From Charity Nwakaudu, Abuja
Alhaji Mohammed Kankara is the President, Miners Association of Nigeria (MAN). In this interview, he speaks on the misconceptions on northern solid minerals and other challenges facing the mining sector.
We are just recovering from the pandemic, how has it affected the mining sector?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a global catastrophe. It’s not something that affected the Nigerian economy or the mining sector alone, but the world economies and other social activities. So, coming back to Nigeria and the mining sector, it was really hit by COVID-19. The lockdown was there. All activities were put to a halt; no more communication; no more buying and selling due to travel ban. It has been a very bad situation. Now that the lockdown is over, we are trying to pick up our pieces to start all over again or to continue from where we stopped.
Is there anything that you would like the Federal Government to do for the sector concerning the devastating effects that the sector has received from the pandemic?
We have to understand that the government has always been at the receiving end. Government has not been doing enough for the sector for many years and, in fact, for decades. It’s now that the government has recognised that the mining sector is a very key sector in economic diversification agenda, which is why we are praising the Buhari’s administration. The government must key into the sector as far as the economic diversification of Nigeria is concerned. We are expecting the government to wake up and give all the necessary support.
What kind of support are you expecting from the government?
First and foremost is finance because it is the key to the development of the mineral sector which is capital intensive. It’s not like agriculture that you have very little to do to reap the results. Buying equipment is expensive and preparing for land. We want the government to inject a lot of funds as support so that the sector can climb up to a high level. We need money and equipment intervention. Government should buy equipment and lease it to miners, so that it can reduce the stress of buying other equipment like excavator. A single high powered excavator can cost as much as N100 million. How do you expect a miner to raise that money? We need the government’s help. The government also has to be more liberal in policies, so that it will be easier for miners in terms of rules and regulations.
The government is trying to revive Ajaokuta steel company, how can the miners be involved in this?
We can be involved in this through the raw materials needed to feed the company. That is how miners can contribute and benefit. But Ajaokuta steel is on its own, in the sense that steel production has to be looked at critically and given high priority, but other subsidiary stations such as Osogbo and Katsina, could source the raw materials so that they can feed the Ajaokuta Steel Complex.
Some states in the North are taking charge of their natural resources, should oil producing states be allowed to take charge of their oil?
It is a very unfortunate situation. To make the record straight, there is no state in Nigeria which is taking over raw materials in her own state. There are rules and regulations binding and guiding mining in Nigeria. We should understand that the rights of raw materials in Nigeria is under the rights of Federal Government. So, only the Federal government has the power to control any mineral resources in Nigeria, just like the oil. There is no state that can just start digging or start processing minerals because they are discovered in her state. This came up because of the small misconceptions and misinformation that came from Zamfara State, which I feel is a very expensive mistake in the sense that the information department in the state did not do its homework to tell the country the true source of the gold. Everyone has the right to trade gold. If Zamfara state wants to mine gold, there are ways it can do that: it has to apply to the Federal Government just like any other person, to obtain license just like any other person. To follow the rules on mining in Nigeria. It is not true that states in the North are personalising their minerals and even the gold that was displayed by the Zamfara State government, the information was misdirected in the sense that they bought it from miners, which anyone can do. But do not say that you’re mining because the minerals belong to you and no state has that power to personalize.
There are illegal mining in many northern states. Why is Federal Government not taking decisive action against them?
Illegal mining is found everywhere in this country, not only in the North. You find some people mining without going through the right process. It is because most of the artisanal miners who are about 90 per cent in this country don’t even know what mining is all about, but we still have an influx of foreigners who come in to capitalise with some of our people who are low in capacity and knowledge. These people do it to provide food for their families. The foreigners should educate them and not take advantage of them. Besides, nothing has been done by the government to make it more formalised. That is why we are asking for government’s intervention, both financially and capacity wise. I disagree that illegal mining is only in the North.
Do you believe that illegal mining in places like Zamfara is partly responsible for increasing insecurity in the region?
Anything that is done in a wrong way can attract insecurity risk. Anybody coming into this country should be checked and registered properly for any operation. Then, we can know what they are here for. After all, mining activities are in forms: active and passive. If there are no proper checks, insecurity will arise and that is what we have been propagating. We are ready to work with the police and the army to see that insecurity is being pushed to the lowest level.
Sometimes ago, the Federal Government tried to partner with some West African countries to ban illegal trans-border trade, so how has this affected your business here in the country?
The effect was in positive side. The decision, I believe, will strengthen our business. Mining is not the cause of banditry or insecurity. I don’t want us to continue hammering on illegal mining. Look at Boko Haram activities, tell me how many minerals are found in Borno? For how long? Almost 10 years, is it because of mining? It is just a coincidence because they are found mostly in the bushes of Zamfara, Niger, Sokoto states, and most of the miners are in the bush. Now they are correlating, but that does not imply that miners are the cause or contributors of insecurity. Rather, we are not even happy because it is affecting our operations. We had to run for our lives. And because of the way it is done, you don’t know everybody operating in your site and that is why we are requesting for formalisation to distinguish between the real from unreal miners. That will help the government to map out operational security strategies. But all these are capital intensive because we have to do biometrics and data capture, and we need money. The government has been very nonchalant at this industry and fortunately, it is becoming interested in the industry because it has realised that oil is going. The function and prestige of oil In the world is no more. It is now thinking of somewhere else. Agriculture can only feed the nation. Food cannot give any government infrastructural support, but it is good for us to feed. After that we need development, job opportunities.
As President of Miners association, can you tell us the challenges the sector is facing generally?
I have mentioned it in the cause of our conversation. We need a more formalised association to reduce the friction of insecurity, we need money. If the government wants to see that the sector is contributing seriously to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), money has to be injected. The money needed in this sector is much more than the money needed in agriculture. If Nigeria can invest N100 billion in Agriculture, we need nothing less than N300 billion or N500 billion in the mining sector to reach the stage we want to. Luckily, Nigeria is highly endowed. We have 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs) and all have different minerals. Our minerals are highly sought after in Asia, Middle East and America, but some factors are mitigating against them, and that is low infrastructure on the mining sites to reduce the risk of insecurity. We are asking for a grant and not cash to buy working equipment, to get trainers for our people on rudimentary capacity.
Any advice for Nigerians?
“Yes! Nigerians should understand that mining is one of the activities we are neglecting and we should look at it critically. I would like to address the private sector because mining is private induced sector, and the financial institutions should take the sector seriously and put in all the necessary support so that at the end of the day, there will be enough money and participation. If Nigerians can partner with the government and private institutions to give the support that this sector needs, we will have much more than the oil sector can give because there is more money in this sector. For example, today’s technology is centred towards the use of solid minerals and not oil. Soon, we will not use oil to power our cars; solar comes from solid minerals. 70 per cent of what makes a train, comes from the minerals. So, if the government gives enough support. I plead with Nigerians to mine, follow the right process and invest in the business. Nigeria has potentials. Let us help the government and the government should help us too. There has to be a starting step – the government. The government should collaborate, sensitise, educate and together, we can succeed in this country.