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Exclusive interview with Mr Cyril Azobu, PwC Nigeria’s Mining Sector Leader and Head Consulting. The upcoming Nigeria Mining Week in Abuja in October is jointly organised by PwC and the Mining Association of Nigeria (MAN). 

“With high expectations and willingness amongst key stakeholders to collaborate in driving growth, there is no better time to invest in unlocking the mining potential of Nigeria than now”

How excited are you about this year’s Nigeria Mining Week? What is new for 2018?
We are happy to once again partner with iPAD Nigeria and the Miners Association of Nigeria for another edition of the Nigeria Mining Week. We are happy that this has now become established as the premier event on the sector’s calendar annually, bringing together critical stakeholders to brainstorm and share ideas towards evolving a more profitable solid minerals sector in Nigeria.

This year’s gathering will feature a packed and very exciting programme. In addition to the well thought through topics that have been selected for the various conference sessions, we have a pre-conference session that is billed to be a B2B (business to business) networking opportunity where we will have a deep dive into the mining business in Nigeria with discussions around investment opportunities, licensing requirements, geo-technical mapping etc. We will also have CEO roundtable that will feature one-on-one interaction between the honorable minister for mines and steel development, and investors, project developers, operators and financers.

What have been the main challenges for the mining sector in the last year?
The challenges in the sector have not changed. Challenges exist around funding and the attraction of new investments, the security situation around mining sites, the preponderance of artisanal and illegal mining operations, the attendant environmental pollution and the general deficit in infrastructure in the country. All of these challenges remain but there is a measure of good news in that a number of actions have been taken to address some of them and we are beginning to see modest gains in that regard.

What have been the main accomplishments for the sector in your view in the last 12 months or so?
Largely, we have seen a continued implementation of the policies and mechanisms put in place by the sector’s policy makers with positive results gradually being seen. To the credit of the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, there has been a commendable policy consistency following the resignation of the erstwhile minister Dr Kayode Fayemi. This is unprecedented because policy summersaults have largely been the bane of the sector in the past.

The Ministry has also made some progress in strengthening the mechanism for gathering, disseminating and archiving critical geological data required by investors and policy makers with the launch of the centralized eGIS Web portal and supporting ICT Infrastructure that offers real time information on mining sector as well as electronic submission of licenses, permits, certificates etc.

In the regulatory space, approval was given in January, for 10 policy & project related initiatives including establishment of the National Council on Mining & Mineral Resources Development. Also, we saw the introduction of a bill to create a new regulator for the sector: Nigerian Mining & Minerals Commission.

The current administration has also taken decisive measures to reactivate the State Mineral Resources and Environmental Management Committee (MIREMCO) in all the States of the Federation including FCT. The committee is now vibrant in up to 26 states. We understand that the Ministry has gone on to provide the sum of Five (5) Million Naira each, as mobilisation grants as well as Hilux pick-up. In addition, operations of the Special Mines Surveillance Task force (SMSTF) has been improved with vehicles procured to ease their operations. The Miners Association of Nigeria has also benefited from this support.

Notably too, there has been improvement in the operational capacity of the Mining Cadaster office for faster processing of Mining titles and the establishment of over thirty Mineral Buying Centers and improved collaboration with the Customs service for policing of mineral exports.

What is your vision for this sector?
My vision for the sector is one that is profitable to all stakeholders and in which the Nigerian people are able to enjoy the maximum benefits possible for these natural endowment. I am quite optimistic that if we maintain the momentum and make the right choices, the solid minerals sector can contribute up to 3% of GDP by 2025 as predicted in the current roadmap, up from a current contribution of just about 0.5%. This is even more important given the rebound in crude oil and gas prices which could impact the mining renaissance.

It presents a challenge for the Nigerian mining eco-system to show impressive results and continually be seen as an important revenue source for government. The Nigerian mining industry also needs to be seen to be self-sustaining to ensure growth is not hinged on funding from another sector.

How important is the Nigeria Mining Week as a meeting place for the sector?
The Nigeria Mining Week opens the door to an exclusive networking opportunity for key stakeholders in the sector including policy makers, investors, mining operators, finance houses and multilateral investors as well as technology solution providers who are seeking a new market and new clients for mineral exploration and extraction. The deliberations center around the needs and opportunities of the sector with recommendations made that the policy makers are happy to take on and implement. It is thus a very important, perhaps the most important meeting place for stakeholders in the sector in Nigeria.

What will be PwC’s message at the event this year?
We believe that a lot of strides have been made to reposition the sector for more investment especially as government expects to earn more from solid minerals in line with her diversification agenda. With high expectations and willingness amongst key stakeholders to collaborate in driving this growth, there is no better time to invest in unlocking the mining potential of Nigeria than now. PwC, as leading advisors to the mining industry globally, is happy to support all stakeholders in unlocking this potential and the Nigeria mining week presents an excellent opportunity to meet and advance the necessary conversations.