Recently, the minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dele Alake, read the riot act to illegal miners in Nigeria. Spurred by his appointment, the new minister declared that illegal mining will no longer be tolerated by the government.
Interestingly, in our opinion, the minister made the statement during the graduation ceremony and presentation of starter packs to Batch 3 graduates of the gemstone and jewelry master training and empowerment program of the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development, in conjunction with the World Bank-assisted Mineral Sector Support for Economic Diversification Project (MInDiver Project).
Putting the matter in context, Alake decried the annual loss of a staggering $9 billion worth of gold exported illegally from Nigeria, a revelation that had been made in the past. While he appealed to Nigerians to be patriotic and report illegal mining activities in their areas, he said government was putting in place concrete measures to combat the menace because it is a serious obstacle to the economic fortunes of the country.
Without doubt, as much as the oil sector has for years become the live wire of Nigeria’s economy, activities in the sector have increasingly remained opaque, bordering on the mysterious, even to most players in the industry. However, with the focus on oil, little attention has been paid to the lucrative solid mineral sector. Sadly, this sector has suffered as much rot, if not worse, despite being a huge money spinner.
Experts in the sector have consistently documented the availability of mineral resources with particular reference to the solid mineral sector. It is presumed that almost every state in Nigeria has one mineral resource or the other in their soil.
The director general of the Nigerian Geological Survey, the agency saddled with the responsibility of generating geoscience data for the sector, Dr Abdulrazaq Garba, had once revealed that there are about 44 mineral types in 450 locations across the 774 local governments.
According to him, Nigeria has “very vast” gold with occurrences in Niger, Osun, Kebbi, Kaduna, Kogi, Kwara, Zamfara, Katsina, Kano, Nasarawa and Bauchi states and the Federal Capital Territory, while Wolframite has occurrences in Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi, Niger, Kwara, Zamfara and Nasarawa states. Same way Lithium has vast occurrences and could be found in Nasarawa, Kwara, Kaduna, Niger and Zamfara States.
In Ebonyi, Zamfara, Plateau States, some parts of Benue State and the FCT, there is silver, while copper associated with minerals like lead could be found in Bauchi, Zamfara, FCT and parts of Nasarawa State. There are also platinum group elements, cobalt and graphite from geophysical investigation. A report by the Mining Growth Roadmap the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development in 2016 showed that Nigeria has untapped 200 million ounces of gold, scattered across about 13 states.
The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) also added that minerals’ occurrences in Nigeria include granite aggregate, Laterite, Coal, Shale, Columbite, Tin Ore, Gypsum, Feldspar, Marble, Dolomite, Tantalite, Kaoline, Fluorite, QUARTZ, Basalt, Talc, Manganese, Barites, Zircon, and precious stones like Tourmaline, Topaz, Sapphire, Amethyst and Garnet.
In virtually all the states, illegal mining is not just rife but it appears to be a dark but organised industry, draining the enormous revenue that ought to go to the state. Sadly, in our view, not much has been done to check the illicit activity.
In 2017, the former minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, had lamented that the country lost about $9 billion in two years to illegal mining, particularly on gold exportation. Also, the director, Technical, NEITI, Dr Dieter Bassi, had revealed that Nigeria loses $2 billion-$3 billion to illegal mining every year.
In our considered opinion, that a country struggling to make ends meet, financially, would not pay much heed to this sector is, to say the least, preposterous. We are not unmindful of the security implication of the involvement of foreign actors and their local sponsors, who are bent on undermining the sector so that their illicit mining can continue.
It was to check this activity that the last administration approved the procurement of 50 Hilux vehicles to be distributed to states through the Special Mines Surveillance Task Force. The idea was to put a stop to the illegal mining business. This had little or no impact by way of curbing the excesses of illegal miners.
What is required, in our opinion, is collaboration between states and anti-graft agencies as well as the security agencies, not just sanitise the system but help drive the nation’s income at a time it is in dire need of every kobo it can get from its land and seas.
While this is on the table, we urge political leaders to walk the talk. This requires tough measures that will signal to the illegal miners and their foreign collaborators that the days of business as usual are over for good.