How we changed 100 years of ‘colonial’ strategy through NIMEP – DG NGSA

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Uba Group

Director-General, Nigerian Geological Survey Agency (NGSA), Abdulrazaq Garba, says by changing how things were done for over 100 years, his administration is scoring key goals in mineral discovery.

In this interview with FRANCIS KADIRI, Garba, who is the President of the Nigerian Society of Economic Geologists (NSEG) and Chairman, Implementation Committee of the National Integrated Mineral Exploration Project (NIMEP), discusses the challenges, strategies and successes of the NGSA under his watch in the past two years. Excerpts:

You were a Civil Servant who became Director-General of the NGSA in an unprecedented way. How does it feel to be DG?

By the grace of God, by the end of this month, I will be two years in office as Acting Director-General, and later as confirmed Director-General. By January, I will be two years in office as substantive Director-General. Being the Director-General of such a big organisation with staff strength of about 600 and record history of data generation in over 100 years is tasking, especially when you are working in a system that has been laid back, because you need to drive hard at people to get work done.

What would you say are the modest achievements of the current NGSA management under your watch?

By the grace of God, we have recorded some modest achievements, and more successes are in progress. I don’t mean to praise myself, but I can assure you that in the past two years, NGSA achieved more than it ever did in any two years in the past with limited resources and high expectations from all the stakeholders.

By our mandate, the NGSA is broadly responsible for the provision of geosciences information for public good. The fact that I came on board at a time that could be called a time of national emergency for economic diversification places extra burden on the NGSA Management Team.

We needed to think deep and work extra hard to urgently provide geosciences information needed to attract the right investments to the Nigerian mining ecosystem. In the last two years, the management has striven to enhance service delivery through the following:

– Human capacity development to ensure we have a workforce that can meet the challenges of the time. This we have done through training and retraining of our staff. Example is the training of staff of our laboratory in Kaduna on various aspects of TQM in preparation for international ISO certification.

This process is essential for the Agency and the country because any serious nation that wants to develop its mineral and metals sector requires a certified laboratory to service the industry. Another example is training petrography, geochronology and age dating which we are carrying out in collaboration with a University in Western Australia and several other capacity building activities to build a world class team.

– Infrastructure development and equipment: one of the challenges I am aware of as a staff before becoming the DG is lack of appropriate tools to ensure effective service delivery.

The NGSA now has a reasonable state of the art equipment to carry out its activities, some of which are rapid analytical equipment (handheld XRF), a number of drilling rigs, state of art seismographs etc. A new laboratory complex to house the newly acquired Fire Assay and Carbon + Sulphur analyzer has been constructed and awaiting installation by the manufacturers.

The old XRD and XRF has just been serviced and recalibrated to provide necessary services to the industry. We have just taken delivery of a new 500KVa dedicated transformer so as to ensure the laboratory is in the right shape to meet the coming challenges anticipated in the industry.

Furthermore, you will agree with me that the working environment is vital to the output you get. A look around some of our offices in Kano, Kaduna, Ilorin, Enugu and even the headquarters will present to you the new NGSA.

– Product and Publications: you will agree with me that in recent time, the number of geosciences publications we are churning out is impressive. These include Bulletins, Occasional papers and Maps. Since assumption of office, we have on two events, launched some of our products, the highest in the last six years. We proposed to do more at the last NMGS conference but due to the COVID-19 pandemic the conference could not hold.

Currently, we are almost through with the new editions of Geological, Mineral and Structural maps of the country. We will present them to the public soon, after completing the processes of peer reviewing by the necessary stakeholders, both locally and outside the country.

As an Economic Geologist and Mineral Explorationist, I am glad for the opportunity given me to lead the task team, saddled with the responsibility of exploring the country for geological data needed to facilitate inflow of foreign investments in to the country.

I also see the hand of God in my appointment at this point in time. In the NIMEP project, I am very happy that my training and experience found expression in the fulfillment of the quest to diversify the economy of my dear country.

The NGSA is an institution that is over 100 years old. What this means is that whether good or bad, we have some information spanning over 100 years. Considering the information we have, I discovered that we could not continue along that same path. As a result of the resolve for change, the NIMEP project was conceived at the time when I was Director of Economic Geology here at the NGSA. The exploration by design is not an end on its own but a means to an end, and has to be sustained to make the desired impact.

We had to change focus because what was handed over to us by the colonial masters is basically about mapping. We needed more than maps to make investment decisions; we need qualitative datasets. We therefore changed the way things were being done for the 100 years that the NGSA existed before the advent of the exploration project. This we did by shifting the emphasis from mapping to the quest for mineral discovery, especially the exploration for minerals.

Going forward, what are your new goals?

The goals would be to strengthen our focus and resolve to generate qualitative data that will meet the requirements of all the relevant stakeholders on geology, and discovery of minerals. We also want to contribute immensely to the diversification of the national economy. This I believe can be achieved because Nigeria evidently has vast mineral resources, eg metallic minerals such as gold, lead, silver and zinc.

We will work to ensure that Nigeria is also able to leverage on its industrial minerals endowment such as graphite, kaolin, bentonite and develop them for use as substitute for import in order to conserve foreign exchange.

We can use the industrial minerals to develop local industries in line with the Roadmap for Growth and Development of the Nigerian Mining Sector. A lot of industries will spring up, and jobs will be created in large numbers. In addition to this, Nigeria will be able to gainfully export its metallic minerals and get very high value in foreign exchange. As far as we know, economic diversification is already in progress, and this is possible because all hands are on deck. As part of our goals, we will become more professional in doing what we should do, and we are already doing that.

Let me seize this opportunity to invite Nigerians to the website of the NGSA and NIMEP. I want them to visit our website so that they can see what we are doing in the interest of national development. The websites showcase so many news things evolving on a daily basis, and things are being done in line with international best practices.

So NGSA is more focused now, to achieve its goals and stand on equal footing with the best geological surveys anywhere in the world.

How would you describe professionalism in the mining and geosciences sector and what are you doing to improve the technical capacity of staff?

Let me state here that the NGSA is also a research institution, even our salary structure is CONRAISS, meaning Consolidated Research and Allied Institutions Salary Structure. This means that research is part of our mandate. We work with the industry and all other relevant stakeholders, and we are placed in a position that makes us understand the dynamics of the sector.

The Nigerian geosciences sector has been too academic for so long a time. Without prejudice to what the academics are doing and they have contributed a lot, there has been a disconnect between the industry and academia. What we need now is to focus on the industry, and generate information that will be appealing and useful to the industry, and that is exactly what we are doing now – we are focusing on the industry in collaboration with all the relevant stakeholders.

In the course of the project, NIMEP engaged stakeholders and we made some presentations. Some of the questions that were asked showed that there was a need to seriously focus on the industry while the academia, continues to do its task.

In developed countries, when minerals are discovered, the mining company will endow a Fund for research in order to develop a model – exploration targeting methodologies etc.

Nigeria is still underexplored, and needs to concentrate on the development of the industry. It is when we finish with the industry and are able to have a booming mining industry that we will be able to implement findings and discoveries of the academics.

Some time ago, after one of such our presentations, a Professor called me and said, ‘Doctor, we are very proud of you because we are seeing the results of what you are doing and we are thinking of the model of development to adopt.’ I thanked him for the commendation and he noted that a particular company had done an analysis of thousands of samples and would want the data for research students. I replied him, why not? And added that he needed to wait until the information was declassified. It is at such stages that the academia can come on board to add value to results of the investigation. That is how it works. Until now, we had been putting the cart before the horse.

Therefore, the NGSA is saddled with the responsibility of investigating an underexplored country with development partners to bring out the salient geological information capable of spurring the desired investment into the mining sector, and that we are doing in line with international best practices, using some of the competent persons on the contractors’ side and on the consulting side.