By Osita Mordi
Firstly, let us properly define Igbo land. It covers the entire Southeast “zone” as well as parts of Rivers(Ikwerre, Ekpeye, Ogba and Etche) ; Delta (Anioma); Akwa-Ibom(Ohaobu-Ndoki village), Benue( Ezza, Izzi, Ezzamgbo and perhaps Ulayi); Edo(Anioma related groups); Cross River (Isobo and Izii groups of Obubra) and Bayelsa( Osekwenike-Onyah axis). There are indigenous Igbo people in 11 states of Nigeria. I was tempted toB write this because since the agitation of Biafra went on overdrive, those opposed to the idea often remind the agitators that Igbo land does not have resources and will be unviable. Firstly, the idea of Biafra is not an Igbo one but somehow, the peculiar nature of Nigeria tends to project it in that direction. And secondly, even if we assume that Biafra is only Igbo land (which it was not), there are rich mineral resources within its boundaries which will put any assumption of an unviable Igbo state as unfounded. The issue is that we have failed even as Igbos to exploit these resources to propel the economic development of Igbo land and keep and grow capital in the area. The growing profile of INNOSON comes to mind. Some of the raw materials which are used by the automobile industry are found in abundance in Igbo land or other parts of the old Eastern region. But I am pretty sure that the company “imports” its raw materials from other parts of Nigeria or even beyond the shores of the country. Developing these resources will create employment, and foster economic growth and development of Igbo land. Igbo land occupies an area of approximately 42,000 km2 of area or about 4.5 per cent of the total land area of Nigeria (about 930,000 km2). I am not an expert on geology but this write-up is to reassure ourselves that the territory occupied by Igbos is not as “dry” as claimed by some people. The bulk of the mineral resources of Igbo land is concentrated in the geological area called the “Lower Benue Trough” which extends to parts of Cross River and Akwa-Ibom States. This geological zone is one of the most mineral-rich in Nigeria.
Although claims of the metal have been made for several locations within Igbo land, the present Enugu State seems to be the most viable of the different locations. The history of iron mining and its utilization in parts of Igbo land is a long one. Traditionally, in parts Enugu State such as parts of Nsukka area as well as the Agbaja plateau has been source of the metal. Iron foundries are scattered all over the area. Archaeological findings in such places such as Lejja and Opi in the Nsukka area indicates that Igbo land is the first region in Nigeria to usher itself into the Iron Age. The Lejja findings dates to 2000 BCE while the Opi findings dates to 750 BCE. Thus Igbos or rather the ancestors of Igbo people had been engaged in iron work for no less than 4,000 years. This implies that the ancestors of the Igbo people were among the earliest group of people in the planet to embrace the Iron Age in the planet and among the earliest in Africa. It should therefore not surprise anyone that the bulk of the iron deposits within Igbo land are confined within the borders of the present Enugu State. The total deposit of iron resources in Nigeria is put at about 3 billion tons. About 100 million tons of the mineral is found in the Enugu area (Taber de Polo, 1963) The distribution of the deposits is as follows Ugwueme(30 million tons), Nsude (50 million tons) and Ekulu-River(5 million tons), Onyeabor, 2013. These stones have iron content of 43 per cent. The massive iron resources of the Nsukka area which had for thousands of years been the source of iron-ore which had ushered the oldest iron age center in West Africa had not been fully surveyed. Limonite and other ores of iron occur in great abundance parts of Ebonyi, Imo (as Marcasite) and Abia States.
It is important to note that West Africa’s first steel rolling mill was opened at Emene-Enugu in July 1962 by the Nigersteel Co. Ltd a joint venture between the govt of Eastern Nigeria and some Italian interests. It was planned that the mill would use the 12,000 to 15,000 tons of scrap steel generated annually. It is strange that the Southeast has neither a steel mill nor a steel rolling mill at present.
It is estimated that Nigeria has up to 2 billion tons of limestone reserves. About one-quarter of the total reserves is in within the boundaries of Igbo land. These include (according to Fatoye et al, 2013) the Nkalagu in Ebonyi State with reserves of 174 million tons; from Enugu are those at Nkanu at 110 million tones, Odomoke at 54 million tons and at Ngbo at 2 million tons (Ngbo is possibly in Ebonyi and not Enugu) and lastly from Imo there is the Umuobom reserve estimated at over 100 million tons in the Okigwe axis. The deposits in places such as Afikpo, Ikwo and Ntezi (all in Ebonyi) as well as parts of the old Bende division in Abia State has not been assessed to confirm the quantity of limestone in those areas. It is also important to note that in Uturu, Abia State lies the Ngodo cave. What makes the Ngodo cave unique is the presence of stalagmite and stalactite limestone therein. This Ngodo cave apart from similar caves in Cross River State is the only places with such caves in Nigeria. Cross River also has a some reserves of limestone of exceptionally high quality though in quantity it is much smaller than the reserves of this very important mineral in Igbo land. The limestone reserves in Igbo land can conveniently serve the demands of residents in the area.
The vast deposit at Nkalagu was among the first places in Nigeria where limestone was commercially exploited through the Nigerian Cement Company or ´NIGERCEM. It was established on a joint venture basis between the then Eastern regional Govt and the federal Govt of Nigeria in 1954. Effort is now being made by the Ebonyi State Govt, the Ibeto Group as well as the federal Govt of Nigeria to put life back into the company and serve the demands of property developers across Igbo land. Apart from construction, limestone can be used as a filler in industrial products such as asphalt, rubber, paint, plastic and fertilizers. When heated, the calcium carbonate in limestone decomposes to lime which is important as a flux in copper and lead ores and in making iron and steel.
Igbo land is famous in Nigeria for its coal mines in Enugu. Enugu grew apparently because of the commercial exploitation of coal which was discovered around the city in 1909. This led to the development of the city of Port Harcourt in 1912 whose port would serve as the export route of the coal deposits in Enugu. Before the end of the decade in the 1910s, the exploitation of coal commercially had begun and the city of Enugu grew consequently. The Nigerian Coal Corporation is based in Enugu and prior to the civil war, coal was utilized for the generation of electricity at the Oji River thermal plant also in Enugu State. It is important to note that lignite is a form of coal and it is often designated as “brown coal”. Nigerian coal has certain features which stand out–à it has high volatility which indicates high hydrogen content, the nitrogen content is high, the sulphur content is relatively low and it falls under the sub-bituminous quality and therefore non-coking. However, the coal in Nigeria are rich in resins and waxes and it is of potential interest as a source of chemicals and utilization of plastics as well as the production of benzene, chloroform, coal tar as well as the production of gas (Fatoye, 2013).
Well over 3 billion tons of coal is estimated to occur in Nigeria mainly in the states of Enugu, Kogi (Igala land) and Benue (Idoma land). A significant reserve of lignite occurs in Anioma axis of Delta State. Among the coal reserves are the Onyeama (150 million tons) and Okpara (100 million tons) mines of Enugu, Ezimo (156 million tons) which is also in Enugu State as well as Inyi (50 million tons). But the largest mine so far discovered in Nigeria is the Amansiodo deposit which is well over 1 billion tons and it is yet in Enugu State. From the Anioma axis, lignite occurs in the Obomkpa, Okpanam, Ogwashi and Ugboba axis which is estimated at over 250 million tons. From Anambra is the Oba-Nnewi lignite reserve estimated at 30 million tons while the lignite deposit in Ihioma in Imo State is put at 40 million tons. Coal also occurs in the densely populated Afikpo axis with 50 million tons while the reserve at Awgu also in Enugu is yet to be assessed. Igala land has about 700 million tons in such places like Okaba while Idoma land has about 200 million tons. Beyond this coal region, coking coal has been discovered at Lafia axis with about 156 million tons while studies indicate that the Amansiodo coal is bituminous after all.
Thus as much as two-thirds of the coal and lignite in Nigeria (over 2 billion tons) occurs in Igbo land and has potentials in power generation, manufacturing of chemicals due to its high resin content as well as source of coking coal in the iron steel industry. Some had advocated that exploitation of coal is not environmentally friendly but considering that our coal has high volatility and low sulphur contents, the issue of being harmful to the environment is exaggerated.
Silver ores (and especially Copper) had been exploited since antiquity in parts of Igbo land. Research into the Igbo-Ukwu art treasures, indicates that the sources for the bronze which included copper and silver ores had been obtained locally from ancient mines in parts of the present Ebonyi State (Chikwendu and Umeji, 1983). Since those treasures dates to early 800 CE, it implies that silver and copper mining has been carried out since antiquity in parts of Igbo land. The silver resources in parts of Ebonyi State are the largest of its reserves in Nigeria but there is no official data on the quantity of tons or ounces contained therein in these reserves. These deposits are associated with the highly productive lead and zinc ores “zone” of the Abakaliki area of the State and can be mined as a side product. Silver is used in jewelry, tableware, as well as coinage. Silver is used to coat smooth glass surfaces for mirrors, in circuitry and some compounds of silver is used in medicine, as an antiseptics and bactericide.
- Marble is found in the following states in Nigeria namely Kogi, FCT, Oyo, Niger, Kwara, Edo, Nasarawa, Taraba, Ekiti, Imo (at Okigwe area), Ebonyi (Afikpo area) and Abia (Ohafia area). Little data officially exists in respect of these depositis but the reserves in Afikpo area are among the largest in the country and its put at about 20 million tons. Marble is generally used for building, sculpture, monuments, dimension stones as well as paste, paint making, ceramics, paper conversions, cosmetics, etc.
- SULPHUR /SULPHIDES
- These are also associated with the highly productive lead-zinc reserves of the Lower Benue Trough of the Abakaliki area of Ebonyi State. It exists in in the ores of Silver, Copper, Lead and Zinc which occurs in great abundance in parts of Ebonyi State. Sulphide of iron such as Limonite also occurs in great quantities in this same region of Ebonyi State. (A sulphide of iron called MARCASITE is found scattered in various parts of Imo State). It has been proposed that these sulphides (which will be the source of sulphur) should be mined simultaneously at the same time with the mining of iron, copper, lead, silver and zinc which also occurs in the same area. Sulphur is used in chemical and fertilizer, insecticide, paper, paint, explosives, dye, rubber, oil-refining, textile, sugar etc.
- Gypsum exists in parts of Anambra, Imo, Abia, and Enugu in what should be for all intents and purposes be defined as the gypsum belt of Igbo land. From the Imo axis are deposits in the Okigwe axis and this stretches to parts of Umunneochi (Lokpaukwu) in Abia. In the Anambra axis, Gypsum deposits has been reported in neighboring Orumba and Aguata LGAs while in Enugu, the Gypsum “zone” covers Aninri, Awgu and Oji River axis. In Anioma, a small deposit of gypsum has been reported in parts of Aniocha North. The quantity and quality of these deposits has not been determined yet. Gypsum is used in cement production as well as in the making of plaster and plaster boards and fertilizers.
- This is mainly derived from Calcium fluoride. Fluorite (also called fluorspar) is used mainly in the manufacture of hydrofluoric acid which is used in the manufacture of synthetic cyrolite and aluminium fluoride for the aluminium industry as well as many other applications in the chemical industry. Fluorite occurs in the Lead-Zinc zone of Ebonyi State and its quantity has not been determined yet.
- Ebonyi is called the “Salt of the Nation” on account of its salt and brine resources. For centuries (over 500 years) villagers (mainly women) had been involved in the refining and processing of salts which occurs naturally from salt lakes and springs occurring in towns like Uburu and Okposi in the Ohaozara axis of the State. These lakes are believed to be fed from aquifers which had salt dissolved into it. The salt itself is yet again another resource connected with the “Lead-Zinc” zone of Ebonyi State. Small deposit of salt has been reported in parts of Imo too. Salt is used in the manufacturing of industrial chemeicals like soda, sodium bicarbonate, caustic soda, chlorine and certain acids; the smething and refining of ores and metals, the making of soaps and dyes, the tanning of leather, the preservation of foods, the making of explosives, and the bleaching of cotton and paper (Fatoye, 2013)
- This is associated with Ajalli sandstone (Obaje, 2009). Such occurrence of uranium which was designated as “anomalies” stretches from Angba (possibly Ankpa in the North) through parts of Igbo land to Okigwe in the south. Thus we can assume that uranium ores occur in parts of Imo, Anambra and Enugu States. The quantity, and quality of these Uranium “anomalies” has not yet been determined.
- Cross River State has the largest reserves of Barites in Nigeria. Interestingly the barite zone of Lower Benue Trough stretches well into Ebonyi State and the main deposit lies in the Ishiagu axis of Abakaliki. Barite is used in the oil, paint and paper industries.
- KAOLIN, BENTONITE AND CLAYS
- Clays occur in various designations based on their mineral composition and other geological considerations. Kaolin (often called native chalk “Nzu” in Igbo) occurs widely in all parts of Igbo (including Anioma) except the Rivers Igbo axis. Kaolin had played significant roles in Igbo (African) religion and medicine for millennia. Bentonite yet another kind of clay occur in parts of Enugu, Ebonyi, Anambra and Abia States. Some of the largest reserves of kaolin and bentonite lie within Igbo land. Conventional “clay” is used pottery, building, enamelware, conduits and other electrical appliances etc. Kaolin are used in paints, cosmetics, filler, toothpaste etc while bentonite is used in the oil industry.
- The largest copper reserves in Nigeria possibly lie within Ebonyi State. It may not be wrong to designate the Lead-Zinc region of the mineral rich state as Lead-Zinc-Copper-Silver-Sulphide zone since all these minerals tend to occur together. The Copper comes mainly from Chalcopyrite –an ore of copper which occurs abundantly in the region. Copper has been mined since antiquity in parts of Igbo land (Ebonyi) and research has proven that the lead, zinc, copper and silver ore used at Igbo-Ukwu was sourced from this region of Ebonyi State. Little details exist for the quality and quantity of these copper reserves. But it is believed to be quite vast. Copper is used in electric motors, coins, conductor wires, circuit boards, and many other applications.
- OIL AND GAS SHALE
- According to sources from Ebonyi State, the colonial govt had discovered oil or bitumen in the Edda axis of the state. It is more likely it was an oil-shale discovery. Very little has been done to deliberate explore oil and gas shale in Nigeria clearly because we have conventional sources of oil and gas in Nigeria. Indications suggest that Enugu (in particular), Ebonyi, and Abia states have vast deposits of oil and gas shale.
- Small reserves of phosphates are found in parts of Imo, and Abia States. The deposits in Imo lies in Okigwe, Ihitte/Uboma, Ideato North and Ngor-Okpala LGAs while in Abia are in Umuahia and Amaeke in Arochukwu LGA. There is not yet an estimation of the quantity and quality of the phosphates which is found in these areas. Phosphate is used for fertilizer manufacturing, detergents, metal treatment, water treatment, pulp and paper, glass and ceramics, textiles, plastics, rubber, pharmaceuticals and so many other areas (Fatoye, 2013)
- GRANITE AND BUILDING STONES
- These are stones or rocks which are used in the construction of buildings, roads and other civil engineering areas. Ebonyi also leads other states in hosting the right quality of rocks required for such purposes. Reserves stretches from Ishiagu (to the North) down to Afikpo (to the South) an the state government derives some revenue (as taxes) from companies exploiting those rocks. Smaller occurrence of granite and building stones are in Enugu and Abia States.
- GLASS SANDS and QUARTZ
- Glass sand is a form of silica (sand) which has a desired feature required for the manufacturing of glass and bottles. Glass sand is found in parts of Enugu, Anambra and Abia States as well as Anioma (Delta) and Rivers Igbo areas. Quartz is a purer form of silica and its found in parts of Ebonyi and Enugu States. Building sands are sourced from the numerous rivers and streams. The Njaba river (in Imo) is famous as a source of building sands and gravel but uncontrolled mining has made the site unsustainable.
- This is found in Enugu State (Onyeabor, 2014). This mineral is found along the Nyaba river. Though the report indicates that the deposit is not of commercial quantity, we cannot be certain since the site as well as other possible deposits in Enugu has not been adequately assessed.
- LEAD and ZINC
- According to the federal ministry of mineral resources as much as 5 million tons of lead-zinc occurs in Nigeria. Over 80 per cent of which is concentrated in the Lead-Zinc zone of Ebonyi State. The ore bearing rocks are galena (lead) and sphalerite (zinc) and occurs in great abundance in this region. According to Obaje, 2009, the Ameki lode (a lode is a vein of mineral bearing ore) has a conservative reserves of almost 700,000 tons of lead-zinc yet it is considered modest when compared to the Enyigba-Ishiagu lode. At least four lodes are identified in this region namely Enyigba(Ishiagu); Ameri; Ameka and Echara. Associated with these lead and zinc ores are ores of copper, silver and sulphides. These mines had been known since antiquity and it was from these lodes that the metal workers at Igbo-Ukwu secured their raw materials.
- There have been claims many unproven of deposits of various mineral bearing sites across Igbo land. These include gold, bitumen and bauxite in parts of Ebonyi State; salt, alluvial gold, gravel and bauxite in parts of Anioma; tin, lead, zinc and columbite in Enugu State; feldspar, bauxite, granite and iron ore in Anambra State; while Imo is believed to have reserves of lead-zinc, Rivers-Igbo with coal and Abia with bitumen. In some literature I saw “quartz” and I cannot be sure of what it exactly means. It is possible that it is a kind of granite rock. Many literatures have “laterite” in the list of minerals but this is a very common resource and I did not bother to include it in the list. Zircon probably exists but it has not been documented yet.
- POINTS TO NOTE:
- Geologically the richest regions of Nigeria are the Upper Benue Trough, the Lower Benue Trough, the Middle Benue Trough and the Bida Basin. Over 80 percent of Nigerian solid mineral resources are in these areas. The Lower Benue Trough covers parts of Enugu, Ebonyi and Cross Rivers states. Out of the 44 identified minerals in Nigeria, about half of these minerals occur naturally in the Lower Benue Trough (Fatoye, 2013).
- Kogi, Nasarawa and Ebonyi are the three richest states with solid mineral deposits in Nigeria.
- In Ebonyi, the following minerals are found in commercial quantities- (1) Lead, (2) Zinc, (3) Bauxite, (4) Copper ore, (5) Silver ore, (6) Sulphide (7) Uranium (8) limestone, (9) iron ore (10) oil and gas shale (11) Clays (12) Marble (13) Barites (14) Fluorite (15) Glass sands
- Enugu has the following minerals – (1) Coal (2) Iron ore (3) Clays (4) Oil and gas shale (5) Glass sands (6) Granite (7) Uranium
- Abia has the following —(1) Phosphates (2) Oil and gas shale (3) Gypsum (4) Lead (5) Zinc (6) Copper (7) Glass sands (8) Granite
- Imo has the following —(1) Phosphates (2) Coal (3) Marcasite – Iron (4) Limestone (5) Salt (6) Gypsum (8) Uranium
- Anioma has the following —(1) Coal (2) Gypsum (3) Clays (4) Glass sands
- Rivers-Igbo has the following —(1) Glass sands (2) Clays
- Anambra has the following —(1) Coal (2) Glass sands (3) Uranium (4)Iron Ore
- We still do not have details on the quantity and quality of most of the reserves.
- Mining in the very densely populated area will be very challenging. The most densely populated areas with minerals within Anambra and Imo States should not host any mining activity as a matter of policy. Rather, an intensive system of urban gardening should be developed in those areas.
- Mining could also pose serious health issues if the environmental challenge associated with the industry is not taken care of. This is very important considering that we have large reserves of lead. If care is not taken, our people can be victims of lead poisoning. This is where the issue of illegal mining has to be checked too because these people mine without regards of the environment. Some years ago, hundreds of people especially children died in Northern Nigeria because of poisoning from illegal mining.
- Some of these minerals abound in great quantities such as Coal, Iron Ore, Limestone, Lead-Zinc while others are modest or small such as copper, silver or phosphate. The basic rule we should adopt is that these mineral resources should serve the domestic demands of Igbo land firstly.
- It is difficult to give a monetary value to these identified mineral resources. For example, if we calculate for coal-lignite, Igbo land has almost 2 billion tons in reserves and the present price of coal is around $40 per ton (including transportation), that would translate to $80 billion but that is just for crude coal. When we however transform this coal to useful raw materials or products, the monetary value increases significantly. Igbo coal is highly resinous implying that it is easily broken down to give products like crude oil. In addition, the large lignite reserves can be utilized into the generation of power. Our coal is mainly resin like – therefore it can be refined using the appropriate technology like what SASOL of South Africa is doing. The by-products are similar from crude oil distillation.
- For lead and zinc, the reserves are possibly well over 4 million tons and since the cost per ton is about $2,500, that is well up to $10 billion worth of the mineral in its crude state. These are just crude estimates (for coal and lead-zinc). But the summary is that the monetary value of solid minerals in Igbo land is worth hundreds of billions of dollars (excluding the vast reserves of shale oil and gas).
- Our leaders should do the needful to ensure that these natural wealth are explored for the benefit of our teeming population. Any idea that Igbo land is “dry” or is parasitic should be set aside. Comparing our land area which is less than 5 per cent of the entire geographical space of Nigeria, we have the greatest density of solid minerals to any other region of comparable geographical space in the country.