Stakeholders in Ogun and Ondo State have urged the Federal Government to shift attention from crude oil to bitumen exploration to generate more foreign exchange and boost the nation’s economy.
In Edo they decried the lack of mining activity in the bitumen deposit belts in Edo.
The stakeholders spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in separate interviews in Akure, Abeokuta and Benin on Friday.
They said that bitumen exploration would reduce the high rate of unemployment currently being experienced in the country.
The President, Akure Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr Omolade Owoseni said that Ondo State was very rich in bitumen among other natural resources.
According to him, the exploration of the huge bitumen reserve is the only way to boost revenue and reduce unemployment in the state and in the country.
Owoseni, who applauded Gov. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu for bringing industries and machineries to the site of the bitumen deposit, said it would bring more foreign exchange for the development of the state and Nigeria at large.
“I believe by next year, the exploration should start. It is going to make serious impact on the economy of the state and the country generally; bitumen is like oil.
“Apart from Venezuela and Canada, Ondo State has the third largest bitumen deposit in the world.
“If we can exploit it, it will bring in more money to the economy by the time it is being exported and used locally.
“The greatest problem facing Nigeria now is unemployment. If we start the exploration, it will reduce unemployment by a substantial percentage. It will definitely be a good omen for the country,” he said.
However, for Mr Boye Oyewumi, the Chief Executive Officer, Ondo State Development and Investment Promotion Agency (ONDIPA), the greatest challenge facing bitumen exploration in the country today was funding, especially for the companies involved in the activities.
Oyewumi said that most of the companies involved had been finding it hard to get funds for exploration due to the nature of bitumen.
“Bitumen is expensive to explore you need to mine a lot for it to be worth the while,” he said.
He said that it was one of the reasons for not having illegal miners for bitumen as a lot of mining had to be done to make something substantial.
He said that activities were already ongoing by various companies as regards the exploration of the bitumen reserve in the state.
Oyewunmi said that a firm already had its equipment at a location in Irele Local Government Area of the state for pilot operations.
“Our belief is that since the firm has commenced pilot operations, it will be able to use that to mobilise resources for bigger exploration activities that will eventually culminate into full operations.
“We also have companies like the Dangote group and others, which have already been given license to explore bitumen in our state,” he said.
Mr Abayomi Adesanya, the immediate past Caretaker Chairman, Okitipupa Local Government area of Ondo State, harped on the need for government to take a critical look at bitumen exploration in the country.
Adesanya said that the large deposit of bitumen currently lying fallow in Agbabu in the council area, would solve at least 50 per cent of the youth unemployment and the economic challenges facing the country.
He said that bitumen had enormous economic benefits, especially in the area of reducing cost of road construction and maintenance in the country.
Adesanya recalled that sometimes in March, he constituted a nine-man technical committee on bitumen exploration in the council area as directed by the Federal Ministry of Environment through the state government.
He said that the committee was mandated to understudy and review the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report prepared by the ministry on bitumen exploration and exploitation in the area.
The former chairman said that the committee did its job and sent its report back to the ministry, adding, however, that he was unable to get the feedback before leaving office.
“Gov. Akeredolu had once said that there was now a modular refinery for bitumen exploration in Agbabu.
“We have the largest deposit of bitumen in Agbabu which can help generate a lot foreign exchange and solve at least, 50 per cent of youth unemployment challenges.
“I think this is the best time for the Federal Government to look inward and shift focus from crude oil to bitumen, which also has its own economic advantage,” Adesanya said.
The former council boss, however, said that there the was no illegal exploration of bitumen in the area, stressing that it was not easy to explore and exploit the commodity like crude oil, gold or other mineral resources.
“The only thing, which the local people do, is just to take little quantity of bitumen to spread on their leaking pots, asbestos, zincs and other domestic items,” he said.
A visit to Agbabu community by NAN revealed that a modular refinery, established by a private firm had started exploration of bitumen in smaller quantity in the area.
In Ogun, Mr Femi Onanuga, the Chairman of Ogun Waterside Local Government Council said that the council remained the only local government in the state with bitumen in large deposits.
Onanuga said that government had just started the process of tapping into the resources.
The local government chairman said that an environment impact assessment had been done by the Federal Ministry of Environment in the area.
“As I am talking to you now, the ministry just wrote my office to intimate me of the result of the environmental impact assessment.
“The letter is for us to intimate our people and for us to feed them back before the commencement of exploration of bitumen in our area,” he said.
The chairman said that if bitumen was fully harnessed, it would bring a lot of people into the state, especially the council area and consequently boost economic activities.
In Edo, an NGO, Justice Research Centre (JRC), decried lack of mining activity in the bitumen deposit belt in Edo.
The Director of the JRC, Mr Donald Inwalomhe made this known in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on bitumen exploration in Edo.
He lamented that in spite of the large deposits of the mineral in two local governments of Ovia South West and Ovia North East, the places had been left fallow by successive governments at both state and national levels.
Inwalomhe said that if harnessed, it would have impacted in the economy of the state and by extension the Federal Government.
He stressed that the economic benefits would have translated into improvement in the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and job creation to save foreign exchange for the country.
The JRC director also regretted that in spite of the huge loan taken for the exploration of bitumen in the country by the Obasanjo-led government, the exploration and its mining never saw the light of the day.
“I recall that Obasanjo administration obtained a loan of 900 million dollars from the World Bank for the purpose but because he decided to site the plant in Ogun rather than Ore in Ondo where there is large deposit of the resource, the project did not see the light of day.
“The deposit of this mineral belt in Ore in Ondo State is what extended to Ovia South West and Ovia North East through the Siloko River.”
Inwalomhe however blamed successive state governors in Edo for not paying attention and working with the relevant Federal Government agency on how to harness the mineral resources.
“This is an avenue for the state government to explore in order to boost the dwindling fortune of the state in terms of revenue generation.
“The state government needs to take a data base of all the mining sites in Edo and get a laboratory in the state for such purpose that will make it compulsory for all the minerals resources being explored in the state and must pass through that laboratory.
“This way, the State IGR will be boosted while job several jobs opportunities will be provided, ” he said.
However, Mr Olamilekan Adegbite, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, said using bitumen for road projects would conserve foreign reserves.
The minister said that exploring the nation’s huge bitumen deposits would go a long way in facilitating ongoing road projects and by implication, save the country billions of dollars used yearly to import road infrastructure raw materials.
Adegbite said this while inaugurating a nine-man committee on the development of bitumen resources in his office recently.
He disclosed that Nigeria has about 42.74 billion metric tonnes of bitumen reserves, describing bitumen as an important mineral resource needed for road construction.
“Bitumen is in abundance and the country can explore and exploit for economic development,’’ the minister said.