• Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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Forging a new frontier: The inaugural Solid Minerals Conference by BusinessDay Newspapers

Forging a new frontier: The inaugural Solid Minerals Conference by BusinessDay Newspapers

It is with great pleasure that I join captains of the private sector, distinguished legislators, accomplished bureaucrats and stakeholders of Nigeria to support this brilliant initiative of the management of Businessday to organise an annual conference on the Solid Minerals Sector.

There has been a visible resurgence of the conversation on and about the Solid Minerals sector since we set the agenda for the repositioning of the sector for international competitiveness in September 2023 with the declaration of the Seven Point Agenda. The Agenda, a critical review of the existing Roadmap and the updates from the ministry’s bureaucracy seeks to propel changes and reforms by simultaneous calibration of the drivers of development in the sector for accelerated traction to achieve the desired crescendo that would, once and for all, establish the El Dorado of industrial revolution without environmental devastation; and communal happiness based on the rigid enforcement of fairness, equity and justice.

It is a testament to the depth of discernment, entrepreneurial vision and enlightened patriotism of Businessday as a corporate stakeholder that it was among the first to see the light at a time when others were still beclouded by limitations of the ancient regime and the conspiratorial peccadilloes of defeated aspirants labouring under the illusion of judicial annulment.

In a celebration of foresight, Businessday on October 15, 2023, 53 days after ministers were sworn in, ran a banner headline showcasing the ministers of solid minerals and interior as early starters. We did not see this as a personal achievement. Rather, we believed it was an acknowledgement of our collective responsibility as the Federal Executive Council under the progressive leadership of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to change the content and tempo of governance by putting the people first in policies, programmes, and projects.

It was also significant because, considering the adversarial legacy of the Nigerian media forged in the crucibles of anti-colonial struggle, the typical knee-jerk reaction to a new regime has been to draw lines of battle and engage in often atrocious attrition. Many of you witnessed the attempt to abort the emergence of this civilian administration, even at its embryonic stage, by media carpetbaggers. It was therefore a matter of great relief that Businessday broke from this negativism by demonstrating exemplary liberalism, openness, and fairplay.

There has been a visible resurgence of the conversation on and about the Solid Minerals sector since we set the agenda for the repositioning of the sector for international competitiveness in September, 2023 with the declaration of the Seven Point Agenda.

Having distinguished itself as a news organisation with a higher commitment to the public cause and displayed objectivity in its approach to the execution and executors of the social contract, Businessday earned the trust to partner with the government. For your information, we received many proposals from various media organisations to partner with them and endorse a similar event, but we honestly and sincerely believe only those who earn such a trust deserve our endorsement.

Let me therefore congratulate the publishers of Businessday for this germ of an idea whose genesis we are assembled to witness. And I dare declare that in the course of today’s event, there shall be many revelations. This conference is distinct from other media engagement, highly technical and experiential events such as the Nigerian Mining Week and the African Natural Resources and Energy Investment Summit which the Ministry organises in partnership with foreign and domestic exhibition companies. The Businessday Solid Minerals Conference will enlighten the Nigerian press about the structure, needs and positioning of the sector and through sensitization, enable the media to understand the workings and support our efforts to position it as the next source of our commonwealth.

The authenticity of our Seven-Point Agenda as the elixir to the ills ravaging the sector has been validated by critical stakeholders. The Federal Executive Council adopted the programmes as the administration’s policy. The two arms of the National Assembly embraced the programme for its vision and practicability. Recently, the National Council on Mining met in Ilorin, Kwara State, and worked out modalities to mobilise the sector to achieve the programme as a matter of urgency.

The Nigerian Solid Minerals Corporation

Central to our efforts to reposition the sector is the establishment of a private-sector-driven, Nigerian Solid Minerals Corporation. Following successful deliberations with the legislative arm, the process of creating the law for this critical institution has begun. On February 12 and 13, 2024, the Solid Minerals Committee of the House of Representatives will hold the first policy dialogue on the proposed law to create the corporation.

In working with the legislature to establish the legal and legitimate foundation for the institution, our resolve to ensure that a share structure in line with a private sector-led strategy in which the Federal Government will hold not more than 25 percent, of the Nigerian citizens will, by public shares hold 25 percent and private investors, each with a maximum of 10 percent of the shares of the N1 Billion share capital, will be achieved.

We are also determined to learn from the pitfalls of the defunct Nigerian Mining Corporation by ensuring that the new company operates according to the values of the market by reducing unnecessary intervention to the barest minimum and motivating its officials to make decisions solely for profitability and capital formation in the sector.

Exploration data

The case for the acquisition of massive exploration data to de-risk investment has been successfully articulated. The First Nigerian Integrated Mineral Exploration Project succeeded in producing data on the occurrence of seven key minerals – Gold, PGM, Nickel, Chromium, Cobalt, Lead/Zinc, Silver, Copper, Baryte, Iron ore and earth minerals -across the country in specific locations. It led to the creation of special areas in the cartography of our cadastral systems. The Second Nigerian Integrated Mineral Exploration Project is more ambitious because it intends to produce total and comprehensive coverage of all categories of minerals in the entire Nigerian landscape of 923,768 square kilometres. It may even extend to the coastal foreshores to explore the opportunities in deep-sea mining.

As urgent and critical as it is, we are faced with the challenge of the best funding model that will deliver value for money in the short and long term. As you are aware, there are several offers of partnership, including the proposals from GeoScan GH of Germany, the Africa Finance Corporation, Excalibur etc. Very soon, we shall initiate the call for the Expression of Interest to critically review serious proposals.

Let me assure you, that the success of this project will lead to a quantum leap in investment traffic and commitment and help to transform the economy from the current ignorance–based licence acquisition to an open, resource-rich mineral licensing for extraction regime.

Security and safety of mining

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has taken the bull by the horns and demonstrated vigilant preparedness by setting up the inter-ministerial committee for the security of natural resources at sea and on land. At the last meeting of the committee in my office, I announced our decision to give the heads of security agencies two weeks to roll out the modalities for the new security architecture that will take care of agriculture, coastal economy and mining.

Our minerals are critical natural resources. They require planned, consistent and sustained protection. To maximise their investment potential, access to secured mines and a safe environment is important. I am sure that the modalities which would be unveiled will allay our fears and give citizens sighs of relief.

Domestic and International Investment Promotions

Without a modicum of doubt, Nigeria is very rich in minerals. If this was the only requirement for Foreign Direct Investment, we would sit arms akimbo and wait for the investors to come. It is not. We are competing with other countries across the continents for investors. In Africa, our competitors include Zimbabwe with close to 40 different minerals; Gabon believed to have the second largest deposit of manganese in the world; the Democratic Republic of Congo with high-grade copper; Ghana, known since ancient times as the Gold Coast; Egypt, marked for its richness in platinum. Others are Libya, Angola, Zambia and South Africa.

The struggle to attract foreign investors starts with the creation of a supportive investment climate in the country by adopting international best practices which translate to the ease of doing business. In this regard, various assets have been mobilised to encourage investment. These include the EMC+, the online licensing application platform through which anyone anywhere in the world can apply for various categories of mining licences and approvals. This is a progressive advancement over the former intranet-based system limited in functionality and hours of access. The plan to further improve this system has commenced as we speak.

It also includes the production of geological survey data on mineral occurrences across Nigeria to provide both a bird’s eye view and a detailed analysis for the potential investor. Very soon, we shall be launching a new online platform to aid investors and mining professionals’ decision-making. This platform combines over 10 different sets of data about the Nigerian landscape- demography hydrology, geology, infrastructure etc and provides scenarios to aid projections and analysis. Efforts are also being made to improve the Nigerian Mining and Minerals Act 2007 to accommodate the changes over the years and make it more amenable to national priorities.

Meanwhile, the Ministry continues to facilitate the processing of applications for permits to refine minerals and to process and purchase. Last year, no fewer than 499 licences were granted to applicants involved in the business of purchasing and sales of minerals. Predictably, applications for the purchase and sale of Lithium topped the list with 146 licences, followed by Gold, 91; Tin, 46 and Coal, 32. Other minerals for which licences were granted include Tantalite, Iron Ore, Kaolin, Feldspar, Beryl, baryte, Columbite, Mica and Aquamarine.

Our track record in environmental safety compliance in conjunction with the Ministry of Environment includes the rehabilitation of mined-out areas so that they can still be of use to the community. Rayfield in Jos South Local Government Area was among 5 communities that benefited from this programme last year.

These form the content of the promotional engagements that occur during attendances at international mining conferences enabling us to woo otherwise unenlightened prospectors to our country and facilitating their investment. Thus, our delegations to the AfricaDownUnder, in Perth, Australia; Mines & Money in London, United Kingdom and the Future Metals Conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia maximised the investment opportunities.

Support for artisanal cooperatives and campaign against illegal mining

Our campaign against illegal mining and call on artisanal miners to form co-operatives and get government recognition, support and legal basis to mine is yielding fruits. To date, there are 2,329 registered artisanal miners co-operatives in the country. In 2023, 123 co-operatives were registered. Significantly, 77 of 123 opted for registration following my appeal to them to join hands with the Federal Government. The Ministry provides extension services to these cooperatives by improving their bookkeeping skills and drilling techniques. I wish to further urge artisanal miners to come together and register as co-operatives.

To ease the operations of this sub-sector, the Ministry has licensed 986 buying centres across the 36 states of the Federation. Plateau, for obvious reasons of its long mining history, has 315 centres followed by Federal Capital Territory, 224 and Lagos, 108.

Value addition for industrial transformation and financial stability

Economic security compels countries to either invest in reserves or maximise the extraction through value-addition. We should be curious that countries which are the destination of raw minerals exported from Nigeria have humongous deposits of most of these minerals. The implication is that they are consolidating their reserves by depleting the reserves of other countries. One of the ways to ensure that Nigeria does not lose in this strategy of achieving global dominance is to discourage the export of raw materials and encourage the processing and refining of these raw minerals to feed the modern electrical industry.

Let me commend many mineral extraction companies which have taken the bold step of industrialising their raw materials. We thank you for plugging into the future. To us, creating a domestic reserve for our processed minerals also has the financial advantage of supporting the stability of the Naira, our national currency in foreign exchange transactions. Heads or tails, we are sure to win.

Community development agreements

Last year, I launched the revised requirements for Community Development Agreements. It was the appropriate forum to appeal to holders of mining licences to ensure that they negotiate with the communities in their mining areas and sign the agreements which ensure that the communities benefit from the wealth created by their commonwealth. I wish to note, with dismay, that only 18 companies signed CDAs with their communities last year. We hope to enforce the implementation of the revised guidelines in the new year and those found wanting will face stiff penalties.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, it is indeed a great privilege to share, with you, the progressive strides of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration, in the solid minerals sector and our commitment to keep working night and day, to ensure that this sector becomes the main source of livelihood for our citizens. I call on you, gentlemen of the press, to join the crusade to make solid minerals the next petroleum of the Nigerian economy.

This is an address delivered by the honourable minister of solid mineral development, Dr Oladele Alake, at the first Solid Minerals Conference organised by BusinessDay Newspapers.