Uba Saidu Malami is the chairman, Board of the Solid Minerals Development Fund, (SMDF).
In this interview, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained executive and highly regarded geologist discusses the activities of his Board, stating that ‘the ability of the Board to work with relevant stakeholders to give the SMDF a world-class structure is a key goal that will pave thebway for greater realization of government’s set goals for the SMDF and the entire mining sector.’
Mr Malami, who is certified by the Council of Nigerian Mining Engineers and Geoscientists, says the SMDF is working with the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI) to sustainably exploit the abundant deposits of Calcium Carbonate in the country, adding that the Board will continue to strengthen its capacity to meet various demands that will pave the way for the development of the mining sector.
The board chairman thanked the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, and the Minister of State, Uchechukwu Sampson Ogah for their support while highlighting the ‘crucial role played by the Executive Secretary of the SMDF, Umar Fati Shinkafi,’ whom he said, ‘continues to demonstrate a lot of passion for the growth of the sector, and uncommon wisdom in the leadership of the SMDF that has led to the realization of set goals.’
What would you say is the most significant achievement of the SMDF since the inauguration of your Board in May 2017?
When the Board of the Solid Mineral Development Fund (SMDF) was inaugurated in May 2017, there was need for a structure that will complement the effort of government to provide a sustainable funding window for mining projects in the country. Dr Kayode Fayemi, who was the Minister of Mines and Steel Development at the time, gave us the mandate of ensuring that a structure is put in place for the SMDF.
So, we began to work. What we did was to get a globally recognized management consultant, McKinsey to work on a reliable structure for the SMDF that will be on equal footing with, or even surpass some of the best management structures in the world. The effort was fully supported by the World Bank through the Mineral Sector Support for Economic Diversification, MinDiver. We engaged the best hands to give SMDF a structure.
The essence of having such a formidable structure is to make sure that we are prepared to engage both public and private fund sources that will help to bridge the financial gap requirement in the mining sector. As you know, most financial institutions have required minimum competence. This is the essence of putting in place a management structure that is robust enough to even attract Foreign Direct Investment into the sector. The structure is designed to also encourage the participation of local investors in mining and all the value chain activities.
I have the honour to disclose to you that after a lot of consultations, reviews and considerations, the document presented by McKinsey reached the Board. As a Board, we evaluated the structure, and it was further appraised by a ministerial committee. We have forwarded it to the Honourable Minister, Arc Olamilekan Adegbite for consideration.
So, my answer to your question is: The fact that we are able to give the SMDF such an enviable and reliable Structure is one of our most significant achievements. The key component for driving value chain of mining activity from the mines, through processing to smelting or refining up to the off-taker, and to the open market has been appraised. The structure took into consideration the various stages of mining development.
To what extent has the SMDF Board been able to apply the Roadmap for Growth and Development of the mining sector in its efforts to achieve mandate success?
Yes, a robust Roadmap is in place for an orderly development of the sector, and the document is an appraisal of Nigeria’s mining potential. The approach of the SMDF is to start by developing some selected minerals so that we can take advantage of them. The idea is to gradually increase the number of minerals in a way that we will be able to sustainably develop them. So, we did not begin with all the minerals, we began with a select few and we are succeeding in that regard. So, in the immediate and short term, the Board engaged in ongoing programs and also triggered some new programmes.
The Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Initiative (PAGMI) which has achieved renowned success is one of the programmes initiated and championed by the Board. I am sure you saw the presentation of the first artisanally mined gold bullion of LMBA standard to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The presentation of the gold bullion, as well as the various stages that led to it is an evidence of policy success of the SMDF. The Nigerian gold bullion presented to the CBN meets the requirement of the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA). The ability to fulfill the LMBA requirement is one of the standing recognitions that we have.
We hope to start refining our locally mined gold in Nigeria within the shortest period.
How is the SMDF Board working with relevant institutional stakeholders to meet set goals?
The major stakeholder is the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development. The two Honourable Ministers have been very helpful and supportive in directing our programmes accordingly.
I am sure you are aware that we have been working with is the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI). The need to work with PFI became necessary as a result of the need to work with progressive partners to harness Nigeria’s abundant deposits of Calcium Carbonate.
The SMDF participated actively in understanding how the roadmap for such initiative would be implemented. We went as far as signing an MoU with the OCP of Morocco. I am sure you are aware that the OCP of Morocco is the leader in the production of fertilizer in Africa. As we speak, the OCP of Morocco is scheduled to establish three blending plants in Nigeria namely, one in Sokoto where they have laid a foundation for the factory; one in Kaduna; and the third factory in Ogun State. These have been very engaging, and stakeholders in the calcium carbonate industry have indicated interest and are working closely with the companies as well identifying areas of collaboration.
As a public sector institution, the SMDF will position itself very well to support most of these activities.
I understand that the President has approved some special fund for strategic investment in limestone to boost local production of fertilizer. How true is this sir?
I am happy to also inform you that in that regard, the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation has approved a very meaningful sum for the SMDF to invest in the Ebonyi limestone deposits toward a large-scale production of fertilizer in the country. There is no reason why Nigeria should import what we have in abundance. As a Board, the approval comes as a source of joy for us because we midwifed and promoted that aspect.
So, as I speak with you, preparations are in earnest to ensure that the complement part of fertilizer production in Nigeria, especially the calcium carbonate (limestone) granules is produced locally, such that it will feed the raw material needs of local fertilizer producing industries.
The agricultural landscape for fertilizer development has become very exciting because it has been triggered by the presidential approval.
Apart from OCP, we have the Dangote Fertilizer that has just come up in Lekki. All these are industrial facilities that will be serviced by the Calcium Carbonate granules. So, the presidential approval granted the SMDF to invest in Calcium Carbonate (limestone) has come at a strategic time in the development of the mining and agricultural sectors.
The president has seen the wisdom in championing this very laudable initiative. I must therefore commend His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari and the very energetic Honorable Minister, Arc Olamilekan Adegbite and the Minister of State, Dr Uchechukwu Sampson Ogah who worked unitedly to ensure that these objectives are getting the attention of the right people.
I also wish to highlight the crucial role that the Executive Secretary is playing. Yes, Hajiya Fati Shinkafi has done very well to pilot the affairs of the Fund, and the SMDF Board is very proud of her. She continues to demonstrate the zeal needed for the growth of the sector, and uncommon wisdom in the leadership of the SMDF that has led to the realization of set goals.