Opinion: Nigeria’s untapped treasures – By FOLA OJO
According to the history of the discovery of crude oil in Nigeria, a German company known as the Nigerian Bitumen Company, recorded the first oil prospecting in our land. The company commenced operations in 1908 and wound up its activities in Nigeria at the commencement of the First World War in 1914. In 1937, the second attempt at oil prospecting was struck by a company known as Shell D’Arcy, but when the Second World War broke, the company ceased operations in 1940. Many thanks to Shell Company joined by the British Petroleum to form Shell BP Company, crude oil in its abundance burst out of the Oloibiri grounds in Bayelsa State for the first time in 1956. It then became obvious that Nigeria was hopping out of lack into abundant wealth. But unfortunately, the black gold quickly became an addiction to those who called the leadership shots at that time in history. The sickening dependence on the proceeds of crude oil led to the visionless abandonment of all other precious stones that are scattered all over Nigeria.
Ever since the discovery of crude oil, raw cash has not ceased to flow regularly into crude hands of myopic managers who wantonly helped perpetrate the addiction to oil. For example, within the first 10 months of 2015, Nigeria earned N3.27tn from the oil and gas sector. In 2016, Nigeria raked in N7tn from oil export alone as poverty doubled up in strength and strive. Aside from corruption and profligacy, one of the instruments that have dredged Nigeria into poverty is in untapped natural resources. From Adamawa to Bauchi, stretching down to Osun into Ekiti, and spiralling Eastward to Enugu and Abia, there is no single state in Nigeria that God has not blessed with natural resources. States that some ignorant Nigerians may deride and mock as poor and parasitic have abundant wealth buried under their soil.
The Nigerian government has identified at least 37 mineral deposits all across the land. But the courage to launch out a full exploration has always been lacking. A 2015 report reveals that Nigeria loses about N50tn from untapped resources that are tucked away in crevices of virtually every state of the country.
About 1.5 million hectares of land in south-eastern Nigeria holds the largest deposits of coal. Coal is Nigeria’s oldest commercial fuel, but its exploration dipped over the years when Nigeria settled for diesel, natural gas and hydro resources for the generation of electricity that remains epileptic in supply until today. About 2.8 billion metric tonnes of coal are ready to be mined and flipped into abundant wealth in Nigeria’s coal axis. What is Nigeria waiting for?
Ilesha, a city in Osun State of Nigeria is sitting on huge hectares of raw gold. Over many years, the natural resource has remained largely untapped. A few years ago, hope for increased wealth was ignited when it was widely reported that Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola signed a Memorandum of Understanding with an Australian mining firm, Andalusian Mining Industry. The Australian company promised that Osun would soon churn out the precious stone. It is common knowledge that modern gold mining is a capital-intensive project. It is also a known fact that politicking and ridiculous red-tape within the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative must have handcuffed the prospects of adding gold to one of Nigeria’s few export products. The Mining and Mineral Act of 2007 which puts the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources in the Exclusive Legislative List has destroyed the dreams of many states. Mineral deposits buried under the earth in their homelands are forced to remain dormant. Aregbesola’s tenure as Osun governor will end this year; and Nigerians may have to continue to wait endlessly before turning Osun gold to cash. In unexploited gold alone, Nigeria loses a whopping N8tn annually.
The world’s second largest deposits of bitumen are in oil-producing Ondo State. The deposit is reported to be about 42.74 billion metric tonnes. The blackish viscous liquid, a by-product derived from the fractional distillation of crude oil, is found in Edo, Lagos, and Ogun states, but the largest chunk is in Agbagbu, Ondo State with over 42 billion reserves. Within the next three months, expression of interest by prospective investors in the bitumen bounty would commence, so said recently the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Kayode Fayemi. Bitumen is primarily used in road construction to bind aggregate particles to create asphalt concrete, but unfortunately, 80 per cent of the country’s asphaltic materials is still being imported. A full-scale exploration and commercialisation of this product puts extra cash in Nigeria’s treasury to fight youth unemployment.
Columbite is a black ore of niobium which has a submetallic luster and a high density. It is used as an alloy of steel to form weldable high speed steel for radio transmitting valves and heat sensitive detective devices. In Plateau, Kano, Kaduna, Bauchi, Kogi, and Nasarawa states, this precious gem is found in abundant proportion. The Return on Investment on columbite ore is placed at 10 to 15 per cent. The exploration of this rare earthly deposit continues to be stifled by intractable benightedness at the leadership level. The commercial value of Nigeria’s solid minerals has been estimated to run into hundreds of trillions of dollars. But the money remains buried.
The neglect of Nigeria’s solid mineral sector has nearly shut down interests in the sector from foreign investors. Puissant men and women, many who have raised up their hands in oath to serve country with diligence and accountability, now need to huddle around the possibility of turning the discovered precious stones to heaps of cash. There is too much hunger. There is untold unemployment. Before our eyes the future is vanishing like escaping smoke. This must not happen under anybody’s watch. Nigeria, without a doubt is on God’s schedule for economic Paradise because of her immense natural endowment. How the country has found herself in the Grand Canyon of gully and Gehena remains a shock to the world that knows the weight and worth of Nigeria’s many blessings.
Nigeria daily throws away treasures into trash bins through many outlets. Negligence and the lack of courage to focus on the solid mineral sector is one. We expect the Buhari administration to continue its detouring from crude dependence on crude oil. The bleeding of our treasures into waste bins must stop. Power and vision to set Nigeria loose from poverty and hunger must continue with unwavering commitment. God has given the country the resources to stave off slavery and hunger; men in authority in our country must now put their brains to work for the public good. Punch