The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Mr Olamilekan Adegbite, and the Chairman, Senate Committee on Solid Minerals, Mines, Steel Development and Metallurgy, Senator Tanko Al-Makura, on Friday alleged that some governors were behind the illegal mining of some solid mineral resources in the country.
Some of the solid minerals being illegally mined in different parts of Nigeria include gold, zinc, lead, tantalite, columbite, laterite and others. Adegbite told the Senate committee at an interactive session that the challenge of illegal mining was allegedly being supported by some state governors through the provision of police escort for unlicensed foreign miners in their domains.
Although the minister did not specifically mention the governors behind the illegal act, he said they had an “unholy” alliance with some foreign miners who were operating illegally in the country.
Adegbite said, “You will find foreign nationals encouraged by our people. Without naming them, we have some state governments that are encouraging these (foreign) nationals that we are talking about and that is why you see them with security (operatives).
“When they send them to go and do this, they need police. What do you expect a mining officer to do when the state government is backing this illegal mining?”
In his response to the issue of some state governors allegedly aiding illegal mining, Al-Makura described such governors as “illegal miners.”
He advocated a non-punitive approach to resolving the matter, which both the ministry and the Senate committee agreed was on the exclusive list of the Federal Government restricting the states’ direct development of the mining sector.
Al-Makura, who is a former governor of Nasarawa State, called on all stakeholders to develop legal and structural measures to incorporate state governments’ participation in solid minerals development.
He said, “Why are they (governors) giving support to illegal miners? Now, the simple response or answer to that is that they are helping illegal miners because they are illegal miners themselves.
“There is nowhere illegal mining can take place without the knowledge of the community; you cannot illegally mine mineral resources without the consent and the participation of the community.
“It then means that we must find ways, structurally and legally, to encourage state governments not to participate in illegal mining. That is only by carving a role for them. If you look at the law on mining, it is in the exclusive list. There is a need for us to come together – the Senate, the House of Representatives and other stakeholders in the industry to sit down and unbundle this to give every level of government some measure of participation without usurping the exclusive legislative rights.”
According to a February 2019 report by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Nigeria boasts of about 44 minerals found in commercial quantities in 450 locations across the country.
However, the mining sector is responsible for just 0.33 per cent of employment, 0.02 per cent of exports and 0.3 per cent of the country’s GDP due to the non-development of the sector and the activities of illegal miners.
The agency noted that illegal mining of resources such as gold, lead, zinc, tantalite, iron ore, tin, columbite and gemstones was being perpetrated in about 10 states in the country, notably in Zamfara, Plateau, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Niger.
In the report titled, ‘Improving transparency and governance for value optimisation in Nigeria’s mining sector,’ NEITI stated that while Zamfara had four illegal mining locations, Plateau had seven.
Other illegal mining sites are in Ebonyi, 5; Enugu, 4; Imo, 5; and Niger, 10.
In August 2018, a former Minister of State, Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, Alhaji Abubakar Bwari, said more than two million people in the country depended on illegal mining for their livelihood.
Meanwhile, Adegbite has said the Federal Government, as part of the diversification of the economy, has turned its attention towards Russia to seek expertise in its renewed efforts at fixing the Ajaokuta Steel Complex.
On his part, Al-Makura urged for investments in the mining sector to boost the GDP.
He said, “I was a governor of Nasarawa State for eight years. In spite of all the noise about Nasarawa being the home of solid minerals, I do not think the state government generated up to N100m from solid minerals.
“We should also think about investing in the future. We cannot say because the solid minerals sector is capital-intensive, then we will leave it to foreign entrepreneurs. Why can’t the government create fund avenues and factories that could yield value chain rather than the artisanal miners selling the raw materials at ridiculously cheap rates?”
FG budgets N18bn for mines, steel ministry
In the meantime, the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development is to spend about N18.32bn as its allocation in the 2020 budget presented by President Muhammadu Buhari last week.
The allocation translates to an 85 per cent increase from the 2019 budget.
The sum includes N9.18bn for personnel and N1.72bn for overhead costs.
The ministry also allocated N10.9bn as recurrent expenditure and N7.4bn for capital expenditure.
However, a former President, Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society, Prof. Clifford Teme, said he would not be surprised if the governors were supporting the activities of illegal miners because “mining is a lucrative venture”.
He said unregulated mining procedures, high poverty level and greed were major factors fueling illegal mining in parts of the country.
“Efforts are being made to establish what is called artisanal mining scheme to ensure that miners are now registered. There are many illegal miners who just mine our gold, particularly in Zamfara State, and take it to Dubai,” he added.
He said it would take a very long time before illegal mining could be curtailed, adding, “Mining rules are there but many are not obeying them.”
The National President, Barite Miners and Processors in Nigeria, Stephen Alao, told our correspondent that although there were no illegal miners in barite, he stated that there were illegal miners in gold, lead and other solid minerals.
Alao said, “There is no illegal mining in barite mining in Nigeria. Illegal mining is common in gold and other minerals like lead and others like that. But there are no illegal miners in barite.
“It is so simple to tackle illegal mining activities in any area. We have structures in place to check illegal mining activities. The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development has what is called the Directorate of Mines Inspection.
“Mines inspections are replicated in all the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory. They have offices at the state level and at that state level, any mines operating there – the Mines Inspectorate Division can find out whether the miners are legal or illegal.”
But a former member of Senate Committee on Solid Minerals, Senator Boluwaji Kunlere, told one of our correspondents that it did not come to his knowledge that some governors were supporting illegal miners when he and his colleagues were carrying out oversight functions.
He, however, said illegal mining could be checked with government’s determination.
“Although those who are involved are always determined but government can stop it,” he said.