With 25 untapped solid minerals, Ebonyi woos investorsEbonyi, State News Wednesday, August 24th, 2011
The Ebonyi State Government seems bent on discovering its potentialities. The 15-year old state has been through hurdles of infancy, grooming and now at adolescence. It has been one of the lowest economically rated states, but it might be gearing towards saying ‘never again’.
The states of the nation live as beggars – arms stretched towards Abuja for the monthly stipend that keeps them going. But today, the state has resolved to create new avenues that would lift its standing and possibly place it on a pedestal of economic self-reliance.
The state is not known to be one of the heavyweights of the nation but the government says it is just in misrepresentation of facts. “The real and actual facts are rather the opposite of what Ebonyi is known for. The state is an economic hotbed with the natural endowments that dot the entire landscape. There is hardly any state in the nation that equals Ebonyi in natural resources. I can talk with full assurance and all vehemence that Ebonyi is naturally the richest state in the nation. There are over 25 solid minerals in the state at commercial quantity that wait to be explored.”
In a chat with Saturday Sun, the state Commissioner for Cement Production and Minerals Development, Prince Sunny Ugwuocha, sounded upbeat that the state has found its economic bearing and will soon be on the cruise for financial independence. The ministry he heads is a new one, and he said the reason the governor, Chief Martin Elechi created it is to make sure the policy of solid minerals development in the state gets full and unimpeded impetus.
“With the elaborate plans I was briefed of by Governor Elechi, there is serious business about to commence here in the state. The governor has clear ideas on how to leverage the natural potentials of the state to grow strong internal economy for the state. And in pursuit of such goals, you naturally start from the most available incentives you have. The notion that Ebonyi is a weak and poor state is just in conjecture. The state in history has endowments and those are the things the state governor wants to develop. The ministry I head is new and just created. That is why I have always seen my duty as extraordinary and tasking. But I might think he knows what he wants by sending me there. I have been a technical person all my career years, and coming from the private sector as an employer of labour who has weathered the economic rough terrain of Nigeria on my own, I have every expectation of a bright weather ahead. The governor has given and repeatedly emphasised to me his resolve to make the state stand out by developing the mineral resources.
Out of ignorance or because the people never applied their priorities right, the state has been seen over time economically poor and backward. While people say this, they forget that Nigercem, that unbeatable cement plant, the largest Nigeria had for over 40 unbroken years is located in the present Ebonyi State. Anything structure you can remember in the eastern part of Nigeria was built with cement from Nkalagu (Nigercem) The Niger Bridge at Onitsha, the city of Enugu, Onitsha, Abakaliki, Owerri, Port Harcourt, Calabar and beyond with the structures that make them were built with cement from Nigercem. It was unbeatable.
And ironically, the limestone and gypsum that ran the cement plant were mined in the state. I assure you factually that the seams have not been exhausted. The two principal raw materials are still lying idle and dormant there waiting to be tapped. In fact, in addition to the gypsum find that kept Nigercem going, another deposit has been found in Edda and Azu Inyaba in Izzi. The data available in my office is that there are well over 25 solid minerals in commercial quantity in the state ready for extraction.
In places like Enyigba, there is granite, gold and lead and the people know there are there as the federal government had in the past issued mining rights to people.”
Before Elechi created a full ministry of minerals development, there had been a sub ministry of solid minerals headed by a special adviser. In about 2008, Dr. Ifeanyi Ikeh was in charge of the portfolio, and he had something akin to a geology lab replete with a display of an array of minerals samples obtained from the mines in the state. The day Saturday Sun visited his office in Abakaliki in February 2008, he studiously showed the reporter round.
The issue today which Prince Ugwuocha champions has been the case in the past, but he assures that the intention is clearer and more serious today – it is to woo investors and miners to the state to tap the resources and keep the state busy.
“The procedure is easy and we want to implement it now. My duty is to work out the modality set by the governor – to scout for investors in the sector who will build their base in the state, extract the minerals and put them into use. Through that, there would be employment for idle hands and the state’s economy will be enriched. In the past there had been arrangements that never actually got much success where investors came and left thereafter. We have a better arrangement now.
The governor has spelt out what the state wants and he has made sure all the incentives that never existed before are in place now with the full compliments of the new ministry. I have an obligation to nurture it into growth, and that is why we urge investors to come. Just get in touch with the local community, indicate what you want and consult our office, we are there to make sure the processes of getting the licence in Abuja to mine is made easy for such investor. My office would do everything possible to facilitate easy and short procedure so that the investor can move into the site immediately. My promise from the mandate I have from the chief executives is that there would be no bottlenecks. I will oversee most of the processes to make sure it works, and fast too.
We want the Nigercem revived or an alternative plant built, and the governor made that very clear. We want more cement plants and we want miners to tap the limestone and gypsum.
I remember very well reading in your paper in March this year the abandoned or neglected oil finds in South East Nigeria. One of the finds is in Edda, here in the state and your records which my office can attest as authentic has it that the Edda oil is the oldest in Nigeria. There is no dispute about it. These endowments have been lying idle for a long time, we want them tapped and the state developed.”
The commissioner said the present move would be the culmination of past efforts by the state government to take this decisive step of exposing the mineral resource base of the state by creating a full ministry to handle the task. It had in the past done some number of things in this direction right from the days of Governor Sam Egwu who also had an adviser on solid minerals. A good instance is the invitation of Chinese and Canadian experts in about 2007 that brought in equipment and manpower to aid in exploration and detection of the minerals in the state.
One of the few well-explored solid minerals in the state are granite and bitumen. The Crushed Rocks Company has been old in Ishiagu. With some other extraction companies, the state had in the past been reaping some gold from this solid endowment. It got heightened when some four years ago the giant Julius Berger discovered an endless seam of granite at Akpoha along the Abakaliki-Afikpo road. The company with its heavy machines has been tearing and searing the land surface and tens of truck-load of granite leave the quarry everyday. It is also the same in the Abakaliki metropolis where smaller granite mines are busy all year round extracting and crushing rocks for use in construction all over the east of the nation.
If Prince Ugwuocha’s ministry gets its acts right and with the right incentives, the state, with the higher aim of the governor, may be on the verge of better economic pedestal through minerals development and the cement production rave it targets.
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