The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke, expects Nigeria to witness its first gold rush this year.
In this interview with Sweet crude, shortly before Xmas, she says that Nigeria has gold in commercial quantity as confirmed by miners on the field. She also says that Nigerian gold is of the best quality in the world.
She denies insinuation that Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited is jinxed; affirming that as soon as the London arbitration case is disposed of, government would find a qualified buyer for the troubled steel company
How have you fared this past one year.
We have been very aggressive in seeking direct foreign investment; in selling our minerals and metal sector to interested foreign investors. We have been convincing foreign investors that we have rich mineral deposits that can compete with other minerals destination in sub-Sahara Africa. These countries have unfairly taken away the shine from us.
We have also been building our processes very stringently and we have gotten the strategic framework to start. Again we have been very seriously building our artisan and small scale miners. We are giving them the capability and the know-how on how to start.
This is in alliance with a World Bank grant. We have done this over the past six, twelve months, and we have impacted positively on the employment.Â By so doing, we’re going in the same direction with the 7-point agenda of President Umaru Yar’Adua.
So, we have done so many things, and we expect to improve on it 2010.
In 2010, we expect to see the influx of foreign investors, as a result of the work we have done. And we actually expect to see small scale and artisan miners take a formal shape in 2010. We expect that sector to expand phenomenally and create thousands of jobs. We are actually expecting a more formalised mineral sector.
We’re expecting the world to focus much more on Nigeria as veritable destination for metals and minerals. We want this sector to join the global economy.
You just came back from China, what was the feel for Nigerian mineral sector?
I must say that we were overwhelmed in China. We were sponsored by the Chartered Bank of China in conjunction with conjunction with IBTCÂ the largest Bank in the world in that trip. Both of us where surprise by the overwhelming response we got from the Chinese. As, you know, the biggest mining companies in the world are in China.
And they came to speak to us in-depth technically on their interest in strategic mineral in Nigeria. So, there is no iota of doubt that if we continue like this in 2010, we should see a major influx of investors into Nigeria.
But I want us to take it a step further, and I have told the Chinese investors that it is not just to come here to explore and exploit our mineral resources, but that we must add the to the value chain, by processing here.
So, we will be looking at strategic minerals, beginning from 2010 in seeking partnerships; in actually starting processing those minerals here in Nigeria, thereby adding the value chain and ensuring that our people began to get the expertise and know-how to carry this onward because it is important that we start producing Nigerians now, who would take over the sector in the next 10 to 15 years.
So, generally what aspect has experienced real growth in the past one year?
We have had major interests in our iron ore, several interest in coal for power generation, for other forms on energy. There is tremendous interest in Nigerian Gold. And we already have operators on ground who is telling us that they are already finding commercial quantities of the Gold over and above what they have expected. Nigerian Gold, if you may want to know, has one of the highest quality in the world.
But, that is not all, there are unprecedented interest in the whole gamut of our minerals. From tantalite to columbite, from barites, gypsum, uranium to tin, there are so much interests in them now.
So, in am extremely optimistic that by December, 2010, we should see some response and out put in the sector.
You have been Minister of Mineral and Steel Development for over a year now, is Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited (SACL) jinxed.
I cannot stand here as Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and tell you that ASCL is jinxed. I won’t even say so for other areas under my Ministry.
I think that as a nation, we really need to do our work properly.
We have to ensure that only companies who have value; who are tested and good, take over our companies, our national asset and operate within legal and international parameters that are enshrined in the law. And that we as a government, ensure compliance within those parameters.
If we can do that, and ensure that our focus and the strategic interests of this country are not only protected but to ensure implementation, then we would have done good.
So, is government looking for a new buyer for Ajaokuta?
Of course government’s intention is still to privatise over a period of time. As soon as we are over with the arbitration hanging over our head, that will be the intention.
What of the fate of the workers?
In the interim, the workers ten months’ salary arrears have been paid. We are hoping therefore, that over the next few months the company would actually be privatised if it is possible. But we are still looking at other options for the plant.