interviewBy Ruth Tene
Professor Ibrahim Abdullahi Madugu is the Director General of National Metallurgical Development Centre, NMDC, Jos. In this interview with Ruth Tene, he speaks on prospects of the under utilised mining sector.
Tell us about NMDC
NMDC was set up in 1973. It is an offshoot of the National Steel Council then and later in the 80's. It had collaborations with the United Nations which believed that the centre could be of immense importance to the then iron and steel industry that was growing rapidly. To this effect, it decided to assists by providing technical assistance, manpower and training.
How much would you say the centre achieved in 2012 ?
Research and development is one of the most poorly understood thing, it is not what one can just walk into a shop, pick and buy. We have been working on a number of projects for sometimes now, and by the grace of God, I will say we have been able to achieve quite a number of things including development of raw materials for the steel industry, specifically in the area of iron ore.
As far back as the 80's, NMDC was able to determine that the Itakpe Iron Ore deposits could be used for the blast furnace purpose in Ajaokuta, notwithstanding, that the deposit has a limited life reserve because the reserve couldn't be more than 25 years, but since there are other geological surveys and explorations going on in the country, other iron ore deposits have been found, like the Agbaja, the kotonkarfe, shokoshoko, agbajiloko, Ikudu and other new deposits discovered in Zamfara, Kaduna and Kano states respectively.
Some of these deposits, I will say in 2012, we have worked on extensively in Kotonkarfe, Kotokoto and Tijimi iron ores and found out that they are equally as good as the Itakpe iron ore. That means that the country will not be lacking of iron ore when we deplete the reserve at Itakpe.
The only thing is to create the enabling environment. Iron ore does not just mine themselves, we need infrastructures to get to the point of mining them. If I say infrastructures, we do not mean roads. You do not haul heavy iron ore by road, all over the world, you haul them by rail lines and I believe the federal government will address this.
What is the NMDC presently working on ?
Presently, we are working on new iron ores, as the Nigeria Geological Survey Agency and National Steel Raw Materials Exploration Agency finds new site. We sometimes collect samples from the sites and work on them, like the ones in Zamfara and Kaduna which we hope by mid-year, we will have some good process designs and flow sheets on how to work on them. Equally, we are working on the lead zinc deposits because we have a lead zinc plant coming up soon which will save the federal government millions of naira from the importation of lead and zinc.
Equally, the whole purpose of scientific research is to add value and assist the society, because we realise in Plateau state, for example, that coal is being used and a lot of them go into fragments and this fragment do not burn fast. We have developed a new way of briquetting this charcoals that could be used as energy source. So, we are now briquetting our coal and charcoal as well and I believe that will help the economy a lot.
We have been conducting workshops for welders and foundry men who lack basic knowledge of foundry practices and give them a training at a give away fee of 500 naira only to teach them basic foundry practices and the mineral processors which is adding value to the national economy and as such growing the nations GDP.
Can you give us a definite figure of the quantity of iron ore Nigeria has ?
A definite figure in reserve, I cannot give, but I know they are in large quantity, the Igbaja iron ore is over a billion metric tonne, and that of Itakpe iron ire itself, on estimation, can last another 25 to 30 years; that of Shokoshoko and Tutomoro iron ore are high quality and the one found in Zamfara state is left for the geological survey to give us the quantity but what we occupy ourselves doing in NMDC is to characterise and develop flow sheets for processing this iron ores.
This is what our would-be investors will like to see, because if it turns out, there is a chain circle. When you do geological survey, you explore, and mine, afterward, you process, because if you sell your iron ore in long form, you will sell it cheap because a tonne of iron ore could cost a 100 dollars, but if you process, you add value to it which is what we are doing at NMDC.
When you processing Iron ore further to steel, the tonne could give you over one thousand dollars. You can see the value addition, that is why the NMDC role is crucial to our national development and the scientific base of this nation just like other countries of the world.
How much capital will you say the centre got in 2012 ?
In 2012, the centre got less than 50 percent of its requirements. I will give a typical example, last year in South Africa, if you go to Wikipedia, their government spent $2.1 billion on research and development, iron and steel inclusive, but our own here we got less than 50 percent.
Is the 50% on monetary value ?
Let us just leave it at that, but we got less than what we requested for.
What are the challenges you had in 2012 ?
Lack of funds. If we can get more funds I think the centre can be commercialised because if you look at countries round the world that have commercialised their research and developments, they are well funded. You do not commercialise empty entities, you commercialise entities that are well funded and that have up to date equipment that can stand the test of time. Recently, I just returned from India on an official trip, the Society for Research Institute has been commercialised for the past 60 years. If you see the equipment they have, they are state of the art equipment worth billions of dollars.
According to them, they have been running partly commercial for over 40 years but if we lack the correct equipment, we will not be able to carry out the tests we want, because the oil and gas sector is supposed to depend on us. We are not just supposed to be looking at the iron and steel sector/solid minerals sector alone; what we do cuts across iron and steel, solid minerals, cement production, oil and gas production; we produce bentonite, they can bring their materials for us to test, but some of these equipment we do not have them and I believe if we get more funds, which I believe our minister is working very hard to get, and has promised us this year would be different and with his passion and handwork, I believe it will be good.
How much would you say the centre has contributed to the nation's economy ?
On the contribution to the nations economy, we cannot on our own, do it. It is the whole sector and if you look at the over all contribution of the sector, it is said to be between 0.4/0.5 to the nation's GDP, meaning that all the discoveries from the use of foundry sands, cooking coals are the things that would have been imported, but even some of the ores used by some Indian firms come to us to collect data.
People coming to set up cement industries come to us for data instead of going abroad, and the centre was able to design and develop NML fits used in plaiting of steel and wire drawing lubricants used in rolling mills, refractory's, iron ores and we were able to develop new refractories, we combine various refractories and found high refractory properties.