Dr. Kayode Fayemi was Minister of Solid Minerals Development until he resigned his appointment during the week to pursue his governorship ambition in Ekiti State. He spoke with MUYIWA OYINLOLA and RUTH CHOJI
How will you assess the performance of the APC-led administration in the last three years?
Judging from the state of things the government met when they came into office, I think we have done well. The government has done well in focusing on the priorities that Mr. President promised Nigerians: security, improvement on the economy and improving governance by fighting corruption. If you look at the economic growth plan and the priorities set in that plan, it is about investing in our people, ensuring that Nigerians can play competitively in global economy. It’s about recovering the economy as well.
I will not be completely right if I don’t acknowledge that there have been challenges, but government is about addressing challenges and ensuring that you meet the needs and desires of the people. The most important achievement the government has had is in arresting the drift. Nigeria was on the precipice when this government came into office. I believe that is why Nigerians elected President Buhari because they believe that, with him at the helm of affairs, we won’t roll over with the drift into the abyss.
Once that has been done, the process of rebuilding has started but it has not gone at the pace we all would have loved it to.
You are in a critical area which is Solid Mineral Development and the Federal Government has talked of diversifying into that area, how much have you achieved in this area and what are the challenges you have faced?
Again, when I said that the government has done a lot, this is one of the areas that you can see those concrete achievements. I don’t want you to go by my word but look at the National Bureau of Statistics Report right from when this government came in, we have dwelled on agriculture, solid minerals and recoveries. This sector has grown in five folds since the Buhari-led administration took over. We have a roadmap for the mining sector and you will see that we have taken up steps to free up the mining space.
One, we have improved on the geological data base for those who want to go into investment in the sector. Two, we have changed the focus by being able to compile and bring together the various miners under one umbrella and this has led to the formation of a co-operative where credit is available to them at a very affordable rate of 5 per cent. We did this by providing the bulk fund which has the maximum of N5bn in the Bank of Industry.
Three, we have clamped down heavily on illegal mining by fortifying the sector with security imperatives. For the first time in 40 years, mining police is back. The Civil Defence, SSS and NSA are all assisting us to police mining sites and to tackle illegalities. We have worked on the law. People who want to invest want regular certainty and they want legal reliability. You don’t bring your money to where it is not internationally competitive because mining is an international business like any other.
But you want to make sure that the country you are going to has laws that will protect you. There is avenue for redress and there is sanctity of agreement you entered into. We have a law that predates this administration. The Nigerian Mineral Act, 2007. The enforcement act is the challenge, not law itself. Over the last two and a half years that I have been in the saddle as minister, I have ensured that we don’t only give out license but we revoke in accordance with the laws. We have strengthened the mineral management committees allocated in the state. We have started a Council of Mining in which all the stakeholders, states, host communities, government, industry players and researchers in mining come together, look at the gap and then begin a systematic work on those gaps that exist in the sector.
Finally, we have created Solid Minerals Commission that brings together all the regulatory agencies, there is the mining pedestal office which reports to the minister.
There is the Mines Environmental Department. We have the mines inspectorate and other departments. All of these are regulators in the Mining sector.
Currently, they are all departments of the ministry and every single license is signed by me. The reality is that, if you really want the sector to jump, you need to create an arm’s length relationship with government and regulators of the sector. That is what has led to the proposed establishment of the commission which is similar to NCC or NERC. The bill has gone to the FEC and has passed through second reading at the National assembly. It is at committee stage now. We believe that before this government completes its term in May 2019, we will have that commission in place and the minister would no longer be the one signing license.
So, you create a ministry that will focus exclusively on research, investment promotion and monitoring the monitors on a much more detached system which will be more than what we have now. All of these have come together to ease the way we do business in the mining sector. We have also managed to raise another $150m for the medium range players because mining is an expensive business. You can’t do it if you can’t assess capital and for small players N5bn might enable them to begin to fund themselves properly but for players that really want to make a difference, to move from exploration in mining to production, this takes an average of about 10-15 years and you must spend money all the way through.
So, we created a forum that has managed to demonstrate proof of concept and all you need to do is transit from investigation to exploration, having giving us verifiable evidence in the production and that, you couldn’t assess funds at that critical stage. We made available to them the funds having done due diligence support through this World Bank arrangement we have got. People might not understand why there has been significant growth in the sector, but a lot of work has gone into the sector. Some might not see it directly but people will see the growth when they go to places like Kebbi and other top gold exploiters states. I went to a place there recently and I spoke with the villagers who were into mining and some said, they made an average of N150.000 to n200,000 a month in the bush of Kebbi even though they are still being exploited because they give to middle men like Chinese and other Africans.
When you go to the gem stone site of Taraba in Tsaudana local government, you will think you are in the United Nations because everybody in Africa is there. Nigerians don’t even know that this is going on. So, one of the things we have done is to ensure that the gold they have is given to designated buyers. We are starting a local refinery for gold, working with states that are gold producing in Nigeria. We have Osun, Kaduna, Taraba, Zamfara, Kebbi and Niger. Those are the main ones but of course there are some deposits in Oyo, and Kwara has a bit. We have been in discussion with these states and the CBN. The CBN enthusiastically said they are willing to do that. We are able to do that because of the relationship among the federal government, states and host communities have significant improved. The exclusivity of mining is still in the legislative list of Nigeria, but we have not subverted the law in any way.
When I was a governor, I knew what I went through, trying to set up a mining office that could explore what we have in my state at the time. I knew the challenges my state had at the time. So, when I took over as minister, I set out to do things that will make it easier for states to take action on their minerals without subverting the laws. You cannot come to me as a state now and say you want to explore your minerals, it’s illegal but, nothing stops you from setting up a company that is CAC registered which will now apply to me for permission. So, states are encouraged to set up their own mining offices that will work with the federal government on how they can tap into the resources, this will help them attract join technical partners. Many times, license will be given to an investor but on getting to site, he will meet stiff opposition. You get your license form the minister in Abuja and will want to start work on the land you have been allocated. On getting to Kaduna, the people and government said you can’t just access our land without approaching us. That is first bottle neck. The law provides for consent by the communities where you are accessing the land, but the land is being held in trust for the communities by the state governors. So, you need to close that cycle of host community, state, federal government and the investors. These are things we have worked on that have improved the sector.
Mining is not something that is used to judge electoral victory because it has a long term impact. There are things being done that have given pointer to the direction we have taken like the work in Ajaeokuta. That is a company that has never really taken off and Nigeria has invested billions. They have been caught in litigations until this government came in and disentangled the company from these cases. Once this administration is given the opportunity to complete its second term, these issues will be tackled.
The House of Reps shut down the proposed concessioning of Ajaokuta Steel. What do you think Nigeria would have gained from the concession?
The concession of Ajaokuta is a law in the Privatization Act and if you look at the institutions that the National Assembly said should be managed by the Bureau of Public Enterprises, you will see that Ajaokuta is listed there. There are specific things to be done and the last time I check, I did not see anything that was changed from the law. I believe that the House of Representatives acted precipitously without considering all of the facts that will bring that moribund institution back to live. For us, it is our job to advice government because we are the technical people who know the best way forward. A company that has been in place for 40 years yet has never produced one billet of steel since its inception is a show of shame. I feel a sense of disappointment and pains. We believe that rather than spending millions of dollars of government money that is not there, it should be concessioned. I don’t believe it is the best use of the resources of Nigeria to be pumped there again.
We believe that government should not spend one extra penny on Ajaeokuta because we are convinced giving the number of people that have approached the federal government that we can give it out and still get the best that is possible.
Some also believe that the sector should be on the con-current list so that states can also have some level of control over their resources in their domain. How realizable is this?
It is not my terrain to reform the constitution, but I am an unapologetic advocate of reducing the power at the central and increasing the powers at the local level. Anyone who knows me and my politics knows where I stand on this. But I am a defender of the law and constitution now as minister. So, I am going to defend what the law says in spite of my beliefs.
But I will also look for ways that we can assist states that are serious, through the law. Even now, anybody that wants to be active in mining, the law will not stop you. I have also made sure that states now derive direct benefits from revenue generated from solid mineral located in their states which is the 13% derivation. That has only happens in the oil sector, but now we have succeeded in bringing it to the states that have mineral resources.
For the first time, the natural resources fund which is 1.6% of the federation account is being implemented in the mining sector which has never happened before. President Buhari is the first president to give N30 bn to this sector which is partly what we are using to support those small scale miners we are talking about and what we are using to support the mineral resources management commission in the states. We are creating opportunities that enable people to be active. Today, we have enough within the mining states that will make states become big.
You said earlier that the federal government is succeeding in its fight against corruption, but it seems to be one sided because those indicted or arrested are from the opposition, what is your take on this?
I hear these things all the time but is it really true? This is a government that has people from our party being investigated and tried by the EFCC. To me, I think the media should be interested in the crime not party or personality. It’s like the farmers /herders issue. When a crime is committed, it does not matter whether it is PDP or APC, but anyone that the security operatives are able to get hold of. Criminality is criminality. The media has a lot of influence, so they need to enlighten the society about these things.
I think the president has been mild. If he were to react in the manner of a traditional executive president, some people will not be standing. I have somebody in my state who daily insults the president and nothing has happened to him. He still has his immunity. Nobody has invaded his space. He still gets what is due him. As a matter of fact, he has received more benefit under Buhari government than some APC states. When I was an opposition governor, all the opposition governors were denied statutory funds that belonged to us, that we have legal right to access. The ecological fund were shared among governors, not a single opposition governor got it. It was deliberate but now go to any state, you will hear of governors being given government bailout that we fought for, funds to pay salaries, budget support they got it, small scale funds and all other funds have been given to them. President Buhari is not a vindictive person and he doesn’t t believe that politics should be played with the lives of people. Nobody can tell you that president Buhari picked up his phone and called Magu to tell him who to arrest or drop an investigation. The president does not breathe down on anyone. He lets you do your job so you can achieve the mandate he has given you.
Your gubernatorial election is less than two months away. The president is not known to be involved in helping any candidates, do you think he will help you?
The main support I am counting on is the Ekiti people, they are the ones who will vote. They are the people I am appealing to.
What are those things you didn’t do for them that you want to do now?
The advantage I have is that I am a known person. People recall what I did when I was in office. Tangible and identifiable developments are there. Ekiti had one of the best health care system, the HIV prevalence in Nigeria and maternal mortality rate was low compared to other states in the country. It is not about what I didn’t do but what has happened to what I did. That is why I consider it a sacrifice to go and rescue our people. My social security benefit scheme to the elderly, over 20,000 people of over 65 years old were depraved of that N5,000 I used to give them. It may not be anything to you who live in Abuja but when you come to my area where N100 is big money, you will understand the importance of that scheme.
There were people who have sent their grandchildren to school with the N5,000 I was giving them. The 10,000 young graduates that were in our youth volunteer scheme and were receiving N10,000 every month for two years and then received the bulk sum of N100,000 to go and start a trade know the difference. The people we employed and teachers who had an increase in their salaries three times in four years have not forgotten. The teachers who for the first time started earning rural teachers allowance and core subjects allowance in critical subjects like Mathematics, English, sciences and the rest. All of these things have been stopped. Those people are yearning for Fayemi to come back because they have seen the difference. Some might say I was busy doing governance and wasn’t doing stomach infrastructure but it is wrong. Government is about making a difference in the lives of people. It is not about populism or temporary appeal. Demagoguery is not my thing. I am interested in helping my people. If you think maybe I didn’t put saccharine or sugar in my approach, then that is a lesson to learn or I didn’t pay enough attention to media, I will say yes, I was busy working. It wasn’t about calling them to come and see me paying salaries, that is not an achievement. People have worked, it is their right to earn a living.
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