CEO INTERVIEW: “We designed and successfully manufactured a five ton per hour gold wash plant in Nigeria, specifically for artisanal and small-scale miners”
Exclusive interview with Riaan van der Westhuizen, MD, Minutor Mining and Exploration Services – a success story in investment and exploration in Nigeria’s current mining upswing.
Let’s start with some background on Minutor, there is already a proud history there.
I arrived in Nigeria about eight years ago. I am in the exploration business in the mining industry and we had acquired our own mining licences. And the more exploration I did, the more I realised the need for professional exploration services. A lot of individuals and companies approached me and asked me to do exploration for them. At that stage there was no internationally accredited laboratory in Nigeria. Things like sample bags were extremely difficult to source and decent geophysical equipment was nearly non-existent in the country.
Therefore, we set out to create Minutor Mining and Exploration Services and over the past five years, since its inception, we have grown from a company with nothing, to a company with a full geophysics department. We have our own in-house geophysical equipment, IP, ground magnetics, electro magnetics and we have our own in-house prep lab with two XRF stations. We use Micromine as a software package and we currently have four licences to be able to process the data that we are collecting in the field.
Then we also recently purchased drill rigs and we are currently actively drilling in the country.
So, the company has gone from a start-up right through to a company that currently employs a significant number of people and we are actively growing the mining industry in Nigeria.
How would you describe your experience of doing business in Nigeria?
At the beginning it was really difficult because of the lack of exploration infrastructure there. Now that we have the exploration infrastructure in place it is a lot less expensive, a lot easier and a lot friendlier to do exploration and mining in Nigeria. Just because the infrastructure is now present.
Let’s talk about your current projects in Nigeria, what has your attention right now?
Obviously the gold industry with the prices that are skyrocketing.
From an exploration services company perspective, we recently designed and successfully manufactured in Nigeria, a five ton per hour gold plant. It is a wash plant, specifically designed for the gold industry, specifically for artisanal and small-scale miners. It was designed and manufactured in Nigeria and we currently have two units out in Osun State that are actually working and taking gold out of the ground. We intend to distribute these units throughout the country for artisanal gold miners.
Our friends at Stanbic also approached us and are willing to do finance for these plants. So, any of our current and future clients who want to go into the gold mining industry, and have legal licences and the ability to mine legally in an area, can purchase these plants from us and start mining immediately. The plant is very easy to operate and that has taken most of our time in the last 2-3 months to get these plants out and to be able to show people that we can run them and make money out of them.
What would be your advice to someone who is considering investing in Nigeria, particularly in the mining industry?
The Nigerian Mining Act is very attractive for foreign investors, taking into consideration all the tax breaks, that you can operate a 100% foreign owned company in Nigeria and so on. But at the end of the day, one still needs a decent partner or somebody in Nigeria to be able to operate properly. Therefore, I would say the first step is to find the right partner within Nigeria that can, one: support you in your endeavours and in your investment.
Two: use companies that do exploration according to international standards. And we as Minutor are there to do exactly that, assist investors on what is on the ground.
And then three: respect the country where you are operating in, which you are investing in and adhere to the rules and regulations. Then life will be a lot easier when investing in Nigeria.
Overall Nigeria used to have a very bad name as a corrupt country. However, I have found in the last eight years of operating in Nigeria that business is relatively easy as long as you just follow the rules and regulations.
There is an especially big drive from the Nigerian government and the Nigerians themselves to develop the economy and the solid minerals industry in particular, and they are making it really easy for investors to come in, do the job and to get the mines going.
You are South African, are there many South African businessmen active in Nigeria?
South Africans are all over the world at the current moment, but we have recently seen an influx of South Africans into Nigeria, mostly on the exploration side as well as in the hotel industry. More and more South Africans are coming to Nigeria to take advantage of all the greenfield projects that are currently available. I hope to see a lot more South Africans coming to Nigeria because of its potential to do amazing business there.
How has COVID affected your operations on the ground?
In many ways it obviously slowed down business. Part of our services company’s issues were the fact that most exploration takes place during the dry season and COVID arrived in the middle of the dry season. So very little field work took place during the months of March to September. However, we have now generally seen an uptick in enquiries as well as contracts of people wanting to start exploring again. So it has slowed down business, but it hasn’t stopped it, but as always we are forging ahead and we’re doing okay.