… as Solid Minerals Devt, Interior ministries come alive
…Nigerians heave sigh of relief as delayed passports are released
While some of the newly appointed ministers have yielded themselves to unnecessary controversies over their modus operandi, Dele Alake, minister of Solid Minerals Development, and Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, minister of Interior, are already showing the right feet on their beats.
When last Thursday Tunji-Ojo paid a visit to Alake, many Nigerians had lauded the move, particularly pointing out that the two ministers had already begun to show mastery of what their jobs entail.
During the visit, Alake had commended Tunji-Ojo for the giant strides he has so far made in repositioning the Interior Ministry since his assumption of office. He emphasised the need for collaboration to address the concerns of insecurity plaguing the mining sector.
“If we are to achieve our aim of developing solid minerals in the country, we have to address the challenges of insecurity, the menace of illegal miners and the activities of immigrants that are not properly documented but mining our resources and illegally carting away funds that should accrue to our nation. We cannot achieve this without synergy with the Interior Ministry,” the Minister said.
The request by Alake for synergy with the Interior Ministry on security, illegal mining, and the decision of the ministers to set up a joint task team, could not have come at a better time.
Before their arrival on the scene, the nation’s solid minerals had been a bazaar for privileged few, whose tentacles run deep into the seat of power in Abuja.
Illegal mining has been going on across the country and government’s reaction over the years has been feeble.
Many concerned citizens had questioned why mineral deposits in certain parts of the country were appropriated by the state governments where they are domiciled, but government holds onto some other deposits in certain other parts of the country.
For instance, the appropriation of gold deposits in Zamfara State by the state government has not gone down well with many Nigerians, who question why it should be so.
In some states, private individuals are said to be colluding with government at different levels to exploit the solid minerals without accounting for it.
It is not yet public how much is paid into the government coffers by private individuals exploiting the solid minerals. Many worry that the appropriate revenues are not being captured and they are asking why.
Speaking on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily programme on Thursday, Dennis Agbo, a member of the Labour Party (LP), described as “free-for-all” the wanton exploitation of the solid minerals, which ordinarily should be squarely under the control of the Federal Government.
“It is a free-for-all; nobody is in charge. But government should take charge. Non-state actors are seizing those areas, exploiting the resources; we hear that make-shift airports are created in those places and they mine gold and fly away and nothing happens. Government must begin to check such illegal mining and exploitation,” Agbo said.
He also noted that there was confusion in the exploitation of solid minerals in the country and urged the Federal Government to stop it. According to him, illegal mining of gold and other precious minerals by non-state actors was capable of sending a negative signal to prospective foreign investors.
Perhaps, it was against the backdrop of such concerns that the Minister of Solid Minerals is making efforts to restore sanity in the sector.
Alake’s courageous steps
Shortly after assumption of office late August, Alake gave a 30-day ultimatum to illegal miners to join artisanal cooperatives.
He also unveiled what he called, ‘Agenda for the Transformation of the Solid Minerals for International Competitiveness and Domestic Prosperity,’ saying that the full weight of the law would be brought against those who willfully contravene the warning.
Alake, who was trained as a media personality and practised for several years as journalist, equally expressed concern over what has been happening in the sector. But he was determined to clean the Augean stable.
He announced that security tax force and mines police would be introduced to help the country combat illegal mining and smuggling, adding that there would be a comprehensive review of all mining licenses and the creation of six (6) Mineral Processing Centres to focus on Value-Added products.
He also said that the ministry would focus on a seven-point agenda, including the creation of the Nigerian Solid Minerals Corporation, Joint Ventures with Mining Multinationals, Big Data on specific seven priority minerals and their deposits.
“For the last time, let me declare that the Ministry is giving such persons 30 days grace to join a miners’ co-operative or find another vocation to do. On the expiration of the period, the full weight of the law will fall on anyone seen on a mining site without a determinable status. This message will be interpreted into Nigerian languages and broadcast on the radio to ensure no one is ignorant of this directive.
“From October, a rejuvenated security regime will become active in the solid minerals sector. This will include the Mine Police, sourced from the Nigeria Police and specially trained to detect illegal mining and apprehend offenders. The new Mines Surveillance Security Task Force will coordinate the Mines Police and proactively address high risk incidences of breach of Mining Laws. The Federal and State governments will also be encouraged to allocate the prosecution of cases against illegal miners to competent courts,” the minister said.
It is his hope that the ministry would add at least 50percent to the Nigerian economy, and that the Ministry was determined to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to the country.
Speaking particularly on the creation of the Nigerian Solid Minerals Corporation, Alake had said: “Mining is big business. Nigeria must assert its presence in this environment by replicating its strategic positioning in the petroleum sector by setting up a corporate body that plays in this field. Consequently, the Ministry shall work towards the incorporation of the Nigerian Solid Minerals Corporation.”
While addressing the press to mark the 8th edition of the Nigeria Mining Week, last Wednesday, Alake reiterated his commitment to unlocking Nigeria’s mining potential, creating a brighter future for the country and citizens.
He rightly noted that the mining industry plays a huge role in the economic development of Nigeria.
“Beneath our soil lie vast mineral resources that harbor tremendous potential for growth and prosperity. This potential extends not only to our nation but also to the wider African Continent,” he said.
Tunji-Ojo’s Midas touch
Delays in the processing and enrolment of passports in Nigeria had been a source of frustration for citizens, causing significant delays in obtaining crucial travel documents.
Before his arrival as the minister of Interior, many Nigerians had languished in pain over the non-release of their International Passports after several months of applying for the document.
But today, Nigerians have begun to collect the said documents without further waste of time.
“My colleague in the office nearly suffered a heart attack over the non-release of the document. Hers was just renewing not fresh application. Within this period, she got an opportunity to travel outside the country, and she missed it because she could not collect her passport.
“But she has picked it up now, and you begin to wonder what was the matter. A lot of things can be done rightly in this country, only if the right person with the right political will is there,” a female journalist told BusinessDay on condition of anonymity.
The accelerated activity at passport offices across the country at the moment was made possible following the marching order to the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), demanding the swift clearance of over 200,000 international passports pending applications, in two weeks.
He said: “As far as I am concerned, the issue of passport is a national emergency. I keep getting emails daily from Nigerians complaining. We cannot continue like that.
“It has become an embarrassment to His Excellency, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I represent him here as your minister. That embarrassment is mine now. I am not changing my words. I need the backlog cleared in two weeks.”
Within four days after the marching orders, Immigration reportedly cleared 60,000 passport applications backlog!
The NIS had claimed that the delay being experienced in the last two years was a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic which it said caused a major setback in the production and processing of the travelling document.
The spokesperson of the NIS, Amos Okpu, had given the explanation early September, saying: “The COVID-19 affected operations; we didn’t shut down, and people still had access to make payments. When the space got open, we had surplus applications. We have to treat them but no real production was going (on) across industries and passport production was not an exception.
“We don’t have the technology. No time frame. We apologise and bear a little with us. It is not a hopeless situation. It’s a work in progress.”
The Minister had also assured the European Union (EU) Ambassador to Nigeria, Samuela Isopi, that the government would ensure that the Nigeria passport regains its pride and integrity by reducing identity thefts.
According to him, plans are underway to decongest Nigeria’s prisons by 40 percent through non-custodial alternatives.
He said, “We have commenced the process to unbottle the bottlenecks in our international passport application and collection process. Today, we have made a huge progress. We are also working on ways to reduce identity theft. We want to make sure the green passport regains its pride and integrity.
“If we can solve crime and migration problems in Nigeria, Africa will be better for it.”
His eyes set on immigration, fire service reform
Not just giving marching orders for the release of passports, Tunji-Ojo’s eyes are also set on reforming the NIS, Fire Service and the Correctional Service.
“We will do all that we can, all that is within our capacity, to ensure that we do not disappoint him (President Bola Tinubu), in terms of the implementation of the Renewed Hope Agenda.
“I assure Nigerians of our desire to proceed with reforms in our immigration service, such that Nigerians can be treated with respect, and that we get to unbuckle all bottlenecks of passport collections —and see other issues associated with immigration services in general, are under control,” he said.
He further promised that his administration would work towards decongesting the custodial centres as well as providing inmates with the opportunity for rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
“I also would like to give assurance that under the leadership of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, we would do everything humanly possible to reform our custodial centres, such as the decongestion of those centres, of course, with beaming life, and hope we’d groom inmates and help inmates to ensure proper re-integration into the society.”
Speaking with BusinessDay on the enthusiasm so far shown in their work at their ministries, Albert Oke, a part-time teacher with one of the private institutions in the country, said that Nigeria’s problem was not really dearth of quality individuals to man important public offices but the willingness to do what is right.
“Out of the 50 or so ministers, I only read about the activities of the Solid Minerals Development minister; Interior minister and one or two others that are already making serious marks. At least, they are showing understanding of what they should be doing in office. Who is not happy today with what the Interior minister is doing about the passports, and even promising home delivery of passports in the nearest future?
“We have people with brain, but the problem is that they are not just making good use of the brain. Some of the ministers think that being combative is the way to achieve result; no Sir. Result comes with humility and team spirit. You don’t go about fighting people and at the same time expecting them to cooperate with you. Life is give and take,” Oke said.
He added that some of the ministers were predictive.
“There are some of the ministers that before they resumed, Nigerians knew what they were going to do, negatively. We heard about some of them that people were already alleging that they were going to be vindictive. Look at that! What quality of work do you expect from such ministers? Well, it is too early in the day to draw conclusions,” he said.