Tinubu`s administration`s efforts in combating illegal mining

The Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dr Dele Alake
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By Martha Agas

Nigeria has been operating a monocultural economy for decades since the discovery of oil in 1956, relying on it to fund its development.

The result is that other sectors of the economy would not receive the needed attention for their growth, posing a worrying obstacle to economic diversification.

While various administrations in the past years struggled to change the trend, observers say the impact is yet to be reflected in the economy, and more political will is needed to achieve the feat.

The country is faced with the reality of building its resilience for the future, especially as the demand for oil is expected to decline, resulting in a loss in its value.

In building this resilience, it must leverage on opportunities in other sectors to generate revenue to drive the process of sustainable development.

One of such is taking advantage of the global upsurge of energy transition to develop its solid minerals sector.

A German company, Geoscan, conducted a preliminary survey which revealed Nigeria has a deposit of an estimate of N750 billion dollars worth of solid minerals underground, of which a quarter had not been harnessed.

To tow the path of exploring opportunities of these solid minerals, when President Bola took over the helm of the country on May 29, 2023, he promised to revamp the sector to improve the economic profile of the country.

His Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dr Dele Alake, said the sector targets contributing 50 per cent to Nigeria`s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), through its repositioning.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the mining and quarrying sector contributed 4.47 per cent to the overall GDP in the fourth quarter of 2023 during the period Tinubu took over.

One of the eight key presidential priority areas is `to unlock energy and natural resources for sustainable development`, but achieving the feat requires attracting foreign direct investment and sanitising the sector.

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Nigeria prides itself in possessing the critical minerals required for energy transition in commercial quantities across its states, which it must leverage upon to facilitate local development of its economy, especially in creating job opportunities and infrastructure development.

To attract big players in harnessing these minerals, the government need to put in place friendly policies and initiatives.

But while the Tinubu`s administration is removing impediments to the ease of doing business and strives to attract foreign direct investment to its minerals, it must deal with one of the major challenges bedevilling the sector, which is illegal mining.

Illegal mining is the extraction of minerals or other geological materials without following the proper procedures which includes the necessary permits, licences or regulatory approvals to participate in the activity.

Stakeholders say illegal mining is fuelled by insecurity in the mining environment, and is an act of economic sabotage depriving Nigeria of improved revenue.

Similarly, Alake described illegal mining as a hydra headed monster, which scourge violates the legal restrictions against mining in public institutions such as national parks and educational institutions, religious centres or community properties.

He further explained that illegal mining is not just unlicenced mining, but it covers licenced miners operating with invalid licences or licenced miners operating outside their coordinates or mining minerals not approved in their licences.

When he appeared before the House of Representatives committee on Solid Minerals to defend the ministry`s 2024 budget estimate, he decried the rate of insecurity in the mining industry.

He said that the situation was impeding the sector from generating the requisite revenue, and also alleged that illegal miners are the sponsors of banditry and terrorism in the country, which must be addressed for the sector to thrive.

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He said that the Nigerian economy is in dire need of rapid economic growth through the solid minerals sector given the limitless value the sector can provide, but the activities of illegal miners have made the mining environment insecure for investors.

To check the menace, the ministry adopted a dual -pronged approach comprising of both coercive and persuasive measures being concurrently implemented to get the desired result to combat illegal mining.

The persuasive method involves formalising artisanal and illegal miners into cooperatives, and since the policy, more than 150 cooperatives have been established so far.

“Recall that on the occasion of the declaration of the Seven Point Agenda, I gave illegal miners 30-day deadline to join co-operatives.

“This was later extended to 60 days. It is gratifying to note that between September 2023 and March, 2024, the Ministry registered 152 new cooperatives, “ the minister said.

The move is aimed at easily identifying the miners through the cooperative to check illegality, and also enhance their business.

For the coercive approach, a Presidential Inter-Ministerial Committee was established on Jan.17, to produce a blue print for securing Nigeria`s natural resources, which comprised of mineral sites, marine economy and forests.

The committee was expanded to include security agencies aimed at producing comprehensive strategies to address illegal mining, which led to the establishment of the Mining Marshal Corp, an inter-agency security outfit to secure the mining environment.

The agency has 2, 220 personnel, who have been specially trained as a rapid response squad and deployed across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Alake at the recent Ministerial Sectoral Update on the performance of the Tinubu`s administration, said the corp has brought instant succour to investors, who, hitherto, watched helplessly while their cadastral units were pillaged by bandits and illegal miners.

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“Many investors are besieging the ministry with desperate requests for intervention and we are responding with appropriate rapidity.

“Efforts to improve the kit and armoury of the Mining Marshals will enable us to increase the fleet, expand the field of operations and combat effectively the rarely restricted operations of illegal miners.

“The expected impact is that more miners will resume legal operations, increase mineral exploitation, pay appropriate royalty and encourage more investors to come, convinced of the security of the mining environment and the establishment of Law and order,” he said.

He said that plans are ongoing for other security sister agencies to integrate their officers in to the outfit structure across the country for robust output.

Alake said that the establishment of the Marshals has enabled the Mines Surveillance teams to concentrate on intelligence gathering to track and monitor illegal miners for apprehension and prosecution.

According to him, the development is a major achievement as records show that no fewer than 133 persons are currently being prosecuted for illegal mining notably in Cross River, Kogi, Oyo, Gombe, Taraba and Niger.

While these efforts have been acknowledged by stakeholders in the sector, experts recommend digitisation of informal or illegal miners, where they would have identity cards that government can use for their identification.

Other stakeholders observe that while the Marshal Corp has been established to tackle insecurity and illegal activities at mining sites, there is a need for the government to make provisions for their back up in dealing with violators.

This they say is crucial, as most illegal miners are linked to banditry where sophisticated weaponry is used. (NANFeatures)

Edited by Ese E. Eniola Williams

****If used please credit the writer and the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

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