By Luka Binniyat
AFTER finishing fromÂ Â the College of Medicine Ibadan, in 1999, Dr. Kola Ojo decided to go into mining in the year 2000. He pitched his tenth in the city of Jos, Plateau State and started with a mineral called tantalite, and later progressed to mine gemstones.Â He invested heavily in gemstones, setting up the first big lapidary in Nigeria from where he trained over 200 people on the art of cutting and polishing gemstones.
He later emerged as the interim chairman of the 54 year old association Miners association which has been embroiled in some crisis lately. But Mr. Sunday Ekozin, who has been the associationâ€™s Chairman since 2006 insists he is still Chairman of the Association.
Investigations show that the current controversy may not be unconnected with a $120 million World Bank grant advanced to Nigeria in 2005 to resuscitate the comatose Nigerian mining sector. Dr. Ojo spoke with Vanguardâ€™s Luka Binniyat in Abuja.
It is believed that part of the problems that Nigerian miners have, is that they are not organised in a manner that would help them access some facilities. Do you have an idea, how many people are into real mining in Nigeria?
Mining is a perennial activity that occurs all over the country. The Minersâ€™ Association of Nigeria is now trying to have a census of those who are into real mining in Nigeria.
Granted, not all miners are members of our Association, many are not.
How many are you in your association?
I canâ€™t give you the actual figure, but we are in the region of thousands. The problem is that a lot of people have been reluctant to come out.
The industry is not well structured here. People mine, sell, buy raw minerals and ship out and pay no royalties, and you want them to officially come out and announce that this is what they are doing? No! The industry is not well structured.
These are one of the teething problems that we face. But I want to inform you that as the new Chairman of the Association, I was given six-month tenure and one of my mandates is this very issue of determining who the real Nigerian miners are.
What led to your emergence as the interim Chairman?
At a point, the exco felt uncomfortable with the former Chairman, Mr. Sunday Ekozin. They felt that he was not carrying members along in the dealings of the association. Their exco is disenchanted with him over many issues. But I just want to recall the last straw that broke the camel’s back:Â That is writing the World Bank without authorisation from the exco of the Miners Association of Nigeria, after he had been warned not to do so.
What kind of letter did he write, was it a complaint letter or what?
It was something like that. But that is not the issue. The issue is that he did not have that authority to do so, after he has been warned against it. It was like he was running a one-man-show. No responsible association would operate in that format that is why he was relieved of his post as chairman.
But, he seem to have his support, and is insisting that he is still the Chairman, because there was a congress that re-elected him on the 11th of May this year
That election was done after he was relived. Why did he not conduct elections before then? In fact, a steering committee was set up in 2006. It was that steering committee that made him Chairman. It is the same committee that appointed him, that has also asked him to go. It is as simple as that. But anyway, as I have always said, â€œwater will always find its levelâ€
At the appropriate time, the world would know those who are in charge of the Miners Association of Nigeria. Like I said before, we were ten members of the exco. One,(Ekozin) was asked to step aside as the Chairman. That same individual has gone ahead to arrange a purported congress by calling some few miners and they agreed to share positions to themselves. It is laughable. It is unfortunate that we have to degenerate to that level. But I have always believed that precedence and the credibility of persons would judge them. History will judge us as regards who is in the right and who is in the wrong.
One of the contending issues that Ekozin has with the Ministry of Mines and Steel is that the $120 million World Bank grant given Nigerian mining sector since 2005, has not been used to the advantage of miners, do you share that view?
No, I donâ€™t, because the grant itself has not even been distributed.
If his complain is that the grant has been distributed and miners did not get, I would say he is wrong, because the grant has not been distributed. The grant has not been spent. We are informed that the first ten beneficiaries are just being selected. How I wish he could look at things from a pragmatic point of view. The Miners Association is a single association.
It is now that we are trying to bring the barites and gemstones group into a fold. I came from the gemstone group. We are trying to bring in other groups so that we can jointly approach the Ministry to see that this grant benefit our members. But the argument is this: are all artisan miners members ofÂ Miners Association of Nigeria? The obvious answer is no. So you want government to bye-pass those individuals?
Our aim is to see that many of our members benefit from this grant. But to unilaterally tell you that it is only our members that would benefit is not fair. We wish all miners would belong to our association, but the truth is that not all are members.
What is new that would come to miners in the next six months?
There is going to be differences in the way the association has been administered. We are going to open our windows to views and opinion as regards this World Bank loan. Not only that, but all other issues in this sector. But we would not go about it by confronting the Ministry, any parastatal or even the World Bank.
We will seat down and dialogue. All conflicts end up in dialogue, so why canâ€™t we just take the approach of dialogue instead of fighting and causing confusion here and there. I want to appeal to our members to stay calm. We are already negotiating with the Ministry on the World Bank grant, and it is yielding result.