The Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Abubakar Bawa-Bwari, at the recently held two-day National Steel Summit in Lagos, expressed government’s commitment to ensuring local production of steel and other metals in the country using local raw materials. ABAH ADAH takes a look at the sector and the prospects.
There is no gainsaying the fact that iron and steel are at the centre of any nation’s industrial development. In fact, it is in the light of this that the idea of the famous Ajaokuta Steel Complex in what is now Kogi State became conceived about 40 years ago. Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Abubakar Bawa-Bwari , made it clear at the event that only rapid development of the steel and aluminum sector can accelerate Nigeria’s industrial development. He said considering the fact that the consumption rate of steel and other metal products was regarded as a major index of industrialisation, it was obvious that Nigeria was seriously lagging behind, even by the standard of developing nations, adding that Nigeria could easily join the committee of steel producing nations “if our abundant iron ore resources are effectively harnessed to produce steel.”
Lamenting Nigeria’s dependence on only oil for long amidst abundant solid mineral resources, he assured that while the private sector has so far demonstrated a strong capacity to drive the steel sector in Nigeria, government was determined to reform the thriving steel scrap recycling industry by encouraging crude steel production using local raw materials, adding that one of the key objectives of the privatisation policy of the federal government was to encourage the private sector to own and operate enterprises while the government remains the regulator. He said extensive reforms were carried out in the last three years, to reposition the mining sector in line with government’s aspiration of leveraging on the vast mineral potentials available in Nigeria to support the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).
A report by Synterra Energy Assets put the estimate of the deposits of iron ore (Fe) and stone in Nigeria at 5 billion tonnes. Yet, at the moment, no operational iron ore mine anywhere in the country, and out of the several steel mills, only the Kastina Steel Rolling Mill is managing to produce at least up to 75 per cent operational level, depending largely on scraps being imported, a top management personnel in the in a telephone conversation had told LEADERSHIP. There is no doubt that the quest to get the foremost steel mill in Nigeria working after 40 years of being in the pipeline with over N8 billion appropriated and purportedly sunk into it is gaining momentum under the economic diversification programme of this government.
A report of the situation audit of Ajaokuta Steel Complex, carried out at the instance of the ministry earlier in the year, presented recently by the sole administrator of the company, Sumaila Abdul-Akaba , had it that Ajaokuta was 95.7 per cent completed (the level it achieved in the ‘80s) and would require $653 million (N2.3billion) to become fully operational. The concept of Ajaokuta was for it to produce 1.3 million metric tonnes of steel annually in the first phase, 2.6 million metric tonnes in the second phase, and 5.2 million metric tonnes in the third phase respectively.
And the Aladja Steel Plant in Delta State which ranks after Ajaokuta, commissioned about 35 years ago, and most unfortunately, the Itakpe Iron Ore Mine meant to produce iron ore to feed it as well as the Ajaokuta project, are not operational due to copious neglect of the economically – viable sector by successive administrations in the country.
Nigeria has several deposits of iron ore, but the purest deposits are in and around Itakpe in Kogi State.
The National Iron Ore Mining Company was founded in 1979 and given the mission to explore, exploit, process, and supply iron ore concentrate to the Ajaokuta Steel Company(ASCL) in Ajaokuta and Delta Steel Company(DCL) in Aladja.
Additional demand has come from several steel rolling mills. The company and its mining operations are based in Kogi State. And the recent discovery of iron ore deposits in commercial quantities at Agbaja in the same Kogi State by Energio Limited, an Australian company is a boost that has earned the state the status of iron ore rich state.
In a confirmatory statement, the company said it has discovered about 488 million tonnes, with an in-situ iron grade of 42.7 per cent, adding that the discovery was the first ever JORC Iron Ore resources discovery in Nigeria and was bound to change the pace of iron ore development in mineral rich West African country.
As part of the privatisation drive of the federal government, the Agbaja iron ore reserves has been acquired by Kogi Iron (KFe). ASX-listed Kogi Iron has progressed the metallurgical testwork associated with the commercialisation of its 100 per cent-owned Agbaja oolitic iron ore deposits during the quarter ended 30 June 2018.
Other states which are known to have iron ore deposits in Nigeria include: Abia, Anambra, Bauchi, Benue, Kwara, Plateau, Nasarawa, Niger, Kaduna and Zamfara.
The declaration of the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, in recent past on Nigeria having the 12th largest iron ore deposit in the world and the second largest in Africa, with about 70 per cent of Nigeria’s deposits yet to be proven has raised quite some concern within the business community.
Osinbajo, had raised hopes when he said the federal government was looking at options for solving the challenge of developing the sector, including mobilising government capacity and private sector competencies to certify existing deposits.
On his part, an expert in mineral resources exploration and development, Mr. Jerry Solomon, while talking to newsmen had expressed optimism that iron ore mining would industrialise the economy. But, to move the sector forward, he urged the government and investors to consider massive exploration and exploitation of the abundant iron mineral in the country.
Iron by mass, in the earth’s crust, is the fourth most abundant element, it has an atomic number of 26, melting point: 1,538 °C and boiling point: 2,862 °C.
Iron ore deposits are mostly found in rocks (sedimentary rocks), and iron ores constitute mainly of what is known as rocks minerals, from these mineral rocks the metallic iron deposits can be extracted.
Iron ore contains four main types of iron oxides deposits solely dependent on the mineralogy and geology of the ore deposits, these includes magnetite,titanomagnetite, hematite and pisolitic ironstone, out of the four the two most important minerals deposits are hematite(Fe2O3) and magnetite (Fe3O4).
Due to oxygen and iron atoms which is bonded together into molecules forming this ore, it has to be smelted in the blast furnace to remove the oxygen (i.e.reduction) and convert it to metallic iron from which molten or pig iron (steel material) is produced. Iron is the 3rd widely used metal in Africa and the world as a whole, and it is the main material in steelmaking for automobiles, ships, beams used in buildings, paper clips, furniture, tools etc. Its uses cut across all spheres of life, ranging from domestic to industrial level. Hence any nation that has it in abundance like Nigeria needs not remain underdeveloped. Stakeholders said it was time the country refrained from the wasteful adventure of the past make frantic and sincere efforts to catch up with the industrialisation train which has moved far ahead with countries like China, India, Brazil, etc. who were at the same rung of the ladder with Nigeria some years ago.