The minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dele Alake, yesterday read the riot act to unlicensed miners in Nigeria, declaring that their activities will no longer be condoned by government.
The minister made this comment yesterday in Abuja while speaking during the graduation ceremony and presentation of starter packs to Batch 3 graduates of the gemstone and jewellery master training and empowerment programe of the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development, in conjunction with the World Bank-assisted Mineral Sector Support for Economic Diversification Project (MInDiver Project).
Alake lamented that a whopping $9 billion worth of gold is exported illegally from Nigeria annually and said no government will fold its hands and allow that to continue. He called for a change of attitude by Nigerians to their country – by being patriotic to report illegal activities in their areas.
He said, “Those who are mining without the requisite federal government approved licenses are illegal miners – whether they are individuals or corporate institutions. It an offence to mine illegally in Nigeria and this practice has been going on for ages; in fact since before independence. However, it must stop.”
According to him, solid minerals are a critical resource for national development and the government will not tolerate any illegal operations there so that it can harness the mineral for the country’s use.
He said government was putting in place very concrete measures to combat the menace because it is a serious obstacle to the economic fortunes of Nigeria, as it is widely clear now that Nigeria can no longer oil rely on oil.
Responding to a question from journalists, he declared that the government has the political will to deal with anyone involved in illegal mining, however mighty and highly placed, because mining in a criminal activity and the law is not a respecter of persons.
Alake also explained that now that the economic prominence of oil is going down, solid minerals is the next oil for Nigerian in terms of national income.
He remarked that many countries survive solely on solid minerals and a country as rich in the resource as Nigeria can do so, adding that there is no part of Nigeria that is not endowed with one solid mineral or the other.
According to him, in the new Tinubu administration, Nigeria will not just be a country involved in excavating and exporting of raw solid minerals; rather there will value addition to them so that Nigeria can reap maximally from its mineral wealth.
Reading from his prepared speech, he lauded the “historic significance of developing skills to support the solid minerals value chain,” adding that “the value of gemstone increases when it is cut and polished, however, majority of gemstones mined in Nigeria are being exported without any value addition since the technical know-how and machinery required in cutting, polishing and finishing jewelry are generally lacking in the country. To bridge these gaps, it became necessary to build capacity in jewellery making and design.”
Accordingly, he said, the Ministry drew up a roadmap for the development of Nigeria’s mineral resources, with the MinDiver Project supporting its implementation as part of its effort at facilitating downstream sector development aimed at enhancing value-addition to mineral products.
Foreign companies interested in the country’s solid minerals will not just take them away; they will site their processing plants in Nigeria to add value to them and create jobs for the youths, he added.
Reading from his prepared speech, the minister said President Tinubu had would explore all avenues to generate money for Nigeria’s development, and that the solid mineral sector was key to that.
He said, “We must recall that, in the course of his campaign, Mr. President, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu pledged to explore all possible opportunities to create jobs particularly for the youths through vocational skills training.
“With over two million Nigerians’ active participation, the Solid Minerals sector is a critical national asset with appropriate capacity to open opportunities for gainful employment to Nigerians.
“It is a known fact that Nigeria with its large population has a huge appetite for jewellery and it is imperative to create a local jewellery industry that would substantially meet local demand for quality jewellery products, increase import substitution, create jobs and boost the export value of Nigeria’s gemstones and jewellery.
“The minerals identified are varieties of precious and semi- precious gemstones. Some of the most popular Nigerian gemstones include Sapphire, Aquamarine, Beryl, Emerald, Tourmaline, Ruby, Garnet, Amethyst and Zircon which are located across the Country, and are used to adorn jewellery designs, but sadly are illegally exported,” he said, adding that such illegal mining will not be allowed to persist.
Congratulating the beneficiaries of the master training programme in gemstone design and jewellery production, Alake urged them to make the best use of the opportunity to make themselves and their country proud, saying the quality of the sample products created by the graduates will compare favourably with the best in the world.
MinDiver Project Coordinator, Engr Sallim Salami said the event was a practicalising the federal government campaign for value addition to mineral products before their sale.
He said 41 beneficiaries had been trained in batch one and two of the exercise and that the present batch had 30 young Nigerians selected from various states in Nigeria, bring the total number to 71. According to him, the idea is for the beneficiaries to return to their states to train other youth with the skills they had acquired as well practice the business for their own economic empowerment.
He paid tribute to the World Bank for its assistance in driving and sustaining the programme as well as Mr Linus Adie, a former permanent secretary in the ministry who initiated the idea.
The Class representative of the beneficiaries, Emeka Ezenwoye, thanked the minister and the organisers of the training exercise for the opportunity presented to them, pledging that he and his mates will not disappoint the nation.
The highlights of the event were the minister inspecting the gemstones and jewelleries produced by the Batch 3 graduates, and the handing out of certificates and started packs to them.