The second edition of the African Gems and Jewellery Exhibition and Seminar (AGJES) held in Abuja recently, attracting participants from across Africa. ABAH ADAH writes.
It is a dependable fact today that Nigeria is one of nature’s most favoured countries in terms of availability of solid minerals around the world today.
The country’s land space is reputed to have deposits of assorted solid minerals in the soil, such as coal and tin. And while a majority of them are left unidentified, let alone be tapped to date, a few have been identified and perhaps a bit tapped before the total neglect the sector suffered for over three decades as attention was shifted to oil as the only economic commodity Nigeria depended on.
In other words, the reality is that Nigeria has not been able to take full advantage of the huge minerals wealth to become one of the top economies in the world.
Apart from the 7 identified strategic minerals, namely coal, barite, lead, iron-ore, gold, zinc, and copper, there are also gemstones or coloured stones found in parts of the country, little of which are illegally exploited by peasant miners and exported crudely for little value, even as there are reports that some countries that are less fortunate in natural resources have attained greater heights from these minerals by way of beneficiation or value addition.
Africa is said to have the largest mineral industry in the world. The analysis of the global gem and jewellery market size as at 2015 was about US$300 billion with Africa having only 3 percent market share and Asia Pacific having 59 percent China, 31 percent and India, 15 percent.
Meanwhile the global gem and jewellery industry is expected to witness high demand in the near future, owing to the growth in the consumption of branded jewellery. Overall, the global gems and jewellery market is projected to cross US$ 443 billion by 2022.
It is in the light of this that the promoters of the African Gems and Jewellery Exhibition and Seminar (AGJES) took advantage of the present government’s diversification programme which placed premium on the mines sector alongside agriculture to partner the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development (MMSD) in organising the exhibition and seminar, the maiden edition being in 2017.
The 2018 AGJES tagged, “Mines 2 Market: Collaborating to Improve Industry Linkages; Healing Africa through Gemstones” which was held in Abuja from 6th to 7th December, 2018 had industry stakeholders and exhibitors from Nigeria and other African countries.
Addressing the gathering, the Hon. Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Abubakar Bawa Bwari expressed gratitude to the organisers of AGJES, noting that the platform provides the opportunity to showcase the various gemstones available in the country which according to him had been neglected and sometimes exported crudely at a far less value, adding that it will contribute to changing the perception about mining in Nigeria to a positive one.
He said, “As part of our mandate, the Ministry is required to improve the sector’s capacity to create jobs and broaden the range of economic opportunities available to Nigerians. This is why we continue to support the initiatives of the organisers in using this event as a platform for creating a viable local market, and access to foreign markets for locally produced gems and jewelry.
“I am impressed by the seminar component of this event because for too long Nigeria was seen as an oil nation rather than a mining nation despite the fact that mining began here in 1902. The seminars will therefore help in educating the world about the beautiful gemstones we have in Nigeria, from the blue sapphires at the plains of the Mambilla to the amazing rubelite tourmaline that recently sold at 180 dollars per carat.
“Ironically, the sheer beauty of our gemstones make them easy prey for smugglers and money launderers. We have since began reforms in the sector with the hope of ensuring proper policing of the gemstone sector across the value chain from prospecting, to exploration, to mining, processing and marketing.
“The central point of our gem policy is to ensure due process in our gemstone mining and marketing activities in line with international best practices. We also hope to help artisans get good prices for their gemstones while boosting our GDP by ensuring due repatriation of gemstone export proceeds through the CBN.”
Presenting the keynote address, wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, called on major players in the mining sector to encourage women to grow and be a strong voice for more participation in the industry.
Represented by the Wife of the Nasarawa State Governor, Mairo Almakura, she urged women to ensure that there is gender balanced opportunities in the sector.
“I know that this is an era, where women all over the world are interested in mining. I wish to use this opportunity to call on women to make themselves available to the opportunities in the mining sector as it is indeed their sector. I also call on the major players to encourage women to grow and be a strong voice so that they will participate more.
Also speaking, Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, who noted that there is a running battle in trying to get back departments of cooperatives that actually should be domiciled in his ministry, urged Artisanal miners in the country to form a cooperative society in order to carry on their activities easily and without trouble.
“If you go to the mining proper, most of the people are artisanal miners who are not documented and we brand all of them illegal miners, whereas we know that it is just a little thing to make them formal miners doing their legitimate business.
Just form cooperatives for them and see how they will grow.”
He equally noted that the unstable price of oil causes confusion for Nigeria. “In terms of our projections and marketing and the only area we can grow to know our stability like that of oil is mining.”
Briefing newsmen prior to the event, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Barr. Georgina Ehuriah noted with regret that Nigeria’s over dependence on oil which led to the neglect of other sectors over the years has cost the country a huge chunk of revenue arising from crude minerals (including gemstones) flight.
Asserting that about 70 percent of coloured stones supplied globally come from African countries including Nigeria, she said “It is imperative therefore that we develop the industry and grow capacity to enjoy the full measure of potential benefits from our mines to the markets.”
Also at the briefing, the Chief Promoter of AGJES, Amb. (Mrs) Regina Edzuwa stated that the 2018 edition involves an exhibition of about 30 companies comprising artisanal miners, Jewellers and relevant governmental agencies displaying their products.
“We have made effort to invite Benin traditional jewellers and Bida bronze and Jewellers to come and exhibit their handmade silver and bronze filigree pieces.
“We shall also have in our midst, the Presidents of Women in Mining of Ghana, and Mali in addition to the Malian delegation that will be exhibiting jewelleries made by the female jewellers.
Also, the award winning internationally recognised Labi Akapo of Akapo Jewels based in South Africa will be displaying some of his award winning jewellery,” she said.
“The essence of this year’s seminar is to sensitise the public on the role of women and youths in this sector and to also address the challenges they face.
“AGJES aims at providing an empowerment platform to gemstone miners and jewellery makers and marketers to expand their business which will in turn lead to creating job opportunities and poverty eradication, in line with the present administration’s economic blue print,” she explained.
It has been estimated that Nigeria loses about $3 billion annually to crude gemstones being taken outside the country.
A gemstone (also called a gem, fine gem, jewel, precious stone, or semi-precious stone) is a piece of mineral crystal which, in cut and polished form, is used to make jewellery or other adornments. However, certain rocks (such as lapis lazuli and opal) and occasionally organic materials that are not minerals (such as amber, jet, and pearl) are also used for jewellery and are therefore often considered to be gemstones as well.
Most gemstones are hard, but some soft minerals are used in jewellery because of their luster or other physical properties that have aesthetic value.
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