Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, TSX-listed Thor Explorations continues to make steady progress at its Segilola gold project in Nigeria and is on track to pour first gold in Q2, 2021.
However, as CEO SEGUN LAWSON points out, Segilola is more than just the company’s flagship project; it is Nigeria’s first large-scale gold mine which will lay the foundation for attracting more mining investment in the country. GERARD PETER reports.
Lawson has been at the helm of Thor Explorations since its inception in 2011 and has led all of the company’s acquisitions and financings. In August 2016, the company completed the acquisition of a 100% interest in Segilola gold project in Osun State, approximately 120 km north-east of the capital, Lagos.
The gold project comprises an indicated resource of 556 000 oz at 4.2 g/t, an inferred resource of 306 000 oz at 4.7 g/t and a probable reserve of 448 000 oz at 4.2 g/t. A 25-year mining license was issued in September 2016 and environmental approvals are already in place.
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Under Lawson’s guidance, the gold project has moved swiftly from exploration to construction phase which began in February this year. In August, Thor Explorations announced that construction was progressing on track and within budget, despite the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. It has been able to achieve all of this with compromising on the health and safety of its team, reporting no Lost Time Injuries to date.
“We have been progressing construction of key areas,” starts Lawson. “We have completed the water storage facility and this will fill up naturally to its final height over the next four months. We have also been building the camp and administration areas, including all the technical buildings. We are also working on the process plant and in July, we poured first concrete.”
Away from the site, the other key component is that 60% of the procurement of long-lead items has been completed. “The first shipment of items has already arrived at the port in Lagos and we are expecting another delivery in Q4 this year, with SAG and ball mills scheduled for delivery in January in 2021,” adds Lawson.
Part of the reason that Thor Explorations has been able to continue its steady progress is because the company managed to ensure that it had staff onsite before Nigeria’s COVID-19 lockdown began. The company managed to get its EPC team on site in February and has managed to isolate the site since then.
“This means all the key workers are accommodated on site and the labour force has been recruited and housed in the nearby villages which are in close proximity to the site. We have also restricted travel outside the area and COVID -19 monitoring and mitigation measures are ongoing at the site.”
Segilola’s EPC contractor is Chinese-based Norinco International and according to Lawson, this has benefited the project because the Chinese have been one step ahead of the rest of the world in terms of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
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“The team brought their COVID-19 handbook with them and have implemented measures such as handwashing, testing of temperatures, social distancing and access control. What was also very important was using signage around the site and surrounding villages to make people aware about the virus and how it is spread and thankfully to date, we have had no COVID-19 cases at Segilola.”
Communities are stakeholders
Lawson further explains that community engagement is a key pillar of the company’s vision.
“As a big project in a remote region, we have a duty of care and the community is one of our stakeholders. Not only do we provide jobs for them but we have a duty to ensure that they are made aware about COVID-19.”
To this end, the company has held workshops and put up signage in nearby villages. Thor Explorations has also made a donation to a laboratory in the State to provide test kits for the local villages.
In addition, the company has provided much needed local employment. Already, over 360 jobs have been created, with 92% being Nigerian nationals and approximately 56% being from the local communities.
However, Segilola’s development stretches far beyond the borders of Osun. It is a landmark project that demonstrates that projects of this magnitude can be successfully implemented and built in Nigeria.
Lawson adds that getting the project into production will boost investor confidence in the country and should attract more exploration dollars into Nigeria.
“Furthermore, when you consider the size of Nigeria, it is incredible to think that there is no large-scale mining in the country. This demonstrates that there is a large geological part of Nigeria that is under-explored.
“Segilola will show international investors that projects like this can be successfully developed in Nigeria. This will result in jobs and skills creation and revenue for the country.”
Building a foundation for success
There is no doubt that Nigeria doesn’t feature highly on the list of African countries brimming with mining potential, largely because it has relied on exploiting its oil reserves.
And it was for this reason that it was a challenge for Thor Explorations to secure investment for Segilola.
“Investors don’t know the country and the geology of the country so from the very outset, it was always going to be a big ask.
“We had to think outside the box to get the project funded. We ended up securing around US$ 104 million from different sources, which included finance from our EPC partner and we collaborated with African Finance Corporation to secure $86 million.
“The organisation is 40% owned by the Nigerian Central Bank so it was keen to get involved in the project and we closed that deal, Segilola became a lot more attractive to the international mining investment community.”
Lawson is confident that Segilola will lay the foundation for unlocking Nigeria’s mining potential.
“You don’t have to go very far to find case studies about how mining can benefit a country. If you look at Burkina Faso, you just have to rewind 20 years to see how the establishment of the first mine led to the development of 15 mines in quick succession. I think Segilola will be the first but it will unlock door for further mining development in Nigeria,” he concludes.
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