Director General of the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency (NGSA) Alex Ndubuisi Nwegbu in this interview with Ruth Tene speaks on the development of the sector, and explains that Nigeria is still a virgin area when it comes to mining.
What are some of the specific roles, the NGSA is expected to play in this revolution?
The NGSA is virtually as old as the nation itself and has played critical roles in the nations’ economy especially in the past when tin, coal mining contributed significantly to the country’s GDP.
Fundamentally, role of NGSA as the provider of requisite geoscientific information required by a wide range of stakeholders has not changed.
These includes the mining sector as well as in construction, oil industry, water resources and the environment among others. It is also at the beginning of the value chain of the mining industry, because it is geoscience that enables investment decisions. The required information include rock types, location, quality, quantity, depth of occurrence and extractability among others. All this information are to be provided by the Agency and this represents the first port of call to a mining investor in order to find out some of the critical parameters that would enable them be competitive in the area of their investments.
Considering that these are your core functions, why is Nigeria challenged by poor geological data?
Before you derive benefits from a particular process you must have invested in it. There has been in the past obvious lack of investment in the generation of geoscience information and that is the basic problem. Generation of data is a painstaking exercise that is both time consuming and is quite expensive. It requires, in some cases, airborne surveys using low flying aircrafts, geophysical and geochemical studies, drilling and modelling. These exercises require consummate skills and costs quite lot of money. Except there is an investment regarding data, we will continue to experience dearth of geo information that attract investors in the sector.
How would you rate the commitment of the present administration in funding solid minerals development?
We were generally excited when President Muhammadu Buhari emphasised the urgent need for diversification and one of the areas he has consistently talked about is the mining sector. So we are now assured that the political the will is there. We therefore need to take it tothe next level by actually taking the appropriate steps to actualise this ambition and of course, we have a very vibrant minister, Dr.Kayode Fayemi, who has engineered the development of a robust Roadmap which if properly implemented will actually catalyze the progress envisaged in the mining sector.
What are your views on the poor contribution of the sector to the GDP?
The low contribution of the sector to the GDP, I would say, in direct proportion of what has been invested in incentivising the entire mining value chain. Just like any other sector in the economy, if there is no investment in the development of critical infrastructures, it becomes difficult to make demands on the sector? Example is the power sector, until we invest in repairing our dysfunctional, it will be unrealistic to expect 20,000 megawatts of electricity. The same applies to solid minerals sector. We need critical infrastructure in terms of manpower, geoscience data, laboratories, inspectorate facilities etc. We have been trying to optimize the existing infrastructure to see how far we can go.
On available minerals, what quantity does Nigeria really have?
We have been able to identify more that 44nos. different mineral commodities including base metal, energy minerals, gemstones, precious metals, rare earth etc. I believe that is even a modest number considering the potentials Nigeria has. Investors are however not just interested in numbers but in the values attached to these numbers.
When you talk of gold for instance, they want to know where the deposits are, the concentration, extractability and quantity and so on. We have designed a robust exploration programme that will significantly detail these commodities. Most investors make demand of these statistics because such facts significantly de-risks investments. Geoscience data saves money and substantially boosts investor confidence in mining assets.
Would you say the Agency has the capacity to meet the demands for its setting?
Yes, I think the agency has enough capacity to shoulder the responsibilities of reasonably meeting investor demands if properly empowered as I stated earlier in terms of facilities. It might interest you to know that NGSA is the highest employer of geoscientists in Nigeria with two hundred professionals, most with second degrees and PHDs in different areas of specialization that include geophysics, geochemistry, remote sensing, laboratory technicians and engineers, cartographers etc. They are yet to be stretched them in terms of challenges, because when you do not place a demand on their capacity, you would not know the extent they can deliver. They have interacted with the world best and have discharged their duties creditably. We have also been engaged in robust capacity building both within and outside the country and we are in collaboration with the world best in USGS, British Geological Survey, the China Geological Survey, South African Council of Geosciences among others. We are as well in constant partnership with our counterparts in the Nigerian Universities. All these efforts help in keeping pace with the ever evolving technologies in the sector.
Otherwise how do you explain being able to discover mineral deposits buried 2 km inside the earth. As much as I would say we are ready, we still desire to improve on our technical competencies and capacities.
What are your immediate targets as the DG if funds are available?
We are targeting what I refer to as the low hanging fruits. Lots of industries still import some basic raw materials such as clays in various forms, for pharmaceuticals, paints and ceramics and these are what we have in abundance in Nigeria. We are at the threshold of conducting GAP analysis to determine empirically what are required by our local industries to drive their production capacities. These include the quantities and qualities of these raw materials and linking them to the source of the materials. This will go a long way to catalyse the optimization of these industries. We will also continue to develop mining assets covering gold, coal, baryte, tin, deposits mainly to attract the big players like Rio Tinto etc. The Roadmap is providing a clear direction and sooner than later Nigeria will start reaping the benefits of this intiative.
What is being done on the current states of out-dated Geoscience maps?
To refer to them as out-dated may not be the appropriate description.
These still provide very useful information but we have a programme of improving on the quality of data they have. We are also digitizing the old maps that were in analogue format. It therefore becomes easy to update them with more recent data. Like I said earlier technology is helping us keep pace with increasingly sophisticated demands of the industry. We are improving the resoluytion of our maps from a scale of 1:250,000 to 1: 100,000 and eventually to 1:50,000. These updated information do not in any way invalidate the earlier information of you can vouch for their credibility.
If a particular mineral gets exhausted, would that data now become irrelevant?
The point is, it is an exhaustible resource, so no matter the quantity at some point in time, it must become exhausted. The idea of having the geological information is to know how long the resource will last and that enables you to plan.
However, no geo-science information is ever a waste regardless of the number of years.
You can still reprocess a 50 year old information, based on improved technology and it will throw up valuable materials hitherto unknown. In the mining industry, a resource that may not be viable today may become viable in 20 years as a result of improved technology which allows for better exploitation, so basically no geoscience data is a waste; the relevance varies according to prevailing price regime, technology,
Source : Leadership