Prince Maman Nasir Ali is the Executive Chairman, NASAMAN Plc, an indigenous gold mining multinational reputed as the third largest concessionaire in Nigeria after Julius Barger and Dantata & Sawoe. In this exclusive interview, the Chairman advised the Nigerian government to identify and support genuine indigenous companies, stating that the desire to diversify the economy will remain a mirage unless there is political will to address legacy challenges of funding. He disclosed that its foreign partners have pledged to invest one billion Dollars per bankable concession in the mining sector. Francis Kadiri reports.
What is your assessment of the Buhari administration in the development of the sector?
The Nigerian economy needs to be diversified. The mining industry should be the key focus for economic diversification. Unfortunately, government has not been able to get it right in terms of focus. Not all companies are credible, some mining companies exist on paper. We expect that government should be able to identify genuine companies who should be supported by its grants. Mechanized mining like we are doing is capital intensive. Without the financial support of home government, Nasaman has been able to develop the sector. We are the third largest concession holder in Nigeria and we want to be the first in the world. But to get there, we need the policy and financial support of our home government as is the case in other countries where large scale mining and export companies are powerfully supported by national governments. I read in your publication that the World Bank has doled out one hundred and fifty million US dollars to the Nigerian government as support for the mining sector via the World Bank Mineral Sector Support for Economic Diversification, MinDiver. I hope that the fund captures the needs of genuine indigenous mining companies. When I say genuine companies, I mean companies who do not just exist on paper, but who have made glaring self-help efforts that are developing the country. Such companies should be supported so that they can do more.
The Nigerian educational system has recently added mining engineering to the curriculum. Unfortunately, the educational institutions are not capacitated to teach these practically. So, they use our machinery and project equipment in Kogi to teach the course. Our equipment are digital and world class, so it is preferred.
It is disappointing that we have tried to get support from government via the Ministry of Mines and Steel and also the Nigerian Export Import Bank (NEXIM) to no avail, yet we read in newspapers that one fund or the other has been earmarked for our support. If genuine industrialists are given the chance, the mining sector alone can provide more than the needed jobs for Nigerians.
Several mining companies failed to utilize the mining titles and permits they secured from government as a result of rejection by host communities. What is the Nasaman experience in this regard?
Nasamana is an indigenous company and we are aware of similarities and cultural differences that businesses must understand before they can win the confidence of host communities. We did not encounter that problem at all. In fact, we enjoy huge support from them. Once we convinced host communities of what they stand to gain, they cooperate with us. It is not enough for a company to get a mining permit from government, the company needs to woo the host communities in order to calm the youth and work with them. Apart from gainfully employing members of the communities, we also execute very important projects for the benefit of the communities. We have sank bore holes for communities that need water, we have built bridges and culverts to connect communities, we created access roads with our bulldozers and we have given out a lot in gestures of corporate social responsibilities.
As a rule, Nasaman employs only the locals for its labour force. As such, we have been able to build trust and an enduring relationship with host communities.
Why did Nasaman Plc start gold mining, trading and export despite the popular opinion that it is capital intensive and has long gestation period for investments yield?
Yes, the mining sector is very tough! The truth is, we wanted to start with Oil and Gas sector, but we observed that the oil and gas sector was too saturated with both local and foreign investors. At the time, Year 2000, virtually every prospective investor was interested in oil and gas sector. The foreign investors operating in Nigerian oil and gas sector are highly mechanized and advanced, and they had assess to funding support from their countries, and most of them were already multinationals before their advent into Nigeria. Among them, are Shell, Chevron, Total and Mobil to mention a few.
NASAMAN did not just want to be in business, we also desired to lead the sector by doing the things that are not happening in Nigeria. We wanted a sector where we would operate with innovation that would give us an edge such that we would facilitate a private sector-led development of the sector. We found that the mining sector was less saturated and that we can set the pace. Getting the best foreign expertise in mining was very expensive, but we did, and we worked and prayed and carefully embraced gold mining and processing despite the huge capital needed for investments in gold mining and the uncertainties associated with it. My friend, I am happy to tell you that as you can see, the Nasaman group is a huge success story and we are extending our business interests to other countries.
When exactly did you start and how did you overcome the challenge of funding?
We started at about Year 2000. I did a research and found out that Nigeria has gold deposits in commercial quantities. We decided to mine and secure concessions in gold, coal, iron ore and we are not in business to make profits alone, we are also in business to develop our country. In England, coal plays a vital role in the economy of England. In fact, there are coal cities in England such as Southampton. I believe that Nigeria can do better than England.
As a result of the inability of credible mining companies to assess funds from the Nigerian government, we sought financial collaboration with stakeholders in the Western world, and we got started. The first thing we did was to train artisanal miners across the federation. They shared the passion and they understand very well what we wanted to do. Once they funding was secured, we set up Nasaman. At the moment we have a lot of concessions and we are the third largest holder of mining concession in Nigeria after Julius Barger Plc and Dantata/Sawoe. We stand out as the only gold mining company with a mechanized refinery that refines gold ore to its finished state.
What are your key strategies for business expansion and how soon will the country reap the yields?
No bank in Nigeria is ready to invest yet because of the risks. If government is able to develop the sector, there are other key foreign capital investors who are willing to invest one billion US dollars per concession in Nigeria on the condition that the concession is bankable. So we have foreign investors but they have given us some requirements before further expansion. And they have identified Nasaman as the lead partner in Nigeria. Some reliable exploration companies from India and Japan will join the sector when government puts things right.
The Federal Government called on solid mineral processors to refine mined ores before export as a way of adding value to the product while creating jobs for Nigerians. How has your company keyed into the idea?
We export finished gold bars, gold coin and any form of gold bullion, not unprocessed gold. By so doing, we have been able to create employment for Nigerians along the gold processing chain.
In terms of jobs creation, what have you achieved for the country?
The Nigerian mining sector can change Nigeria’s story in terms of unemployment. Here in the headquarter, we have twenty permanent staff and some two hundred artisanal population who are mining for us in Ile Ife, some parts of Kogi and Zamfara states.
We believe that artisanal miners must be given what they need to operate under the best working conditions. So they receive the various items from us. One thing we have been able to establish is the mechanized chemical free gold processing method which is the standard in developed countries.
When you consider the jobs we have created along the mining value chain, we will be talking in the range of five hundred or more jobs. In Ile-Ife where we enjoy the cooperation and blessings of the Ooni of Ife who was magnanimous to grant us some land, we employed a lot of people to ensure that all goes well with our businesses.
Safety is a major issue in mining. How safe are your methods?
Nasaman is practicing the safest mining methods in line with future protocols of the United Nations. You are probably aware that operations manager advises the United Nations on very sensitive aspects of mining practice including safety. As an organisation, Nasaman is already implementing the practices he advises which the UN will implement in the future. We are succeeding not because we have a dime of support from government, but because we are passionate about developing the sector and because we are fortunate to have progressive partners from the western world.