- Title: NIGERIA: Northern Nigeria hopes to gain from nascent mining boom
- Date: 23rd August 2013
- Summary: ZAMFARA, NIGERIA (RECENT) (REUTERS) AERIAL VIEW OF ZAMFARA WIDE OF SHEDS USED BY ARTISAN MINERS VARIOUS OF ARTISAN MINERS CRUSHING SAND MINER USING MERCURY TO EXTRACT GOLD ORE FROM SAND MINER CLEANING SMALL GOLD ORE WITH A CLOTH GOLD ORE ON MINER'S PALM VARIOUS OF MINERS PULLING ROCKS OUT OF A MINE SHAFT MALLET BREAKING ROCKS (SOUNDBITE) (Hausa) SALISU SHAMSUDEEN, LOCAL MINER, SAYING: "I come from a poor family, I have been involved in this work for six years. My parents cannot afford to pay my school fees, no job. That is why most of us are doing this. I cannot be a farmer as there is no fertilizer. The youths of Bagega are the ones processing here." VARIOUS OF CHINESE OWNED MINING FACTORY/ CHINESE WORKER VARIOUS OF SAND BEDS MUD LOCAL ARTISAN MINERS MACHINE GRINDING ROCKS VARIOUS OF MINER POURING WATER INTO TROUGH OF SAND VARIOUS OF STREETS IN ZAMFARA'S TRADING CENTER (SOUNDBITE) (English) MUDASSIR ABDULLAHI, GEOLOGIST, SAYING: "Honestly this government has neglected northern part of Nigeria when it comes to the economy, there is a part of the economy that the north can produce to cover what the south is producing because even in the north, what the southerners are always be proud of is oil; even in the north there are areas that have oil but the government fail to exploit that oil."
- Embargoed: 7th September 2013 13:00
- Location: Nigeria
- Country: Nigeria
- Topics: Business,Health,Economy,Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA5KUP8XJ6L0SEXLOC8CEZXB05T
- Story Text: Like almost everything else in Nigeria's economy, mining of metals and other solid minerals fell by the wayside when the West African nation discovered oil.
In the two decades to 1954, foreign companies produced around 360,000 ounces of gold in total, according to government statistics, tiny by today's standards, but not insignificant for a country approaching independence with high hopes.
By 1964, post-independence and less than a decade after oil was found in the creeks of the southern Niger Delta, gold production had largely ground to a halt.
Now much of the digging up of Nigeria's minerals is done by artisan miners in the largely Muslim north, bereft of the high-tech machinery that makes it safe and brings economies of scale.
"The sector was left in the hands ... of untrained and ill-equipped artisans ... making negligible contributions to GDP," was how a government policy brief summed it up last year.
Nigeria's solid minerals remain untapped and largely unmapped.
The government wants to change that but Nigeria has yet to see the "big find" needed to attract the major investors.
In Zamfara's Begega village, one of the country's poorest and most remote states, local miners break up rocks and feed them into small grinding machines.
The machines then crush them into gravel sand, kicking up clouds of lead-contaminated dust.
The miners sift through the powdery rock; some will find gold, some will not.
"I come from a poor family, I have been involved in this work for six years. My parents cannot afford to pay my school fees, no job. That is why most of us are doing this. I cannot be a farmer as there is no fertilizer. The youths of Bagega are the ones processing here," said Salisu Shamsudeen, local miner.
The Zamfara Mining site is a frontier operation but still a leap from the artisanal mine shafts in other parts where miners lower themselves hundreds of feet into the earth to chisel gold ore without protection.
For many northerners, the neglect of the mining sector, like that of the region's agriculture and cotton mills, is emblematic of the way oil has shifted economic and political power to the largely Christian south, a source of resentment that has fuelled conflicts such as a four-year-old Islamist insurgency.
"Honestly this government has neglected northern part of Nigeria when it comes to the economy, there is a part of the economy that the north can produce to cover what the south is producing because even in the north, what the southerners are always be proud of is oil; even in the north there are areas that have oil but the government fail to exploit that oil," said Mudassir Abdullahi, a geologist with Chinese-Nigerian venture, Zamfara Mining Corporation.
Neglect of remote bits of the north was highlighted when a series of lead poisoning incidents struck Zamfara, killing more than 500 children since 2009, when a surge in world bullion prices spurred a gold rush there, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says.
Gold in rocks usually comes with other metals, in Zamfara, that metal is lead.
Thousands of children have dangerously high lead levels in their blood, says MSF, which runs a treatment clinic there. Many are permanently brain damaged.
After agreeing to clean up the lead, authorities took two years to provide the money and a further five months to finish the job.
Twenty-year-old Smaesiya Ibrahim says despite the risks, gold mining offers enticing rewards that many in the community are not willing to pass on.
"We make money from mining and farming but we make more money from the mining than farming. In farming, we make our money at the end of the year but in mining if we process, we can make huge amounts of money in time," she said.
Michelle Chouinard, MSF country director, says more efforts are needed to avoid a re-occurrence of the lead poisoning disease.
"In the mining sites, they're still using the same procedures at the moment as they did when they were processing closer to the villages or within their homes. Now it's removed from the villages so it brings one measure of protection but definitely, there still needs to be continued efforts to ensure that safe practices continue," she said.
Mines ministry data obtained by Reuters identifies seven "strategic" minerals in which it sees greatest economic promise.
Apart from gold, of which the ministry says 300,000 ounces are proven, there are also an estimated 3 billion tonnes of iron ore, 27 billion barrels of bitumen, 2.23 trillion tonnes of limestone, 14 million tonnes of tonnes of barites and about a million tonnes of zinc-lead.
Proven coal reserves come to 639 million tonnes, and 2.7 billion tonnes estimated, which the government plans to use for domestic power.
Yet even if Nigeria's precious metals don't live up to the hopes, it has more mundane materials that it wouldn't need to export. Cement is a multi-billion-dollar business in a country of 170 million with a housing shortage.
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