium Steel to compete in the bidding process,” the added.
Wondering why Natasha has not been arrested for misleading and inciting the public with her false claims, the group said Natasha, a lawyer cannot claim to know about steel making more than those in the industry and the politics that have deterred progress in the sector over the years which the current government is working hard to address.
“In addition to her claim of speaking with the Russians, Natasha has been releasing to the public, classified documents including the ones she claimed were correspondences between former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Putin on the Ajaokuta Steel Company and other issues. We are reliably informed that a Director in the Ministry of Solid Minerals itself who has been in the same payroll with Natasha is the person giving her these confidential documents as a way of sabotaging the current efforts of government” the statement added and praised some Nigerians who have been confronting Natasha with some salient questions in media appearances.
“While Natasha may have succeeded in misleading some members of the public, we thank God that not all Nigerians are being fooled by this half-clever woman who is making huge money and smiling to the banks while deceiving millions of people that she is fighting for the masses. We have been following her activities for months now and are aware that many listeners on radio and Facebook activists have been asking to know why Natasha who claims to be a lawyer has been neck deep into the politics of the steel sector where she know nothing about. People have been asking her to tell Nigerians in which company she is working that is paying her the millions of Naira she is using to appear on different radio and television stations as well as funding her various trips on this matter including her claim of travelling to Russia to meet and speak with President Vladimir Putin on Ajaokuta,” the group said.
According to the statement, it was the concern expressed by the public over who is funding Natasha’s campaigns and the negative impact she is creating by scaring away genuine investors in the steel sector that prompted them to investigate the matter, adding that Nigerians who work with Stallion Group, one of the companies owned by Vaswani brothers volunteered information on how Natasha has been conniving with the company to take over Nigeria’s steel industry, even when they have no proven capacity to operate steel companies.
“How can Natasha be asking the Federal Government to handover the steel companies to the so called Russian company even when available facts are clear that the defunct Tyanjpromexport (TPE), the company that initially built the Ajaokuta Steel Company was a consortium of several construction companies from different countries that made up the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) and that TPE is no longer in existence. These companies are scattered in the 19 countries that made up the old Soviet Union and it is a known fact that president Putin of Russia has been muzzling those countries. There is no way Putin can call those companies to come together and rebuild Ajaokuta, even as we know that almost all the companies have been grounded, with the demise of the Soviet socialism,” the group explained.
Continuing, the group stated that, “It was for the concern of the Nigerian public that we decided to take up this matter. We wanted to know the real reason Natasha is blackmailing everybody in the steel sector, who is behind this her restlessness and who is paying for her travels on the matter. We wanted to know what gave her the impetus to be abusing our state governor, why she has been abusing the Ohinoyi of Ebiraland and many other leaders while campaigning and praising the so-called Russian company.
“Our findings are shocking. What the workers of Stallion Group told us are quite amazing. We were told that Natasha Akpoti has been a regular face at the headquarters of the company and has been receiving millions of Naira from Vaswani brothers with a mandate to influence public opinion in favour of Vaswani brothers and their Premium Steel and Mining Limited, using the Russians as a credible alibi. Her resort to the Russians is with the belief that most Nigerians, especially workers of the steel companies would easily fall to the propaganda that since the Russians built the Ajaokuta Steel Company, they would be in a better position to rehabilitate and complete it,” the statement said.
“What makes this matter worse and most painful is that Natasha, a Nigerian citizen, an Ebira for that matter, is fronting for Premium Steel Company when she knows how unethical their owners, the Vaswani brothers have conducted businesses in the country and for which several administrations have clamped down on them, at some point deporting them from Nigeria.
“Is this Natasha not aware that Vaswani brothers and their Premium Steel and Mining Company have completely ruined Delta Steel Company Aladja which AMCON handed over to them in most controversial circumstances almost three years ago? It was the coming of Premium Steel that completely killed Delta Steel which has rendered all our members jobless and idle.
“Anybody that doubts us should please make a trip to Delta Steel. You will see how the place has become an abandoned national museum. There is no single industrial or operational activity going on at the plant site. The entire place has been overtaken by weeds while workers go about aimlessly, looking forlorn and totally dejected. The only remarkable thing you can notice in Delta Steel is that Premium Steel has removed Delta Steel signboard, replacing it with Premium Steel name and logo,” the group stated.
Expressing regrets that a very strategic public infrastructure like Delta Steel could be handed over to a company owned by Vaswani brothers, owners of Stallion Group which has been involved or implicated in various shady deals in Nigeria over the years, the group warned the Federal Government to resist the antics of Vaswani brothers to take over Ajaokuta and NIOMCO using the Russians as a guise.
“We are aware that Natasha recently collected money from her clients, the Vaswani brothers to organise a rally in support of her so called Russian company which is actually to see that the Vaswanis take over Ajaokuta and NIOMCO for their Premium Steel. We hope she will share the money with those that will attend her rally.
“We cannot but be in deep shock and regrets that a Nigerian citizen is working to handover Nigeria’s major steel companies to Vaswani brothers whose names have been a recurring lexicon, either for running foul of the law or for outright impunity.
“Is Natasha claiming ignorance of the well known fact that while authorities were investigating the Dasuki arms deal, the representative Mr. Happy Singh was arrested and detained by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for physically dropping huge cash as kickback for a contract to supply 700 units of Troops Movement Vehicles awarded to their company? Mr. Singh had left a financial trace of the money through which the EFCC nabbed him.
“Is she not aware that it was for the scandal involving the kickback that President Muhammadu Buhari promptly embargoed the Troop Movement Vehicles and prohibited them from being cleared from the Ports till date?
“As a Nigerian who claims to be a lawyer, has Natasha Akpoti forgotten the incident during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who wasted no time in expelling these same Vaswani brothers who were found to have engaged in tax evasion and refusal to pay import duties on rice and other essential materials?
“How then can a Nigerian, an Ebira for that matter be hiding under the guise of Russians to drum support for Vaswani brothers to take over the two most strategic steel companies in Nigeria which are located in her state while openly deceiving Nigerians with her claims that she was doing all that for the love of Nigeria? What a shame? the statement concluded.