Professor Stephen Jackdell Mallo is a professor of Mining Engineering and dean, Faculty of Engineering, University of Jos. In this interview with Ruth Tene Natsa, he gives insight on how best Nigeria can revive and develop its mining sector.
How long do you think it would take government to revive the solid minerals sector?
The mineral industry traditionally evolves over time hence the issue of time frame is of essence at this point. A lot of time and resources have already been wasted in Nigeria as a result of mineral policy summersaults. A considerable time frame would have to be given to the upstream sector to ensure adequate exploration and quantification of mineral reserves. Mineral beneficiation and value addition through absolute measuration will fast-track the development of the up and downstream operations and also revive the ailing industry. In view of the peculiarity of the mining sector, we should envisage a time frame of not less than fifteen years to register any meaningful successes and without foreign investors participating, the fifteen years can be considered as ambitious and consequently not even tenable.
What is your take on the choice of solid minerals and agriculture as the focal point of government’s economic diversification?
The choice of mining and agriculture as the focal point of the present government is apt and indeed, consistent with the economic history of Nigeria which from pre-independence has been known to be amongst the foremost African nations in terms of exports. Nigeria ranked the 6th in terms of export of tin in the world, while gold, lead and zinc where also exported in large quantities. The groundnut pyramids of Kano, hide and skin of Sokoto and Cocoa and Palm oil from the southern part of Nigeria are all testimonies of the preoccupations of pre-and post independent Nigeria. Nigeria was able to wholly depend on the duo sectors long before crude oil was discovered at Aloibiri in 1956. The huge oil revenue accruing to government has over the years been wrongly appropriated when it should have been used to finance the exploration and mining of minerals in line with what is obtained in developed economies where improvement on the value chains of productions in mining and agriculture is highly encouraged.
Does Nigeria have the capacity to develop its solid mineral potentials?
To answer your question directly, yes Nigeria has the capacity to effectively deploy its enormous oil wealth that it generated in the last seven decades or so, to develop the agriculture and mining sector, but it did not. Presently with the dwindling oil prices and the discoveries of alternative sources of energy, and given that mining is very capital intensive, we can only speculate on the future of the Nigerian mineral industry.
What are some of the not so visible challenges hindering solid minerals development?
The greatest hidden hindrance to the development of minerals in Nigeria is the loss of the mining investment culture which was introduced by the colonial masters at the beginning of the 19th century. Up to the 1970s, foreign mining companies were engaged in mining of gold, tin, columbite, coal and variety of some industrial minerals. However, the indigenisation decree of 1972 by the military government which entrusted ownerships of mineral investments under the custody of the defunct Nigerian Mining Corporation(NMC), saw the death of the mineral industry on arrival. The technological transfer which usually goes with mineral investments such as mineral financing, technical training, commodity trading etc, suddenly vanished. Other African countries which did not have such encumbrances in policy summersaults as Nigeria are still maintaining relatively healthy minerals investments economies. The difference being that, the multinational mining companies hitherto operating in Nigeria left the country en-mass, whereas those of the countries mentioned above remained to continue with mining, and over the years, have maintained the mining investment culture in line with best practices in those countries. The Nigerian scenario has on the other hand, been taken over by illegal cum artisanal miners to the detriment of the nation in terms of both environmental degradation, loss of colossal revenue, impoverishments of communities and breeding of social miscreants amongst several other vices. The inadequacy of the relevant manpower for the industry and the capacity of Nigerian Investors to fund the traditionally very high cost of mineral investment coupled with falls in metal/commodity prices in the world markets, have remained major setbacks to contend with by Nigeria.
What are your recommendations in tackling those challenges ?
The major recommendations for tackling these major challenges are for the government to provide the enabling investment environment in line with best practices. These enabling environments include favourable mineral, fiscal and monetary policies that can guarantee the participation of foreign direct investments. The mining cadastre must be adequately supported and given the required autonomy to operate in line with best practices while the mine offices should be adequately funded to carry out their statutory roles. While some strides have been recorded in recent times, external investors are still sceptical of the political will of Nigeria to remain competitive in terms of security of mineral investments holdings. The two foremost mining engineering manpower training institutions (Federal University of Technology Akure and the University of Jos), the Nigerian Institute of Mining and Geosciences (NIMG) and sundry training institutions should be given the required attention in terms of appropriate funding to acquire the state-of –the- art laboratories equipment and infrastructure for the 21st century learning. While an improved mineral policy framework is the dragging force for these investors, small-scale miners can be appropriately empowered to temporary stand in the gab ahead of any meaningful entrants of foreign investors.
Prices of minerals also continue to collapse, what do you think is responsible?
Generally mines are usually established with the hope that at the time production will commence, the price of the commodity especially at the world market would be at its best favourably. The mineral investor is primarily responsible to its share-holders who would usually expect some return on investments periodically. The mineral industry worldwide has witnessed the lowest fall in mineral commodity pricing since 2006 constituting serious investment setbacks. This fall has particularly affected the base metals. This notwithstanding, the Nigerian manufacturing industry is in dire need of industrial raw materials such as barites, kaolin, talk, mable, limestone etc. in the light of this, attention can be directed towards the mining of industrial minerals to save importations of such commodities. This is essential as it affects Nigeria’s current dwindling foreign reserves and the rise of foreign currencies against the naira.
How would you rate government’s readiness to develop the sector?
The present government has demonstrated un-marched zeal and interest in developing the mineral industry. Firstly and commendably, the administration has made it a matter of policy to give attention to the mineral industry. Secondly and expectedly, the minister of solid mineral development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, has since commissioned a committee to develop a roadmap that would guarantee the development of the mineral industry. The committee did a thorough work to which I can humbly testify because I had the privilege to be a member. I am confident, without preempting the content of the roadmap, that with adequate implementation of the proposed roadmap by the present government, there will be light at the end of the tunnel in due course.
Source : Leadership