June 15, 2024

Solid Minerals: 133 illegal miners being prosecuted, 2 foreigners jailed

illegal miners


•We’ve 39 uncharted minerals underground

•Nigeria requires over N200bn for geo-data, but only N2bn approved

By Ishola Balogun and Kemi Ashekun

Reflecting on one year in office of President Bola Tinubu, the Minister
of Solid Minerals and Development, Dr Dele Alake, a few days ago, engaged a section of his followers on the X handle. The interface was moderated by Kemi Ashekun a.k.a KemKem Patriot, where the Minister explained the N200billion requested for exploration and geo-data gathering, for which only N2billion was eventually approved. He also spoke on the 220 Mines Marshal spread all over the country as well as the 39 uncharted minerals underground and their potential for economic growth.

Excerpt of the engagement

You seemed to hit the ground running after you were sworn and rolled out your seven-point agenda, how far have you gone in the last one year?

Immediately I was sworn in, I received briefings from agencies, departments, Permanent Secretaries, Directors and I got a whole view of the entire sector. I set out my team to work and we came out with a 7-point agenda, which is actually the road map for international competitiveness and for domestic prosperity.

The items on the agenda are: First, creating a mines surveillance known as Mines Force or police, of course we have achieved that. The second point is the creation of Nigeria Solid Minerals Corporation, because I discovered there is no synergy with coordinating institution that could act effectively. One of our core mandate is to enter into a joint venture partnership with the big players in the industry. So, if you are going to do that, you need an institution, something akin to the NNPC. So we then came up with the idea of creating Nigeria Solid Minerals Company.

The third is the big data gathering, which is exploration. That’s what led to some mischievous insinuations after my Ministerial Press briefing. That mischief was just gross and abysmal ignorance. Without you having an efficient big data, no investor will come into your sector. Because you can’t wake up and want to venture into the Solid Mineral sector without knowing the kinds of minerals available, the volume, the longevity of it and the security of the environment. These are what is called big data. It contains data demographic, hydrological geochemical and all other relevant data associated with the investment procedures.

I discovered we were lacking in generation of this big data. For instance, we had previous attempts in the past for generating data, but all the efforts and interventions have not explored more than five percent of the entire land area of Nigeria. In fact, all the explorations have covered only five minerals, while Nigeria has 44 internationally marketable and profitable minerals. Are we just going to just leave those minerals underground and fold our arms? We have to generate the data; government must invest in the generation of big data.

The fourth is the issue of illegal miners who dotted the landscape of Nigeria Solid Minerals. We certainly can’t continue with the uncoordinated illegal miners in Nigeria. We hope to unlock huge potential of this sector for the benefits of Nigeria, curbing illegal operations in the sector. The fifth is to coordinate their activities to make them more effective, more bankable and more efficient so that the government can also recover revenue via royalties and taxes The sixth is the comprehensive review of the licenses.

Don’t forget that hitherto, there have been hue and cry over the opaque nature of mining applications, licenses and approval in Nigeria. So, we needed to sanitise the entire operating environment. So, I also added to the comprehensive review of mining licenses, applications and processes of approvals. This is to make sure that serious investors have an ease of doing business and not saddled with the laborious and labyrinth and bureaucracy and red-tapism usually associated with government business.

The seventh is partnership with mining multinational corporations. We need to get Nigeria to enter into joint venture partnership and become a player, otherwise we would not be able to send strong signals to the world that we are serious in unlocking the potentials in this sector. Another agenda is the creation of minerals processing centres to focus on value addition. I am very emotional about this because for decades, including some parts of Africa, our minerals have been carted away by the foreign nationals without any local value addition. So, for me, value addition must be a critical item on our seven-point agenda.

We will no longer allow any corporation to carry away our minerals without any local value addition, they must start processing locally, in order to have multiplier effect for the local economy.

How will you justify your N200 billion proposal at the National Assembly, was the money meant for Geo-data or the entire budgetary allocation for the ministry?

I did refer to this when I said some ignoramuses did twist the press briefing out of context and of course out of abysmal ignorance of the mining sector. Now, to your first question, the gathering of data is the most important ingredient for unlocking any Mineral sector in any country. Other countries invest heavily in exploration and data gathering.

Nigeria requires much more than N200billion for exploration and data gathering alone. It is not the budget of the ministry. What do we do with uncharted 39 minerals underground in the landscape of Nigeria, given also that we are in a hurry to diversify the economy.

The necessary logical conclusion is to embark on aggressive data gathering. The last government did construct a data centre. A geo-data centre is a repository of data; it is not the data itself. This is where the ignorance of mischief makers comes in. The data itself is like building a school, then you don’t put desk, teachers and others. But somebody say, we must put teachers and equip the school.

But ignorant people will come and say: ‘No, government has built the school.’ Now, having built a geo-data centre by the Buhari’s administration, what do you put in that centre? It is the data that you generate, and like I said before, only five out of 44 were generated. In fact, the first part of the work done by the last administration was data generation and it was never adequate. That same government made provision for part two of the data gathering with a proposal of N70 billion.
That was also not enough because it would only cover about five to 10 minerals, leaving so many others undiscovered.

So, our proposal was that if we got the N200 billion, it would just be closer to having a variety of minerals that international investors would be interested in. So, we made initial proposal of N200 billion. The process of budgeting is that your ministry will make its own budget and it will go to the budget ministry. From there, they will scrape it off, adjust, edit and send it to the National Assembly. What eventually got to the National Assembly was N70billion, and what eventually got out of National Assembly was N2billion. Only N2billion was approved.

How important is the generation of this new data for the big players in the sector?

The generation of data is what any big player need to come into your country. Without it, you will be scratching the issue on the surface. No investor would go into an area that is opaque and not knowing the dynamics surrounding the investment in that area. You need this data for you to decide what kind of minerals we want to go into, what is the volume, the depth and what is the life span of your investment or the length of years the mineral will last. These are called big data that investors must have to make an informed decision.

What are the innovations you have brought to curb the activities of illegal miners?

That issue is hinged on the security of the environment. That is why curbing illegal mining is a critical part of the seven-point agenda. Immediately I assumed office, I started discussions with various security agencies as to how to combat the nefarious activities of these elements. I did say that we adopted a two-front strategy for combating the illegal miners.

The first strategy is the persuasive approach which is using appeals, moral suasion and talking sensibly to those who are engaged in such activities. The pillar of such strategy is the policy which I announced after I assumed office, asking all traditional miners and the so-called illegal miners to form themselves into cooperatives. This way, they will become formalised and well-structured and their businesses will become legitimised. They will no longer be referred to as illegal miners. Yes, we inherited very huge unemployment in Nigeria and we are looking for ways of reducing the scourge.

Where do we push them to? That is why I came up with the idea of forming themselves into cooperatives and they will even become formalised and bankable as corporate bodies. Also, government will be able to hold on to identified structures and derive the lost revenue from this sector as they will begin to pay royalties to the coffers of government. They will also no longer be hounded and arrested as illegal operators.

The coercive strategy on the other hand is the enforcement of our regulations. I say to those who failed to heed the persuasive action that they will now have to face the coercive option. Those who are impervious to corrections and incorrigible will now have to face the law. I sought an approval from the President to establish an outfit specifically for the Solid Minerals sector. So, I went to the Minister of Interior under whose purview the Civil Defence Corps are and we worked out an arrangement and I got 2200 men. I spread them, 60 men per state for the whole 36 States and the FCT. We turned them over to the military for training in combat skills to be ready to take on the illegal miners, kidnappers, banditry and all nefarious crimes associated with mining in the Solid Mineral sector. We got them kitted, armed them and then unveiled them two months ago to the public. To date, they have been performing wonders.

In fact, I can say with all sense of pride, that it is one of my great achievements since my sojourn in this ministry in the last five months. They have arrested over 200 illegal operators. As we speak, 133 of them are being prosecuted across states. About two weeks ago, two foreign nationals were jailed for operating illegally in the sector. Again, in the area of those who formed themselves as cooperatives, we have been able to create 70, 650 jobs in the process. Since I announced the policy of forming cooperatives, we have recorded over 152 cooperatives. That is why I said, our strategies are working efficiently.

We are also procuring a satellite monitoring site and gadgets that will enable me for example, at my table to see live, what is going on in all mine-sites in Nigeria, such that when we notice any infraction anywhere, we are able to direct, and mobilise Mine Marshal to that area. Again, these are things that are not reversible and by the time we leave office, Nigerians would have been used to a higher standard of governance delivery that they will not condone anybody coming after us lowering the standards.