Nigeria: beyond the oil revenue
For the past fifty years or so, Nigeria has depended mostly on her oil as the major foreign exchange earner. But that should no longer be so. I think it is time to look more closely around. Apart from its legendary oil revenue, Nigeria is known to be richly endowed with forests that are home to the most interesting animals on earth, rivers that contain the most exotic fishes imaginable and a variety of solid minerals. These are areas that are begging to be explored by the government of Nigeria.
The nation's very huge forests are home to lots of games which include antelopes, hyenas, lions, gorillas, elephants, leopards, giraffes, monkeys and baboons among others. Many experienced hunters abound in the country. And by this time, what we should be considering is how they can be better organised by government in such a way that their products can serve their communities in a more orderly, more skilled manner than is the current practice. If government can do this, it should make haste to invest in its hunters directly for the comfort of its citizens.
Nigeria has many great rivers that are home to varieties of fishes. There is the Aba River, the Akwayafe River, the Anambra River, the Benue River, the Bonny River, Calabar River, Cross River, Donga River, Ekulu River, Erinle River, Escravos River, Faro River, Forcados River, Gadar Tamburawa River, Gongola River, Goulbi de Maradi River, Great Kwa River, Hadejia River, Imo River, Jama'are River, Ka River and Kaduna River. Others are Katsina Ala River, Komadugu Gana River, Kwa Ibo River, Niger River, New Calabar River, Ngadda River, Nun River, Oba River, Ogun River, Ogunpa River, Okpara River, Omi Osun River, Oramiriukwu River, Osun River, Otamiri River, Otin River, Queme River, Qua Iboe River, Rima River, Sokoto River, Yobe River and Zamfara River. Again, there are many fishermen in the land. The state or local government should begin to organise and invest in them directly so that at-least, their products can better serve the needs of their local communities.
Not only is Nigeria endowed with huge forests and great rivers. As of today, there are many solid minerals in country that range from various stones to precious metals. There are such industrial minerals as barites, gypsum, kaolin and marble. Other natural resources in the country include iron ore, limestone, niobium, lead, zinc, feldspar, quartz, ball clay and arable land. There are opportunities to explore natural gas, bitumen, coal, tin, columbite, gold, silver, silica sands, clay, asbestos and graphite among others, either for local use or for exportation. The country's agricultural products include groundnuts, palm oil, cocoa, coconut, citrus fruits, maize, millet, cassava, yams and sugar cane. Nigeria also has a booming leather and textile market, with industries located in Aba, Abeokuta, Kano, Lagos and Onitsha.
Much of these natural endowments are yet to be explored. The Federal government knows full well that, compared with the extent of deposits found in the country, the level of exploration of these minerals is very low indeed. For instance, the abundant coal and tin deposits in various parts of the country are yet to be fully explored. Why the leadership of the country has bluntly refused to curtail oil production as its primary foreign exchange earner in order to develop other equally important sectors of the economy is what we do not know.
Obviously, there are tremendous opportunities for investments in the solid mineral sector in Nigeria. Otherwise, the Federal ministry of solid minerals would not be issuing licenses to both local and foreign prospective investors to participate in the exploration of the vast mineral resources in the country. But the ministry needs to do more. It needs to evolve aggressive mechanisms or policies that will scout for prospective investors in the solid minerals sector of the national economy, as a deliberate measure to checkmate the excessive use of crude oil as the nation's principal foreign exchange earner. Already, the federal government has given the impression that one of the objectives of its new national policy on solid minerals is to ensure the orderly development of the mineral resources of the country. Good idea.
But how would this work out?
For instance over 40 million tonnes of talc deposits have been identified in Niger, Osun, Cross River, Ekiti, Niger, Oyo, Kogi, Ogun and Kaduna States. Talc is one of the most versatile minerals in the world, used for the manufacture of cosmetics, ceramics and tyre. An exploration of its vast deposits would definitely satisfy local demands and even do for export. For now, there is only one talc plant in the country. And that is the 3,000 tonnes per annum catalytic plant owned by the Raw Materials Research and Development Council. What is the government's stake on that?
Gypsum is another resource that government has left fully untapped. It is important in the production of cement. It is also used in the production of Plaster of Paris [P.O.P] and classroom chalks. About one billion tonnes of gypsum deposits can be found in many states in Nigeria. It has become necessary for the federal government to evolve a strategy for large-scale mining of gypsum. This is more so when it is considered that the cement industries in the country urgently require it to be able to sustain their existing plants and meet up with future expansions. Currently, cement production is put at 8 million tonnes per annum. The national requirement is 9.6 million tonnes.
Or are we talking about the iron ore deposit? There are over 3 billion metric tonnes of iron ore deposits to be found in Kogi, Enugu and Niger States, and in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. At the moment, iron ore is mined at Itakpe in Kogi State. Some of the beneficiated iron ore have fed into the Aladja and Ajaokuta Steel complexes making them ready for business with consumers of billets and other iron products for down-stream industries. But more needs to be done.
An estimated 10 million tonnes of lead and zinc veins are spread over eight states in Nigeria. And there is proof that reserves in three prospects in the East-central area alone are well over 5 million tonnes. The Federal government should now begin an aggressive campaign to encourage joint venture partnerships which can explore the various lead and zinc deposits in the country.
In the same vein, the rich deposits of bentonite and barite in the country need to be fully tapped. They are the main constituents of the mud used in drilling all types of oil wells. The Nigerian barite has a specific gravity of about 4.3. And over 7.5 million tonnes of barite have been identified in Taraba and Bauchi States. Large bentonite reserves of 700 million tonnes can be found in many states of the country, ready for development and exploration.
There are reserves of both alluvial and primary gold, located in the South-western part of the country. These deposits are mainly alluvial and are currently explored on a small scale. The Federal government has, in some very few cases, encouraged private investors to stake concessions on these primary deposits. But a lot more needs to be done.
Bitumen deposits in Nigeria are estimated at about 42 billion tonnes. That is almost twice the quantity of existing reserves of crude petroleum. There is statistical evidence that this potential resource can be used directly in asphalt binding. Unfortunately, most of the bitumen used for road construction in Nigeria is currently imported. Nigerian coal is one of the most bituminous in the world owing to its low sulphur and ash content, making it the most environmental friendly. There are nearly 3billion tonnes of reserves in 17 identified coal fields and over 600 million tonnes of known reserves.
The national annual demand for table salt, caustic soda, chlorine, sodium bicarbonate, sodium hydrochloric acid and hydrogen peroxide exceeds one million tonnes. At the moment, much money is being spent annually to import these by chemical and processing companies which include tanneries and companies that deal in food and beverages, paper and pulp, bottling and oil. There are salt springs at Awe in Plateau State, and in Abakaliki and Uburu in Ebonyi State. Rock salt is also found in Benue State. There is a known total reserve of 1.5 million tonnes, and further investigations are being carried out by the federal and state governments.
In the last few years, gemstone mining has boomed in various parts of Plateau, Kaduna and Bauchi states. Some of these gemstones include sapphire, ruby, aquamarine, emerald, tourmaline, topaz, garnet, amethyst; zircon, and fluorspar which are among the world's best. Good prospects exist in this area for viable investments. But again, government needs to create greater awareness among prospective investors who may be interested.
An estimated reserve of 3 billion tonnes of good kaolin has been identified in many Nigerian states including Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Abia, Enugu, Imo, Benue, Anambra, Ondo, Ekiti, Nasarawa, and Katsina. Kaolin is used in ceramic industries and as fillers and extenders in paper, paint, cosmetic, rubber and pharmaceutical industries.
Feldspar which has industrial relevance in the glass and ceramics industries and can be used as filler in rubber and plastic products abounds in the country also. Huge deposits of this mineral can be found in states like Niger, Ogun, Ekiti, Osun, Plateau, Kogi, Nasarawa, Borno, Adamawa, Edo, Kebbi, Katsina and Taraba.
There is Quartz in huge quantities in Ebonyi, Ekiti, Plateau, Niger, Kogi, Katsina and Kebbi states. Quartz is used for Gel-Silica and as catalyst or desiccant. Estimated reserves of quartz in Ekiti state alone is put at over 23.8 million metric tonnes. In the same manner, deposits of limestone can be found in Akwa Ibom, Imo, Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Benue, Ogun, Kogi, Nasarawa, Gombe, Yobe, Borno, Edo and Kebbi states. Limestone is used in cement industries and as lime fertiliser flux in glass ceramics, iron and steel industries. Also, huge deposits of silica sand can be found in Cross River, Benue, Abia, Enugu, Lagos, Ondo, Niger, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Gombe, Yobe, Borno, Delta, Bayelsa, Katsina and Kano states. Silica sand is used in the production of glass, fused silica, and as fillers for vehicle tyres, rubbers, and footwear soles.
Ball clay is another mineral that is found in large deposits in Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Benue, Ebonyi, Abia, Enugu, Ekiti, Ondo, Ogun, Plateau, Niger, Kaduna, Kogi, Rivers, Kano and Delta states. Ball clay is used in the production of burnt bricks and ceramic products. In addition to all this, rich deposits of bentonite can also be found in Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi, Abia, Anambra, Gombe, Adamawa, Yobe, Borno and Edo states. Bentonite is used as drilling mud in petroleum industries and gas exploration, iron ore, palletizing, foundry, sand bonding or moulding and as ceramic addictive for plasticity.
With all these endowments, many Nigerians are at a loss to understand why there is still a dearth of employment in practically all the states of the federation. A situation where the Federal government appears to be only interested mostly in the exploitation of the nation's oil reserves is clearly no longer acceptable to most Nigerians, especially the young university graduates who have continuously found it difficult to get jobs. Who knows, maybe the Federal government will begin to invest more seriously in these other minerals when the oil wells have completely dried up.
That would be the day!
The Federal government needs to seek avenues to get investors who will open these doors wider and get our children meaningfully employed rather than keep them perpetually roaming the streets in search of jobs that government seems unable to create, even with all the potentials at its disposal. Or perhaps, a responsible opposition should capitalize on this fact and set the ball rolling. And trust Nigerians. They will not forget that.
· Mr Asinugo is a London-based journalist and columnist.