By John Okeke
The Honourable Minister of Mines and Steel Development, arc Olamilekan Adegbite, has said that the ministry is working towards auctioning its bitumen block in the third quarter of the year.
The minister made this disclosure in response to the enquiry of the Australian High Commissioner who visited the ministry on Tuesday.
Adegbite revealed that the ministry was still gathering data on some of the bitumen field and was edging close to completion. He noted that there were ample opportunities for investors in the local development of bitumen sector. “A lot of people are interested in bitumen which is coming from both local and foreign investors.
However, we are still acquiring data in some of the fields and once the data is in we will go for auctioning in the third quarter,” he said adding that PWC, was advising the ministry on its bitumen development road map.
Adegbite also disclosed that the ministry was working on raising the quality of barite produced in the country to internationally acceptable standard which is known as American Petroleum Institute, API, standard.
The minister revealed that the ministry had contracted a consultant to help raise standard in the local production of barite to ensure that the oil industry players begin to use barite produced in Nigeria as against importing from other countries.
He noted that there was ample opportunity for investors in the barite segment of the sector. “We are also working on the local production of barite. Barite is a critical weighting material in Drilling fluids used in oil industry. We have a lot of barite but the issue is that it is not produced to API standards.
However, we are putting a system in place which would be ready to launch in about July. We have got the millers who can produce barite to API standard. Hence we will be able to compete with foreign once and it would save Nigeria a lot of foreign exchange in import substitution.”
Adegbite also said that Ajaokuta steel plant was meant to be a game changer for the country when fully functional, revealing that about 13 other minerals were required in the production of steel.
He noted that Ajaoukta steel would have brought development to the 13 other minerals which would have presented opportunities for investors to develop and would have created thousands of jobs for Nigerians.
“One of the mandate that the president gave me was to use the sector to diversify the economy and create employment. And Ajaokuta is one place that would readily employ like 10,000 Nigerians if it is working fully. About 14 minerals are going into the production of steel through the blast furnace. We have got all these minerals in Nigeria. Production of these other minerals which we need to produce steel will also create jobs.”
Adegbite however expressed regret that the pandemic had slowed down the plan to resuscitate Ajaokuta steel plant. He revealed that the travel restrictions and cumbersome protocols had prevented the 60-man technical audit team from Russia from coming to Nigeria to perform a comprehensive technical audit of the plant.
“We turned to the Russians the original builder to come and resuscitate the plant. The first step towards the resuscitation was to have a technical audit. We were expecting a 60-man team from Russia which are to be joined by a 100-man team from Nigeria. The resuscitation of Ajaokuta was such a loft goal and was in full speed. But then the pandemic struck.
This has prevented the Russians who are supposed to conduct the technical audit from coming to Nigeria. I hope very soon that they can come and that we kick start the plan to resuscitate the plant again. It will help our industrialisation because production of liquid steel will take us to the next level in industrialisation as we will be able to do produce parts for vehicles, engine blocks and so.’
Adegbite also disclosed that the ministry had been working with artisanal and small scale miners, creating an enabling environment for them to operate in the formal sector. He added that the ministry had provided many incentives for them to be in the formal sector such as training and easy access to funds.
“We are bringing artisanal miners together and make them to come into a formal arrangement. We have a department in the ministry dedicated to artisanal miners that provides various incentives so that they could join the formal sector.” he said
Adegbite also said that the ministry had aggregated gold for the production of bullion bar for the first time, which occurred last year; which was a proof of concept that such could be done regularly in Nigeria.
“We were able to produce a bullion that we gave to the president last august. the gold was sourced from artisanal miners while the final refining to bullion was done in turkey. However, we have registered two refineries that can now refine to LBMA standard when they come on stream.’
John Donnelly, Australia High commissioner to Nigeria, expressed his country’s willingness to work with Nigeria to develop the mining sector.
“Mining is such a long term venture. It takes about 15 to 20 years for a particular deposit to be identified, worked out and scoped out, before you arrange the finances and start to develop and go into production. So we are a very patient people in the mining sector.” He said