The Federal Government’s plans to diversify the economy through solid minerals may not be realised if the activities of illegal miners across the country are not curbed. It is also disturbing that 80 percent of mining activities in Nigeria are illegal and have caused the country to lose billions of naira annually. The ugly development has equally constrained the contribution of the mining sector to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, Georgina Ekeoma, made the revelation in Jos at the opening ceremony of a “Capacity Building for Special Mines Surveillance Task Force on Illegal Mining” workshop. Participants at the event were drawn from various security agencies including the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
We decry the activities of illegal miners across the federation particularly in Ebonyi, Niger, Plateau, Oyo, Taraba and Zamfara states. There is no doubt that illegal mining poses serious threat to the economy. Also, illegal mining activities can cause earth tremors.
For instance, between 2014 and 2015, the nation was reported to have lost an estimated $9bn to illegal mining across the country.
The menace thrives because of the seeming neglect of the solid mineral sector in favour of crude oil by successive administrations. It is good that the Federal Government has expressed concern over the activities of illegal miners in the country. Unfortunately, the development has also made the sector unattractive for investors.
Beyond the lamentation over illegal mining, the government should urgently stop the menace. There is no better time than now to pay priority attention to the exploitation of solid minerals and checking the activities of illegal miners. With uncertainties in the oil sector, government should shift attention to solid minerals. It has, therefore, become imperative for the government to stop illegal mining activities.
Two years ago, the Federal Government declared that state governments could explore and exploit mineral resources in their domains. Hitherto, that right was the exclusive preserve of the Federal Government as enshrined in item 39 of the Second Schedule where it stated that “all mines and minerals, including oil and gas fields, belong to the Federal Government.” The Petroleum Act 1969 says almost the same thing. But, there are legal bottlenecks that have to be removed before this can become a reality. That section of the Constitution needs to be amended and ratified by at least 24 States of the federation.
With over 44 confirmed mineral resources across the country, the government should not delay any longer to develop them. The solid mineral sector can contribute between $4bn and $6bn to the economy annually. For this to be realised, illegal mining must be curbed across the country.
Let government deploy technology to monitor illegal mining. It will be recalled that two years ago, the Federal Government approved the sum of N987 million for the purchase of 50 Toyota Hilux vehicles for monitoring and curbing illegal mining activities across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
We hope that the project was executed. All the same, we believe that curbing the activities of illegal miners will require collaborative efforts of the federal and state governments. This is the time to set up the Mineral Resources and Environmental Committee as provided for, in the Mining Act.
Last week, the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development urged members of the Presidential Special Mines Surveillance Task Force drawn from relevant ministries and security organisations to be alive to their duties. No doubt, their assignment is critical to the realisation of government’s objective of using the sector to generate revenue and create jobs.
Therefore, to move the sector forward, it must be properly regulated. While the Federal Government should set the rules for the exploitation of solid minerals, states and local governments must be carried along in the regulation of the sector.
Therefore, the Task Force mandated to check illegal mining should diligently carry out the assignment. Anyone caught aiding or abetting illegal mining should be arrested and prosecuted. For government’s diversification efforts to succeed, illegal mining must be discouraged.