Nigeria hopes to dig itself out of an economic hole with plans to have 50 mines operational by 2023.
[Nigerian mining minister Olamilekan Adegbite, saying:] "People are beginning to come to us, they are interested in coming to Nigeria..."
Mining minister Olamilekan Adegbite says if it wasn't for lockdown restrictions, new players would already be entering the market as the country tries to grow the mining sector tenfold over the next five years, and diversify away from oil, where prices have collapsed.
In particular, Adegbite said Nigeria aims to process barite - used in drilling for oil and gas - for export to countries such as Ghana and South Africa which need the mineral to exploit new oil discoveries.
"Right now Morocco supplies the continent. I think we are closer to Ghana and also closer to South Africa in terms of geography, so I think we will be able to compete with Morocco to supply those two countries."
Africa's biggest economy was hit hard when crude oil, on which its economy overwhelmingly depends, plunged to two-decade lows this year.
Gold, on the other hand, hit record highs in August.
By formalizing the artisanal mining sector, authorities hope to generate tax and royalties.
But there's a problem: most of Nigeria's gold is in the north west where humanitarian organisations say it has helped fuel violence attributed to armed groups.
Adegbite said small scale miners are being encouraged to form co-operatives and sell at government-run buying centers rather than deal with "criminals".
"These are foreigners who come into Nigeria and hide behind the artisanal miners. Our artisanal miners are recognized for who they are, they are people who are into their subsistence living, so we are not criminalizing them. Rather we are trying to organize them into groups, into co-operatives so that we can avail them with all the incentives."
Adegbite also expects more commercial gold miners to be attracted to Nigeria once Thor Exploration's mine in the southwest starts producing. Its first gold is expected in the second quarter of 2021.