Nigeria aims to have 50 mines in operation by 2023 and can make up for time lost because of the impact of COVID-19 on development of the nascent sector, the country’s mining minister said in an interview.
Even as The Government has given six billion naira lifeline to the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development to tackle the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Mr Olamilekan Adegbite, made the disclosure to newsmen on Sunday in Abuja.
He said that the lifeline, to serve as a palliative for the sector, would be expended on setting up six mineral clusters in the country’s six geo-political zones.
“During the lockdown, I was invited by the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, to come up with things to be done during post-COVID-19 to help stimulate the mining sector.
“Six billion naira was given to our sector as palliative. We came up with setting up of mineral clusters in the six geo-political zones.
We have six regions in Nigeria and we are doing six projects.”
Adegbite said that the ministry came up with the building of a Gold Souk in Kano in Northwest Nigeria, to boost gold trade and processing in the state.
“We use to have goldsmiths in Nigeria but the profession is fading out. We want to bring it back. People now take our gold to Dubai, to add value.
“If you take a quantum of raw gold worth N10, 000 to Dubai, they will refine it without adding anything and create earrings, bangles and other jewelries and sell them 10 times the value they bought it.
“Why can’t we make the value locally that is what we are doing now. The concept in Kano is to revive and retain the value of our gold and create employment.”
He said that Bauchi State was selected in the Northeast for its abundant kaolin, noting that the mineral was being imported by pharmaceutical and paint companies in Nigeria.
“The mineral is used for the production of mixed kaolin and other drugs. Bauchi State has a lot of kaolin and we are planning to develop them.”
Adegbite said that Kogi was selected in the North Central as the state was also blessed with gold, adding that the ministry would build a smelting plant in the state to aggregate the gold.
He said further that Ibadan in Oyo State was selected in the Southwest for its abundant gemstone market.
“The gemstone market in Ibadan is informal and the government is not getting anything out of the mineral. Therefore, the government is now going to formalise it.
“It is an international market. People come from outside the country but we are being cheated; we are going to regulate the market.
“We are also going to train people on gemstones cutting and polishing to add value to the mineral.”
Adegbite said that Ebonyi in the Southeast was also selected, due to its large quantum of lead mineral, adding that a smelting plant would be built in the state to boost the activities of artisanal miners in the zone.
The minister said that Calabar was similarly, chosen in South South for its abundant Barite mineral.
It will be recalled that the Cross River government had approved five hectares of land for the mines and steel development ministry for the cluster project.
Africa’s largest oil producer is banking on mining to diversify its income and revive its finances following a collapse in crude prices, which earlier this year hit two-decade lows.
“The pandemic has slowed things down, but we can still catch up,” Minister of Mines Olamilekan Adegbite said.
Nigeria hopes mining will grow tenfold in five years to account for 3% of the economy and that Nigeria can process as well as mine, which generates increased profits compared with shipping raw minerals.
In particular, he said Nigeria aimed to process barite, used in drilling for oil and gas, and sell it to countries such as Ghana and South Africa, which need the mineral to exploit new oil discoveries.
In common with other African countries, Nigeria is also seeking to formalise artisanal mining, which could generate tax and royalties from gold.
Adegbite said Nigeria was encouraging small-scale miners to form cooperatives and sell at government-buying centres, where prices are closer to global values than those illegal buyers offer.
While oil prices have been weak because of the impact of the pandemic on movement and industry, which has curbed fuel demand, gold in August hit record highs.
A problem for Nigeria is that its gold lies mostly in the northwest, where, humanitarian organisations say it has helped to fuel violence attributed to armed groups.
Adegbite said security had improved and buying centres would stop artisanal miners dealing with criminals: “By weaning them off the illegal people and (making) sure they sell to government-approved centres, you take off that linkage.”
He also expects more commercial gold miners to be attracted once Thor Explorations’s gold mine in Nigeria’s southwest starts producing. Its first gold is expected in the second quarter of 2021.
Malte Liewerscheidt, vice president of London-based risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence, said the plans were likely to be undermined by “structural challenges pertaining to insecurity and infrastructure deficiencies”.