By re-stating his commitment to developing the solid minerals sector, the Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, was ironically pointing at the government’s own inadequacies at identifying what is good for Nigeria and mustering the will to promote it.
Fayemi’s latest commitment, expressed during his inaugural press briefing on the activities of the ministry, was a mere restatement of all that Nigerians have heard before about a sector that, if properly developed and managed, can add immense economic value to the country, but over which little or nothing has been done. At the risk of stating the obvious, the repetitive expression of commitment by government, will not diversify Nigeria’s mono-product economy. A number of fundamentals, including implementation are vital to developing the sector. And in this, as in all else, the buck will ultimately stop at the president’s desk.
Fayemi said the main focus of his ministry is to reposition mining activities and ensure the sector contributes immense growth to the economy within a decade. He also declared that the government was determined to make the Ajaokuta Steel complex work despite an alleged “international conspiracy” to sabotage the project. The minister disclosed that the solid minerals sector currently makes up about 0.34 % of GDP, which translates to about N400 billion in value to the economy.
He regretted that the sector has been operating far below capacity, and promised that from March, any current holder of a mining license who fails to use it would forfeit such when the ministry would start enforcing the “use it or lose it” doctrine as enshrined in the 2007 Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act.
It is disheartening to hear Fayemi speaking bombastically about his commitment to solid minerals development. It is also needless to state the numerous direct and multiplier benefits of a developed and sustainable solid minerals sector – as well, of course, as the harmful impact if it is not monitored and regulated. However, talk is cheap. It boggles the mind that there have been, for years, so much talk -seminars, workshops, conferences and numerous other talk-shops – but little production in the sector. It does not require any special skill to appreciate the enormous minerals resources that Nigeria is endowed with. What has been lacking is the wisdom and the will to exploit them.
The opportunities are almost endless. There is absolutely no state in Nigeria that is not endowed with solid minerals that, if exploited efficiently, will exponentially enlarge their revenue base. From Abia through Benue to Sokoto; from Bayelsa through Enugu, Osun and Kogi to Plateau, Nigeria is blessed with at least, 44 varieties of solid minerals many of which exist in commercial and exploitable quantities. Indeed, many of these are strategic minerals, so-called because they are critical to the manufacture of high-tech products, as well as for military and other strategic purposes.
It is, for instance, estimated that three billion tons of iron ore deposits in states from Kogi through Edo to Niger and Nasarawa; 42 billion tons of bitumen in Ondo and Ogun states, and 600 million tons of proven coal reserves in Enugu and Ondo states.
So too are barite and bentonite in Adamawa and Plateau states. Iron ore is also found in Kwara and Benue, uranium in Bayelsa and Cross River, columbite in Kwara and Osun, mica in Kaduna, and gold in Zamfara, Abia, and Kebbi. Precious gemstones exist extensively in Benue, Ondo, Kano and Gombe. Similarly, coal, gypsum and bitumen are in abundance in many states of the federation. All these are waiting for purposeful action on the part of government.
Alas, government appears to lack the sense of purpose that can drive the exploitation of these blessings of nature. In total violation of the fundamental principles of federalism and subsidiarity, the federal government has arrogated to itself the ownership of the minerals-bearing lands in the federation. The 1999 Constitution puts “mines and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, geological surveys and natural gas” under the Exclusive List granted to the Federal Government. Furthermore, the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act, vests in the Federal Government control of all properties and minerals in Nigeria and prohibits unauthorized exploration or exploitation of minerals.
The Act decrees that all lands in which minerals have been found in commercial quantities shall be acquired by the Federal Government in accordance with the Land Use Act. The sad consequence of this unitary law is that owners of mineral-yielding lands are denied direct and immediate benefits except as determined by the whims of a distant authority at the center.
In specific terms, Zamfara and Enugu cannot exploit their coal deposits to generate badly needed electricity, nor can Niger, Ebonyi, and Sokoto exploit their gold deposits to augment internally generated revenue. Ondo and Ogun cannot benefit from their large bitumen deposits. The same applies to Borno, Kaduna and Ogun blessed with precious gemstones, among other minerals. And so the states remain cash-strapped and desperately await the often insufficient monetary allocations from the Federal Government. This situation defies logic and is out of tune with the way development-minded governments operate.
Over the years, there have been only token measures to holistically implement a plan that will benefit the national economy. Instead, the exploitation of solid minerals has been for purposes of patronage through less than transparent procedures.
Corruption in its many forms and at various levels has been a major obstacle. Politicians and well connected persons get permits to exploit minerals in collusion with foreign interests that carry on with scant regard for the environment of the local community. The result is environmental degradation and a severe damage to the livelihood of the people.
Some of these challenges are for the government to tackle. In sum, to develop the solid mineral sector is a task to which the new minister and other tiers of government and relevant agencies must commit themselves. The government must not allow a repeat of the bad experience in the Niger Delta. And deriving from the happenings in the oil and gas sector, Fayemi must fully involve the Nigerian Content Development Board in the design and implementation of a Roadmap on Solid Minerals.
Beyond talk-shops and woolly roadmaps, a more fruitful solution is for government to do the right thing. Firstly, the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act and the Land Use Act, on which the current arrangement is predicated, should be replaced with a law that devolves ownership, exploitation, and benefits of mineral resources to the real owners of the land.
In the long term, the Nigerian federation must operate in consonance with the letter and spirit of federalism as universally understood and practiced. This done, many things out of shape, will indeed fall into their proper places and Nigeria as a federation would certainly derive deserved benefits from the many solid minerals in the country.