Despite the Federal Government’s efforts to diversify the economy, earn more foreign exchange and create jobs, reports of illegal gold mining and other solid minerals across many states of the federation, are very disturbing. Data from the Ministry of Solid Minerals and Development show that illegal gold mining and other solid mineral activities have continued to thrive in spite of government’s repeated threat to prosecute culprits. Also, in terms of revenue, statistics show that between 2014 and 2015, Nigeria reportedly lost an estimated $9billion to illegal mining across the country.
Besides, geological survey estimates that some 18,000kg of gold valued at nearly $1billion was smuggled out of the country between 2018 and 2019. According to the General Secretary, Nigerian Mining and Geoscience Society (NMGS), Dr. Akinade Olatunji, Nigerian gold currently dominates the Dubai gold market. No doubt, Nigeria has lost so much in foreign exchange earnings because the Federal Government has not done much to adequately regulate mining. Available statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that the mining sector has the potential to contribute 23 per cent to the nation’s GDP. A recent survey by the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development shows that there are gold deposits in Abuja, Abia, Bauchi, Cross River, Edo, Niger, Sokoto, Kebbi, Oyo, Kogi, Zamfara, Osun and Kaduna states. Unfortunately, illegal gold mining is reportedly thriving in these states.
Last year, a report by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) entitled: “Improving Transparency and Governance for Value Optimisation in Nigeria’s Mining Sector,” said Niger and Plateau states topped the illegal mining list, followed by Zamfara and Osun states. Only recently, some Chinese were caught in Osun for illegal gold mining, which was said to have polluted the Osun River with poisonous metals, thereby making it unsafe for human consumption. While in Zamfara, 250 illegal miners were arrested by security agencies.
In 2018, illegal mining in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) triggered earth tremor in Mpape and Maitama districts of Abuja. It is believed that the reported absence of globally recognised mining companies in the country may be responsible for the upsurge in illegal mining activities in the country. It is sad that while the government has expressed its commitment to diversifying the economy, illegal gold mining is booming in some parts of the country. The government should see illegal mining as an obstacle to its diversification drive.
According to reports, gold from Nigeria when properly refined and purified, could be as good as any gold from any country in the world. There is need for adequate legislation on gold mining. Due to illegal mining, the sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has dwindled from about fivr per cent in the 1960s and 1970s to less than one per cent currently. Between 2007 and 2016, gold and other solid minerals provided only $1.777 billion or 0.55 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP, while oil and gas yielded $474billion. Other African countries, like South Africa and Botswana, are earning much more from the solid mineral sector, contributing 45 per cent and 25 per cent respectively, to Botswana and South Africa’s GDP.
Beyond the lamentations over illegal mining, the Federal Government should come up with concrete policies that will adequately regulate the mining sector and mete condign punish to illegal miners. The government should set the rules guiding the exploitation of solid minerals in both states and local governments. There is need to review the nation’s mining laws. Such a review should take into consideration the participation of state governments, private persons and genuine foreign interests who should be duly licensed by the appropriate authorities. Four years ago, the Federal Government declared that state governments could explore and exploit mineral resources in their domains.
Hitherto, that right was, and still remains the exclusive right of the Federal Government. The Petroleum Act 1969 vests all minerals in the country in the Federal Government. Also, the 1999 Constitution (as amended) in item 39 of the Second Schedule states: “Mines and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, geological surveys and natural gas, belong to the Federal Government.” In addition, Section 44(3) of the Nigerian Minerals Law of 1999 provides that ownership and control of all minerals in Nigeria is vested in the Federal Government, which is mandated to manage such natural resources in a manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.
Despite these laws, illegal miners are still exploiting the nation’s solid minerals sector. With the volatility in global oil market induced by the coronavirus pandemic, this is the best opportunity to give priority attention to the non-oil sector and earn more foreign exchange. With over 44 confirmed mineral resources across the country, the government should not delay any longer to develop them as another source of revenue for the country.