After decades of neglect, Nigeria's mining and minerals sector is showing signs of recovery as the authorities seek to diversify the economy away from its dependence on oil. Linus Unah reports
As Rachid Benmessaoud, World Bank Country Director for Nigeria, remarked in 2017, "Nigeria has a favourable geological potential that, if adequately assessed, well exploited and sustainably managed, could support broader economic growth through the mineral sector."
The Nigerian authorities have been focusing their attention on underexploited industries as part of a drive to diversify the economy away from oil, and mining is one of them. The nation's reserves of tin, gold, coal, iron ore, lead and barite represent potentially vast revenue sources, but the industry has been held back by insufficient geo-data, weak infrastructure, and limited enforcement of regulations, which has discouraged investors and left critical mining projects on ice.
The mining sector contributed only about 0.15% to Nigeria's GDP in 2015, a far cry from the 4-5% it contributed in the 1960s and 1970s. Mining, where it has taken place, has often been carried out by illegal artisanal miners working in unsafe conditions.
After Nigeria slumped into recession in 2016 amid a nosedive in global oil prices, attempts to promote diversification became more pronounced. Key to this effort was the revision and approval of a roadmap to advance the development of deposits of more than four dozen types of different minerals. The Roadmap for the Growth and Development of the Nigerian Mining Industry has a major goal: to grow the mining industry's contribution to GDP to over 10% by 2026.
"There is no doubt that Nigeria has a lot of potential in the solid minerals sector, but having potential is not enough," Waziri Adio of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative said at a report launch in February. "Rather than continue to talk about the problems all the time, we want to do something that would build on ongoing reforms in the sector."
To change the narrative, the government roadmap included a N30bn (83m [pounds sterling]) intervention to fund exploration and research projects and improve regulatory oversight for the growth of the industry. To woo investors, the government offers a number of incentives.
Last November, Nigeria's minister for mining and steel development, Abubakar Bawa Bwari, told Reuters that the government had awarded a contract to 10 exploration...