The Group Executive Chairman, Eta Zuma West Africa Limited, Dr. Innocent Ezuma, in this interview with EVEREST AMAEFULE, says the continued use firewood to cook in Nigeria is a shame, and unveils plans to replace the fuel with coal briquettes
Nigeria is very rich in mineral resources. Right now, it wants to leverage these mineral deposits to diversify its economy. Why are the global operators in the industry shunning Nigeria?
The major operators or world players in the mining sector are interested in going to countries where there are scientific data on a particular mineral of interest. In Nigeria today, you cannot say that we have relevant data.
Exploration of mineral resources is still at its infantry. So, I think that the government should encourage companies like ours, Eta Zuma Group West Africa Limited, that are totally committed to conducting exploration activities with all the state-of-the-art equipment.
By the time that is done, you have proven reserves that the global champions can see and evaluate and then get interested. They don’t want to waste their time coming to conduct exploration activities because it is time-consuming; it is risk – a lot of risk and a lot of money. They really don’t have the time.
Why did you decide to focus on exploiting coal and how far have you gone in this?
Coal is one of the major sources of power generation. It is one of the most important fuels for power generation. And they say no power, no future. Our country, with over 170 million people, is generating 5,000 megawatts; it is a shame. It is completely not acceptable to me as a Nigerian living in Nigeria at this time.
So, I said, I must find a solution to this problem. Actually, Eta Zuma Group is in the business of providing simple solution to complex business problems. We find this as an input to our businesses.
You must know that we invested huge amount of money to develop one of the best exploration companies in Nigeria with equipment including brand-new Boart Longyear drilling rigs, mobile laboratory, mobile workshop, Portacabin – everything that is required.
So, we cannot stop exploring. We continue exploring. Yes, we have finished the first phase. Nigeria has about 380 million tonnes of coal. We have done seismic mining successfully and we are now mining commercially.
We are now providing coal to our cement manufacturers. The millions of dollars they paid before to foreign countries to buy coal, they now conserve it and then use our local coal, which is very good. This is one of the dividends of our efforts – the contribution of Eta Zuma Group to the Nigerian economy.
Do you have any idea how much this intervention would be saving Nigeria in terms of foreign exchange conservation?
I will tell you that I was the motivator to the richest black man in the world – Alhaji Aliko Dangote – going into coal mining. So, every other private organisation today that is mining coal is doing it because we went ahead and succeeded. We have shown that it can be done.
So, if you include our capacity, their capacity and that of other small players, you are talking about something in the region of 200,000 tonnes of coal per month and it is increasing every day because requirements are increasing. If you take it at $80 or $100 per tonne including shipping, you are talking about $20m. So we are saving the country $200m every month on importation of coal.
Dangote has opened two mines now. He is mining his own. The imports have drastically reduced. The idea is that we support him to ensure that he does not import again. He wants to support local businesses like ours. In fact, he told me personally that he would be taking a minimum of 20,000 tonnes from me every month irrespective of his own mines.
We are happy with the Dangote Group and the president of the group himself. He has given us various support. He even pays us in advance to enable us to buy huge equipment.
Now everybody is doing it. BUA is calling me. They want to go into coal. They are now retrofitting their Sokoto cement plant. They want coal. They will retrofit their Edo cement plant to use coal. Even Lafarge plant in Ewekoro is on coal. They are also doing Port Harcourt coal.
These are resources that we have hitherto been importing into the country and wasting foreign exchange. There are so much activities that the Eta Zuma Group intends to pioneer and champion in the solid minerals exploration and mining sector.
With all these companies that are supposed to be your customers now mining coal for their own use, don’t you feel threatened?
We are very happy for more companies to come into this sector. That was our aim. Our aim was not to mine it and keep it alone. It is too big. We have 380 million tonnes of coal, proven. So, if you are mining one million tonne every year, we will require 380 years to mine the whole coal.
So, does it make sense holding it? And this is less than 10 per cent of Nigerian known coal reserve. So we want them to come in; we are not threatened because our business actually is not to sell coal. Our business is to use the coal to generate electricity for our people. We need to give people electricity.
Apart from using coal in the cement factories, what other use are you putting coal into?
Oh, we have our darling project that is very close to our heart. That is the coal briquette and coal stove project. This is the only project of such magnitude in the whole of West Africa.
People are dying from loot and sooth. It is the second biggest killer in Africa, outside malaria. We have developed an excellent technology that could make coal briquettes. It is very strong. It can be transported anywhere. We can now cook with smokeless briquettes – no smoke, no soot. It is a life-saver.
When compared in cost, it is almost as cheap as firewood. So, why do we continuously deplete our forests, our gardens, our plantations, and our parks because we are looking for firewood and charcoal? We have developed the briquettes to reduce the rate of desertification and erosion encroachment in our dear Nigeria, and even Africa.
In terms of cost, it is cheap and affordable. Five kilogrammes will cost about N600 whereas charcoal briquettes of the same measure cost between N1,500 and N2,000 in some places. So, our own is much cheaper.
Nigeria in the 21st century does not have business using firewood to cook. To me as a Nigerian, it is a personal insult. So, I take it as my personal challenge to eliminate the use firewood as domestic fuel. I take it as my personal duty to eradicate it. May God help all of us.
Assuming the campaign succeeds and you create the demand, what capacity do you have to meet the demand?
We will ramp up our capacity; just as when we started the coal production. You know when we started coal; we were doing 10,000 tonnes a month, increasing to 25,000 tonnes. Now we are doing 100,000 tonnes. And we are increasing. God willing, one day, we will be doing one million tonnes.
When you begin full production, what quantity of briquettes will you be producing?
We will be producing 2,000 tonnes per month. We are also expanding to another 10,000 tonnes per month to make it 12,000. We want to get to 55,000 tonnes per month. That will be able to serve about 11 states in Nigeria.
How about the cooking stoves to drive the use of the coal briquettes? Is it affordable, because you said you are targeting the rural communities?
This is where government should come in. You can actually use the coal briquettes in the conventional tripod or any way you use firewood but you will not get maximum benefit because the air will be blowing it; just as it blows the firewood. That means you will use more quantity but if you use the stove, you achieve maximum value.
With the stove, you can cover the inlet and outlet. When you cover it, it is out of oxygen. If within 24 hours you still want to cook, you can remove the covers and it will ignite by itself. When it is cooking, the outside is cold because it is proofed.
Can these stoves be produced in Nigeria?
We have already reached agreement with the producers that by the time we buy about 500,000 units, we will buy the equipment and start producing it here. We should start producing everything here because importing can be tedious.
At the end of the day, you will be an energy firm and not a mining firm?
The Eta Zuma Group is actually supporting these companies. We will remain Eta Zuma Group focused on providing premium solutions to complex business challenges in solid minerals in primary and secondary economic sectors.
So, Eta Zuma itself is not the company that is doing the production. The briquette company is IMEX. So we are supporting and powering IMEX to achieve its purpose. IMEX is our client company. We are not Dangote but we are powering them by giving them coal, to also let them know that they can mine the coal. We provide answers to complex challenges.
What impact do you think this coal briquette can make on employment in the country?
We are going to have 5000 persons directly employed by the project. It is a chain. First, we have the producers – those mining coal for this; then the transportation of the coal from the coal mine to the briquette plant. Then there is the production of the briquette, the distribution of the briquette from the coal mine to the states’ big warehouses; then to other levels. It is a network. In fact, it is a mass empowerment project.
We are using one stone to kill several birds. One, it will improve the health of our people who hitherto suffer from bronchitis, asthma, and all related ailments due to inhalation of soot.