• Monday, April 15, 2024
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Prioritising security in the development of Nigeria’s mining sector

Prioritising security in the development of Nigeria’s mining sector

It has been published that illegal mining now has strong ties with rural banditry in some parts of the country. Perpetrators exploit this space to fund banditry in mining communities in order to incite violence and then take advantage of the deserted mining sites for their nefarious activities. If the government is to regain control of the sector, a creative solution must be developed to address the strangling effect of banditry in mining areas.

The necessary regulation of the mining sector is weak at all levels, especially at the state and local government levels. This is clearly due to the concentration of meagre resources at the centre. At the local government and community level, there is relatively little or no awareness or knowledge of government programmes, regulations, etc., so mining continues uncontrolled and unsupported, and the communities continually get the short end of the stick.

The Honourable Minister plans the establishment of a specialised mine police force and a mine surveillance task force dedicated to safeguarding mining operations in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence and other security agencies. While this intervention is eagerly awaited, and while noting the challenges we have had with any strategy that involves boots on the ground, I strongly advise heavy reliance on technology. Apart from being more efficient, it will reduce logistic bottlenecks.

Devolution of powers and benefits

The Ministry has a well-considered structure except that fundamental issues of understaffing, underfunding, and insufficient expertise incapacitate it to handle the herculean task of driving the sector for value addition to the economy. Administratively, it carries out its mandate through a number of departments and agencies, like the Mines Inspectorate Department (MID), the Mines Environmental Compliance Department MEC, the Mining Cadastre Office MCO, etc. The only challenge is that this structure in reality exists only at the federal level, with very little presence or impact at the state or local government level where the actual mining is carried out.

Since His Excellency, President Bola Tinubu, is committed to unlocking the value embedded in solid minerals, I expect him to deal with what I call the devolution of powers and benefits. Whether through the review of the Constitution or through some innovative way of allocating more derivative allocations, the states and LGAs have to have a share of this national cake. Maybe to discuss this, I suggest a conference of relevant stakeholders such as governors, LGA chairmen, members of the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly, as well as those responsible for handling our economy. It is that important.

We note the minister’s efforts so far in engaging several state governments. While this has had some positive results and while states would like to support the centre to facilitate the success of its projects, fundamentally, a basic reluctance still exists on the part of most states to allocate any investment, cash, or land to mining projects, seeing that there remains a conflict in ownership of landed property and natural resources in situ. Adequate legislation or policies would provide clarity, support ambitious economic reforms, and lead to a significant increase in investments, both local and foreign, in Nigeria mining industry.

Artisanal and small scale mining

In Nigeria, most of all mining activities are carried out by artisanal and small-scale mining operators, with a good percentage of them being women and children, for whom it constitutes the only source of income. According to Delvedatabase.org, an estimated 13 to 20 million men, women, and children from over 50 developing countries are directly engaged in the ASM sector. Few studies on ASM in Nigeria exist, but 90% of all mineral commodities in Nigeria are being mined by the ASM sector. This shows that no appreciable development of the sector can be achieved without a focus on ASM. Marching orders have been given. However, I suggest we look at the experience of similar initiatives in Ghana and Columbia. The approach should be more progressive. While formalisation is the recommended progression, they need guidance. Who will guide them? The Mining Act provides support for the development of ASM; however, implementation has been a problem.

The ASM Remote Sensing Monitoring System planned by the MMSD is a welcome development to improve their efforts to formalise the sector, if and when it happens. The PAGMI scheme, which is helping organise ASMs and link them to formal markets, should be clarified and expanded. The Support Fund set up by the MMSD in collaboration with the Bank of Industry BOI was supposed to help. The proposed six mineral processing centres will be fed largely by these ASMs. Administrative structures like the Mines Inspectorate Department, the Mines Police, the Mineral Resources and Environment Management Committee MIREMCO, etc. all need to establish a presence at the community level to have the much-needed impact on ASM.

ASM is a big opportunity to address unemployment, rural poverty, and underdevelopment. ASM activities should be accorded the consideration and importance they deserve for the value they bring. It is therefore essential that efforts be made to maximise the benefits brought by ASM and also to prevent or mitigate its negative effects. ASM is carried out outside the regulatory framework in most countries. However, this constituency is unfairly blamed for the failure on the part of the regulatory authorities. On closer consideration, the government’s lack of capacity in terms of manpower, infrastructure, equipment, etc. is to blame. While proper funding of the sector and capacity building will enhance regulation, training ASM operatives and offering incentives for regularisation will enhance understanding and lead to social licence for the government’s efforts.

Where governments neglect this subsector, they allow negative social and environmental impacts. Where mining governance has supported and regulated this activity successfully, ASM is a major contributor to most rural economies. With the incidence and rapid rise of unemployment and poverty witnessed all over the world, the ASM demographic is expected to increase. We will do well to acknowledge and support this activity. Donor agencies, international organisations, and CSOs can all contribute to this effort. A massive orientation programme for the communities and ASMs is highly recommended. Without an appreciation of their role in the nation’s socioeconomic development and the need to acknowledge and align with laws, policies, and initiatives, attitudes of scepticism, suspicion, and non-participation will continue, thereby impeding the government’s progress.

Finally, the mining sector was identified as a critical factor in the implementation of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) (2017–2020). The succeeding plan, the Medium-Term National Development Plan 2021–2025, also gave the sector the same priority. We see a passion in the honourable minister to right the wrongs that have held the sector captive. We do not want to see his three shoulders drop (like a few before him) after a year of confronting the realities and complexities of this sector. His stewardship here will only be as good as the support he gets.

In Nigeria, the sector’s low contribution to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), when considered alongside its much touted potential, leaves much to be desired. The Nigerian mining sector can become a significant area of intervention for lifting the country out of its economic downturn. We therefore beseech the President to consider this sector with urgency and take it past the tag of “potential.”

Australia, South Africa, and Chile are just a few countries that have shown that the development of solid minerals can translate to substantial economic growth and opportunities. The Australian mining industry is a significant employer of labour. So is South Africa. Even though beset with challenges, the mining industry contributes considerably to these countries’ GDP and, as an employer of labour, reduces unemployment and poverty. If we address our issues at this foundational level, we can achieve a decent trajectory in the sector. This is a sector that is begging for some attention in order to contribute its quota to national development.

Thank you.

Amina Sijuwade is a lawyer and former State Attorney General.