In this interview with ABAH ADAH, the secretary, Board of Trustees (BOT) of the Small-scale and Artisanal Miners Association of Nigeria (SAMAN), Saleh Abubakar Katsina, debunks claims of nexus between the so called ‘illegal miners’ and the banditry going on in some northwestern states.
One issue that has been of concern in the mining sector is the fact that many of these small-scale and artisanal miners in the country have not been identified and registered, and as such, are called illegal miners. How much has your association achieved in terms of bringing them on board formally since you started?
As you may be aware, the purpose for which our association was set up recently was to make it possible for the small-scale and artisanal miners across the country to make a living from mining in a formal way. Setting up that association would make it easier to organise them and have detailed information about each and every one of us who are involved in any form of mining. Thank God we were able to have credible people who volunteered to serve as members of trustee of the association. I thank God also that we were able to send messages across the country that the association is in existence and has come to stay, and people are eager to partner with the association because they have seen what it stands for. It is also important to let you know that we don’t have any illegal miners in Nigeria again.
All this noise that illegal miners are collaborating with the bandits who perpetrate the crimes that we are witnessing today is unfounded and uncalled for. Rather, we are the unfortunate victim of the situation. If you recall, sometime in the past, about 2 to 3 years back, about 37 miners were buried in one day in Omoro local government area. We don’t have anything to do with banditry, kidnapping or robbery. Somebody that is prepared to go to the remotest part of the country and even go down 15, 20, 25 or even more meters in search of a living; not bothering who the president of Nigeria is or give a damn about what is being given out as a grant by government; how could he or she even think of such crime?
So the association is ready to collaborate with the security agencies and other stakeholders to change that notion for us miners to continue to have smooth operations. Very soon we are going to have a public presentation of the association, but before then we shall meet with critical stakeholders in the Nigerian security set up because we want them to hear our side of the story. We have been following carefully the responses of people including professionals concerning what is happening in Zamfara and other states where we have mining communities and the issue of banditry. We are going to sit down and unfold our plan before everybody. As I speak, we are in the process of compiling the list of small-scale and artisanal miners in the country. We are going to collect all their biometric data and even issue them identity card so that in a situation whereby the security operatives are looking for somebody whom they suspect, we say come and check, we have a database.
That has not been done before. And we are not going to charge them a penny because some of us that were able to make something out of the business will contribute money to provide the means of identification because it is very important. In some cases, a miner coming out from the bush can be stopped at the checkpoint and questioned as regards his identity, if he has that means of identity it will help in confirming that he is a miner, not a bandit. And even if he is travelling from one state to another to do business, let’s say from Zamfara State to Kogi State, both states’ associations should be duly informed. On reaching his destination, he should declare his presence, so that our people there will know. So we are going to formalise the sector because it is the sector that provide all that we get in life. When you see a miner in the bush with a dagger or knife tied to his waist, he is carrying that for his personal protection, not because he is practising banditry. He wants to be able to protect himself when the need arises. That is why we want to sit down with other stakeholders including the cattle rearers with a view to collaborating towards peaceful operations. For me, I can say I am a miner by choice and by destiny; I like it and like to give the legacy to my children.
Can you say now that your association is present in all the 774 local government areas of the country?
What we should be talking about is where we have important mining communities. Some states don’t have mining activities going on. For instance, can you compare Akwa Ibom to Niger or Kogi States? The answer is no. In Akwa Ibom you may find just 20 miners whereas in Kogi you may find over 2000. So our plan is to start with the most important, i.e. where there is a lot of mining activities. Like I said, very soon we will make public presentations. We will present the executive body of the association and also the states’ executives.
On the issue of revenue leakages in the mining sector which has been on the front burner for long now, how would your association come in to complement government’s effort in checking it?
You see, in Nigeria and for a long time, what has been happening is beyond just leakages; rather there wasn’t anything like revenue at all. Take gold, take gemstones for instance, people are smuggling them out day in day out without remitting the required royalties to the government. Not only that, people are exporting these minerals, the proceeds don’t come the way it should be. The exports are done informally, the proceeds come back to Nigeria informally and in a very mysterious way, so government doesn’t get anything out of it. That is why you have been hearing stories that so and so kilogrammes of gold have been intercepted at the airport and so on and so forth. You hear of very scaring quantities of such minerals being exported without following the due process. However, there use to be leakages in certain instances.
Take for instance, the big mining companies; if they want to export 20, 000 metric tonnes of minerals, they would under-declare it, and pay the government for something in the region of 5, 000 against the 20,000 metric tonnes. But with our association coming up now, we can’t allow such criminal activities to prevail. We will do our best to ensure that this government which we supported and nurtured through the electioneering era succeeds in its quest to reposition the sector for greater performance. We are prepared to help this government realise its set goals and what they have promised Nigerians. So as from now onwards, we want to let the public know that it’s our commitment that we are going to not only formalise but also normalise not only the operation but also the marketing and trading aspect of the business.
We will ensure that the right people are those exporting the minerals they want to export no matter the quantity. Our concern is that it should be done in the normal and legal way. Such that if you want to export any mineral, you are free, but it has to be within the confines of the law. And we want those who export to get their returns back here in Nigeria without any disturbance. And we would want the anti corruption agencies to be in the know so that people don’t get embarrassed when they see some amount in their account. That is why we want to have active collaboration with the customs, the security agencies, the anti-graft agencies, and the ministry itself so that they will know that credible people are into the business and that the process has been made easier and free of all the bottlenecks that have made things difficult in the past.
But I want you to know that the federal government gets more of its income not from the royalties but from the licenses, renewal fees, and especially the big quarry operations. We have big – time quarry operators, especially in the FCT, in the southwest and few in the northern part of the country, and that is one of the biggest sources of revenue to the federal government in terms of mining. But we want to turn the table now. We want to make the sector more attractive so that the government can make more money even at the small – scale level; we are going to be staging shows, conferences, symposia, etc. that will make the government proud of us. When you make your government rich, you are making yourself rich. You need social amenities, you want the social environment to be stabilised; and it’s only the government that can do that for you. We are ready to support this government 100 per cent , and very soon we are going to visit Mr President to give him our assurances is no money to go about mining operations.
The truth of the matter remains that we are not yet organised. The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development decided to come up with an intervention fund to the tune of N2.5 billion to which the Bank of Industry (BoI) where it is domiciled added another N2.5 billion, making a total of N5 billion for small – scale and artisanal miners to access with single digit interest. But as I talk to you today, nobody is able to access that loan. When we realised that the conditions surrounding its access were so stringent, I personally went to the minister to let him know that the conditions set by the Bank of Industry (BoI) cannot be met by our people. So I think it is important that you guarantee our members, so that the business can be between the association and the bank.
That it is an association that will try to identify credible people that will be given the loan and also facilitate the process of recovery and bring back the money to the bank. And the minister, Abubakar Bawa Bwari, agreed in total to the proposal. He directed that we go and bring the concept and modus operandi notes. And that apart, a $150 million intervention earlier courtesy of the MINDIVER project by the World Bank is lying there for the smooth operations of small – scale and artisanal miners.
Then we have not been able make any reasonable effort to convince the commercial banks to give us loans to invest in our operations. Other funds exist courtesy of the UN bodies, EU and even our CBN, but it takes a good association to access them. Note that nobody gives free money; there must be guarantee on any money that is being given out by the bank. In this case, the bank wouldn’t know the individual but the association, and it is easier to deal with the association than an individual. So that was the missing link. Take for instance the case of the rice farmers; they have done it through their association and are succeeding today. So I am not in agreement with those who say there is no money. In doing any business that is capital intensive, the people involved have to be organised; in our case, we are not. That is why we are now stepping in as an association, to change the narrative.
Going by the ministry’s records, the revenue generation and contribution to GDP went as high as N3.92 billions in 2017, and dropped to N2.97 billions in 2018, almost N1 billion difference. What is your take on that?
Personally, I don’t want to be talking about those figures because to me it is shameful enough to be talking about 2 and 3 billions of naira when we have all the potentials do much more. What I would want to say is that give us time, by God’s grace in 2020 and going by the efforts being made currently, our contribution to the GDP will be amazing, because with the awareness already created by government, they have done their best; it is up to us now to complement their efforts at boosting the economy through the sector. We are ready to provide the necessary information that will aid the revenue drive of the government, and we are ready to convince ourselves no matter how small the operation may be to let government have what is due to it from our end in the interest of our country.
We are about having a new minister on board, what kind of minister would you want to see?
If the President will listen to me, we have two options. One, the two former ministers have stayed for a period of about 4 years and now understand the rudiments of the sector. And I think they have done their best. So left for me, and that is if we want continuity in the policy of government and considering the technicalities involved in running the sector, it is important we bring the former minister back. And in a situation where the government wants to bring on board a new minister, it should be somebody with proven track record of credibility, honesty, and commitment. It should be a well – educated professional because it is a very technical ministry. But the issue sometimes is beyond bringing in a minister. It also has a lot to do with us, operators and the people in the ministry because for any incoming minister to succeed, he needs to sit down with the stakeholders to get a brief and get his bearings. All that is needed is understanding and cooperation because we have all that it takes to develop.
With what government is doing so far, where do you see the Nigerian mining sector in the next 4 to 5 years, can the sector be returned to its former glory?
Definitely! If we have a good person as the minister, the next 3 years is enough to see the change. It is not even that we are going to bring back lost glory, we are going to excel far beyond the level of the past. It is just that people always like to talk from the negative perspectives. What about the new good things that are happening in the sector. We were only talking about lost of glory in tin, coal and perhaps columbite; today the scope has broadened to include several others that were not in focus before. For instance, when we exported over a hundred and eleven tonnes of tantalite in 2010/2011, nobody talked about it. When we were exporting tonnes of lead zinc, nobody talked about it, when we were exporting gold worth millions of dollars, nothing was said about it. It is the same thing with gemstones which we have exported to the tune of billions of dollars. I can go on and on. People talk about lost glory. Even in the mining of tin and coal that time they had issues. Yes, we made a wrong move way back in the 1970s which had dented our credibility as a nation, but we have new innovations in the system. We have reformed the ministry and the sector itself, and we have more people earning their living from the business now. Before, maybe you can be talking about 2000 miners, but today we have almost a million people in the business formally. So we are progressing.
don’t have is the smelting plant which is dead; you don’t see the drag light, you don’t see the tin or columbite export. But even with that, people are still exporting tin. In 1965-7, Zaria province exported 365 metric tonnes of tin, but now nothing is forthcoming from that side, and perhaps because there was a time when nobody was buying tin. Now people are mining and buying tin.
years, if we have stability as a nation; good security system which can guarantee free movement in and out of the forest safely; if there is the needed support from the government and relevant agencies, then I don’t see any reason why our country will not be a good mining destination in the next 3 years.
And on a final note, let me make it very clear that miners, whether small – scale, artisanal, or big time, don’t support or collaborate with any bandit. We have no business with any bandit. And before any decision is taken, I think the government or whoever is concerned ought to sit down with us and prove beyond all reasonable doubt that a particular miner is involved in the act of banditry.
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