Thor Explorations aims to lead Nigeria's new mining pack

LONDON (Reuters) - Canada-listed junior miner Thor Explorations THX.V aims to bring Nigeria's first large-scale gold mine online in early 2020, its CEO said, as the West African country seeks to diversify its economy away from oil and gas.

Following the commodity price crash of 2015-16, the World Bank in April 2017 said it was providing funds to help the Nigerian government develop its neglected mining sector.

Projects under way include Thor Explorations’ Segilola Gold Project, located in Osun State, which CEO Segun Lawson says aims to produce gold in the first quarter of 2020 and has probable gold reserves of around 500,000 ounces.

“Thor is currently developing the country’s most advanced gold mine,” Lawson said in a telephone interview. He says he has a mining and exploration license and is considering his options for raising $72 million to get the mine into production.

Lawson bought the Segilola project in 2016 for $3.1 million in cash plus 6 million Thor shares.

He promises rapid payback on the investment once production starts. Thor Exploration's stock has climbed 50 percent this year while gold prices XAU= have only risen around 1 percent.

The World Bank has provided around $150 million to the Nigerian government to kickstart non-oil sectors after the economy was hit by a fall in oil prices, which are now recovering.

The Bank’s funding is meant to help the government formalize the artisanal mining sector, improve environmental practices and support infrastructure improvements for larger scale mines.

Mining provides only around 0.5 percent of GDP, according to World Bank figures, as the sector has struggled to attract foreign investment and to meet domestic needs, forcing costly imports.

The oil sector accounts for an estimated 8.7 percent of GDP and is critical for foreign exchange and fiscal revenue.

The World Bank in emailed comments said gold “offers good prospects” although many miners say other metals, such as iron ore, are more useful.

Martin Wood, CEO of Australian-listed Kogi Iron KFE.AX, would not put a date on when the company could begin production in Nigeria, but said it was looking for investors to provide around $350 million.

The company plans to build a steel plant using local iron ore and coal.

While a project in land-locked Kogi state, is not well-positioned to export, it has the infrastructure to sell domestically and could envisage 100 percent profit margins, while reducing Nigeria’s import dependency, Wood said.

Editing by Jason Neely