HAJIA Rabi Umar Sodangi’s appointment as the Acting Director General and Chief Executive of the National Steel Raw Materials Exploration Agency (NSRMEA) was initially greeted with criticism, with critics saying it was a clear case of nepotism by the President Muhammadu Buhari government. But two years after, the work of the first female head of the agency suggests an impressive performance.
In this interview with Bankole Shakirudeen Adesina at her office in Kaduna, Sodangi, a fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM) and former director of finance and human resources of the agency, submits that part of the said achievements were the successful exploration of 15 mining and exploration projects across the country in the last one year and the unprecedented N80million revenue generated through consultancy services.
Since its establishment 46 years ago, NSRMEA has not been able to contribute meaningfully to the nation’s economic prosperity. Why is this so?
The National Steel Raw Materials Exploration Agency is a Government Parastatal under the supervision of Ministry of Mines and Steel Development. It came into existence as the Exploration and Mining Division of the defunct Nigerian Steel Development Authority (NSDA), which was established by Decree 19 of 1971. It later became a corporate body through the enactment of decree 49 of 1992 with mandate amongst others to carry out the exploration of steel raw materials in all parts of Nigeria and elsewhere to source raw materials for the iron and steel industry.
In keeping with our mandate, the Agency has been actively involved in the identification, qualification and quantification of local deposits of iron ore and other related raw materials for the iron and steel making. This has been achieved through intensive and extensive geological, geophysical and geochemical investigation in various mineral-prospecting areas of the country.
The Agency was operating successfully up until around year 2002, when the Federal Government funding of the steel sector drastically declined because it has entered into a financial agreement with the like of SOLGAS of USA and later a concession with an Indian company, the Global Infrastructure Nigeria Ltd (GINL) on the Ajaokuta Steel Company Ltd.
Both SOLGAS and GINL failed woefully. They were eased off on realizing they were shortchanging the country.
Those policies and actions really affected the agency; coupled with the challenge of old and obsolete equipment, low funding and no capacity building. The agency just managed to maintain skeletal operations mostly on consultancy because the whole steel sector was completely neglected until the arrival of this current administration in 2015.
How much has now changed with this government’s renewed interest and investment in the sector?
A complete overhaul is ongoing in the mine and steel development sector as we speak, and our agency is catching up on the transformational effects.
For instance, the government’s funding intervention has assisted us to rescue the agency from comatose and set it on the path of full recovery, rejuvenation and profitable curve.
The total budgetary allocation to the agency in 2016 was, for example, 10 times more than the grand total of that of the immediate past government. And with it, we were able to do quite a lot, acquiring drilling rigs, field vehicles, geophysics and survey equipment and some laboratory equipment including handheld XRF machines, training and retraining our employees.
Given this development, how attractive has the sector become to investments now?
The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development under the competent and proactive leadership of the two ministers has effected major improvements in the area of geosciences data generation for investors in the sector.
A roadmap was articulated in line with the African Mining Vision and the Mining Implementation Strategy Team (MIST) was constituted for the implementation of the roadmap.
Through this, various sources of financing and capacity building were secured for the sector through the World Bank, the Natural Resources Development Fund, Donor Agencies support and foreign collaborations etc. The focus is to build a world class minerals and mining ecosystem.
With quality leadership and political will, the potentials of the sector has been fully unlocked, with the Ministry effectively deflating the risks therein, thereby making the Nigerian Mining Jurisdiction now more attractive to investments and have a better investment risk profile than `Russia, China, India and even New York.
What are the investment preferences, should an investor want to know?
These includes but not limited to exploration, exploitation, mineral processing, buying, exporting and reporting etc. Besides, the steel raw materials resources in Nigeria are quite enormous. This country has a very favorable geological formation.
We have basement complex in most part of North West, South West and the North Central and North East. That is where you find iron ore, ferro alloys like tantalum, niobium, chromite manganese, bauxite, and various industrial minerals like limestone and various types of clays used in the iron and steel industry.
We also have the cretaceous sedimentary areas i.e the Benue trough (a geological formation extending to about 1000Km North East from the Bight of Benin to Lake Chad through Calabar, Abakaliki, Enugu, Kogi, Nasarawa, Bauchi, Gombe etc; Bida basin and Sokoto basin (comprising Zamfara, Soko
to and Kebbi States) where you find many large coal sites .
We even have tin and tungsten in Jurassic younger granite areas scattered around Abuja, Plateau, Bauchi and Kaduna States.
These are capital intensive and risky but highly profitable investment. And the government has made this more possible with its Ease of Doing Business Policy.
How surmountable are the challenges hindering the smooth conversion of the country’s minerals into wealth?
The basic challenges are funding for retooling, for the exploration itself and for capacity building. Exploration is capital intensive.
Is this not being addressed in the budgetary provisions?
It was but can be better. Our 2017 budgetary allocation was about N1.3b. We have received 100m. This is a lot of improvement but we still have a long way to cover.
How much is your agency doing to address the health and safety concerns of the host communities of these mining and exploration sites, given the country’s poor record on crude oil and its devastating environmental impacts in the Niger Delta?
There are a lot of concerns regarding this but the ministry (of mines and steel development) is tackling it. There is a dedicated department that is addressing this issue.
Two years after your appointment as the NSRMEA boss, what would say is your scorecard?
Alhamdulillah (Glory be to Allah), we have actually achieved quite a lot, even far beyond our own expectations, to be honest.
We have boasted our moribund GIS Unit and it is now up and running. Formerly, operations for this unit were outsourced. But today, we have trained our staff on the technical know-how and we have acquired latest software and gadgets to domesticate the money that was being channeled out through the outsourcing. And as a result today, our GIS unit can now collect reports from the field, process them into map, digitalize the maps and produce reports. And these can be done at an internationally competitive level.
It is worthy of note that this singular effort has assisted the agency in saving cost that would have run up to N20million or more in year 2017.
We have also been able to carry out capacity building such that at the moment, we can now send three teams of drillers, two teams of surveyors and two teams of geophysics simultaneously to go out and work in the field.
Before, it is very hard to put more than one team on the field; and even when they go out, the machines are always breaking down, and we end up exhausting all the project money on repairing them; and at the end, the job doesn’t get delivered.
Also, as soon as I came in, I ordered to rejig the agency. Among my priorities was the effort to boost the agency’s consultancy services unit, which we have now done successfully. This was in consonance with the Federal Government’s drive for more Internally Generated Revenue through all its agencies and parastatals.
And in return, this year alone, we have generated N80million through consultancy services and have remitted it to the government sub treasury single account. This agency has never generated such revenue before. Ours was unprecedented!
When I took over, we had so many failed and abandoned projects across the country and many of our equipment confiscated by clients because of failed contract. But I was able to generate money from other consultancy works and settle the clients and was able to recover all our impounded rigs, compressors, water tankers and other tools, repaired them and make them operational again.
Between 2016 and 2017, we have successfully worked on 15 exploration projects. And we have made a lot of discoveries in the process.
For instance, on the Bauxite exploration in Mambilla, Taraba State, there was initial geological report that says there was no mineral available at the site. But contrary to the report, we were able to discover huge deposit of bauxite there.
Shockingly too, similar development happened at Kabba Coal Project site in Kogi State. The initial assumption was that the coal beneath the soil was just a mere one meter. But we were able to discover that the deposit goes beyond one meter, two and three meters and even more in some places.
There was another site at Orba in Enugu State that earlier report made us believed it was a coal site only to discover afterwards that there were actually more of Kaolin there than coal. And as we were drilling, we discovered that we can get more than seven meters depth of kaolin at the site.
How could that have happened, could it be that somebody was not doing his job properly?
I do not know what happened exactly. I only read in the reports about the supposedly conclusive fact. But we tried to explore further, based on new exposures, robust knowledge of the dynamics of the sector and wider consultations and sampling and testing. And our resilience has been yielding tremendous results.
How professionally standardized are your agency’s operations?
Our activities are up to standard. The only problem that we have is about International Standard Organisation certification of our laboratory. For all our laboratory works to be accepted internationally, it has to be certified by a certified geologist, of which Nigeria is not currently favored with one.
Therefore, we get consultant(s) outside the country that have that certification. And they monitor our activities and certified our reports and records.
Like the Okaba Coal Site Project we are doing at Kogi State, it’s being monitored by SBS Consultant, a worldwide consultant based in Canada. In fact they give commendation that they were highly impressed about our sense of professionalism in our drilling activities at the site. And based on this, they accorded us the title of the Best Driller in Africa.
Do you think you have worked hard enough to earn a confirmation of your appointment?
I believe and strongly too that I have done well in the last two years of my appointment; and thus deserved to be confirmed as the substantive Director General and Chief Executive of this agency.
With the help of my highly dedicated team, we have achieved a lot. We have recovered and stabilized the agency and successfully repositioned it to play strategic roles in contributing to the robustness of the nation’s economy.
However, some people are saying I don’t deserve the appointment because I’m not a geologist. The fact is, yes, I’m not a geologist but I am a certified manager and with long-term of on-the-job experience. And as the manager of the agency in the last two years, I’ve achieved far more than what a geologist has achieved. The record is there.
The point remains that the job of a DG and Chief Executive of the agency is not only about the technical known-how, it is more about management and managerial skills. And that skill, strengthened with my over 12 years of experience and managerial position in the sector, makes me more strategically qualified to head the agency.
I am also academically qualified. I obtained a Higher National Diploma at Kaduna Polytechnic in Management Sciences, majoring in Hotel Management. Thereafter, I got a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from Bayero University between 1997-1998 and in 2006, I obtained my MSC in Business Administration from the Bayero University in Kano State.