Nigeria not on Barrick Gold’s “target list” despite minister’s enthusiasm for talks

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BARRICK Gold hadn’t put Nigeria on its “target list”, according to a company spokeswoman responding to comments by the West African country’s mines minister that the Canadian gold producer and Rio Tinto were interested in investing there.

“Nigeria is not on our target list,” she told Bloomberg News by email. Rio didn’t respond to an email seeking comment, the newswire said.

Olamilekan Adegbite, Nigeria’s mines minister, said at a mining conference in Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh this week that both companies had shown an interest. “They are looking at the possibility of coming to look at opportunities in Nigeria,” he said.

According to Bloomberg News, Adegbite is hoping investors follow the example of Thor Explorations which built Nigeria’s first industrial gold project. Thor poured first gold from its mine in southwestern Nigeria in July and is targeting output of 85,000 oz a year.

Nigeria has sizeable reserves of metals including gold, zinc, lead and iron ore, but nearly all extraction is done informally with rudimentary equipment. Before Thor’s launch, the contribution of mining to gross domestic product stood at less than 0.1%, said Bloomberg News.

The country is seeking to reduce its dependence on oil production. The government intends to auction rights to mine gold, lithium, copper and limestone later this year, Adegbite said.

In the 1960s and 1970s, mining made up 4% to 5% of Nigeria’s GDP, before major operations shut down and crude oil came to dominate the government’s agenda, said Bloomberg News.

Gold smuggling has also been a problem, with much of it destined for Dubai, according to Adegbite, who is seeking help from authorities in the United Arab Emirates to stem the flow. “We are in discussion with the UAE government to stop such practices,” he said. “We’re getting some traction.”