Just during the week, officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) paraded Chinese illegal miners in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital. Due to recurring incidence of illegal mining in many states, experts and stakeholders, more than ever before, are now calling on relevant regulatory agencies to set up efforts aimed at checkmating the menace that is not only a threat to the environment but militates against increased revenue generation for the Nigerian economy.
According to a report released by the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, Nigeria is enormously endowed with no fewer than 44 different types of minerals in commercial quantities in almost 500 locations in Nigeria’s 36 states, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Among these mineral deposits found in commercial quantity are barite, kaolin, gypsum, feldspar, limestone, coal, bitumen, lignite, uranium, gold, iron ore, lead-zinc, copper, granite, sapphire, tourmaline, emerald, topaz amethyst and garnet.
From Zamfara to Nasarawa, Kogi to Kaduna and Kwara to Plateau, among other states, the environment is under assault as illegal miners unleash their nefarious activities in search of the precious mineral deposits. Rising to the occasion to curb the activities of illegal miners and strengthen the regulatory framework of the sector, the Mining Cadastre Office was created in 2007 to sanitise the issuance of mining licences, among other mandates, following the enactment of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007.
According to the Act, the Mining Cadastre Office (MCO) shall be, among others be “the sole agency responsible for the administration of mineral titles; consider applications for mineral titles and permits, issue, suspend and upon the written approval of the Minister, revoke any mineral title; receive and dispose of applications for the transfer, renewal, modification, relinquishment of mineral titles or extension of areas; maintain a chronological record of all applications for mineral title”.
In a bid to ensure transparency, in accordance with best global practices, some of the requirements relevant to the obtain of licences by mining companies include, among others, CAC Incorporation Documents; a Tax Clearance Certificate; an Attestation of Non-conviction from a Legal Practitioner; a Bank Reference Letter and Consent of a Mining Permit Holder .
Against the backdrop of dwindling revenues and the need to diversify the Nigerian economy, the MCO, a creation of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007, was set up to sanitise mining activities in the country. The eventual appointment in 2019 of the current Director General, Engr. Simon Obadiah Nkom, witnessed tremendous efforts to improve on previous records by past DGs. Due to the achievements of the Cadastre Office, Nkom, who ensured the digitalisation of the agency’s operations, in conformity with best global practices, would have his appointment renewed for a second term by former President Muhammadu Buhari on 12th January, 2023.
Before the appointment of Engr. Nkom a substantive Director General of the MCO in 2019, the challenges of evolving a globally acceptable operating system based on digital innovations were fraught with difficulties. With the then newly appointed working towards the cleansing of mining registers, he spared no efforts in curtailing the activities of dubious mining actors, thereby causing loss of royalties due to the government. In his fifth year as the DG of the Cadastre Office, Nkom has achieved the goal of deploying digital innovations towards ensuring transparent management of natural resources assets, including facilitating access to mineral information for a rapid decision-making process by stakeholders.
The MCO has achieved the objective of recalibrating the mining sector in terms of increase in revenue generation for the government. Apart from deploying digitalisation to ensure transparency in its operation, Nkom, who succeeded Engr. Mohammed K. Amate as the DG of MCO, has been in the forefront of transforming operations of the agency, using the most effective digital system that is monitored on a real time basis.
In conjunction with relevant agencies like the Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI), the MCO has formed a synergy in providing a map for thematic maps aimed at showing forests, pipelines, cemeteries, among others, for easy assessment of mineral deposits. The agency also digitalised its documents and archived the same for the record.
At the sixth edition of the annual Nigeria Mining Week and the MCO’s unveiling of the electronic Mining Cadastre system eMC+ online (real-time) Mineral Title Administration and Management, the electronic system, Nkom declared that electronic system “assists in public administration of mineral titles in a responsible, efficient and transparent manner, throughout the life cycle of the mineral titles online (real-time)”.
Apart from the digital system that provides information on the entire process of mineral title administration; from application submission, payment of fees and issuance of certificates, the electronic portal of the MCO elevates its operations to a global standard. Casting his mind back to the tortuous path his agency once travelled, Nkom recalls: “Initially, we were only computerised at the beginning, but we have now migrated to an online system which means that you can stay from any part of the world, even with your smart phones, to access the mining information system. That makes the system transparent”.
No doubt, the deployment of modern technology and digital innovations by the MCO has contributed to the ease of doing business for the sector, thus making it possible for increased revenue generation and elimination of illegal activities by dubious companies attempting to contravene the rules.
“It is our resort to digital innovations,” the MCO’s boss recalls, “that our revenue generation never dwindled. We were always increasing our revenue generation by nearly 100 percent annually, even during the COVID-19 outbreak. Unlike in the past, when operations were at a snail-speed; digitalisation of our operations increased our revenue generation capacity”.
According to scorecard report presented by the Ministry of Mines And Steel Development at the 9th edition of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s (retd) Regime Scorecard (2015 to 2023) series that was organised by the Ministry of Information and Culture, 2,258 mineral titles were issued in 2016; 2,429 in 2017; 2,124 in 2018; and 1,620 in 2019. The report also notes that 1,438 mineral titles were issued between January and October 2022, which was a 48.92 drop per cent from what was issued in 2016. Unlike in the past where licences were granted without recourse to requirements as contained in the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007; the MCO, in line with its mandates, ensures no mining licence is granted without meeting certain requirements before granting licences to miners.
Despite efforts at brightening the prospects of the mining sector, the wave of insecurity is plaguing some areas where mining is ongoing. For instance, in 2021, the authorities placed a ban on mining activities in Bukkuyum, Zamfara State, as former President Muhammadu Buhari declared a no-fly zone in the state due to insecurity. There is no doubt that, like many activities that have been hampered by activities of criminals, insecurity has contributed in drawing setbacks for the mining sector, thus creating gloom on the sector’s capacity to contribute to economic development.
On how best to curb activities of illegal miners, there seems to be a consensus among experts that allowing illegal mining constitutes a bleak situation for the sector. Weak legal and regulatory framework, government policies and programs, lack of funding and inadequate infrastructural facilities are some of the problems faced by the sector.
Contrary to the opinion that the MCO is responsible for supervision and monitoring of mining activities, the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007 does not mandate the Cadastre Office to play any form of supervision over mining activities. The mandate of the agency as enshrined in the law stops at granting licences and providing information on relevant information on mineral deposits, among others.
Considering the achievements recorded by the MCO, the need for the review of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007 that should place the supervision of mining activities as well as reviewing and strengthening the regulatory frameworks for the close monitoring of the sector by the MCO should be an urgent task that must be done.