By Fred Iwenjora
Otunba (Engr.) Babatunde Alatise is a solid mineral and mining expert. Aside from being the Chairman of the Solid Minerals and Allied services Group of the Lagos State Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Alatise is also a member of the technical sub-committee on the export of explosives to African countries by the office of the National Security Adviser and that of the technical committee on revenue optimization of mineral resources by the ministry of mines and steel development in Nigeria.
In this chat with FRED IWENJORA, he throws light on Nigeria’s solid mineral sector pointing out what Nigeria has been losing by its total neglect of that sector and proffers solutions.
He also talks about his hobbies which include horse riding and flying single-engine aircraft.
How can the lay man understand what you do at the Chamber of Commerce, Mines, Industry and Agriculture?
What the Chamber of Commerce does is to act as a policy advocacy pressure group for its member organizations and by extension the entire business environment in the country. The chamber is involved in advocacy to make sure that businesses run well. For instance, if government roll-outs a policy whether right or wrong, we as major players in the business terrain help them fine-tune it to suit Nigeria’s business environment.
Specifically, as Chairman of the Solid Mineral sector of the Lagos Chamber, my job is hinged on the solid minerals sector. We discuss and dialogue. It is our job to let the government know we are in the business and know where it pinches us. Like very recently when the government made a proposed ban on the exportation of solid minerals without beneficiation or value addition from Nigeria. We in the business projected that in as much as it is a welcome idea, we require a moratorium because there are few or no beneficiation plants in Nigeria today. If there was no organization to project these, we would have been speaking as individuals. The chamber is addressing that.
When did you join the chamber and how has it been?
I started out as the Vice Chairman of the sectorial group but when the Chairman moved on after about one year, I moved over to that seat. I have been on that saddle for the past two years.
Solid minerals seem to be strange to majority of Nigerians; why do you think this is the situation?
There is so much lack of information. The discovery of crude oil has not helped matters. Nigerians love to follow the reigning issues. An average Nigerian could tell you so much about oil subsidy but when you say solid minerals and mining, he is lost completely. For instance, Lagos is blessed with so much sand and laterite.
Many people do not even know that sand is solid mineral. It is from sand you get silica for making glass and bottles, it is from a mixture of sand, granite and cement you get concrete.
People look at mud as nothing, but it is clay that is used to make household utensils. We have a huge problem on information dissemination. I will blame the press for not doing their best to report on solid minerals.
Probably they think that it is not a juicy area to talk about. I will also blame the nation in general terms because everyone follows what they think is trending.
But quite frankly, mining solutions influence us daily. For instance, Nigeria’s housing problem has solutions in mining. Cement is from limestone, iron rods from iron ore, sand used for windows and glasses are all from mining. Everything in the everyday world has to do with mining.
I entreat Nigeria press to also talk or write about mining just like they write about oil subsidy. People need to be educated because it is no longer rocket science.
The world is talking about renewable energy and renewable energy is all about mining and solid minerals. You cannot talk about batteries without lead and lithium or solar panels which is glass and they are all from mining. In fact, I believe that mining is the first occupation of man and not hunter/gathering as we are meant to believe. Unless we also agree that gathering includes digging and collecting from the bowels of the earth.
We need to bring to light more information on how people sabotage the economy by illegally taking away our minerals without returning any royalties to the federal government. If there is no information or data on mining and solid minerals, then there won’t be investor confidence or interest on how things are going on in the industry.
What have you done to redress this sad situation?
Aside from the usual press releases, we organized a business Investment summit at the chamber last year, 2019. We plan on another one for 2020, making it an annual event. At the summit we deliberate on many problems confronting mining and solid minerals and try to proffer solutions. We all know that information is power.
People do not know what to do with these solid minerals or even where to get them. As soon as oil and gas were discovered every other thing in Nigeria took a back seat. If you follow Nigerian history as a nation, you will see that there was a time that Nigeria was a second largest producer of Tin in Africa if not the world. Then, mining had a big boost for the nations GDP. This is same for coal but not any more. Tin is found in Jos and coal in Enugu but we abandoned them. Shame.
You are young but you talk about these things with so much passion as if you have been involved in it for years. What is the secret?
I am a second-generation explosive dealer in Nigeria. You cannot enter the soil without excavating and sometimes exploding it. My father, Alhaji (Otunba) Sikiru Olatunji Alatise, the Alagbala Adinni of Lagos & Ogun State, started this mining business in 1989 and I joined in 2007 and that is what I have been doing since then.
I am very lucky to have been well tutored by my father who retired from working from several multinational companies like GM, UAC and Unilever. He brought his finely tuned business acumen into the mining industry and I learnt directly from him. I also have a technical background because I studied Mechanical engineering at the Lagos state University and Computer Science in London Metropolitan University. This has also helped me in the business as I am one of the youngest explosive dealers in the country as at today.
Do you believe that youth has given you leeway into understanding and propelling the business much more than you could have?
I could say so. As a child, I always hung around my seniors. While in junior class in secondary school, I was friends with most seniors and while in the university as an undergraduate, I was interacting with postgraduate students. I realised that one learns more from and with seniors.
You must be one of the youngest Otunba in your community; How did you become a custodian of tradition?
I was chosen by my Kabiyiesi, Gbegannde, HRM Dr. Adetoye Alatishe, Oba of Ososa-Ijebu land to become the Otunba Otutubiosun of Ososa.
Ososa is home to Hubert Ogunde, one of the most celebrated theatre artists that the world has ever produced. But my choice to become one of the Palace Chiefs is not because of the relationship I share with my uncle.
It was because of my contribution to the development of my community. I had taken note of the plight of young students who had to travel as far as to Ijebu Ode to register for UTME or WAEC or even check results, so I set up a functioning ICT centre to address that matter.
What have you learnt by accepting this honor and sitting with elders?
I have gained more knowledge about my culture and tradition than I used to know. Western education makes us demonise our culture and people tend to think that tradition is associated with demons and fetish issues, witchcrafts and voodoo. Becoming an Otunba has made me to appreciate my lineage more than ever before i.e. my history, my ancestors and much more.
There is so much information and wisdom when one sits amid chiefs. And I have been learning quite a lot. There are many thorny issues about leadership. Listening and seeing people with all kinds of issues come before Kabiyiesi and seeing how he resolves these different issues is a big form of education for me. These are life’s lessons which one can never get enough of.
Is that the reason that you are always seen in traditional attire? Don’t you ever wear suits?
I stopped wearing suits in Nigeria long time ago. In my opinion, it’s not really meant for our weather, with our African sun. We are right on the equator, so I do not believe in wearing jackets and especially neck ties. I wear what I am comfortable in and that is my traditional attire, my Buba and Sokoto. I do wear suits when I am away from Nigeria.
Do you still have time for leisure and hobbies?
My hobbies tend to relate to my everyday life and business. I believe that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, so I tend to stay busy always. I love horse riding, and this was propelled by the need to play my traditional roles as an Otunba while paying homage to the Awujale of Ijebu land during the annual Ojude-Oba festival.
My polo-playing friends now want me to join in the game, but I am involved in other things.
I truly enjoy spending peaceful time on our farm, in nature with my family & friends.
My other hobby is flying single-engine aircraft as a private pilot when I’m abroad. I also enjoy swimming, boxing, meditating, listening to music, helping others.