ONE of the areas in which Nigeria’s rich potentials has been well-documented is the mining sector. In the 1960s, mining contributed up to 50 per cent to the nation’s economy. But due to the advent of oil, Nigeria lost interest in mining. Solid minerals contributed about 0.3 per cent to our GDP in 2015 as opposed to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Botswana (40 per cent).
Because of the low technical capacity in the sector, the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, MMSD, estimates that Nigeria lost up to $9 billion to illegal mining between 2015 and 2016. It is not just the loss of revenue that makes unregulated artisan mining a danger to the nation. The miners who are usually poor rural dwellers use crude implements and antiquated methods to extract precious stones such as gold, silver, lead, sapphire, gypsum, emerald, granites and others to feed their families.
But in so doing, they devastate the environment, create gullies, exacerbate flooding, cause massive deforestation and often become victims of lead, mercury or other sources of poisoning linked to these metals.
Over the years, the Federal Government has tended to react to the activities of the artisan miners with its usual knee-jerk approach by trying to use force. Raids were conducted on minefields and those arrested were promptly clamped into detention with very little done thereafter. In recent years, however, it has dawned on the authorities that criminalising artisan mining is not the smart thing to do.
According to the Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Alhaji Abubakar Bwari, government has shifted more emphasis to regulating the activities of artisan miners. They are now encouraged to form cooperatives and members of such registered bodies are trained to approach artisan mining through approved methods to reduce risks to the miners, the communities where they operate and the environment. It will also help in policing the mines and increase revenue to government coffers.
We commend this new approach because it does not make sense to declare two million artisan miners as “criminals”. They are part of the community and can play their legitimate roles in the economy if properly guided and assisted. Even when big players finally return to the Nigerian mining sector, small players will still have roles to play to ensure that the industry works for all.
We hope that the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development will activate the Mining Roadmap adopted in September 2016 which envisages that the mining sector will be able to directly and indirectly contribute not less than $27 billion to the economy which will represent three per cent GDP by that date.
Mining and agriculture are the future of the nation’s extractive industry after oil. We must get serious with them.