In 2016, when Australia's Comet Minerals first disclosed its discovery of a vast, unique deposit comprising an abundance of balls of almost pure nickel in Dagoma, Kaduna - northeast of Nigeria, its chairman, Mr. Hugh Morgan, was not too sure on the best method to separate the balls from the surrounding soil. A year after, at the 2017 Africa Down Under conference in Perth Australia, he indicated that Nigeria may eventually leverage the nickel find to diversify her revenue base.
"We have what we believe is a very, very important nickel discovery. We think this is something that will put Nigeria on the map as having significant prospectivity and significant resources," said Hugh Morgan, chair of Comet Minerals, about the extent of work his firm had put in since its discovery of nickel in Dagoma village, south of Kaduna.
Morgan, on the sidelines of the September 2017 Africa Down Under (ADU) conference in Perth, Western Australia, indicated that his firm had finally found an exact way to assess the content of the nickel they found at its Titan project site.
He noted in his disclosure that he was confident of establishing a maiden resource base for the deposit, and perhaps finalise plans for a processing base at the project.
Perhaps from his over 13 years of mining experience as the chief of Western Mining Corporation (WMC), Morgan showed a rather confident conviction of his firm's find, and kind of unlocked a new hope for Nigeria's dream of an economy with a manageable dependence on crude oil.
According to him, Nigeria appeared to have recognised the prospect of leveraging the Kaduna nickel deposits to finally push her economic diversification throttle to a full blast, having heavily relied on the prosperities that oil has brought her way to run her affairs for many years.
Morgan said: "There is a strong realism now and an imperative to make sure that the mining operations can go forward. What is important for Nigeria, and what they recognise, is that the best advertisement they can have is a major successful enterprise."
According to the Nickel Institute, the mineral which is hard, silvery-white, and with immense strength, ductility and resistance to heat and corrosion, is extremely useful for every day enterprise - starting from the manufacturing of wires, to coins, stainless steel, batteries, and then military equipment.
In addition, its value in the international market which is beginning to rally - the London Metal Exchange (LME) quoted an opening bid for a tonne of nickel in the first week of October to be circa $10,475, indicated that with regards to revenue, the solid mineral could offer Nigeria a new and supplementary revenue means outside of oil.
Similarly, in his presentation at the ADU, where the Kaduna nickel was a discussion point, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, explained that while oil accounted for majority of Nigeria's revenue, solid minerals mining and related services provided very minimal contributions, and thus needed to be incentivised as a complementary revenue base.
To achieve this, Fayemi, explained the country will build a minerals and mining sector initially focused on using its industrial mineral endowment to support industrialisation. He also said private investors and companies like Comet Minerals would be facilitated to lead this charge.
The minister equally noted that Nigeria would invest in a range of initiatives including infrastructure investments, technical and engineering capacity, and regulatory reform.
The ministry, he stated, would be reorganised and access to financing expanded to drive the sector's transformation ahead of its potential emergence as an alternative to oil.
Notwithstanding the position of government in the potential of the new economy that nickel may birth in Nigeria, Fayemi, however stated its preference to make it work for the local community holding its deposit.
He explained that this was central to the economic diversification plan of the government and urged investors in the country's solid minerals mining sector to factor it in their investments plans through joint beneficial relationship models.
The minister accepted that the nickel deposit was a potential game changer for the Nigerian economy, but that government would not compromise its laws and regulations, especially in protecting the local communities.
"You need the cooperation of the host communities as well as the state governments. Even when our constitution allows the federal government to issue you licence, you need the understanding and cooperation of the state government and the host communities in whose environment you are going to work.
"The host communities should have a stake in your investment. Once that is done, they would see themselves as part-owners and would ensure no one sabotages your efforts. This, we have learnt through experience," he said.
Solid minerals development, even though it is largely uncoordinated and yet-to-be fully harmonised in local level operations, is capable of earning vital revenue for Nigeria, in this country's continued drive to diversify the economy from its long-running dependence on crude oil, which price is at the whim of international market.
Nigeria, which has different minerals in virtually each state of the federation, would do well to harness these natural resources for effective revenue generation and as a viable alternative to oil.
Although the Solid Minerals Ministry has done a mapping survey of minerals in the country, proper coordination of the activities in the solid minerals sector can help boost the economic fortunes of this country, and efficient, good relations with small-scale miners will help promote a sense of belonging among the small-holders who are actively involved in the vital sector. The nickel find is a good way to begin reaping the rewards of interventions in mining and the sector.