By Ruth Tene Natsa
Professor Gbenga Okunlola, chairman, Mining Implementation Strategy Team (MIST), in this interview with Ruth Tene Natsa, gives insights into the potentials and challenges of the mining industry
Considering that the key function of your team in the mining sector is monitoring, do you have an idea of how much the economy has been losing to the leakages in the sector?
I won’t want to put a value on that, but its enormous. We are talking in terms of over the years, not just one to two years when there has been loose monitoring. We have lost billions of dollars. If you know the amount of gold that is being produced in this country, you would marvel, even at artisanal level. Everyday not less than a hundred ounces is produced minimally and an ounce of gold is about $1200 in the market.
Multiply that by a hundred and we are talking about between $800 and &$1000 on a daily basis and this has been going on over the years. Just today I was hinted that there is another artisanal work that has just opened up in Ilesha with over 500 artisanal miners now, just in the last one week and of course what would be won there, is not going to be less than 200/300 ounces just on the surface alone. But again you have to spend money to block these leakages.
What, then, are the key functions of your team?
The overall functions of the Mining Implementation strategy Team is to see to the implementation of the roadmap. If you can recollect, there was a roadmap that was developed by the ministry for the mining sector for the next 10 years and was approved by the Federal Executive Council. One of the recommendation of the roadmap was that before six months, to set up a strategic team that would also monitor the implementation of the roadmap, so that is the essence of the MIST, to monitor the implementation and develop strategies for the implementation of the roadmap.
Another key function is to improve funding,
How do you intend to go about this?
There can’t be any development in the sector without adequate funding. And as you already know, the mines sector in the last few years, has been moribund. And one of the suggestions that has been done by many professionals is that the sector has to be funded. Public service funding, to strengthen the institutions for data generation, for mines monitoring, environmental compliance, funding in terms of logistics, additional personnel as well as integration with the finance and private sector which should drive it. The government has to be the one to play not just regulator, mediator, but also have to kick-start, make it attractive, create the environment, get the governance structure, ensure a level playing field, make the place conducive in term of availability, reducing tensions in relation to ownership of licenses and also create an atmosphere where foreign investment can come in. And what they are looking for is stability, availability of the resources, sustainable policies and good returns on their investments. So once these things are put in place, you can move forward, but all these things have to start by funding the primary structure, the agency that should produce the initial data, funding the roadmap itself. Since we started, we have met, the teams have been constituted about four teams, the governance , technical , communication, monitoring and evaluation.
How does the committee help check these?
Our committee is not an enforcement committee, what we are doing is to advise and assist the ministry and we have done that. You need to strengthen the Mines Inspectorate. And I would like to give it to this minister. In the last one year they bought 38 vehicles in one fell swoop, that has never been done before. They were launched when the MIST was to be launched. But what is 38 vehicles when you have to monitor over a thousand (1000) mining sites, but that is a beginning and it is a huge expenditure. Now the government has given about N30 billion from the National Resources Fund, which is fantastic in relation to what the society is saying, but when you look at it, it’s just about $10million and that is not even enough to develop a world class gold which could cost as high as $20 or more million dollars, but that is a starting point, so it is also important that the committee is working with the ministry to get this funds released so that at least, the much efforts currently on going in the sector can be kick started. So strengthen the agencies and the institutions, then they would be able to monitor. But again over the years the mines inspectorate have been understaffed. I do not know how many staff are in Osun, maybe about five or six and maybe one vehicle. So we need more personnel. I have told you we are losing almost $800,000million on a monthly basis that is almost $300 million in a year. That is for one commodity gold, we are not talking about what goes on in lead and zinc, the gemstones. There are not less than 200 artisanal working sites for gemstones in Nigeria. In Ibadan alone we have not less than 10 to 20 sites, not to talk of other states, even in the North east with the industrial minerals. Let me also add that with the little effort that has been done, the minister had said $600 million had been added to the Federation Account, but now they have contributed about N3billion in the last year, that is a quantum leap, that is times five, just with this minimal effort. Imagine if there is a concerted effort, the industry can contribute about N300billion a year.
The roadmap recommends the setting up of a mega regulatory agency, what is your view on that?
I will not want to comment on that because we have not got there yet. There is a plan but we are taking these things one after the other.
Do you see this as a solution to the sectors leakages?
We need strong governance and institutions and sometimes we need to look at things both ways, will it work or not? But let’s look at it from the structure we have had up till now, it will be easier to have an administrative structure that would not be dissipated, but if it’s going to be subsumed under some form of bureaucracy, then there will be a problem, so this has to be spelt out properly. It’s a proposition, an idea and something that is part of the roadmap, but like I said, we take these things one after the other.
As president of the NMGS, what is the role of the society in ensuring the development of the sector?
Let me again thank President Muhammadu Buhari, because we, as professionals, are meant to be critics. I am a professional but I believe in inclusive advocacy, if you see a politician or a government that is doing what you say they should do, it is only responsible for us to encourage them and say well done and everything that the NMGS has been saying concerning the Solid Minerals get a focus, get a clear policy, get a roadmap, get an Implementation strategy, fund these agencies, they have done all of that. From the information I am getting, the NGSA has been funded more than they have been funded before. We have told them break down the NNPC into organs that could be businesslike, don’t make it a cumbersome hegemony and just today I read in the papers that productions has increased in the refineries. We have also told them to go into modular refineries , it will not only solve social problems, but would make administration a little bit more cogent and more profit if well managed, so as well we have seen some activities in this areas. Apart from that we encourage our younger members to get into entrepreneurship. The geological survey can do with well over 200 geologists, they do not have enough, and this country is big over 900 square kilometers with just about 200 geosciences is not enough.
With your optimism, do you really believe this sector can be returned to its glorious days?
Returning it to its former days of glory is too little, it is supposed to be more than that, we can’t be going to the 1920s up to 70s, how many commodities did we have in Nigeria then? Majorly tin, columbite, coal and peripheral gold and all that, but we don’t want to go back, we have 44 solid minerals in this country. I am an economic geologists, that is my specialisation, and I say it is not 44, we have more than that, I know we have not less than 50-60 mineral types in Nigeria that can be commercial. Let me give you an example, I was trying to develop a small country home, and wanted to dig a well and when they were bringing out the earth, I saw that it was good lateritic clay and that is what we used to build my boys quarters. And what did we do, we just got this equipment from South Africa that compacts the clay and then with interlocking and without any cement addition we started arranging it, and that is it.