‘Mining sector has huge potentials to generate income, create employment’
The Director- General of the Nigeria Geological Survey Agency (NGSA), Dr. Alex Ndubuisi Nwegbu, in this interview, gives insight into the complex processes of mining and why Nigerians must see the sector as a gold mine.
What are the processes of generating data for solid minerals exploration?
The fundamental thing when you want to carry out any form of exploration is to generate a geological map. The geology of an area predisposes that area to particular minerals. In Jos for instance, we have what is called the younger granites of Jos, where we have the major tin occurrences in Nigeria. The rock type determines the kind of mineral you’d look for in a particular area.
There are certain minerals that are associated with rock types like the mafic (dark coloured) rock types. If for instance you are prospecting for chromite, you look in areas where there are ultra basic rocks. In Nigeria for instance where we have the schist belt, these are the areas where we have preponderance of gold occurrences. So if you want to prospect for gold in Nigeria for example, the first place to go to is the schist belts.
In looking for gold, you could start with geochemical mapping, which enables you to do sampling at different places. In this process, you collect soil types, rock types and even stream sediments, which you take to the laboratory and analyse. Further analysis would now determine if the results gotten follow a particular linear trend. If they are structurally controlled, you go ahead to look for the structures in which case you can now introduce geophysics, which enables you to determine the structural trends that control the mineralisation.
These are basically the fundamental approaches when doing mineral investigations. As the results become more positive, you would need to do some more detailed investigations.
In a country like South Africa, there are mines which go as deep as three kilometres. This suggests to us here in Nigeria that we haven’t really started mining in the real sense of it, as the deepest mine in Nigeria is a little deeper than 100m, meaning the inherent potentials in this sector are so huge.
Investors complain of incorrect geological data in today’s mining business. How was it done in the past during the tin mines?
Basically, that was when the British were in charge of the geological survey of Nigeria. They actually concentrated in conducting mineral assessment. Apart from the fact that Nigeria needed these minerals at that time, they were equally important for the colonial government then.
Fundamentally, search for minerals follows basic principles which they used. Having known the geology of an area, what are the possible minerals that can be found in such areas, and in some cases, they got leads through surface occurring minerals. For instance during road construction, when cutting through hills, it’s possible to come across minerals. It is possible that even some of our streams can wash down mineral resources from distant locations and you start seeing deposits by the river. So there are many pathfinders that could be employed in determining where you want to go and prospect for minerals.
How is the NGSA synergising with the BGSA and the USGS to grow local exploration?
You’d agree that there are some climes which are already mature in the mining business. And the vision of government is for us to key into those advanced technologies for us to also get to that advanced stage. We have been talking with the British Geological Survey Agency, the US Geological Survey, and even the South African Geological Survey agencies to see areas of collaboration.
We’ve also been talking with the China Geological Survey and some of the exploration companies from China. We are open to collaborate with people who have the interest of Nigeria at heart, and been a commercial venture, they will also be here to protect their business interests. It would be more of a symbiotic relationship, as long as the mining sector in Nigeria will grow beyond what it currently is.
The sector has huge potentials, not just to generate money, but also to create employment and of course provide lots of raw materials needed for our local industries.
What are the challenges of mining in the country?
One of the biggest challenges we have in Nigeria is that we find it difficult relating mining activities to our everyday life. Virtually every commodity that is in use today is a product of mining. From vehicles to planes, wrist watches, glass, mobile devices and so on. It is when we start to educate our people on how mining impacts on our everyday lives, that we may begin to regard mining more seriously than we are currently doing.
The fact that we are not a producing nation makes it impossible for most people to understand the value chain of production from the mines to the industries and finally the end users. A typical example is the Dangote Group, which uses about 90% of its raw materials from the nation’s limestone mines.
Dr. Alex Ndubuisi Nwegbu