The Director-General of the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency, Dr Abdulrazaq Garba, speaks with Sami Olatunji on how the country can leverage relevant geoscience data to attract investors to the country’s mining sector
As a parastatal under the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency has the statutory role of providing relevant and up-to-date geoscience information necessary for economic development of Nigeria. In light of this, how is geosciences data relevant to enhancing the state of the Nigerian mining sector?
The availability of credible geosciences data in the development of any country’s mining sector cannot be overemphasised. In fact, geosciences data is sine qua non to the development of the mining sector, most specifically for emerging economies like Nigeria where the government of the day desires to diversify the economy by taking advantage of the opportunities in the mining sector. It must be stated that the key purpose of geological surveys is to provide geological information needed to attract investors to the sector, and that is what the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency is doing now. Without the geological survey, investments in mining will not come into the country because investors will not have information on mineralogy needed to make investment decisions. It is as a result of this that the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has, since assumption of office, been providing funds to generate the much-needed geosciences data to take full advantage of the investment opportunities of the mining sector to diversify the economy. All these efforts – coupled with the recently concluded National Integrated Mineral Exploration Project – are aimed at de-risking the sector to accelerate the growth of the mining industry in the country.
Every field or sector comes with certain peculiar challenges. What have been the major challenges around collating and managing this set of data?
One of the major challenges around collating and managing geosciences data is funding – I mean adequate funding. Even though things have brightened up since the inception of this administration in terms of financial resources, government funding can never be enough as it is only meant to generate baseline data to attract investors. In this regard, private sector participation is equally important to take the data available to the desired level for mining purposes. Another challenge is making these data available in the format that is acceptable worldwide. This is being tackled headlong with the establishment of a Geodata Centre in the agency to collate, analyse, interprete and archive these data – including legacy data inherited from colonial days – in internationally acceptable formats that can be accessed anywhere in the world at the click of a button
A common challenge in Nigeria is the high rate of insecurity. In June this year, you said insecurity in the country was affecting some of your agency’s activities as some of your staff were attacked or kidnapped. In view of this, how is the agency able to tackle the issue of insecurity during the process of field studies and data collection?
The Nigerian Geological Survey Agency does not work in isolation. Essentially, before we embark on any field work, we establish contacts with the relevant security agencies domiciled in the areas of work to get security report about the situation in the study areas. We also send reconnaissance teams in advance to meet with the local authorities (local government area chairmen, traditional rulers, among others) to sensitise the public about the objective of the upcoming field investigation. We also engage security agencies who accompany our staff during the field work proper.
As an effort to push for economic diversification through the solid minerals sector, the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency recently said that it would launch 1:2 million scale litho-structural map of Nigeria. Can you provide more information on this map and its relevance? Also, when will it be officially launched?
The Nigerian Geological Survey Agency has undertaken to produce a national 1:2 million scale litho-structural Map of Nigeria. This is the first edition map which brings into focus the structural architecture of the Nigerian basement and basin succession. This map product has utilised the national airborne magnetic and radiometric datasets to build and constrain the structural geometry and lithological association leveraging on the previous 1:2 million geological map editions. The draft edition was recently peer-reviewed with stakeholders from the academia and others, and the final output would be prepared as soon as the necessary amendments are made. It provides the relationship between structures and mineralisation. The structures are a guide to the different mineralisation types in the country.
Nigeria is significantly blessed with various minerals. Which key minerals should the government focus on in boosting its revenue? And why should the country focus on such minerals?
Out of more than 34 mineral types identified in the country, the Federal Government – through the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development – has already decided to concentrate on building an enabling environment for the exploitation of seven, for now, which are called strategic minerals. These include: Gold, coal, iron ore, limestone, lead/zinc, bitumen and barites. Their strategic importance is borne from the fact that they can be found across all the six geo-political regions in commercial quantities. Furthermore, if well harnessed, these minerals can lead to a dramatic development of Nigeria’s mining landscape. Power generation, food security, and wealth creation are just some of the good things that would come from them. Going by the dynamics in the world right now where emphasis is being laid on green technology, we are of the opinion that ‘lithium’ may be added to become the 8th strategic mineral. I must, however, emphasise that the Federal Government has not selected these minerals to the detriment of others. This means that adequate attention is being given to equally advance other minerals found in the country
The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, has continuously urged investors to come to Nigeria, saying Nigeria is safe for their investments. However, it does not seem like we have many of those investors in Nigeria. What have been the major concerns of mining investors so far?
I think there is the challenge of the availability of quality geosciences data. Another critical challenge, which the Federal Government is addressing, is the issue of insecurity across the mining landscape. Apart from that, we have issues with transparency and security of mineral titles. Recently, the ministry and the Mining Cadastre Office launched the digital mineral title platform.
This simply means that all these issues are already being addressed frontally by the government, and the recent upsurge in the influx of mining investors interested in the development of the country’s mineral resources is a testament to the improvement in the quality of data being generated by the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency. A consequence of this is the notable increase in the revenue being generated by sister agencies within the same ministry. Our role in this is very critical as it is evident that geosciences data generation is primarily from geological surveys. The geological survey is the mother of the mining industry in any country. If a geological survey fails, the mining industry will necessarily fail. Conversely, if a geological survey succeeds, the mining industry will succeed.
In light of all the critical concerns identified, how can the government make the mining sector more attractive for investors?
It is important to adopt international best practices in mineral exploration and assessment. A typical example is incorporating competent persons in Nigerian Geological Survey Agency projects for acceptability of the geosciences data generated from such projects by the international mining community. Another important area that the government can improve on is subjecting geosciences reports to peer-review with industry operators. Beyond that, there is a need to provide quality analytical services. This is being addressed through upgrade of the National Geoscience Research Laboratories in Kaduna, as well as getting the ISO certification. These means soil, rock and other analyses can be carried out locally according to international standards. In addition, there is a need for a transparent and an efficient mineral title administration. The Mining Cadastre Office has been upgraded to serve this purpose. There is also a need to provide tax incentives where necessary. Lastly, we have to undertake judicious implementation of the Mining Roadmap developed by the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development.
There have been reports of building collapses across the country, especially in Lagos. The President, Nigerian Association of Exploration Geophysicists, Akin George, recently said that a number of buildings and roads in Nigeria collapsed due to faulty soil. He then stressed the need for developers and engineers to ensure they worked with geophysicists during construction or road work. In light of this, apart from being deployed in the mining sector, how can geosciences data administration help in addressing the issue of building collapses?
It is quite unfortunate that geologists (or rather, structural and engineering geologists) are never consulted before embarking on major construction projects like road, rail, buildings, among others, across the country. These professionals could be engaged to identify structures suitable for construction purposes, as well as carry out geotechnical studies prior to the start of such projects.