Hon. Abubakar Bawa Bwari, the current minister of Mines, is an experienced and successful politician. He was elected as a member of the Federal House of Representatives representing Suleja/Gurara/Tafa Federal Constituency in 1998 and subsequently became Chief Whip of the House, a position where he served meritoriously over a period spanning 1999-2007. During his eventful period of service in the House, he was also elected as Vice President African, Caribbean, Pacific and European Union (ACP-EU) Joint Parliamentary Assembly and Chairman of the planning committee ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly in 2000. In this interview with LEADERSHIP, Bwari provided background to the ongoing transformation in the ministry of Mines, the challenges and expectations
What was the picture of the scene you met when you assumed office?
When we were given the mandate as minister, we met many challenges such as poor funding, poor infrastructure, illegal mining activities, and some of the challenges that impeded mining activities especially for bigtime investors. These had to do with data, poor data availability for investors to come in and invest. But what we did was hold a meeting of all stakeholders, the academia, Miners Association of Nigeria and mining investors. We then developed a roadmap that would address these problems. Our mandate was to improve the contribution of mining into the GDP and create employment opportunities in mining for our teeming population and improve mining practices considering what happened in Zamfara state in terms of the lead poisoning because of the crude method of mining which was on then.
What we tried to do was to address these three important areas that our mandate covered and in doing so, we discovered that Nigeria is a mineral nation. But despite the array of minerals that are there; the potentials and the possibilities, we can’t call ourselves a mining nation. And back in history, Nigeria was known for mining. We were mining coal, tin and columbite but suddenly we lost that position on the world mining map because of the discovery of oil.
But because of the government’s diversification agenda, we need to really focus our attention on the sector. So with time funding improved, we went on capacity building for our staff, with improved funding we were able to provide logistics for some of our mine officers around the federation as a result of that they could now monitor mining activities and collect the needed royalties for the sector.
Suddenly our revenue shot up. It will interest you to know that we in this ministry collect royalties direct to the TSA, while taxes for inland revenues so whatever revenues we generate has to be reconciled what is being collected by the inland revenue to really appreciate the contribution of mining to the federation account.
Mining improved because of the attention that was given and we came at a time that we had recession and during the recession one of the sectors that kept going was the mining sector. Since we came in we have witnessed steady growth in the mining sector, increased activities and increased focus on Nigeria. Lots of mining companies now want to do business with Nigeria. At the level we are now, we will not say we are there yet but we are on the path to getting back on the mining map.
Can we pin a figure to where we are now? What is the contribution of mining to the GDP ?
I can’t give exact figure as of today but what I can say is that we improved with time and the Bureau of Statistics has been bringing out data and figures on how we have improved. But right now we don’t contribute more than 0.3% to the GDP but our target based on the roadmap of development by the year 2020 mining will be to contribute 3 to 5% to the GDP and we believe it is achievable. In terms of revenue, when we came in in 2015, the contribution to the revenue was just mere N700m but by the end of 2016 we contributed N3bn. Its first quarter contribution for export is N26b while contribution to GDP in the second quarter for mining and quarrying is 14.6 per cent.
The most important thing here is that mining has kept growing and the attention has kept growing. Wherever you go now Nigeria is on the lips of most mining investors. I want to give an example of our trip to Australia. There is a mining company in Bauchi, Symbol Mining, which reported that they are mining Zinc in Bauchi. The world average of lead in zinc is 6% per 100 tonne. What they have discovered in Bauchi is 22% per 100. So this is good news for Nigeria for this world discovery in Bauchi. Very soon they will start modern mining at those mining sites in Nigeria. After that it will take them two to three months to start exporting their products we are told. I believe we are on the right track. Though we are not there yet, I believe we will get there.
How have you been able to deal with the menace of illegal mining?
When we came in, we discovered that 80 per cent of the mining going on in the country was carried out by artisanal miners who are called illegal miners but we call them informal miners. While some practices are not what we want to see as a ministry we have no choice but to organise them into cooperatives so that we can achieve three things: ensure we monitor them to do proper mining, able to get our revenue and at the end of the day create jobs for the population. The population of our country is so large that it can be an asset and it can be a problem. Right now it seems to be more of a problem than an asset because there are lots of people out there without job and we believe the mining sector can give a lot of people jobs in Nigeria. We have 44 minerals so far discovered and they are all over the federation.
There is no local government in Nigeria that has no one mineral or the other and we believe to develop the sector very well many people will be engaged and it will create many jobs for Nigerians. Hence, there is no choice but to develop the mining sector. Coming back to the informal miners we are talking about; when we received for the first time money from the intervention fund for natural resources we received N30bn and so far N15bn has be released to us so far and part of the money we kept N5bn in the Bank of Industry. This money is meant to provide loans to these informal miners and small scale miners at the rate of 5 per cent interest. It is a very low interest. We shall give these loans either in cash or in form of equipment for mining activities. Right now what they do is the crude method and in that crude method they hardly get 10 per cent of their labour worth. But improved mining by them through funding or the provision of a more modern equipment will make them to be able recoup 80 per cent of from their activities.
That is what we are trying to do. For now we do not have issues because we bought the miners association close and we are working with them. But don’t discard these informal miners because they are our pathfinders. They have a way of discovering minerals where exploration has not been done and give the big miners ideas of where the minerals are. Some of these illegal activities you see them do are encouraged by a licensed owner because some of the licensed don’t have money to do exploration which is very expensive; they try to encourage illegal miners to go into their sites or they pretend they don’t know of the activity. By the time the activities are on, they run here to complain that illegal miners have invaded their site. But with time we have been able to learn some of the tricks in the sector and I want to say that we are formalising the activities of the so-called illegal miners and it’s in our own interest because it will go a long way in addressing environmental issue and some of the environmental damages being caused by them. These issues have to do with human health.
You have talked about the Australian trip and others. What role, if any, is the World Bank playing in this?
The World Bank is playing a very important role there. Before we came in, there was a World Bank project and in the first phase a lot of issues were addressed, particularly the registration of these illegal miners. During the first World Bank project and the mining cadastral improvement was as a result of the role played by the World Bank then. Today, the World Bank is supporting the mining sector and government’s diversification agenda. We have secured a loan of a $150m and recently we have started the implementation because we are focusing on industrial minerals like limestone, barite, coal, tin gold, iron ore. We launched industrial mineral roadmap recently and the World Bank was there. Their team came to assess so far what we have done and they are really satisfied with what we are doing.
What are objectives for launching the minerals roadmap?
Talking of those minerals roadmap we launched what we are trying to achieve here is to see how best we can use our minerals to address our import substitution policy we want to put in place. An example is limestone. Government deliberately focused its attention on limestone because 95 per cent of limestone is used in cement production. What we are witnessing today in Nigeria is as a result of limestone. Today Nigeria is self-sufficient in cement production no longer importing rather we are exporting cement. We want to do the same thing in other areas for example, phosphate. We can solve our fertilizer problem by developing phosphate which is used in the production of fertilizer to address our agricultural needs. Calcium carbonate is an area we can develop for water treatment in the states instead of importing them. We can do that with iron ore for steel. Most of our steel products come from abroad and we spend upwards of $3bn every year importing steel materials.
That has to stop. We have giant structures like Ajaokuta, the Delta Steel, steel mills in Alaja, Osogbo and Jos. All they need is for us to develop the raw materials needed to kick start there. If we are able to do that, for example there is no country that will develop without steel. There is no meaningful industrial development that can take place without steel because anything you touch has something to do with steel. And we have the minerals that can support the development of steel. We have tantalite, iron ore and so on. Just recently Kogi Iron discovered iron ore at Agbaja. It is less phosphorus and it has been tested. We believe that if they develop it, it can be used in supporting some of our steel plants instead of using scrap materials we are using today. So in pharmaceuticals we can use marble because it is so pure that can support pharmaceuticals. We can also address the issue of paints with some of the minerals we have in this country.
Thus, when you look at some of the things we have seen you begin to develop hope in the sector and high hopes for this country, the possibilities are there. The potentials are also there. My being in this sector has really encouraged my belief and I am very optimistic that we will get there because we are covered in all the areas. In the area of power generation, we have our coal. We are talking of developing cars and so on with the steel products if Ajaokuta today starts producing liquid steel we will be able to make our own wagons, rail lines, construction materials for bridges and others, our own cars and our own weapons. We will be saving a lot from our foreign exchange. We don’t need to go out. You find out that minerals that can address the issue of any area you mention in Nigeria are available. Our tin is one of the best in the world.
In fact, our tin is called squinter because you have to dilute it for it to look like other steel. We have one of the best bitumen in the world around Ondo and Edo. Our gold is beautiful; from the North-West down to the South-West is gold belt. The blue sapphire in Mambila Plateau is one of the world best; so anything you touch in terms of quantity and quality Nigeria seems to be on the high grade. I believe it is a sector that if more attention is given will go a long way in solving a lot of our problems. We have no reason in this country to be poor. We have no reason to allow our people to die in trying to cross over to Europe in the Mediterranean, if we can really focus more our minerals.
What about areas or states where these minerals are domiciled?
We are encouraging states to go into the business. We are engaging them to create special purpose vehicles to come for licenses to go into mining in places where they have comparative advantages. There is no reason why Ondo cannot go into the mining of bitumen because they have so much. States can register a company, obtain license and operate like any other operators they can go into joint ventures with those who are interested in partnering with them.
But what we are doing is that state today as a result of increased activities in the sector are enjoying the 13% derivation in the solid minerals and there is improved relationship with states although we have challenges here and there in the area of double taxation that is taking place in some of the states, that we are trying to address.
You have proved your mettle in politics. What was your attraction to politics?
As a politician we have played our role if I can tell you a little why I came into politics; my passion for country has always been there since I was a kid. When we stood on line every morning to sing the national anthem then, there was a particular section which thrilled me most and that was: “Though tribe and tongue may differ, In brotherhood we stand, Nigerians all, are proud to serve our sovereign motherland.” This service was question I kept asking. “What is the meaning of service?” I asked myself always. And how do you serve your motherland? I now discovered that some of the extracurricular activities we do, I was a boy scout and we were taught about leadership, patriotism.
Hence, leadership was being built and where you use this, these were the questions and suddenly I discovered I was a football enthusiast and I listened a lot to football commentaries at a young age where commentators like Ernest Okoknwo, Ishola Folorunsho and others and praises of our footballers then. I used to be a fan of the Enugu Rangers and the IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan where there were great players like Christian Chukwu, Sylvanus Okpalla, Emmanuel Okala, Nwakwor Nwabuese, Kenneth Abanna, Aloy Atuegbu, Block Buster and all other big names then.
And in IICC we had Best Ogedegbe, Sam Ohebode, Kunle Awesu, Tunde Bamidele, Mudashiru Babatunde Lawal, Felix Owolabi, Demola Adeshina and others. The way they sang their praises and exploits, we wanted our name to be heard through sports, but it didn’t work. I played football, basketball and still play table tennis. I thought the only way to serve was through that way. I wanted to wear the green-white-green jersey. But with time I discovered that you don’t need to wear the green-white-green jersey to serve your country.
The opportunity came when I was called to contest election for the House of Representatives and I saw that as a chance to serve my country. And went for the House and I happened to the member representing our parliament in the ACPEU joint parliamentary assembly (African, Caribbean, Pacific, European Parliament Joint Assembly) and anytime I see the Nigerian flag in front of me and other countries surrounding us I remember the days when I thought of wearing the green-white-green jersey, it was a sense of fulfilment for me and I feel proud to see the crowd. You look at the 180 million Nigerians whose burden you are carrying and that of your country, the feeling can only be imagined than quantified.
For me that has been a passion that I have had to serve my country to the best of my ability. I believe service should be selfless and in the course of doing that I won an award; the highest award that can be given to a non-Belgian which is the Member in the Order of the Leopold, that also encouraged me and that was in 2004.
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