Home » Q&A with Nigerian mining entrepreneur Emotan Josephine Aburime-Shine

Q&A with Nigerian mining entrepreneur Emotan Josephine Aburime-Shine

by Yusuf Abdulfatai

Nigeria exports more than 35 million metric tonnes of unprocessed solid minerals every year. But most of these mineral exports are carried out by foreign nationals that ship out unprocessed minerals from the country without adding value to the commodities, thereby undermining the country’s mineral sectors.

Emotan Josephine Aburime-Shine, a Nigerian mining entrepreneur, is working hard to fix this. Her company, Piramen Ventures Limited, mines industrial minerals as well as precious and semi-precious gemstones. It processes its own mined gems and even gems that it buys from local dealers. Its gem processing department cuts, polishes, carve and tumble gemstones to add value to them.

Her company is also investing heavily in artisanal and small-scale miners in Nigeria by training them on how to identify materials in their communities, as well as safer and more productive mining practices. Emotan has successfully trained lapidarists on gemstone beneficiation over the last few years, and there is a waiting list of applicants.

She recently spoke to Billionaires.Africa on her journey and Piramen’s plans.

Q: What led you into venturing into the mining sector?

A: I was fortunate to be raised by an intelligent, hardworking mother who was a successful businesswoman in her own right. So, I became a director at my mother’s company at a young age. Her company is called Vesa Group, and it is a household name in Nigeria in the importation and wholesale of frozen fish. I guess you can call me a fisherwoman… but I don’t cast no nets.

We were very close, so I would go everywhere with her whenever I was on holiday in Nigeria and I guess that was where my interest in entrepreneurship began. When I turned 21, I became a mother and this fuelled my ambition to achieve as I wanted the very best for my children. I took on the responsibility of cultivating relationships with international suppliers while I was living in the United Kingdom by attending trade fairs and other events. In a nutsehell, I built most of the important connections for purchase which our family business, Vesa Group, enjoys today.

At the same time, I was already a recording artist by the age of 16. I made my first studio album with the record label Espirit music UK but never had time to focus or tour for the album as I was very involved in my family business and raising my young family.  However, when I moved back to Nigeria in 2015-2016,  I was fortunate to come in contact with the right people in Nigeria’s mining industry. I started off in the mining industry by securing a Mineral Buying License because at the time I primarily wanted to just buy and hold Nigerian gemstones as an investment. But then, as I bought gemstones and other minerals from Artisanal miners and other local players in the mining industry, I discovered that the mining sector was very underdeveloped. As I dug deeper, I saw just how badly Nigeria was being robbed of her resource wealth – particularly from unscrupulous foreign businessmen who come in Nigeria, mine our resources and smuggle them out of the country without remitting taxes to the Nigerian government or improving the communities they steal so blatantly from.  Just like my music, I felt like mining was a calling from God for me to step in and it was a call I chose to answer by venturing into mining.

Q: Can you provide some background into Emotan Global’s operations and the major accomplishment of its flagship subsidiary, Piramen Ventures Ltd.? How did you get started in the mining industry, and where are you at today?

A: It was very difficult to get started as I was living in London at the time, and because the northern part of Nigeria is the stronghold of the mining business in Nigeria, I had to settle down in Abuja. I had no home or family in Abuja so it was difficult finding my footing here. I also had to give up on buying all my favorite designer clothes and other vanity items I enjoy in order to plough all my saving and earnings to get things moving. This was new territory for me, and with a firm warming from my mother not to borrow any money, it was particularly difficult.

As I said, my journey began in buying gemstones and other metals from local miners after I acquired my mineral buying license. Once, I started buying I found it was a big help for the local miners who where before that time only selling to foreign companies, and I got tales of their hardship and unfair trading platforms in place that made it very difficult for them to survive.

From my research, I found that most mining in Nigeria at that time was artisinal mining. These small-scale, informal miners in rural areas were usually unaware of the value of the gemstones they were mining, so they were often exploited by formal, unregistered buyers and their agents – who often underpaid these miners. So, I started buying from them – paying them fair prices for their gemstones. I registered two mining companies – Emotan Global Ventures to explore for gold on a site we have discovered in Abuja – and Piramen Ventures, to focus on Gemstone mining, processing and trading.

I decided that my companies would set out to discover mining sites and document them and offer proper training to the local communities on how best to recognise the materials within their communities, sensitise them on the value of the materials so they are not exploited, and teach them safer and more productive mining practices. Over time, we have acquired a significant portfolio of mining rights and licenses in Nigeria for both Emotan and Piramen. We have also substantially invested in many small-scale mining operations across Nigeria. I am currently discussing with several companies now that our licenses are in place as to the best ways to utilise each site to it full potential.

Q: In the 1970s mining contributed 50 percent to the country’s GDP, today Nigeria’s mining sector contributes less than 0.3 percent to GDP. What went wrong and how can Nigeria boost private investment in exploration and mining?

A: The absence of proper education regarding our natural resources – their properties and applications, has played a role in the stagnancy of the mining sector in Nigeria.

The notion that mining requires massive investment and industrialization has also scared away many potential investors in the sector. If you can generate local interest and local use cases for the minerals we have, there will be more local investment in the sector, and as a result of this local investment and interest in addressing local requirements and needs, you will find that solutions found locally become applicable to other nations.

This is what I mean to say: If we produced metals to make solar panels and batteries – among other things – and the government encouraged people to develop solutions for the processing of raw materials to make this a reality, the produced goods would be significantly less expensive than imported finished goods with added shipping and foreign processing costs. Imagine producing so many solar panels and batteries locally that power reaches even the most remote villages, transforming them into mini-cities. If we could reduce the amount Nigerians spend on foreign imports by half and use that money to purchase locally sourced and manufactured goods, the economic outlook would change dramatically. Government could incentivize new ventures that promote the use of locally sourced materials. Also, there should be tax holidays  for mining companies and government-backed funds to support mining ventures.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a gemstone miner in Nigeria today?

A: The greatest challenge has been the issue of security. This makes everything more difficult. It affects the type of workforce you can employ for the sites, it affects proper management and has affected the kind of partnerships and foreign investors one can attract.  Another big problem is the transportation cost of moving materials from site, especially with the very high price of diesel now, and poor infrastructure such as bad roads; a poor trading infrastructure in the country particularly the lack of internationally recognized certification centers. As a  country we also need to provide our own locally trusted standards for identification of gemstones and metals, especially for the more difficult to identify materials. Other problems include lack of skilled workers for treatment and polishing of materials to international standards among other things.

Q: What has your experience been like as a woman in the male-dominated mining sector.

A: Well, I guess for me, my experience has been generally great due to my strong business background and general philosophy. I’m quite a determined person once I set my marks, so challenges are met in a manner that leads to solutions rather than defeat. So, I’m not easily intimidated, but generally I haven’t found my gender to be an hindrance in my involvement in mining.

Q: As a successful entrepreneur, what advice would you give to young entrepreneurs looking to build successful businesses?

A: I guess it’s best to set clear targets and goals, do your research before and commitments, have a good plan for funding…I don’t encourage loans too much. Learning your way up is the best advice I can use to finish as the learning and growing never ends.

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