Exclusive interview with Cyril Azobu, PwC Nigeria’s Head Advisory and Mining Sector Leader.

The upcoming Nigeria Mining Week in Abuja in October is jointly organized by PwC, Spintelligent and the Mining Association of Nigeria (MAN).

Cyril Azobu, PwC Nigeria’s Head Advisory and Mining Sector Leader

How excited are you about this year’s Nigeria Mining Week? What is new for 2019?

Our partnership with iPAD Nigeria and the Miners Association of Nigeria in the organisation of the Nigeria Mining Week continues this year.

We’re pleased to put together another insightful and engaging conference this October in Abuja which will bring together critical stakeholders to rub minds and share ideas towards evolving a more profitable solid minerals sector in Nigeria.

This conference has now become established as the premier annual event on the sector’s calendar and we are proud of this.

As has been the trend, the gathering will feature a packed and exciting programme to be driven by subject matter experts, policy makers, thought leaders and entrepreneurs active in the sector both locally and abroad.

The topics for the speakers and panel session have been carefully selected to ensure the conference addresses the trending issues in the sector and adds value to participants.

Perhaps what makes this year’s event even more interesting is that following the inauguration of the new administration, new ministers have only recently been appointed for the ministry in the persons of Arc.

Olamilekan Adegbite and Dr. Uchechukwu Ogah, the honourable minister and honourable minister of state respectively.

This is likely going to be their first major interaction with the stakeholders in the sector and it will be great to hear them share their vision and aspirations for the sector during their tenure. 

What have been the main challenges for the mining sector in the last year?

I will start by acknowledging that some significant progress was made in the last four years by the previous leadership of the ministry. Several issues however continue to constitute a challenge to the sector.

For example, despite the reconstitution of the SMDF, the impact is yet to be felt in the industry. On the other hand, commercial banks remain skeptical and continue to assess the industry as high risk.

In addition, the existence of multiple regulations is reducing investor confidence as the cost and requirements to adhere to these have contributed to a seeming lack of interest in the industry.

Data which is at the heart of the industry is not robust enough to support investment inflows and key infrastructure such as access roads, dedicated rail lines, power, etc remain a challenge amongst others. 

What have been the main accomplishments for the sector in your view in the last 12 months or so?

In the last 12 months, there are a few notable achievements I can point to. For example, there have been efforts to improve the sector's regulatory framework with the enactment of new laws and establishment of the National Council of Mining and Mineral Resources Development.

Notably, The Nigerian Institute of Mining and Geo-sciences, Jos (Establishment) Act was assented to by the president in November 2018 for training of manpower for the sector and research.

In addition, the Federal Government in 2018 presented a Roadmap for the “Development of Nigeria's Industrial Minerals”, developed by the World Bank assisted Mineral Sector Support for Economic Diversification (MinDiver) Project. 

In addition, the National Gold Development efforts saw to the issuance of the first gold refining license in 2018. 

More so, efforts to curb illegal mining have been ramped up by the provision of surveillance vehicles for the mines inspectors across the country and increased inter-agency co-operation. 

The Ministry has also continued on its journey to transform its processes by digitizing some of its key activities.

Efforts are ongoing to automate the ministry's activities with the provision of an eGIS web portal and electronic submission of licenses, permits and certificates to improve efficiency and speed-up the processing of transactions.

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 endowments. 

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 has become even more critical in the light of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) coming into force.

The fixation on extraction and exporting of raw minerals and ores at the expense of value addition is a big disservice especially as we continue to depend on importation of finished products.

This is further exacerbated by other African countries potentially taking advantage of the AfCFTA to invade our economy. We must assess how competitive Nigeria will be against other more developed mining territories on the continent.

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 recently put out a paper in which we shared our thoughts for the sector going forward. We look forward to continuity in the implementation of the roadmap by the new ministers albeit with adjustments and enhancements made to certain aspects, to ensure the targets that have been set therein, are met. 

For us at PwC, our commitment to supporting stakeholders, both in the public and private sectors, unlock the potential and derive value from the sector is unflinching. We understand that to achieve progress, there must be close collaboration amongst key stakeholders and we believe Nigeria Mining Week is an excellent platform for driving this.