Nigeria targets 50 mines in operation by 2023 to offset COVID-19 economic effects

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ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria aims to have 50 mines in operation by 2023 and can make up for time lost because of the impact of COVID-19 on development of the nascent sector, the country’s mining minister said in an interview.

Africa’s largest oil producer is banking on mining to diversify its income and revive its finances following a collapse in crude prices, which earlier this year hit two-decade lows.

“The pandemic has slowed things down, but we can still catch up,” Minister of Mines Olamilekan Adegbite said.

Nigeria hopes mining will grow tenfold in five years to account for 3% of the economy and that Nigeria can process as well as mine, which generates increased profits compared with shipping raw minerals.

Nigeria seeks to process raw barite

In particular, he said Nigeria aimed to process barite, used in drilling for oil and gas, and sell it to countries such as Ghana and South Africa, which need the mineral to exploit new oil discoveries.

In common with other African countries, Nigeria is also seeking to formalise artisanal mining, which could generate tax and royalties from gold.

Adegbite said Nigeria was encouraging small-scale miners to form cooperatives and sell at government-buying centres, where prices are closer to global values than those illegal buyers offer.

While oil prices have been weak because of the impact of the pandemic on movement and industry, which has curbed fuel demand, gold in August hit record highs.

A problem for Nigeria is that its gold lies mostly in the northwest, where, humanitarian organisations say it has helped to fuel violence attributed to armed groups.

Adegbite said security had improved and buying centres would stop artisanal miners dealing with criminals: “By weaning them off the illegal people and (making) sure they sell to government-approved centres, you take off that linkage.”

He also expects more commercial gold miners to be attracted once Thor Explorations’s gold mine in Nigeria’s southwest starts producing. Its first gold is expected in the second quarter of 2021.

Malte Liewerscheidt, vice president of London-based risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence, said the plans were likely to be undermined by “structural challenges pertaining to insecurity and infrastructure deficiencies”.

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