In this interview, the President, Miners Association of Nigeria (MAN), Alh. Kabiru Kankara, who was recently sworn in for a four-year term, spoke to Abah Adah on how his association will collaborate with government in taking the sector to the next level, saying it will not be business as usual for smugglers of solid minerals.
What strategies are you putting in place to take your association to the next level as you oversee its affairs for next 4 years?
My coming on board for this very crucial assignment as the President of Miners Association of Nigeria (MAN) coincides with government’s interest in seeing that the mining sector is lifted to a higher level so that it can be another major source of revenue. Long before now, i.e. in the advent of the oil boom of the 1960s and ‘70s, we used to have coal, tin and columbite in Enugu and Jos respectively as major source of revenue. As you know, from that era, the mining sector became neglected and relegated to the background as all attention focused on oil. It has now reached a point where government has realised that oil is not in vogue again. So my coming on board is a good coincidence, and it is my intention to see that government’s drive towards making viable again is complemented by my effort and those of my members to take mining to a higher level so that miners can smile home with good profits while the government does so with good royalties and taxes that will complement the other sources of revenue like oil whose fortune is fast dwindling.
It is being lamented that most of the solid minerals mined in the country by smallscalers are exported crudely for peanuts. How will your regime come in to help in checking the ugly trend?
In fact, that is one of my cardinal objectives to see that smuggling, pilferage other illicit means by which minerals are taken out of the country through the back door for peanuts are stopped. And this we can do through sensitisation, educating the miners to make them realise the consequence of this evil on the sector and the economy at large. They are just being used by these smugglers, most of whom are foreigners. They buy the minerals from them at far below their values and take them out through the back door. We will make sure that these people are enlightened and sensitised on the evils in their action so that we can stop the leakages in revenue, royalties and taxes.
Secondly, just recently it was announced that a dedicated port will be put in place in Burutu, Delta State to be the major export centre of our solid minerals. That will go a long way in checking the act of smuggling. It has been that bad because there has not been proper control and coordination; every body is on his own. If there were control, everything will be harnessed and sent through the legitimate channels. There will be proper channelling of these minerals to the foreign partners as obtains in other countries like South Africa, Canada, USA, Switzerland and even Ghana here. And that is exactly what we want.
What are your members’ business activities capable of contributing to Nigeria’s GDP at the moment?
Well, at the moment it is very low. And so many factors are responsible for this. Even the capacity of our members in terms of the equipment and fund required to excavate and mine is nothing to write home about. You know mining is not capital intensive, unlike farming. You can start a farm with about a hundred thousand naira, but you need millions to start dependable mining, of which an average Nigerian is not that rich. That’s why you see the influx of foreigners to the mining sites. Some would come via the porous borders that we have, and will look as if they are Nigerians. Then they will just be smuggling all these minerals in collaboration with some natives. So we want a situation where government would complement our efforts so that we can bring our full capacity to bear in tapping the resources. In that way we can improve on our contribution to the economy.
Only last week, an association known as Small Scale and Artisanal Miners Association of Nigeria (SAMAN) announced its incorporation. What does that portend for the industry, especially your organisation?
You know, the Nigerian constitution says it all. Everybody has the freedom of association. There is no restriction to that as long as you people are of like minds. It is intention behind the emergence of such association that matters, i.e. whether it is for good or for bad. So the coming on board of that association is in order as long as they have good intentions. I don’t see any problem with it. After all, ours is miners umbrella body in the country; so every other miners group fall under it.
We look forward to working with them to move the sector forward, and because we are both working towards the same goal. We don’t want a situation where we will be looking at ourselves as enemies of each other. We are happy to have them on board as long as what they set out to do is in the interest of development in the sector. So, there is no challenge there. The focus is the interest of our members and humanity in general.
FG has been harping on reviving the solid mineral sector, with a view to creating wealth. Are we seeing the level of commitment required in that regard?
Now government’s eyes are open and they are having sleepless nights to ensure that mining is revived to the highest level. And I am aware that so much money has been pumped into it by the federal government through the ministry. I can remember the N30 billion that was approved for the sector, and I think a lot more has gone into it of recent for acquisition of equipment, exploration and exploitation. But what was earmarked for us has not reached us yet.
Look at what happened in the rice industry; government put billions there, and today, rice is everywhere through local production. Now rice importation has gone about 70 percent lower, leaving about 30 percent to be imported.
This is what government wants to do in the mining sector. But as it is now, I can guarantee that none of our members have been able to access even N10 out of that fund, even after some tried so hard. So the N5 billion intervention they said is with the Bank of Industry is still hanging there. They came up with some conditionalities, very cumbersome, on how to access that fund. Some of our members sweated it out to see if they could access it, but to no avail, not from the bank or the ministry, up till now that I speak. This is very frustrating. In fact if you care to know, some of the conditionalities put forward by the bank include all the equipments that you want to buy and use in the course of your exploration and mining. Most of us have had to go to companies who have them and they gave us invoices which we put together with other documents including C of O, yet, not a single Kobo has been accessed. I don’t really know if government is aware of this. If it is aware then it is unfortunate. If government doesn’t know, then it should know now that the money earmarked to assist miners has not been accessed by any of us to date.
As it stands now, artisans and small scale mining is in vogue in Nigeria; do you think large scale mining as done in other climes is achievable in Nigeria?
Yes, it is; in as much as government gives the necessary support in all sincerity. When oil was discovered, what happened? So many billions was pumped in before the full scale exploration and lifting of oil began much later. The solid minerals are there, no doubt. In fact what we have in the ground is far far richer than the oil in the Niger Delta. No country can contest the dollar value of the solid minerals we have in the country. Among the 774 LGAs there is none where you will not get one form of solid minerals or the other. So government really means business, it can bring in investors, partner with them, give them sites, engage in geological survey services and grant them concession to go ahead with exploration and mining. I tell you, before you know what’s happening, Nigeria’s name will be on the map of major solid mineral exporters in the world. I read in one of the papers recently that about $600 million worth of gold was smuggled into the United Arab Emirates in the last one to two years. That one is to Dubai alone within the said period. You can imagine how much goes to the other countries that are equally taking advantage of the situation to buy the minerals very cheap and take out of the country through the back door. So if government could bring these partners on board and put a check and control so that everything is properly channelled, it will be prosperity galore for the sector and the economy at large.
So we can do it if there is genuine commitment from government. For now we are seeing more of talking than action. There is need to put in much fund now, and when the returns start coming in billions of dollars, everybody will smile.
All I can tell the Nigerian public now is that all, including those who are not even into mining, should come up and join hands in revamping the sector. Mining should be regarded as the nucleus of activities now, because there is nowhere in the country where we cannot find one form of minerals or another within close range. With the zeal and commitment from government, through education, sensitisation, and proper funding of the sector, a lot can be achieved.
I am sure when mining becomes fully discovered in the country, oil will become a thing of the past. Government needs to show more commitment.
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