By Moses Nosike
The Honourable Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Arch Olamilekan Adegbite recently spoke with a group of media men in Lagos, reviewing the state of operation in the mining industry now and before Covid-19 that crippled global business operations, which also made it difficult to actualise the mandate of FG on Mines and Steel Development.
The Honourable Minister, Arch Olamilekan Adegbite also spoke on post Covid-19 measures government embarked on to ensure the sector does not experience total shutdown pending when it will be conducive to operate fully.
Speaking he said, “It is always good to let the people know what we are doing even when these things are not obvious. We started out very well with the promise to achieve certain goals from inception. By my nature I look at things the way they turn out as they are meant to be. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic that put a lot of our plans in abeyance chiefly the Ajaokuta steel plant. It was one of our major targets to achieve that we would start and complete the Ajaokuta plant before President Muhammadu Buhari will leave office.
We went to Russia in 2019 shortly after I became a Minister, and as at October 2019, we had the Russian African Summit, and on the sidelines of that summit we had bilateral with the Russian Federation. One of the proposes or request put forward by Nigerian side was for the Russian government to resuscitate the Ajaokuta Steel Plant, especially been that they were the original builders and they acceded to that request, and work started in earnest.
From that October there were a lot of paper works which was supposed to lead to a technical audit that was supposed to take place last year March. The technical audit is a 90-day exercise where you have professionals on ground looking at the plant the way it is and to look at what needs to be replaced. It is akin to somebody who wants to renovate his house, you need to go in there and see what needs to be changed, what is still relevant and all that.
But as God will have it, the pandemic set in and even as we speak we are experiencing the second wave, which has prevented the Russians from coming. The set of the 60 man team that was supposed to come, we prepared for them with place to accommodate them and transportation, everything was in intact.
We need to let Nigerians know this, because if at the end of my tenure in office a few journalist will ask me and that is why I started from there because I was pursuing that with a lot of vigour.
Having said that, we have not totally given up on it, so am praying and hoping that we could start something that would become irreversible; because the plan given to us possibly is about two and half years thing, so we thought starting from 2020 that means by the end of 2022 or middle of 2022 we would have finished.
So we were thinking the opening will start around 2022 third quarter. But if we were to start again I don’t think this government have up to two and half years to go, but I pray and hope that we will be able to start something that is irreversible so that even when PMB has left office the Ajaokuta steel plant we still come on and Nigeria will be better for it.
Apart from that, during the pandemic itself, the period of total lockdown and when every body was at home, government got together and said; the administration said look what can we do in the sector as a post COVID-19 palliative because everybody knew the debilitating effects of the pandemic on businesses on every sector. So, government called us and said look what can we do in your sector to ameliorate some of the situation that had happened post COVID-19, some thing to help kick-start the sector. To that effect, we submitted a proposal and we were given some funds to do that and that is what had led to something we have started doing now. So,we kicked off what I will call a regional project in the six geo-political zones of the country.
So, we look at each zone and its strength and decided what we would do. Looking at the North-East we chose Bauchi because it is very rich in Kaolin. This is another policy of government; we have a lot of minerals that are used in the industrial circle, but the problem had been that those minerals people exploit them and send them out as a raw ore and then they are now brought back into Nigeria as semi-process industrial materials.
So, we look at Bauchi where we have Kaolin and kaolin is used in the pharmaceutical and the paint industry. So, we started a plant to process Kaolin in Bauchi. The essence of this that upon completion, Nigeria should not import industrial Kaolin again. All the local requirements should be able to satisfy from that end.
If you go to North Central, we chose Kogi because the state has Gold. To help the artisanal miners there, we decided to have gold smelting plant. That is the project for Kogi. Hitherto, they get their gold and they have some crude method of smelting which often lead to disaster. All this method that they use and then, you have the leaching into the water, into the stream, all this undesirable chemicals and of course we had a late poisoning in Zamfara.
These are some of the local methods of extracting gold, and what is there is that when you find gold you don’t find it in pure form, it comes with a lot of dirt. So to extract it that is what causes all that. We are building a modern plant that will avoid all this harsh chemicals in Kogi,that would satisfy them.
For the North-West, we have chosen Kano and what we are doing in there is essentially a gold souk, (souk is just a name for market, an Arabic word for market). Kano has been known for gold trade along the international gold trade route in West Africa. When Mam Samusa made his trip to Mecca and sure a lot you probably read that history where he crashed the price of gold in the whole world because he travelled with so much gold. Kano was part of that route, so we are just trying to bring the whole glory of Kano back by creating a gold souk in Kano. But not just that, we find out that a lot of our gold when smelted are smuggled out.
I used that word deliberately because very few of them come through the right process to take them out of the country. Yes, you are allowed to take out your gold if you want to trade and all that but if you come through government we give you an export certificate and then of course you pay some royalty and you can take out your gold safely. But a lot of people choose to ignore that part and they take the gold dore bars, they take them to Dubai mostly.
What we realise is that, if you take a gold worth N100, 000 to Dubai for instance as a dore bar, with that ounce of gold with some expertise, skills they would turn that same gold into jewellery which you could sell for a million Naira. So we were losing value to Dubai, you got gold worth a N100, 000 all you need to make that gold into N1m is skill. You are adding value when you turn gold into earring, into bangle, necklace, even cuff links etc. there are so many things just add it, and we are losing a lot of value on that. So what we are doing in Kano, essentially is not just a market, we are going to have people in the market who can turn the gold into products. This would open way for training, another programme we are having this year.
So in Kano, essentially we are having a gold souk, where people will be able to transform your raw gold, add value and of course into jewelleries and other stuff. For the South-West, we have chosen Ibadan and we are building a gemstones market in that area. A lot of gemstones are found around Ibadan. In fact there is an existing market for gemstones, is an international market people come from far and wide.
You see, is an informal market, people come from West African countries and China to come and buy gemstone there. But like I said, it is an informal market and government looses a lot of revenue there. So what we are doing is organising the same market under a roof, formalizing it so that the market takes place in a more secured and serene environment and at the same time government gets its value.
Ife, Oyo axis. That is not to say there are no gemstone in other part of the country but the one that is actually meant for the Ibadan now where people buy formerly comes from around there.
A few Nigerians are already into it, apart from doing jewelleries the stones are set as additional ornament and that stone is found in raw form in Nigeria. What makes it to that ring is called, cutting and faceting, you cut it into shape, polish it and it comes glistering and you fix it on the ring, pendant, earring, thereby adding value. We are also doing that in Ibadan, it is not that we now sell the gemstones, there are going to be people in that market who would add value to the stones, they will cut them, polish them and make them ready.
For the South East, we have chosen Ebonyi State because of its lead. The lead found in Ebonyi is probably one of the purest in the world. But it is exported in that raw form with its impurities there. What we are doing simply is to build a processing plant there for the lead, so that what you are going to be exporting from Ebonyi is what you call lead ingots.
Ingots are simply when all the impurities have been removed and when we are saying this is lead ingots it is pure lead. What you find from the ground could be 84 percent lead and some other impurities. At times it comes with silver and all that. So we are going to extract the lead and make it into ingots, so that when you are selling you cannot be cheated, when you say you are selling lead ingot you are selling 100 percent lead.
And South South, the last one but not the least. We are doing Barite around Ogoja. Barite is something that is used in Oil industry, is part of the drilling mould that is used for oil exploration. Nigeria imports to the tune of about a $300m annually. Barite mostly is from North Africa. It mostly comes from Morocco. We do have the barite in Nigeria. The problem has been taking the barite from its raw form when it exploited in the ground to want is acceptable in the market.
We have done a lot of work on this now, we got all the stakeholders involved, the end users are involved, and we have been able to get government acting as factor because government is not going to be involve in it at the end of the day, but we got people who are mining the barites. We got companies who got their own plants to processed it.
Basically, barites comes like chunk of rock when they mine it, so this plants will crush and mill them and we have been a specification they have to mill to about 0.003um, the plants will do that. Then they will be bagged and sold to the companies, so what we have done as a government is to say okay you are the miners you got the barites. We have identified about three companies now with milling machine that can do this.
Then we got some interested entrepreneurs who are making the bags, because there has been an attempt in the past to bring Nigeria Barite to the market but these had failed due to it not been milled properly, or because the bagging was poor and when they want to use on site it split up and then the Barite is wasted. So we are taking care of all this snags that have been identified. We have got the private sector people involved in this and we are just taking the barites from the mines to the market with government been a facilitator. That is essentially what we are doing in Cross-River.