[Interview] Carmie Olowoyo, General Manager, Symbol Base Metals, UK
Carmie Olowoyo is general manager of Symbol Base Metals UK, and a panelist during a session on “Infrastructure and transport requirements for mining in Nigeria” at the upcoming iPAD Nigeria Mining Forum.
Let’s start with some background on your company and your main activities in the mining sector?
Symbol Base Metals UK is a Nigerian focussed base metals developer, working on the production of lead and zinc ore from two projects in Bauchi State and Nassarawa State. We are currently conducting exploration in the form of diamond drilling, targeting mineralisation focussed on the areas of historical mining. Symbol has significant mining expertise in the form of directors and key executives who have developed quality mining projects globally. Additionally, key management with the company have experience on the ground in Nigeria, in the form of capital raising and the operation of mining projects.
Any specific projects that you are involved in that you are particularly excited about?
We are excited about the development of both of our projects for varying reasons. There has been significant artisanal mining at each site, which would have been discovered by the locals through surface expressions of zinc and lead ore. Given the scale of the workings and expansive distance they cover, it makes for a highly prospective region. The very high grade nature of the mineralisation is almost unique in the world. We are equally excited about the other opportunities that exist in the Nigerian mining sector. For reasons not limited to infrastructure deficiency, oil, security concerns, investor perception and limited modern exploration, the sector is very much under-developed. We are believers in the unique geology of Nigeria and very much encouraged by the renewed Government focus on solid mineral development. We believe the next couple of years will herald an investment boom into Nigeria, for the benefit of all.
What in your view are the main challenges in the Nigerian mining sector?
The biggest current challenge to the Nigerian mining sector is perhaps not Nigeria related at all. It's the global commodity environment. Metal prices are down at near 5-year lows and investors have had a tough time over the last decade. There is fierce competition for capital globally and exploration capital is even harder to come by. Unfortunately for Nigeria, it is exploration capital that is needed to kick start the sector. There is a significant inherent risk associated with greenfields exploration, Nigeria as a country and the companies developing mining projects in Nigeria must do all they can to limit other investor risks, in order to attract capital.
Another Nigeria specific challenge, also relevant for many African countries, is lack of infrastructure. Mining projects can take a long time to develop and exploration/development capital would prefer to come in when infrastructure is already in place, the infrastructure deficiency in Nigeria is significant. Security concerns also pose a challenge to investors, investment and the development of the Nigerian mining sector.
You are part of a panel discussion at the upcoming iPAD Nigeria Mining Forum on infrastructure and transport in the sector. What will be your main message?
A key theme will be the relationship between infrastructure and mining. Mining projects need capital and to get capital, direct access to quality infrastructure needs to be presented. Internationally, junior and mid-tier mining and companies have found it increasingly difficult to access infrastructure required in order to make their projects commercially viable. In Nigeria, there is a lack of that infrastructure. It’s a common story and a difficult message to sell to investors; great project but there’s no power, no rail and congested ports. Resource projects, particularly those involving bulk commodities can transform local economies due to the sheer size of the projects. In addition to the direct developmental benefits that a mining project can deliver such as employment, they can also help mitigate some of the financing risk associated with developing infrastructure projects in emerging markets. These risks include, for instance, revenue concerns/offtake.
As an example, an integrated power project, which has as its key off taker in a robust mining project, goes a long way to alleviating concerns regarding creditworthiness. Many mining projects are now being funded by production incentivised capital. Infrastructure is needed for production, production is needed for development capital, so a project call stall before it starts, due to lack of infrastructure. Historically there has been very little cross pollination of projects or integration of long term goals between mining and infrastructure developers. The main message will be that due to the delayed development of the Nigerian mining sector, an opportunity exists to link mining and infrastructure development for an exponential net benefit, learning from the miscues of other more developed mining sectors internationally.
How necessary is a gathering such as the iPAD Nigeria Mining Forum for the industry?
The iPAD Mining Forum and such events are very important in the development of the industry. Conferences such as this bring together the key people and companies associated with project development. Communication is held face to face and new ideas are born. It provides an opportunity for those who don't know Nigeria to visit which will be the first step on changing international perception. The growth of the inaugural iPAD mining conference will be driven by the growth in the mining sector and vice versa, it's a very important symbiotic relationship.
What is your vision for the industry in Nigeria?
My vision for the Nigerian mining sector is that over the coming years there will be an equal number of production companies as exploration companies. Also that their will be success stories from the current explorers and miners, that will lead to a second significant international investment wave into the sector. I also would like to see appropriate opportunity, strategy and structure granted to the numerous artisanal miners to establish what they need, whether it is an income for survival or development of a flourishing, productive business.
Anything you would like to add?
Look forward to seeing you on November 18!
This interview was originally published on i-Pad Nigeria