Chairman of the Solid Minerals and Allied Services Group of the Lagos State Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Babatunde Alatise, has been speaking out in the past few years about the continuous neglect of Nigeria’s solid minerals sector.
Alatise, CEO of Tuntise Investments and member of the ministerial committee on the optimisation of revenue from mineral resources, in this interview with Fred Itua, speaks on happenings in the sector.
He calls for concerted efforts to stop illegal mining, even as he outlines steps to recover from declining crude oil prices, and the devastating effects of COVID-19. Excepts:
Are you peturbed about the growing illegality going on in the mining sector across the nation?
It must be a cause for great concern for any reasonable Nigerian. I am deeply worried, but not surprised and especially now that crude oil is hovering between zero dollar and below cost price. Obviously, the diversification drive of the Federal Government is geared towards agriculture and solid minerals, and the recent upsurge in illegal mining activities is a threat to the N20 billion GDP target set out by the minister of mines and steel development, whom I must commend for taking the bull by the horns.
Would you say the recent arrest of some foreigners, specifically Chinese, in Osun and Zamfara states for illegal mining are signs that the government is ready to address the major challenge facing the sector ?
The arrests have a positive side and that is that state governments are waking up to protecting their natural resources. The Honourable Minister of Mines, Arc. Lekan Adegbite, has given the organised private sector a significant boost in investor confidence and we encourage his bold actions as a deterrent to other criminals and villains.
What about the foreigners recently arrested in Osun and Zamfara for illegal mining ?
As earlier mentioned, I am happy the minister is leading this prosecution. A collaboration with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, via the office of the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Immigration Service, would be great because it involves illegal aliens. It is only the immediate prosecution of such mineral bandits that will check the rampant spate of illegal mining activities going on across Nigeria perpetrated by both Nigerians and other nefarious foreigners.
In most countries, I know there are rules to the excavation of solid minerals, and I wonder why it is not the case in Nigeria where there has been a complete neglect of the sector. It is economic sabotage to steal solid minerals, natural resources and our collective wealth as a nation, and we must learn from other mining jurisdictions in Africa, where bandits and rebels control mining concessions, like the D.R.C., for instance. It is very wrong to allow illegal miners, especially foreigners, to roam Nigeria freely in search of our natural resources, an act that is unlawful in their country.These foreigners know the penalty of illegally removing their country’s natural resources, yet they come to Nigeria and do whatever they please.
I must say that it is time Nigeria started taking seriously the solid mineral sector and emulate mining countries like Canada, Australia and South Africa because it is the only way to enjoy the benefits of the many solid minerals the country has been blessed with. The diversification of our mono-product economy is paramount to the alleviation of the sufferings of the common man. From fixing unemployment, to solving energy concerns and increased GDP, solid minerals development is the only way out of post-COVID-19 economy.
What should government do about the recent fall in oil prices and the effects of COVID-19?
The world is speedily moving towards renewable energy, which is generated from solid minerals, and Nigeria is richly blessed. The Federal Government must immediately review and streamline solid mineral export policies and other outdated laws of the country, like the Explosives Act of 1967, to make room for immediate progress in the solid mineral sector as the price of crude oil has fallen drastically worldwide. Mining solid minerals should be given priority and reclassified as essential services, as it is a major part of the diversification drive. Port of exit officials like Nigeria Customs Service, Aviation Security, etc, need training for easier scanning and identification of smuggled solid minerals.
In what ways can Nigeria do this, and, as a major player in the solid mineral industry, you must know where the shoe pinches; what do you think government must do?
Nigeria and Nigerians have not really taken the solid mineral sector seriously. The finance and investments sectors need to pay more attention to mining. Many banks still do not have mining/solid minerals desks as of today. CBN has created NIRSAL to de-risk agriculture but mining is still waiting for its intervention funds locked up at BOI.
Banks are quick to fund real estate projects but still cannot see that industrial/construction minerals like sand, granite, cement, iron rods, and so on, are part of real estate. Banks and finance houses desperately need to build more capacity in this sector.
Non-oil goods accounted for 22 per cent export, says NPA. So, the ministry is doing something right, but we need export processing zones with well-equipped laboratories for geochemical, geological, geophysical tests to be carried out to further increase these numbers.
We still do not have a digital/physical marketplace for solid minerals; we need a Mineral Exchange, where off-takers and miners can meet, network and negotiate metal and non-metal commodities.
I guess there is also much lack of information or misinformation. The discovery of crude oil has not helped Nigeria in this regard. An average Nigerian could tell you so much about oil subsidy but when you say solid minerals and mining, he is tongue tied. Yet, Nigeria is richly blessed in every state and region. For instance, Lagos is blessed with so much sand and laterite. Many people do not even know that sand is solid mineral. It is from sand you get silica for making glass and bottles, it is from a mixture of sand, granite and cement you get concrete.
Just imagine the amount of gold in Zamfara and Osun states, the coal in Enugu, iron ore in Kogi, manganese in Cross River, baryte in Benue, phosphate in Ogun and so much more.
What are you doing as a leading member of the chamber to improve the lack of information concerning the solid mineral sector?
These issues and more will take the front burner during the proposed 2020 Mining Business Development Summit of the Solid Mineral and Allied Group of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The first summit was organised at the chamber last year, 2019. At the summit, we deliberate on many problems confronting mining and solid minerals and try to proffer solutions. We all know that information is power. People do not know what to do with these solid minerals or even where to get them.
Not many know that, today, the issue of checking illegal mining activities can be done via a structural geology 3D forward and reverse kinematic modelling software. This predicts unseen structures and reduces uncertainty about how much mining has been done in any location. So, ministry officials will simply issue a mining demand notice/bill and degradation of environment penalty to all found mining illegally to deter future culprits. Other ways are aerial surveillance of notorious illegal mining sites via unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) commonly known as drones.