At last, the dream of taking Cross River State out of the woods may soon be a reality if the massive solid minerals deposits discovered in the state, by Chinese geologists, working with their local counterparts, are sustainably and transparently exploited.
The state received the sum of N55b from the Federation Account in 2016, which it augmented with the not impressive internally generated revenue. But with this new discoveries, the “One Mineral, One Local Government,” Project, which also takes cognizance of old and newly discovered solid minerals, the Governor Ben Ayade-led government says it would make the state a hub of massive industrialisation.
Ayade has severally been criticised for his numerous foreign trips and signing of what many describe as “ineffective Memoranda of Understanding (MOU).
However, the state Commissioner for Solid Minerals, George Oben’enchi thinks the recently concluded exploration activities, “is one of the dividends of the governor’s trips abroad because more often than not, every time the governor leaves our shores, the opposition is always saying, ‘he has travel abroad again, yet there are no good results from previous trips. So, this is indeed a very critical and core dividend that the governor has been able to attract, and the ministry is going to launch the One Mineral, One Local Government Project, next year.”
Earlier on, the state government signed an MOU with Shian Xi and Hun Ching provinces of China. The team of scientists that carried out the exploration did so as part of the bilateral understanding with the Shian Xi Province.
Some of the solid minerals found in commercial quantities in the state are uranium, iron ore, manganese, tourmaline, barites, marbles, galena and sphalerite, coal, kaolin, sulphite, rutile, as well as, new limestone deposits and others.
“Working with local and foreign geologists, we discovered between eight to 10 new minerals, in addition to the old ones. We believe that by the time we are done with our work, the survey agency will be able to certify our findings, then one will know that in this Cross River State, we have much more blessings than one had imagined in terms of solid minerals,” the commissioner said, adding, “You know the governor has been trying to reach out to some international bodies, basically to see how he can attract investors to the various sectors of our economy,” Oben’enchi said.
He pointed out that, “one of the key areas we focused on was the development of the solid mineral area of the state. Of course, the best way to develop the sector is to first of all find out what you have, the quality and quantity of what you have, before you can begin to talk to the right investors. All these while, we only had a geological map saying Cross River State has some solid minerals, but we never really took time to go round and see where these things are located, in which community, village or local government area.”
Speaking about the exercise, the commissioner said what the Chinese geologists did, alongside local counterparts was basically exploration, preparing grounds for investors to come in for exploitation of identified mineral resources.
“In Okpoma, Yala Local Council, we discovered salt. That is currently being mined by the locals there. From the reports it is up to 50 million metric tons. So, if you set up a company to mine that salt properly, you can only imagine what will happen in that place in terms of employment and other benefits.
“In another community called Gabu, still in Yala Local Council, we found two types of barite. These are minerals that oil companies can use. In Ofina, still in Yala, there is also barite, as well as, pure led galena that does not have the colouration of any other mineral around it,” he said.
“The geologist discovered in Ohom, in Obudu Local Council, graphites, and in Oban, Akamkpa Local Council, a huge chunk of manganese in Oban stretching all the way to Akim. There is also a large deposit of rutile in Nkarasi Two, in Ikom Local Council. This is something that nobody knew we had in the state. In a community called Ishibori in Ogoja Local Council, we discovered very precious illumenite in commercial quantity. In Iso-bendeghe in Boki Local Council, stretching into Bendeghe-Afi in Ikom council, we discovered massive magnetic iron ore. That is something that we never knew we had here. Even the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency (NGSA) never knew we had that in the state. This is what steel companies have been looking for. It is like torch light in a day time,” he said.
On what the next line of action is for the state, Oben’enchi, said it is for the state to work with the Federal Government to bring in the needed investment in the solid mineral sector in the state because the governor’s focus is basically on job creation. If we are able to bring in the right investors to harness and work in accordance with the law, we are sure that we can create jobs, change the lifestyle of our people, and take development to lots of our communities.”
While many wondered how much the state coughed out for the exploration activities, the commissioner said the Chinese firm, which carried out the exploration did so at no cost to the state. “The only thing we did for them was accommodation and feeding because when we went to China they accommodated, fed us and provided the necessary logistics in terms of transportation.
“All the minerals that I have mentioned, I am confident about the fact that we have them in commercial quantities. We are still working on them, and we are going back to the field again to do some analysis, checks and follow ups because when we are done, we are supposed to have a document stating which village/local council that each mineral is found, name of the mineral, what each of these minerals can be used for, and then of course the value and quantity…When we finish, we can now use that to discuss with our investors. I am very sure that what we have seen so far can last for the next 100 years or more.”
Those thinking that actual exploitation of these resources may take years would surely be disappointed as the commissioner said, “we are working very assiduously to make sure that within another three months or four months we will start…Definitely this will bring so much revenue to the state, but in all honesty, I have not done that analysis yet because we are still working and we will get the commercial department to find out how much these resources can bring in terms of revenue to the state.”
With the Bureau for Public Private Sector Partnership in place, and a law that protects both the locals, the state and of course the would be investor in place, the commissioner said there was no need for any of the parties involved to fret when exploitation commences.
“The problem we have is that we always have fantastic laws in Nigeria, but enforcing these laws is now the problem. But in this case, as long as we have a law and an agency with people saddled with the responsibility of making sure that all the parties are not short-changed, then there won’t be any problem. Above all, there is no community that you will go to in this state that will not make sure that what is their due is given, in terms of doing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), and ensuring that that EIA is fully approved and complied with.
“Once you get it right by putting all these structures in place from the beginning, you wont have any problem because the locals will be there to ensure that their end is perfected, and they are not being cheated. The state government would also be there to ensure that the PPP is working and they are not being cheated or exploited. Of course, the investors will also make sure that they are not just working for nothing.”
Peter Ogar, an indigene of Okpoma, one of the communities rich in salt lamented that despite the huge deposit, successive administrations always promise to bring investors to explore the salt for domestic use and export. “But so far, nothing has happened and we hope that with this Ayade-led government, things will improve. We welcome the Chinese and we hope that the government will do the needful by siting the plant here, and employing many of our youths, and at the same time follow due process of protecting the land and environment. We are waiting and hoping for better things”.
A stakeholder from Oban, Akamkpa, where manganese was discovered in commercial quantity, Rev. Father Evaristus Bassey said: “I don’t really know the details, but my problem with the Chinese is that they only exploit and do not develop communities. They will exploit and leave the place worse than what it was. Some places that they go to, they just take over even the minor economic activities there. In most of their investments, communities are left worse off, and their human rights standards are very poor. Western investors are more careful about their reputation internationally as they can be dragged before their local courts, because back home they have stringent measures or laws that guide their operations, but for the Chinese, who cares.”
Bassey who works with the Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria added: “There is the issue of corruption, and it is my perception that they promote the issue of corruption. Back home they deal very severely with corruption, but they come here and help in spoiling our politicians. But if we can negotiate well, and not allow negotiations to get compromised because of our personal interests, then that is fine by me. We must negotiate properly and not allow them to come here and do whatever they like because you cannot go to their country and do whatever you like. What we need is to take into account, the best interest of the people. Even if there are some personal interests are involved, let the peoples’ interest be the uttermost because things that touch my community also touch me and whatever advice I can give, I will do so to ensure that my community is not exploited.”
A community leader from Biase Local Council, Peter Onun said: “The coming of the Chinese to explore and exploit our numerous solid mineral resources is good because it will open up our community for business and employment.
“But my only fear is that when companies come like this, they will promise heaven and earth only to lock their gates against us. The state government should ensure that any company that is coming in to operate in the state does proper EIA and meet our demands to ensure that we are not impacted negatively.”