The recent trip embarked by the Minister of State Mines and Steel Development, Hon Abubakar Bawa Bwari to the Mines and Money Conference in London could not have come at a better time considering the present government's plan to preposition the mining sector for maximum economic impact and benefit in line with the Economic Recovery Goal Project (ERGP) initiative of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
Before the discovery of oil in Oloibiri, in 1956, the solid minerals sector was one of Nigeria's economic mainstay. But attention shifted to oil by successive administrations. With a growing population of jobless youths, the need for economic diversification for national prosperity became inevitable. This gave birth to Economic Recovery Goal Plan initiative with the solid minerals sector among others becoming a key sector to help grow the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in line with the ERGP plan. The sector at 0.3% at 2015 aims to contribute up to 7% to the GDP by the year 2025.
The London Conference presented an unprecedented window for Nigeria and the minister to put an erroneous perception about Nigeria in proper perspective. The London Stock Exchange Business Roundtable Breakfast Meeting with topic 'Nigeria Beyond Oil' on November 30, assembled top world business leaders. It was also the very first time a Nigerian minister of Mines and Steel Development or Solid Minerals will be hosted by the revered group.
Abubakar Bawa Bwari did not take the opportunity lightly. He told the distinguished business leaders that the meeting has provided Nigeria with an opportunity to showcase the country's mineral resource potentials, and new incentives in place for investors. He said Nigeria hopes to speedily stamp it's foot on the world Mining Map by wooing investors that will guarantee economic growth and wealth creation for our people. Since businesses and not governments drive economic growth and prosperity the current resurgence in mineral commodities is the way to go.
Armed with the understanding of the current trend and dynamics in the solid minerals sector, he told them that strategic minerals of the future like Nickel, Cobalt, Lithium, Graphite, Copper and Rare Earth Elements hidden beneath Africa and Nigeria's lands must be unearthed, exploited and brought to the market through a concise mineral policy that promotes transparency and sustainable mining. For too long Nigeria was seen as an oil nation rather than a mining destination. The good news is that that is beginning to change with the coming of the current administration. In the last three and half years, the government has been able to invest resources in the solid mineral sector which is today one of the arrowheads of the nation's diversification agenda.
Frequent policy changes had discouraged foreign investors before now but with Nigeria revamping its policies, the mining industry is now completely private sector driven with government acting simply as a regulator. "Now, you can own 100% your business, bring in mining equipment without paying any duties, and get 3 - 5 years tax holidays.
We also allow free transferability of funds, deductibility of environmental costs and permission to retain and use earned foreign exchange. Indeed, our mining laws, as exemplified by the Nigeria Mineral and Mining Act 2007, are very competitive compared to other advanced mining jurisdictions. We have also built the capacity of our staff in the Mining Cadastre Office and set up transparent processes to ensure that laws are fully implemented. Mining licences are given strictly on a First Come First Served basis and we have a Use it or Lose it policy that ensures that speculators don't hijack choice leases." He reeled out to his listeners who savoured the moment.
But why are the big players not yet in our shores? The answer is simple - perception rather than reality. To this he said: "We discovered that a major part of the problem with our mining jurisdiction has to do with perception rather than reality so we began by addressing the weak institutional capacity we met. We embarked on the upgrading and automation of the Nigeria Mining Cadastre Office for online applications; the construction of a modern archiving system to facilitate the dissemination of high quality pre-competitive geodata information; and the decentralisation of our Cadastre office for ease of operations. This will cut down the time for processing licenses from 45 days to 15 days. We are also developing new Mineral Export Guidelines to ensure accurate data on mineral exports and reduce time for processing Mineral Export Permits from two weeks to two days."
The country constantly upgrades and expands her data-base to de-risk the Nigeria Mining jurisdiction and make its potentials more palatable to investors. Nigeria recently obtained a 25000 line KM electromagnetic data over three blocks and awarded a $50 million dollar contract as part of Integrated Exploration Programme to five exploration companies for the exploration of priority minerals like gold, lead, zinc, iron ore and rare earth metals.
Nigeria is essentially a GreenField with 44 mineral types comprising some of the highest grades of minerals found anywhere in the world and reputed to be one of the most fertile grounds for solid minerals business. No wonder an Australian company, Symbol Mining/Goidal Resources operating in the North East, currently mines lead zinc ore with a grading of 22% Zn (zinc) compared to the global average of 6%Zn (zinc). Kogi Iron recently developed a process route that can produce viable iron ore concentrate from their high phosphorus iron ore deposit for the production of high quality steel. Segilola Resources operating Limited/Thor Explorations Limited in Osun State, has a proven reserve of one million ounces of gold on part of their tenements. Production of gold is set to commence by the company in the first quarter of 2020. The solid minerals sector has opened up new frontiers in Nigeria's quest to diversify the economy. The cement revolution is a classical example. Nigeria became self-sufficient in cement production due to the commercial quantity of limestone found in different parts of the country. The annual national demand for this mineral is 18 million metric tons. Nigeria's bitumen is ranked amongst the best in the world. With Nigeria's coal resources spread across thirteen states the present administration has a renewed desire to have coal fired power to provide 30% of the national electricity generation.
The recent launch of a Roadmap for the development of industrial minerals aimed at making Nigeria self-sufficient in the construction industry and free up opportunities for the development of certain minerals is one that would eventually make the country an industrial giant. Quicklime can be produced for water treatment; dimension stones for construction; calcium carbonate, gypsum and talc for the pharmaceuticals and cosmetics industry; and Bentonite and Barites for the oil and gas industry. Sadly, in spite of efforts of companies like Kogi Iron and the African Natural Resources and Mines Ltd which plans to operate a 500,000 metric tons per annum steel plant, with a 35 megawatts power plant for captive consumption, Nigeria still imports an estimated $3.3 billion worth of steel and associated derivatives annually.
The cement industry has given room for optimism that the agric sector using phosphate can be self-sufficient in fertiliser production to service the over 70 percent of Nigerian population who are farmers that rely on fertilizer for farming.
Kigbu, is a Media Aide to the Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development.