The federal government has revealed that Nigeria can generate $400 billion from nickel, a new mineral resource recently discovered in Kaduna State.
Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Hon Abubakar Bawa Bwari, who disclosed this in an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP, said the discovered nickel deposits run into over 1 million tonnes.
Speaking on the value of the discovered mineral, he pointed out that despite the collapse of global mineral and oil prices, nickel is still sold for as high as $10,000 dollars per tonne in the world market.
The minister explained that the discovery was only a surface exploration and that full exploration had yet to be carried out in the area, adding that exploration and exploitation could reveal more deposits.
LEADERSHIP recalls that The Australian, a national newspaper published in Australia, had revealed that a private mining syndicate had made a potential world class and highly unusual nickel discovery in Nigeria. The newspaper reported that the private mining syndicate was headed by Hugh Morgan, a mining industry veteran.
It noted that, “The discovery is unusual because nickel is found in small balls up to 3mm in diameter of a high purity in shallow soils in what could be the surface expression of a much bigger hard-rock nickel field.
“The nickel balls rumoured to grade better than 90 per cent nickel and thought to be a world first given their widespread distribution, offer the potential for early cash-flow from a simple and low-cost screening operation to fund a full assessment of the find that has exploration circles buzzing.”
“The discovery of this particular nickel is unique, in the sense that while most nickel discoveries have 53-58% purity, the one discovered around Kafanchan in Kaduna state has 98% purity, it is world class and has high commercial value,” said Bwari.
He posited that the discovery is genuine as “Hugh Morgan who made the discovery is a mining industry veteran “adding that the nickel discovery is very good news for Nigeria and the world at large.”
Speaking on the economic benefits of the find, the minister of state said, “the discovery could bring international miners if properly managed and could become a game changer for the nation’s mining sector.
“It could attract major mining investors, it could become a game changer in the nation’s efforts to reposition the mining sector, it will take Nigeria to the world mining map and create royalties for revenue generation for the government,” he said.
Bwari also noted that communities will benefit from basic infrastructure, adding that, “the discovery will create job opportunities for geologists, engineers and even the locals.”
The minister also said the discovery will encourage the ministry to go into more exploration and will justify Nigeria as a country that is very rich in mineral resources, noting that while Nigeria has been identified as a mineral-rich nation, it has not been identified as a mining nation yet.
He maintainedd that with more exploration, Nigeria could achieve that and
more, adding that now that the political will is there, mining will generate revenue for our economy.
Reiterating the optimism expressed by the minister of state, deputy general manager (public affairs and information) Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited, Muhammed Ibrahim, said, “the discovery is a huge find with vast economic benefits. Nickel is a special metal which does not occur naturally as it requires lots of processing. It is used in industries for hardening special metals such as those used in aircraft sheets, ships and computers.”
He further pointed out that the mineral is expensive, which means the country can now join the League of Nations as a serious mineral producing destination. However, a private geologist, Samuel Arabi, expressed doubts that a foreigner would have discovered the existence of the minerals against local geologists. “When this discovery was made, they said it was discovered by an Australian, but to my knowledge as a local geologist, it was not discovered, because before a foreigner can come and discover anything, local geologists would have begun the process and discovered it.”
He queried the seriousness of the ministry in corroborating the find, saying, “We in Nigeria are not serious, especially in the ministry, because since the discovery, what steps have been taken by the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development or the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency (NGSA) to prove this discovery? So in my own opinion, it is not possible that anything has been discovered.
“We must be serious as Nigerians to confirm if its nickel or any other thing and so government must be serious to confirm it,” he added.
Arabi urged the Nigerian government to “take a sample of the mineral to the best analysis laboratory,” adding that “to me, I do not believe it is so but if it is, then it will be a break even (breakthrough) for Nigeria.”
Reacting to the present government’s commitment to developing the mining sector, the geologist said, “We remain where we are, moving in a cycle because the Mineral and Mining Act of 2011 has not changed.”
“Where we are missing it is that the agencies are not serious yet. People in the offices are not in the field, most policy makers have not been to the field and the government is not ready to listen to people in the field.
Mining is not a city affair but is done in local government areas, villages and communities,” he added.
Arabi further noted that the mines inspectorate division of the ministry of mines and steel development was under staffed, with only 5 staff in the state.
“So tell me how they can man 21 local governments efficiently,” he queried.
The geologist maintained the situation was responsible for the thriving illegal mining in the states.
To address some of the recurring challenges in most mining communities, he emphasised the need for inspectorate officers to exist in each of the 774 local government areas.
“We need to have price centres and price control to ensure minerals are not taken out without record. With that, nobody will take out minerals without paying the needed tax to government,” he noted.
The geologist maintained that as long as government failed to ensure this, “it will never work, we will keep going round. Let them have mines officers else they cannot monitor anything and we will not see any changes.”
Meanwhile, making an input into the recent earth tremors in some parts of Kaduna state, the geologist assured that there was nothing to be worried about.
“There should be no panic,” he said.
He recalled that in an earlier publication titled “Natural and man-made hazards,” published and presented in 1993, there had been similar tremors in Kwoi, Kubacha and Gwantu areas of the state.
“2.6 in magnitude is minor, it is not major, it is a tremor and not an earthquake as that area is not an earthquake zone.
“Proper monitoring could mitigate future occurrence,” he further stated, and explained that the tremor could have been caused by the cracks and crevices created in the rocks as a result of the rainfall.
Speaking in similar vein, Prof. Olugbenga Okunlola of the University of Ibadan, said, “my reaction to the discovery of nickel in Nigeria is one of caution because every mineral discovery must have scientific background to it, there has to be verifiable geological data to back such a discovery.”
The don stressed “the need for the government, through the ministry of mines and steel development, to ensure proper geological mapping of the site, exploration to a reasonable degree as well as systematic chemical analysis to confirm the discovery.”
“Within a month they can do geological mapping of the area and it is not expensive,”he said.
Okunlola emphasised that if value keeps increasing as they go down, then there is geological basis or else, it could just be laterite shovel, weathering of nickels or metering showers of some rocks.”
He however posited that the area does not support the geological existence of nickel and advised that the government should not be in a rush to make an announcement.
Adding her voice, the acting director general, National Steel Raw Materials Exploration Agency (NSRMEA), Hajiya Rabi Sodangi, said “the discovery was very important as nickel is very good for the development of stainless steel and other corrosive materials.”
She however said the discovery has not been confirmed in terms of quantity to determine if it occurs in commercial quantity or not.
The director-general of the Mining Cadastre Office, Engr Mohammed Amate, in his contribution, described the newly discovered mineral as “a valuable mineral for the development of stainless steel in the world and attests it‘s discovery is very good for the economy”
Lending his voice to the issue, consultant geologist/hydrogeologist, Dr Matthew Offodile, recalled that as a staff of the NGSA “We didn’t go through such discovery but if they have found it now, then it is a very big thing for Nigeria.”
He noted that nickel is usually associated with gold and considering there is a belt from those axis for gold, anything is possible.