You are now one year in office, how has the journey been so far, and what are your projections for your next one year in office?
It has been an awesome experience. I have a joint mandate with the minister and the permanent secretary, and I think we are working as a team and as a family to see how we can move the sector forward to achieve the mandate set by the federal government. There is cooperation and collaboration here. I can tell you that within the period, we have achieved a lot, both the tangible and the intangible ones such as the happiness seen on the faces of staff. In terms of tangible, most schools under the ministry have upscaled their training activities because we have been able to attract funds through interventions for them. We have been able to organise our artisanal miners into cooperatives and formalise them to make them more productive. And as you are aware, it is the first time ever in the history of Nigeria that a locally produced gold bar was presented to the President.
But we cannot say that our predecessors have not done well; we are only leveraging on what they have done. You know there is always room for improvement in everything. Our target is to make this place the hope of Nigerians as an alternative to oil and gas. Talking about our next one year in office, it will be better. We are going to look at opening up more opportunities for investors in the sector. When investors see credible people at the helm of affairs, they will always come in. With the cooperation of all stakeholders we are going to do more. The fourth industrial revolution is all about minerals, so we have to be prepared.
What is the ministry doing to ensure that the coal to power vision was realised?
Most of the coal assets have been transferred to the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) and they are aligning with most of the power companies. But apart from power generation, coal is used in most places as a firing instrument, especially the big industries. There is a lot of agreements going on in terms of coal to power infrastructure and companies are already being engaged in the initiative. But these are processes that may take some time. A lot is being done in the ministry to ensure that within the shortest time possible, we have coal to power programmes in place towards realising the coal to power vision. We are collaborating with the ministry of power and we are talking with investors already.
Considering the fact that the present administration has economic diversification as a key policy, how is the ministry ensuring that mining host communities benefit directly from their products in terms of development?
The 2007 Mineral Act was well anchored. There are two basic fronts where the communities are involved. One you must have the consent letter which gives you the right to apply to have a license. When you now go for proper mining, exploration or exploitation, then you have to obtain what we call Community Development Agreement (CDA) which enshrines what must be done by the mining company within and for the community.
The agreement has helped most communities to reach in a number of ways. For us, we are like a third party. The ministry takes it that if you don’t have it you cannot do mining in any community. So if you see any mining going on in any community, the deal must have been sealed with the CDA agreement.
The agreement is an enshrined body of understanding between the mining company, the community, and the ministry. Our position is that of a witness to ensure that what needs to be done is done. Over time the agreement has been reviewed to ensure that all that the company had undertaken to do they are doing them.
A new alarm has been raised over the pollution of stream Okollo and rivers Umabe and Okpokwu, located in communities across four LGAs in Southern Benue, what has the ministry done so far to remedy the situation?
Yes, when we got the information we dispatched a team immediately to visit the areas and confirm. We have environmental officers in every state. They are the first to raise the alarm when there are environmental issues that concerns mining. So, when this issue was raised, the ministry raised a team that visited the place. Dangote himself was involved and we took a look at the issues on ground and how it could be mitigated. And I can assure you that everything that needed to be done has already been done, and there are no issues of any pollution or whatever because we are on top of the issue.
Has the Nigerian Institute of Mining and Geosciences (NIMG), Jos been able to fulfil its mandate?
I can tell you authoritatively that NIMG has done credibly well in terms of meeting its mandate of ensuring the training of exploration engineers, mineral experts who are skilled for the industry of today and tomorrow. Their curriculum is quite different from that of the conventional universities and polytechnics because theirs is more of skills. They provide specialised training. They can train people on gemstone processing for instance. Products of the institute so far have been able to meet all standards expected of them, so they are doing well. In July 2018, the law establishing the institute, after 10 years of moving up and down, came to be after being accented to. And I can assure you that it has made a clear difference in the institute because since then the school has moved on. Today, a lot of development has taken place because that has given the institute the latitude to move forward, scaling up their training from where they were before.
The Metallurgical Training Institute (MTI), Onitsha was established to train Nigerians in the area of maintenance engineering, how far has it gone in achieving this?
First, when we assumed office, we found out that there was no law setting up the institute. The law that ought to have established it had not been assented to. So we presented it at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and it was approved, and I can tell you that is one of the key things we succeeded in doing as far as MTI is concerned. The institute was set up for skill acquisition which is what the country needs now. When you talk of auto-engineering, and other related fields they are very good. It has provided various skills for industries. Here we are not just talking about acquiring a certificate; rather it is about what you can do to earn a sustainable living, or even be an entrepreneur.
We are even advocating that that school be used as an empowerment centre where people can go and acquire skills for Nigeria’s tomorrow. The school is quite equipped. Those who passed through it are usually the best wherever they are; we have it on record. We are even trying to link the school back to the German institute that established it for further development so that the certificate of whoever passed through that school will be worth more than a degree certificate from the university.
We are even trying to see that they do not just depend on intervention funds from government; we want them to equally be a revenue generating centre. As it stands now you have over 7,000 who have passed through the institute and you can look at where they have worked and the impact they have created and the multiplier effect. So you can see that many Nigerians must have benefitted from the impact of the Institute and like I have mentioned, all the industries within the country are all benefitting from the skill being acquired from MTI.
MTI is also meant to bridge the gap in the industry for students studying related courses. What is being done to bridge the gap, considering the fact that Nigeria is now focused on encouraging indigenous workforce?
Everybody no matter the level wants improvement in what he or she is doing. What we are doing in mining today is to show to them that, that one didn’t go to school does not limit the success you can achieve in life. So we are teaching them responsible mining. We are using all the institutes we have in the ministry to teach the so-called illiterate how to carry out responsible mining and create wealth even for the future. It is not just about making a living today. Our artisanal miners today are doing responsible mining. We have organised them into cooperatives and they are doing well.
What about the National Metallurgical Development Centre (NMDC), Jos, is it still performing its role?
NMDC initially was set up for the development of the steel sector, but there was assistance from UNIDO and UNDP which scaled up the institute for beneficiation facilities; so the place has become a major beneficiation testing laboratory for all the minerals in the country both for steel and other minerals. And within the period there have been a lot of interventions that have been used in upscaling the facility which has taken the institute to where it is today. You can see the partnership between them and the Army recently; that shows you that the school has scaled up its activities beyond expectations. As may be aware, NMDC has carried out a lot of research in the past. And you know Nigeria has a lot of industrial minerals which need to be researched on, and that is why the institute is there. They have carried out research on almost all the minerals and the outcome of the researches have been given out to most industries that need them, so they have scaled up their performances. Like I said, for UNIDO and UNDP to come in shows the level of commitment and enhancement. Most of the industries have benefited from the activities of the institute, especially the steel and metal sector. We are equally involved in the MINDIVER project to look at some of the machines that are needed to upscaled for the future of the industry. So the ministry is carrying out a lot of revitalisation at NMDC to ensure that it is up to date in terms of current standards as a renowned research centre for the sector.