By Moses Nosike
With foreign investors now turning their eyes to the Nigerian mining sector do we have the manpower to avoid expatriates dominating top managerial position
Nigeria in the past five years has been working hard to prove to foreign investors that it should be the number one mining destination in Africa. The nation has taken notable steps to de-risk the sector by improving its geo-scientific database through NIMEP and developing a coherent downstream mineral policy.
The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development also embarked on a series of reforms that was geared towards making the sector more attractive, thus enhancing its perception as a world-class mining destination.
It dangled juicy incentives before investors such as customs and import duties waiver for plant, machinery and mining equipment, as well as allowing 100% ownership of mineral properties.
It also conceded to foreign investors the right of free transferability of funds and permission to retain and use earned foreign exchange, amongst many other incentives.
The ministry also went a step further in its bid to attract foreign investor by setting up the Trade-Investment Promotion and Mineral Trade Department, which embarked on several roadshows to top mining jurisdiction such as Australia, Canada, South Africa, London amongst others.
The effort of the ministry has indeed borne fruit as some minor mining companies have taken stake in the sector while some majors are also showing their readiness to enter the country.
For instance Thor Exploration, a mining minor started the Segilola Gold Project in Osun State, which comprises a proposed open pit which is expected to process 650,000 tons of ore, with a target production of approximately 80,000 ounces per year. The country has also licensed three gold refineries that are poised to begin production from next year.
Even with these positives, there are concerns from a few industry insiders that the mining major companies that have shown interests in the country might be tempted to come in with expatriates dominating the top and mid managerial levels leaving low skilled jobs for Nigerians.
This concern is perhaps based on the fact that Nigeria had long neglected the sector for decades due to the oil boom and might not have the requisite skills needed.
Indeed, before the discovery of oil in commercial quantities, Nigeria was a known mining jurisdiction with notable mining companies, of which some were quoted on the London Stock exchange, operating within its territories.
Nigeria then had the requisite skills in all the areas of mining. Some of those companies operating in Nigerian then had many Nigerians in mid managerial levels. The advent of oil sadly shifted our focus away from mining for several decades which led to a doldrum in the sector and a shift away from acquiring some specific mining skill.
The Honorable Minister for Mines and Steel Development, MSSD, Olamilekn Adegbite noted that in the early fifties Nigeria had the required skills that was needed for the mining sectors.
‘When Nigeria was a mining destination during the colonial era, we had multinationals companies mining tin. We had integrated tin and columbite mining company, who were prospecting, mining and processing,’
Sampson Uche Ogah, minister of state, MSSD agrees with Adegbite that the nation was a somewhat matured mining jurisdiction before the advent of oil. ‘We had big mining companies in Jos and many of the staff then were Nigerians who were mining engineers, mineral processors and so on before we shifted our attention to oil.’
However, the advent of oil led to a neglect of the sector. Adegbite rightly observes that the skilled manpower during the pre-colonial times would have aged away.
“Most of those Nigerians that had the mining experience in those pre-colonial times would have aged and because the sector went into abeyance I am not sure that they would have passed their highly skilled technical know-how at that time to the coming generation,’ he said
Engr Daniel Bwala, Acting Deputy Director, Training and Research, Nigerian Institute of Mining and Geo-sciences, NIMG, however, concludes that the decade long neglect of the sector initially created a skill gap shortage.
“In the fifties and early sixties we had the first crop of mining engineers and mineral processors but due to the oil boom, there was a demand for more of geologists than for mining engineers and mineral processors. So these dynamics led to a situation where our institutions were producing more of geologists.
Almost all the higher institutions have geology courses but only about three universities offer courses in mineral processors and mining engineer which is not good for the sector,’ he said adding further.
‘When the nation began to pivot to mining again with the advent of democracy in 1999, we had a situation in which we had a gloat of geologists, but very few mining engineers and mineral processors,’ he said. Bwala concludes that such a dynamic was not good for the sector.
Even though geologists are clearly needed for exploration to locate where the minerals are embedded within the earth crust, mining engineers are the ones who can extract the minerals from the ground, while mineral processing engineers add value by separating commercially valuable minerals from their ores.
Bwala notes that in early 1999 when the nation once again pivoted to mining there was a dearth of these mineral processors and mining engineers against the background of an abundance of geologists.
‘Geologists are for exploration,’ says Bwala,‘but mining engineers are the ones who extract it from the ground crust and pass it to the mineral processing engineer who will add value to it and after the mineral processor they pass it to the metallurgical engineer, that will bring about the final product. This is the cycle of the mining sector.”
Even so Bwala concedes that the Nigerian Institute of Mining and Geosciences, NIMG, has been able to bridge the skill gap in the last five years.
Professor Suleiman Hassan, the Chief Executive Officer and director-general NIMG equally allays any fear that there might be a dearth of skilled manpower sector.
“Since Nigeria began pivoting back to the mining sector the institute had the foresight to envisage that there would be a need for skilled manpower in some certain areas such as mining engineering and mineral processing engineering which became our focus.
We have graduated four sets already and we will be graduating the fifth set this session. You can see that the institute has plugged the skill gap that existed in the past,’ he said.
Hassan further explained that the singular goal of the institute was to provide the needed manpower that would drive the growth in the mining sector, ensuring that Nigerians and not expatriates dominated mid and top managerial positions in the industry.
‘The institute is expected to provide the opportunity for manpower training and institutional capacity building for mining sector, from which practically oriented and capable management cadre of manpower will be produced to plan and manage the development activities in the mining sector,’ he said adding that the curriculum runned by the institute is of higher standard and at a more advanced level than those currently obtained from the strict academic institutions in the country. he explained further:
”In this regard, the management of NIMG has developed a curriculum with the assistance of foreign and national technical experts, which consist of Practically oriented advanced courses for the award of a professional, Post Graduate Diploma (PGD) in mining and geosciences.’
Hassan also revealed that the institute had a Memoranda of Understanding with the University of Mines and Technology, Tarkwa, Ghana, Federal University of Technology, Akure and the University of Jos, aimed at enhancing the quality of training and research impacted on the students.
‘We take all our students to Ghana to spend two weeks studying underground mining and we ensure that our students visit as many mines as they can in this country.’