An established and well managed solid minerals sub-sector will accelerate economic, social and political growth of Nigeria by provision of gainful employment and a rise in national income earnings far exceeding the petroleum sector. In addition, solid minerals will provide local raw materials for industries and bring vital infrastructure and wealth to rural areas.
Solid minerals have capacity to provide the all-important launching pad for the development of other sectors of the economy as well as give sense and meaning to the oneness of the Nigerian state as minerals are located in all states of the Federation. This will douse the agitation for resource control. It is therefore vital that the nation explores this latent potential which has slumbered over the years.
Solid minerals contributed immensely to the economic development of Nigeria in the pre-independence years. During this period, Nigeria was known for the production of coal as an energy source for electricity, railways and also for export. Tin, Columbite, Lead and Zinc were exported. Nigeria was the largest producer of Columbite at one point. The earnings from solid minerals were used to develop roads, education, hospitals and in fact develop the petroleum industry.
The decline of the solid minerals industry started with the discovery of oil to an extent that Nigeria became a mono product economy and vulnerable to international oil politics. The domineering role of oil did not allow past governments to attend to global challenges that evolved in the development of solid minerals.
The neglect of the minerals industry led to disorder in the mines field with strong presence of illegal miners whose activities are characterized by inefficient mining, illegal trading of highly priced minerals, severe ecological degradation, spread of diseases and huge loss of revenue to the government through smuggling.
On the other hand, Mining continues to play a key role in the development of Africa’s economies. Countries like South Africa, Ghana and Tanzania, remain critically dependent on the earnings of solid minerals. As a result, countries introduced liberal reforms to meet intense competition to attract investment funds. Ghana for example undertook significant reforms both in legal and institutional frame-work and to the general organization of the sector. The result has been growth in mining investment. Tanzania is now a leading destination for exploration funds due to the deliberate government attention to the development of mining. Burkina Faso and Mali have also become strong mining countries.
Following the global economic recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s, developing countries started liberalizing their external trade to improve balance of payment, increase economic growth through the provision of incentives to attract capital in-flow and investment.
The developing countries especially in Africa and Latin America turned to Solid Minerals exploration as a solution to sustained economic growth. Nigeria’s economy which is largely dependent on a mono-product (petroleum) became vulnerable to fluctuations in oil prices with the attendant shocks on the economy.
This informed the Federal Government’s decision to diversify the nation’s economic base from oil to the non-oil sectors including the development of solid minerals resources.
One of such minerals that have been identified for development is columbite ore. They are known to occur in the following states Plateau, Kano, Kaduna, Bauchi, Kogi, Kwaara and Nasarawa States. Because of the numerous uses of Columbite, there is steady and increasing demand for the product.
Columbite, also called niobite, niobite-tantalite and columbite [(Fe, Mn) Nb2O6], is a black mineral group that is an ore of niobium. It has a submetallic luster and a high density and is a niobate of iron and manganese.
Columbite has the same composition and crystal symmetry (orthorombic) as tantalite. In fact, the two are often grouped together as a semi-singular mineral series called columbite-tantalite or coltan in many mineral guides. However, tantalite has a much greater specific gravity than columbite, more than 8.0 compared to columbite’s 5.2.
Columbite is also very similar to tapiolite. Those minerals have same chemical composition but different crystal symmetry: orthorhombic for columbite and tetragonal for tapiolite. The largest documented single crystal of columbite consisted of plates 6 millimeters (0.24 in) thick measuring 76 by 61 centimeters (30 × 24 in).
Source of columbite ore used as an alloy of steel to form weldable high speed steel for radio transmitting valves, heat sensitive detective devices called barometer, for jet engines and other aircraft components.
Coltan or Columbite Tantalite is used primarily for the production of tantalum capacitors, used in many electronic devices.
It is also used in high temperature alloys for air and land based turbines. The upsurge in electronic products over the past decade resulted in a peak in late 2000 with inflated high demand and price increases for the mineral which lasted a few months.
This report seeks to examine the financial viability or otherwise of mining 4,000 tons of columbite rock monthly and processing same into columbite ore of 60%.