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Making Minerals Exploration Easier Through Private Sector Partnership



The expression of investment interest in the Nigerian mining sector by a United Kingdom- based company during the just-concluded London Mines and Money Conference, which came on the heels of declarations by a Chinese investor among others, may signal a new vista for mining exploration in Nigeria. ABAH ADAH writes.

A major drawback in the development of the Nigerian mining sector over the years as pointed out by experts in recent times is insufficient exploration and research towards discovering enough of the rich solid mineral deposits across the country.

Exploration is described as the act of searching for the purpose of discovery of information or resources. It is one of three purposes of empirical (scientific)  research, the other two being description and explanation. It is by way of exploration that enough geological and geoscience data which lead to successful exploitation can be gathered.

Many are of the view that much attention has not been given to exploration for solid minerals over the years, a trend witnessed at its worst since the advent of the oil boom to date. The discovery of high quality Lead and Zinc in commercial quantity in Bauchi State only in 2012 by an Australian company, Symbol Mining, attests to this.

The chief executive officer (CEO) , Tim Wither, while speaking during an interview about the discovery, pointed out the need to create more awareness about the huge deposits but largely untapped mineral resources in the country, assuring that his company was prepared and determined to raise awareness about Nigeria’s potential as a mineral resource producer.

Narrating the experience of Symbol, Wither said, “Our maiden resource demonstrated a mineralisation zone of high-grade zinc and lead. The subsequent completion of the Macy Deposit scoping study confirmed the economic viability for high-grade direct shipment ore (“DSO”) to both Chinese and European smelters.”

The Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development,  Abubakar Bawa Bwari, while flagging off an integrated exploration project to be executed under the oversight of the ministry sometime last year, also collaborated this when he said inadequate geoscience data has been bane in the development of the solid minerals sector in Nigeria. As part of efforts to optimise the economic viability of the sector through sufficient geosciences data, the ministry recently floated the Integrated Exploration Programme.

Delivering his speech during the brief flag-off ceremony,  the minister said the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government through the ministry was committed to ensuring that the mining sector’s contribution to the nation’s GDP was raised from the 0.35 per cent at the moment to 8.4 per cent by 2020, adding that the essence of the projects was to generate geoscience data that would ensure adequate statistics that investors can rely on to invest in the sector.

“It can be clearly seen that Nigeria is richly endowed with different mineral types including coal, iron ore, uranium, bitumen, gold, limestone, etc. However,  Nigeria has not seen a commensurate development in the mining sector, primarily because of inadequate geoscience data.

“This is largely responsible for the decline in the mining sector’s contribution to our Nation’s GDP to a paltry 0.35 per cent as compared to oil which contributes about 10 per cent of our GDP, and 85 per cent of our foreign exchange earnings-an unhealthy situation that makes our economy vulnerable,” he remarked.

He said it was the determination of Mr President to reverse the trend that led to the economic diversification agenda anchored primarily on the mining and agriculture sectors, adding that a well – developed mining sector can easily catalyse Nigeria’s industrial revolution through import substitution, while addressing the challenges of unemployment, poverty and insecurity.

“This administration is therefore determined to reposition the mining sector by increasing its contribution to the GDP from a paltry 0.35 per cent to 8.4 per cent by 2020 which is the target set by the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).

“This programme could therefore not have come at a better time as we continue to pursue the rapid generation of world class integrated geosciences information in Green  and Brown fields,” he said.

Former director-general, Nigerian Geological Survey Agency (NGSA), Alex Nwegu, who expressed gratitude to President Buhari for approving the Natural Resources Fund (NRF) as an enabler of the programme,  said the urgent need to address the geoscience information deficit in the mining sector necessitated the development of an ambitious exploration programme by the ministry.

The execution of the project was expected to span 12 calender months.

It is therefore not surprising to see the passion displayed by NGSA recently in receiving and partnering with a Swedish firm, Guideline Geo AB Ltd to have Nigerians trained on how to effectively utilise a modern ABEM technology to prospect an environment for minerals, water, etc within the subsurface with no difficulty in knowing exactly where they occur, their quantity and quality.

While declaring the event open in Abuja, the director-general of the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency, Dr. Abdulrazaq Garba, commended Messrs GuidelineGeo AB, the parent company of ABEM geophysical and Engineering Geology Equipment and Instruments for deeming it fit not only to come and introduce the product, but to also organise and wholly finance the two-day training session for Nigerians on the use of ABEM latest products for exploration.

He said, “The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development therefore remains highly grateful to GuidelineGeo who distributes ABEM products for organising and financing this training unilaterally.”

The DG, who was represented by the director, Information in the ministry, Mrs Bola Akinwande, said the training could not have come at a better time than now that the current administration which has identified the solid minerals sector as one of the focal lab in driving its Economic Recovery Programme (ERGP) is embarking on series of projects on geosciences data generation, staff capacity building and promotion of Nigeria’s mineral resources, a move he noted has attracted significant investment and interests locally and internationally.

“The ministry has purchased several modern geoscience equipment and instruments from reputable manufacturers including ABEM,” he said.

During his presentation, Engr Jimmy Adcock, GuidelineGeo’s senior application engineer said the company came to demonstrate their resistivity system of their equipment that allows for mapping underneath the ground without having to do any digging.

This, he said, “Can save us a lot of money, because drilling and digging is very expensive, very slow methodology, whereas, with this instrumentation, we can cover quite large areas very quickly.

“We pass electrical current through the ground, and where it gets held up and transmitted, tells us something about the structure of the ground beneath our feet, and this can be used on all sought of applications.

“It can be used while looking for mineral deposits, for water search, and it also has engineering applications such as looking for the depths to bedrocks and determining how strong the bedrock might be.

“As for the data collected from the ground, we process it and that would give us a plethora of resistivity value which will describe how difficult it is for the current to move through the ground, leaving us with several values to inform us on what’s beneath the ground,” he added.

Similarly, on the sideline of the demonstration, the deputy director, NGSA, Agbo Usman, said for full implementation of the ERGP, “government came up with several policies and programmes such as massive exploration and promotion of the mineral resources in and outside the country, as well as massive geo-data generation among other objectives.”

From the training, he noted that people would acquire skills and return to their professions to apply the knowledge in defining the mineral potentials of Nigeria.

Also speaking was the vice chancellor of Mountain Top University, Prof. E. Ayolabi, said the equipment/instrument acquired was very efficient, adding that the data accuracy was very high and can be deployed for various divisible mapping.

“This mapping ranges from groundwater, mineral exploration to environmental impact assessment as well as ground water investigation,” he said.

He assured that there were no security implications as regards hacking or losing vital information to the wrong hands, adding that the manufacturers may only bother about upgrading if the request was put across.