Stakeholders in the solid mineral sector have called for the full exploitation of the huge salt deposits in some states across the country for local consumption and export. A recent survey indicated that some states had large deposits of salt but virtually all the states had not really utilised the mineral resource to develop their economies.
The stakeholders particularly expressed dismay that Nigeria still imported salt for its local consumption, and over to 23 billion dollars or N3.6 trillion had been reportedly spent on salt importation in the last 10 years.
Some of the states with large salt deposits include Benue, Cross River, Ebonyi,Abia, Taraba and Nassarawa states.
Director, Department of Artisanal and Small Scale Mining (ASM), Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, Mr Patrick Ojeka, said that the creation and implementation of an enabling policy would facilitate the transformation of Nigeria into a salt producing country.
He said that the country was blessed with abundant liquid salt deposits in many states which could be harnessed and refined for sales in the local and international market.
“As an individual, I am not aware of any salt producing industry in our country although, it may exist,” he said, adding that there were tracks of salt that flowed from some states to other states across the country.
“There is a track of salt water in Benue and in Obi Local Government, Nasarawa, but only the locals fetch the liquid and evaporate it into salt, the same track passes through Ogoja in Cross River.
“Some states such as Nasarawa, Ebonyi, Benue, Cross River states are sitting on inland salt boom but only the local women are fetching theliquid and evaporating it into salt.
“If there is a policy and adequate implementation put in place, industries will harness the liquid and refine it into salt, instead of importing the product, which we have in abundance,” Ojeka said.
The survey particularly examined some states with salt deposits such as Abia and Ebonyi, Nassarawa and Taraba to assess their level of utilisation of the saltdeposits to generate revenue and boost their economy.
In Ebonyi, salt deposits can be found in commercial quantities in Uburu, Okposi, Enyigba, waiting to be tapped for the economic development of the state.
However, stakeholders expressed disappointment over the inability of successive governments to harness the huge salt deposits in the state.
Former Chairman of Salt Processors Union in Uburu, Ohaozara Local Government Area, Chief Silas Onyibe, said that government had continued to pay lip-service to the exploitation of salt deposits in the state.
“Successive governments in the state have failed to harness the vast salt deposits,” he said.
Onyibe said that currently, no fewer than 3,000 people were engaged in subsistence salt production, adding that they contributed over N100 million yearly to the government coffers.
“Ebonyi’s slogan, ‘Salt of the Nation’, is given due to its large salt deposits and its salt production capacity.
“It is regrettable that the salt processors, mostly women, who are 40 years and above still use crude and traditional methods of processing salt,” he said.
Mr Nwankwo Ewah, a salt processor at Enyigba, moaned that potential investors in commercial salt production were frustrated by “obnoxious government policies”.
“The investors, including foreigners, have educated us on modern methods of salt production but could not install the modern equipment, worth millions of dollars, due to the government’s policies,” he said.
According to him, the only salt factory in the area, which produced several tonnes of salt daily with at least 500 workers “is finding it difficult to thrive”, noting that the unfriendly atmosphere in the state had encouraged illegal salt processing in the area.
An official of the Ebonyi Ministry of Solid Minerals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that government was zealous to boost its revenue base through salt production.
She said that the state government would soon unveil its blueprint in that regard, adding that local salt producers were constantly encouraged with grants and equipment to boost their production capacity.
According to her, the establishment of modern salt processing facilities in the state was being considered by the government and called for patience on the part of the people.
In Aba, Abia, the Commissioner for Solid Minerals Development, Chief Allwell Asiforo, said that the ministry had concluded plans to partner with Aba Chamber of Commerce and Industry “in identifying and exploring mineral deposits in the state, including salt.
“We are opening our doors to both foreign and local investors to come and help us exploit the huge mineral deposits in Abia,” Asiforo said.
In Nasarawa, the state government expressed its readiness to collaborate with private investors in harnessing the large salt deposits in the state.
The Commissioner for Environment and Solid Minerals, Mr Gabriel Aka’ka, said that Keana and Awe local government areas of the state have large salt deposits.
Aka’ka said that women in the neighbourhoods had been using crude methods to refine the salt, selling the product and earning a living from the business over the years.
He explained that efforts had been made in the past by the state government, in collaboration with the Raw Materials Research and Development Council and the Federal Polytechnic, Nasarawa, toward industrialising the processing of the commodity.
He said during the former Gov. Abdullahi Adamu’s administration, the collaborative efforts led to the fabrication of a salt processing machine by the Federal Polytechnic Nasarawa.
“It includes efforts to have an internal technology built by Nigerians to see how to harness the mining of the salt.
“Unfortunately, the machines could not meet the target and the project was eventually abandoned and the machines were left to rot,” he said.
Aka’ka admitted that not much had been done about salt in the state since that initial government effort to exploit the mineral.
“We believe that public private partnership will go a long way toward the effective and sustainable exploitation of the mineral for the benefit of the state and the people, “ Aka’ka added.
Malam Abubakar Yunusa, a resident of Keana, stated that the salt deposit in the areas was part of their heritage, as the local mining technology had been passed down from generation to generation, spanning over a century.
According to Yunusa, the town derived its name from the man who discovered the salt lake, ‘Ogye Keana’ and decided to settle in the location.
He said that women from each household in Keana were apportioned locations around the lake by a local chief, who was saddled with the administration of the salt lake.
Yunusa noted that during the administration of a former governor, the late Aliyu Akwe Doma, the Dangote Group of Companies was in Keana to start up a salt refining plant “but nobody knows what became of the project”.
He appealed to the government to consider harnessing the salt potential in the areas, adding that apart from being a revenue earner, the salt village could also be developed as a tourist site.
In Taraba, the Chief of Akwana in Wukari Local Government Area ofTaraba, Mr Paul Agbo, urged the state and federal governments to invest in exploiting the huge salt deposits in the area.
Agbo said that the salt in his domain was rich in iodine, adding that investment in exploitation of the salt deposits would modernise the current local extraction processes used in Akwana to boost productivity.
He said that the Akwana District, which covers 41km, could meet most of the country’s salt demand if its potential was properly harnessed.
“With the large quantity of salt in my domain, we have the capacity to produce most of the salt needed in the country if there is the needed investment.
“Therefore, we are calling on the state and Federal Governments to invest in transforming the current local method of producing salt to a modernised one, so that our income level can be increased,” he said.
On his part, a stakeholder in salt management, Mr Simon Sengha, said that salt production, which was the major economic activity of his people since ancient times, was only for local consumption at the moment.
“Salt production in Akwana dates back to the period of Trans–Saharan trade in which merchants from far North usually came to buy salt here and export it to places as far as the present-day Libya.
“The quantity of salt in Akwana is beyond the horizon of ordinary human estimation because, apart from rain, all other sources of water within the vicinity of Akwana town taste salty.
“Advanced technology has yet to be introduced in the process of extraction, filtration, evaporation, crystallization and distillation of the salt.
“The production of salt in Akwana is inadequate to bring about the economy of cost because it takes a great deal of physical labour to record a minimal result,” Sengha said.
Experts say that apart from inadequate modern technology, disruption of mine fields by grazing activities is also a factor constraining salt production in the country.
He, however, said that investment in the salt production could be achieved through the provision of infrastructure and tackling the fragile security situation in the area.
“Government should beef up security in Akwana to mitigate the deteriorating security situation in order to ensure enabling atmosphere of economic growth and development.
“With improved security situation, the resources tapped here will spur economic growth via the creation of wealth and jobs in the midst of scarce resources,” Sengha added.
Yussuf writes for News Agency of Nigeria.