Nigeria’s deposit of solid minerals is immense but its exploitation is poorly organised; lives of miners are endangered, and the revenue generated from the sector is paltry.
This has been the case over the years, in spite of the effort made during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration when Obiageli Ezekwesili, as minister of Solid Minerals, produced a blueprint for exploiting 34 of Nigeria’s solid minerals.
These solid minerals are widely spread across 450 locations in most of the 36 states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Functioning rails and roads, among other things, could renew commercial interest.
We have gold in commercial quantities in Osun, Oyo, Kwara, Zamfara, Kebbi and Kaduna States. Between 1933 and 1943 when production peaked, Nigeria exported some 3.2 million ounces of gold. Nigeria has the second largest reserves of tantalite in the world. Tantalum-niobium, a rare metal used by high technology and aerospace industries, is available across a belt stretching from Nassarawa State and FCT across to Ilesa in Osun State.
We have iron ore deposits in Itakpe, Kogi State, deposits that could support the Ajaokuta Steel plant close by. Large deposits of iron ore, reputed to be the largest in Africa, have been found in Zamfara State as well. Nigeria is also endowed with large deposits of limestone, kaolin and gypsum that can be processed to meet Africa’s cement requirement for the next two decades. Each of these minerals is worth billions of dollars in revenue annually and thousands of jobs.
Globally, the mining industry has enjoyed strong economic growth for the past decade. Demand for solid minerals from rapidly growing economies like China and India is on the rise. But Nigeria is losing huge amounts of foreign exchange.
Alas, the market is mined by minions. Small-scale artisanal miners account for between 90 and 95 percent of the output of the Nigerian solid minerals sector. These artisanal miners are often unlicensed operators. The lead poisoning disaster in Zamfara is a clear and present example of the dreadful consequences of regulatory neglect. Such ill-fated incidents must never be allowed to re-occur.
How do we go about this? Firstly, by being transparent. The World Bank granted a credit of $120 million for the sustainable development of our mining sector, but the fund is yet to be operational. Secondly, licensing of private sector participants must also include provision of more accurate geological information about our mineral resources. Thirdly, artisanal miners should be supported, organised into guilds and regulated; they have to be empowered and incorporated into the value chain.
Finally, if confidence must be given to investors on the security of their licences and the policy environment, government should, as a matter of priority, ease the acquisition of titles to land for mining licences, strengthen related government departments like the mining cadastre office, and allow them to work, free from ministerial and political interference.