Mrs. Rabi Umar Sodangi is the Acting Director General, National Steel Raw Materials Exploration Agency (NSRMEA). In this interview with RUTH TENE NATSA, she gives recipe for credible data for Mining development in Nigeria.
What is your take on government’s stand on diversification?
Honestly, the commitment of the present administration is commendable, I think they are serious, but they can do better. We have been left for too long, so we really need to be funded, equipped and well trained. I think with the way we are going, very soon, we would have sufficient data, because it is very essential and that is what brings the investors. Also knowing that mining is capital intensive, if you do not have the right information, you cannot come all the way from outside the country to invest in what you are not sure of. So I think if government sustains the momentum on funding for exploration and Geological survey, I would say in a short while, we would have lots of credible and reliable geoscience data that would attract investors to the country.
What did you met on ground?
I assumed office in December 2015 and what I met on ground was that, the sector was not being adequately funded, there were lots of gaps in terms of equipment, capacity and generally exploration was not consistent. In such environments, you find out that staff too, become somehow redundant so there isn’t much commitment or seriousness. Even at that time when we go for consultancy, most of the money goes to equipment repairs, with no revenue generation for the government.
What are some of the changes you have brought in?
I call them transformational changes. We have tried to develop a coal shed in the agency, which is where we store samples that are supposed properly stored. We identified a place in the headquarters, built a structure where we will be storing coal samples after extraction. This is to ensure that our reports are credible; otherwise investors may not see clear evidence to authenticate our reports. We also entered into collaborations with the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Metallurgical and Engineering Department, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (ABU) to develop a compendium of all projects executed by the agency and also assist in their accreditation. They have a new mining and mineral department, they are creating and also we are in collaboration to ensure that through them we are able to access a certified laboratory. In this country, we do not have them and that is why our data is not reliable or credible.
What of the Laboratory in Kaduna?
It is not certified. We do not have a certified laboratory in Nigeria, but we are working on it now. The Ministry is working on, at least, even if it is one that would be certified
Would you say there have been improvements?
Yes, there are lots of improvements. What I started with, when I assumed office was to sensitise the staff on the vision and mandate of the agency. So we had an interactive session at the first instance and I made it a quarterly affair, between staff and management to discuss where we are, where we need to go and what we need to do and also introduced biannual in-house capacity building through seminars, workshops on the job trainings just to revive the spirit of performance in the office. I also repositioned the consultancy unit, project planning and consultancy. I created a marketing unit and also deployed critical essential staff into the unit and we started getting jobs and generating revenue, so that even before the budget came, we were able to do certain things. For example, we were able to upgrade the IT centre which formally was just there. We got some high capacity computers, installed GIS soft wares and the staff were trained to have the capacity to just collect data from the field, process it into maps, digitize maps, Topo maps, DEM maps and contours and also process reports which in the past we used to outsize and also activated our website which was actually down for some time, we now do it in-house. We also retrained the staff, created official e-mails for staff. Right now, we have already hosted our products and services, prices, time lines, conditions as par the Executive Orders that was recently issued by the presidency.
What then are the mandates of the NSRMEA?
The agency is supposed to source for raw materials for the iron and steel industry. We do exploration; we generate geoscientific data that would interest investors to invest into the country’s mines and steel industry. This is because the data to show the viability, quality, quantity, mines studies, advice on mining style to be used, ground formations to know types of tools to use etc are all there. So we have started that in earnest. With the 2016 budget, we were able to retool to procure some equipment for surveys, such as high target GPS, Geophysics equipment, laboratory equipment and even got approval to purchase two rigs. One is already on ground and we are expecting the second one very soon. We have been into exploration of iron ore deposit in Yolanora in Bauchi and Biya in Kogi state, coal exploration in Amasiodo Enugu and Bauxite in Mambila in Taraba states respectively
What have been your challenges in this job, which is mostly seen as a man’s reserve?
The challenges I faced in this work as a woman and also that I am not actually a Geoscientists. You may call me a management practitioner because I studied hotel management and also had a Master’s in Business administration. But I will say I have had top executive and leadership courses both in Nigeria and abroad. I am a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Management. I started work in the Steel Industry in 1985. Then, I began my civil service career at the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited. Of course, some feel that since I am not a Geoscientist and also that the job is mostly done by men like you observe; there is that feel that questions my ability. However, if you know your onions, people will see it and appreciate it. Even if you are a woman and have challenges, what matters is whether you know what you are supposed to do. By the time the men see you achieving it, they would fall in line.
What are your immediate targets as the DG?
Our target is to generate reliable geoscience data. Right now and because of some challenges, we still need more equipment, capacity building. Remember Nigeria used to be a mining destination but that was neglected for a long time and so also was the sector and the agencies. But the work has not been static, things have been moving, new techniques, new machineries and we are just getting to know about that and start. Right now, I am very happy with a consultancy project we are currently working on in Okabo and a coal project in Kogi state. We are working with Consultants from Canada, Australia and a lot of things we never knew existed such as techniques, machines. We are really building capacity.
Was your agency involved in the discovery of the World Class Nickel Deposit in Kaduna state last year?
The Nickel discovery was by some Australian investors. We have visited that place, but we didn’t actually do any exploration work there because, we do not just go into a site and do exploration. It has to be, first of all in our budget. Or we are approached by a client to work for them; so we have not been able to do that and I do not think, there has been any exploration on that project really. It is a good discovery really, but we really can’t say this is the quality or quantity of that discovery.
When you talk about funding, how much are you looking at to achieve your aspirations for the agency?
If I say what we need, I know that the government may not be able to meet our demands, because just a rig for instance cost as high as N3 to N4 million. So we are talking in billions and explorations are equally capital intensive. However, whatever you spend on exploration, when the results come, you are likely to benefit 20 times more than what has been spent. So it is expensive but also not expensive, because you have to spend money to make money. Perhaps, if we can have N3billion per annum for 3 years, we could achieve a lot
What is your advice to the government?
My advice is that they should maintain the momentum on funding the solid minerals sector. We are happy with the way the ministry is operating. We have the Africa Mining Vision (AMV), the Roadmap and Implementation is taking place seriously, but it needs to be funded. And I believe with adequate funding, the ministry and its agencies will achieve a lot for the nation.