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Mining: Research, devt pivotal to achieving economic diversification- Asuquo

By Palma Ileye

Director General/ CEO, National Metallurgical Development Center, NMDC, Jos, Engr. Prof. Linus Asuquo has said that research and development should be given priority if the nation was bent on achieving its goals on economic diversification.

Speaking to newsmen in an interview granted in Abuja, Asuquo noted that capacity building interms of training and retraining of human capacity was important for the growth and development of the economy.

He said that at the NMDC, there was need to renovate some of the structures to give it a conducive emblem for research and development and such efforts been put in place has ensured its effectiveness and efficiency.

He explained “On capacity building in terms of human capacity building, we have done enough to train our people for research and development, we need to train and retrain, we have done that locally and internationally, we have sent some of our staff to Australia, Japan and to South Africa for training, the essence of that is that our research and development must be productive. If you lack in training you can not go forward, and the people have stayed there for many years without adequate training, so they have now been trained.

“If we are to go forward in this country for research and development, that is where our priority should be, if we really want to develop in this country. If we want to diversify our economy, we can not diversify without meaningful research and Development as a lot of research has to be done for us to go forward.”

The NMDC boss who was appointed in July 2018 disclosed that the inability to analyze the materials used for building projects was one of the factors contributing to building collapse in the country.

He said that individuals and construction companies used scrap metal to produce metals without allowing NMDC to effectively carry out their job.

In his words:”We have to analyze even though we have SON, but we are the ones to analyze the type of materials , whether they are fit for building or not. So that has also been a challenge for NMDC.”

Speaking on the development of the Centre, he continued “because I found out that the security of that place was very poor and incident of thefts was almost on a weekly basis; so I had to beef up security of the place by contacting security personnel, the Police, the SSS, and the Civil Defence and they were ready to cooperate and since then, the theft incident reduced to the nearest minimum.”

He stated that there was need to restructure the management for effective and efficient running of the Centre, hence the restructuring of departments from nine to seven and placing the right people in the right places and this he confirmed has yielded dividends.

Asuquo also said “with the very poor power supply in the country and for any meaningful research, power was necessary and there was no power. We were going with a small generator and we could not do any effective research, so I had to find an alternative power source by solar system so we had to install the solar system in all the laboratories for effective analysis and now people can analyse using our equipment.”

Discussing the core mandate of the Metallurgical Center, the Director General, further explained “starting with exploration, let me say that in this country we have identified 44 strategic minerals in the country, in 500 locations and therefore, for us to be effective we have to analyze, NMDC has to work on mineral processing and then in the metal sector, we have to know the type of minerals we have in the country, the compositions, and so forth. So that was a challenge for us to have a laboratory ready.

“But this place was established as far back as 1973, as a research laboratory for the then steel plant , so you believe that from 1973 till the time I came, the equipment were very obsolete, some of them were not useful again, therefore there was need to find the state of the art equipment to do meaningful research and we were able to procure state of the art equipment for research and Development.

“And am pleased to inform you that right now, NMDC, even though not sufficient because the recent development is capital intensive, we now have the state of the art equipment to analyze these minerals that we have: apart from that, we also have the methodology department for some analysis.

“Nigeria has iron ore in Itakpe, which is of very high iron concentration but this was meant for Delta State Company because it has about 250 millions turns of iron but we have another iron ore in Akpaja about three billion turns that will take so many years, no research has been done on it to find whether is suitable or not , that is our own work in NMDC, to find out whether the Akpaja iron ore will be suitable, of course is suitable, I worked on that in 1990/ 1991, to find out ways that Akpaja iron ore could be used for our Steel plant by selective calculation which we have to use cassava starch to make flux sarage, even though it has some phosphorus, it’s not a problem because that can be dephosphorised during the processing.”

On coal, Asuquo revealed that, “one of the materials that we use for iron making is Coal and a lot of work has been done in NMDC about coal and unfortunately most of our coal, even though we have in abundance like Enugu coal, they are not prime coating coal, that is you cannot have real coal, hundred percent coke from that coal, so what we have done in our research is to use the lavia Obi coal and blend with the imported coal to form our coke, that will reduce the cost of production, importation and thus, foreign exchange will be reserved. We have also worked sufficiently on our coal.

“Just last week, we have acquired scanning electron microscope which is the state of the art equipment for metal and mineral processing and two people had to come from UK to train our staff, which was a human capacity training. We trained about ten people which will be enough to train others in the place on how to use this.”

He thanked the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development for its intervention in the development of the Centre which includes renovation of seven of its buildings, procurement of equipment such as the scanning electron microscope and a lapping polishing machine adding that “some teams are coming from South Africa to train our staff on this lapping polishing machine. With such capacity building, we are set to do meaningful research and Development compared to what we saw before.”

On the challenges confronted so far, the DG said “there are lots of changes, research and Development is capital intensive in any country, by the grace of God I have been able to in my span of sixty eight years to travel to more than fifty six countries of the world and I have seen that research and Development is capital intensive, the whole world is putting attention in research and Development, people are budgeting between three to four percent GDP for research and Development and I want to thank Mr. President because recently, he increase form zero point one to zero point five but that is still very inadequate.”

Projecting into the coming years, in the steel sector, Engr. Asuquo said: “Like I said, if we have adequate funding and we pay attention to what we are doing, given priority we should be expecting development in the country. Let me say this, as I have repeated many times, we should not play with the Ajaokuta Steel company. A lot of politics has been toiling with it over the years, if you know the quntoms of metals imported into this country, then you know where we are. We are spending some billions of naira to important metals, now considering the railways we are constructing, if we have Ajaokuta Steel company working, I don’t think we should have been importing these metals , we would have reserved our economy, we would have created more employment for our youths, there would be skill acquisition and so on, the benefits are numerous.

“So, if we start doing research and development and the Ajaokuta Steel Company is working, there will be development, without Ajaokuta working, then we are just playing lip service. Also there must be a political will in this country for us to say this is our priority.”

Reacting to the claim that the Ajaokuta Steel Company was outdated, he said, “people who say that are not informed, if you do a lot of research, you will know that Russia cannot do without blast furnace, even Indian cannot do without blast furnace. I was in India in the year 2000 and they were producing hundred million tonnes of steel in that year and that was the method were they using there. We just seat down at home here and criticize that our Ajaokuta Steel Company is outdated.

“What are the new methods that can be used in the production of Iron and Steel except the blast furnace, a lot of people are saying nobody is using coal, Russia is using coal, China is using coal, so what are we talking about? Everyone wants to be an engineer now, Nigerians like to talk but when it comes to practical terms to proffer solutions they go silent.

“Any person that have seen the amount of money spent in Ajaokuta, to scrap that place will be a colossal waste, and suicidal. Even if it’s outdated, we can modernize it into sections; that’s why it’s called Ajaokuta Steel Company. Starting from the blast furnace, where they will produce iron , after that you produce steel, from Steel, you have a continuous casting, where you produce rods.”

He further added “Did you know you can generate power from the Ajaokuta Steel Company to so many States , we should not just start at once, we can think big and start small.”

On NMDC’s collaboration with other MDA’s for wealth creation, Asuquo further stated that in December 2020, it had collaborated with Defence Industry Corporation of Nigeria, DICON and has also signed an MOU with NASENI.

“DICON was importing armaments from China and I wrote to them that we have that capacity to produce their raw materials, instead of importing brass from China, we could produce for them, the DG visited us twice with his team and was excited with what he saw and what we were doing, and then sent a technician team to us to evaluate and the MOU was signed on December 3rd, 2020, to produce the raw materials for them, if such a thing is implemented, I can tell you that I may not need money from government because the billions they were using in importing, if they give that to us it will be sufficient for our research and development. We can generate enough revenue when we collaborate with these organisations, recently, we have signed an MOU with NASENI to collaborate to generate revenue, the Executive Vice Chairman came with his team and we are working with them on some meaningful research. Before you talk about generating revenue, something has to be done before generating revenue which is to equip the place.”

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