Exclusive interview with the Nigerian Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Arch. Olamilekan Adegbite. At the most recent Nigeria Mining Week in October in Abuja, the minister delivered the opening address and spent a lot of time interacting with event partners, mining houses, exhibitors and prospective investors.
What do you regard as the highlights for Nigeria’s mining sector and community during the past year?
Let me briefly delve into the past so that you will have a feel of the progress we have made. The mining sector had actually been in a very bad shape all these decades stemming from the neglect the sector went through because of the oil boom.
The big expatriate mining companies left the country and the sector went into doldrums.
However, with the advent of the Nigerian Mineral and Mining Act 2007 and the Nigerian Mineral and Mining Regulations 2011, the country launched itself once again as a mining destination.
One of the highlights of the sector is what we have done for the artisanal miners, which we have formalized. Over 1500 cooperatives have been registered nationwide as Mining Cooperatives and about 250 Private Mineral Buying Centers also are registered to facilitate trading in Mineral commodities.
To ensure environmental mitigation in the mines field, Environmental Laws and Regulations are being enforced to the letter. Nigeria, also last year organized the 2nd International Conference on Artisanal Gold Mining with Lead alongside with Medicines San Frontiers (MSF).
The forum declared opened by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was to provide strategies to prevent lead poisoning associated with artisanal gold mining, pulling from lessons learned in Zamfara and Niger states, as well as international contexts.
Also, the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency is undertaking the National Integrated Mineral Exploration Project in order to provide credible Geosciences data for potential investors in the industry. The Nigerian Mining Cadastre office (MCO) has also upgraded and streamlined its licensing regime.
The Investment Promotion and Mineral Trade Department also has been strengthened to provide information on investment opportunities in the industry as well as areas of linkages in the downstream in the industry.
The development of Integrated Automated and Interactive Mineral Portal (IAIMP) is another highlight in the sector. This allows for migration of all processes in the Ministry online for accessibility by anyone from anywhere in the world.
What is the ministry of mining most proud of to date in terms of what it has achieved for the sector?
One of our proudest achievements is the National Integrated Mineral Exploration Project (NIMEP). The federal government awarded a contract sometime last year after the approval of the Federal Executive Council.
The project involves about N15 billion ($45 million) and it is being undertaken nationwide. It involves the exploration of base metals, rare earth metals and industrial metals like Lead, Zinc, Barite, and Iron Ore. Preliminary results are encouraging and are being presented at different fora that we have been to.
The end result is to provide a commercially viable data that can be accessed by foreign investors for bidding which will deepen our mining activities. In addition, the Automation and Upgrading of Mining Cadastre Office (MCO) to an online platform which enables interested mineral title applicants assess their services is a notable achievement.
How was your experience at the Nigerian Mining Week this year?
My experience at Nigeria Mining Week was memorable as it availed me the opportunity to interact with sector specific stakeholders from all parts of the world and also to gauge the pulse of the stakeholders in the sector with the view to improving service delivery.
This year’s Mining Week was an improvement over that of past editions as we had many more participants. It is my wish to upgrade the Nigeria Mining Week to an international event like the South African Indaba, PDAC of Canada, Mines and Money of London and China Mining. This what we are working on.
What in your view are the main challenges in the industry?
I don’t like to dwell so much on challenges which I believe are a spur to innovation. However, some of them include illicit trading and mineral smuggling, illegal mining activities and inadequate funding for the sector.
What opportunities in the Nigerian mining sector are you most excited about currently?
The most exciting opportunity currently is the bilateral agreement between the Russian Federation and Nigeria to revive Ajaokuta Steel Company, which on completion will place the country on the map of steel producing nations. This single project is capable of generating employment for our teeming youths and also earn foreign exchange for the country.
Also, the progress recorded so far in Nigeria Integrated Mineral Exploration Project is impressive. The ministry being inundated with investment enquiries is an indicator of the growing confidence in the sector.
What is your vision for the sector?
My vision is to see the mining sector grow and contribute to the wealth of our nation and generate employment for our youth. I want Nigeria to become a mining and metal investment hub of the African continent.
Looking ahead to 2020, what are you hoping to accomplish?
In 2020, the result of NIMEP is going to be released and I look forward to that as the result would further unlock the investment potential of the sector. This would allow government to partition the areas into blocks and undertake internationally competitive bidding process in order to commence serious mining activities.
The ministry also intends to help the the Artisanal and Small-scale Miners to access funds, strengthen the Investment Promotion and Mineral Trade Department to undertake its function. And to fund the Surveillance Task Force of Mines Inspectorate in order to curb illegal mining and trading in mineral commodities.
What surprises or delights you most about this sector?
The potential of the sector. It has the potential to actually compete favorably with the oil and gas sector if well harnessed. Solid minerals and steel can contribute greatly to employment generation, wealth creation and contribute to the nation’s GDP.
What is your message to current and future investors in Nigeria’s mining sector?
The Nigerian Mining sector is on the upward trajectory to become the biggest in Africa. I would like to invite new investors into the sector to avail themselves of the golden opportunity of early comers.
What is your message to the Nigerian mining community for 2020
Mining communities are urged to be supportive and friendly to the investors and bear in mind that mining is not only capital intensive but has a long gestation period.
So the communities should be patient and always provide a serene environment for mining operations and also be moderate in their demands.