The mining sector was once Nigeria’s major revenue earner after agriculture, but due to the discovery of oil, it had suffered serious setbacks. In this interview, the acting Director General, Nigeria Geological Survey Agency, NGSA, Nwegbu Ndubuisi, speaks on the activities of the agency and how it is imperative to diversify the economy to the mining sector. GABRIEL EWEPU reports:
Sir, how has it been since you were appointed the acting Director General of Nigeria Geological Survey Agency?
First of all, I thank God for His grace because I have to attribute it to the act of God, as promotion comes neither from the east nor west, but from God. With this level of appointment of course you expect challenges.
Nigeria Geological Survey Agency is a very big organisation, and it has its own peculiar challenges, but I am not surprised with what I am facing, I have been around in NGSA for quite a while. I actually grew from first appointment 30 years ago, so I am actually familiar with the NGSA.
When you came into office as acting DG of NGSA, what did you meet and how have you improved upon that to move the agency forward?
Basically, the agency is a federal government establishment charged with generating and carving of geosciences data, and a lot of investment in the solid minerals sector hinges on the activities of NGSA.
When I took over, actually the process of satisfying the needs of investors have been on board, but there are certain areas that needed for us to close the lacuna, because the investors need more geosciences data and of course what I have to do was to expand the scope of activities to meet the yearnings of investors and other stakeholders in the industry.
What scope are you talking about?
In terms of increasing our field activities, level of geosciences data, awareness of the availability of these geosciences data, because the geosciences data is actually for public good, and if you generate data and is not made available for public consumption it is as good as having wasted the resources.
So I am actually on the process of commissioning our website, that is wherever you are in the world you can access us on the web, and it was one aspect that was lacking before I took over, and this is the aspect we are placing more premium on so we can get our information across to foreign investors so as to attract foreign direct investment.
Talking about the solid minerals sector in Nigeria and discoveries made in virtually all the 36 states and 774 local government areas, what are the challenges in turning Nigeria into a mining hub in Africa and the world with this huge endowment?
The basic challenge we have is that, so much emphasis is now being laid on the oil industry, so everybody seems to be attracted to that sector. With the resolve that the solid minerals sector had suffered over the years, neglect and we have people who are not really qualified to be in the industry.
For instance, we have a lot of speculators who go and get titles, but do not have the capacity to develop these titles into functional mines. So these are some of the basic challenges, and of course you know about the poor funding of the sector, because a lot of funding is required from the level of geosciences data we are actually developing mines.
We have been short-changed a lot in terms of being empowered to carry out the basic functions of the agency, which is to generate geosciences data at the level that is acceptable to investors, because most of what investors want is a level of geosciences data that will reduce the risk. Because if you come into a country in a virgin area, and they tell you that there is a particular mineral there, for you to put your money there to find out if actually you have a mineral there, the quantity and quality of the mineral, and there is a lot of risks.
If geological survey goes to a level of providing a level it reduces the risk of investors. So this is one of the basic challenges facing the sector. That of inadequate availability of geosciences data to the level that evokes the confidence of the investor, and that is the level we are pursuing our activities right now.
Why is the government yet to declare emergency in the mineral and metal sector by the available data and discoveries from your agency?
I would not like to accuse government, because it requires the understanding of the administrators on the workings of this sector, because a lot of people are not patient with the processes that lead to the activities of the sector. For instance, if you invest money in exploration before you get to the level to establish a mine and it starts yielding revenue to the government, it will require not less than five to 10 years.
So a lot of governments are not patient enough to see through this gestation period of five to 10 years before being rewarded with the investment. You find out that you could give in money from one or two years, and if they do not have the immediate returns to satisfy their expectations they feel that the money has been wasted. So they draw back in funding the sector further. It is also part of the problem in the sector.
As mining professional can you tell Nigerians why the mining sector seems not to be attractive and money spinning as the oil industry for economic growth and development?
It requires a lot of input, for instance you could invest in exploration, like geological studies, drilling, airborne surveys and spend more than $100m without any single return. I don’t know how many people who would be in a position to spend $100 m without an immediate return of investment.
You find out that mostly is the multinationals that have deep pockets, like what happens in the oil industry, all these big corporations in the oil industry can afford to spend up to $100m without any reward, and still continues knowing fully well that in due time the reward would start coming.
You find out that it is a very capital intensive sector, and not many Nigerians have the patience and level of capital of investment. They would rather go and import something and sell, and within six months that will multiply their income, but in the case of solid minerals it does not just come that way.
You find out that people engage in small-scale mining, we refer to them as not really illegal, but artisanal and small-scale miners, without actually mechanising the venture. So it is one of the challenges of the sector for people not being able to have the financial and technical capacity, to actually going deep in the industry.
What is the cooperation between your agency and state governments in carrying out your activities?
Of course, minerals are domiciled in territories, comprising Nigeria, which is made up of states. So wherever you discover minerals they are in particular states of the federation, and of course the communities where the minerals are found have a stake in the exploration and exploitation of the minerals.
So we have a committee comprising the federal, states and communities that seek to address the various interests of these groups. Like the states, federal government and communities in terms of engaging in sustainable exploitation of minerals so that the environment is not completely degraded, because when the environment is degraded it affects the communities and indirectly the states also.
This is the area we now cooperate, and states that cooperate we operate with them by providing information where necessary.