In spite of the Federal Government’s resolve to diversify the economy through the exploitation of solid minerals, among others, it is sad that illegal mining is reportedly thriving in six states in the country. The states are Niger, Plateau, Zamfara, Ebonyi Enugu and Imo. According to the report by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) entitled: “Improving Transparency and Governance for Value Optimisation in Nigeria’s Mining Sector,” which was presented in Abuja recently, Niger and Plateau states topped the illegal mining list. While Niger state had 10 illegal mining sites, Plateau had seven. Ebonyi and Imo states had five illegal mining sites while Enugu and Zamfara states had four sites. The exploited minerals included gold, silver lead, zinc, tantalite, tin, columbite, barites, gypsum, Sapphire, emerald, granite tourmaline, sandstone and others. We condemn all illegal mining operations across the country and call on the Federal Government to urgently check the menace. We also believe that the reported absence of globally recognised mining companies in the country is likely to be responsible for the upsurge in illegal mining activities. The Federal Government should make the nation’s mining sector attractive to reputable mining firms. It is an irony that a government that is diversifying its economy is seemingly tolerating illegal mining activities in some parts of the country. The government should see illegal mining as an obstacle to its diversification drive.
Due to illegal mining, the sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has dwindled from about five per cent in the 1960s and 1970s to 0.5 per cent at present. Between 2007 and 2016, the solid minerals sector provided only $1.777billion or 0.55 per cent to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while oil and gas yielded $474 billion. While Nigeria gets less from the sector, other African countries are getting more. For instance, the mining sector in Botswana contributes over 40 per cent to its GDP. In DR Congo and South Africa, it is 25 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively.
Therefore, the NEITI report should be a wake-up call on the Federal Government to come up with measures to tackle illegal mining. Statistics from the Federal Ministry of Solid Minerals Development show that over two million people are engaged in illegal mining. Most of them are said to be poor, unemployed and living in rural areas. They use crude methods and household implements to exploit the minerals. Illegal mining poses some health challenges which include lead poisoning, mercury pollution, deforestation, poor sanitation and heavy metals pollution. It can also lead to the outbreak of infectious diseases, among others.
The Federal Government should come up with policies that will adequately regulate mining in the country if the existing ones are not working. The time has come for the government to harness all available solid minerals. If properly exploited, solid minerals will boost the nation’s foreign exchange and create jobs. State governments should be involved in the exploitation of the solid minerals.
We believe that government should create an enabling environment for investment in the sector. There is need for a review of the nation’s mining laws. Such a review should take into consideration the participation of state governments, private persons and foreign interests in the mining industry. Currently, the Petroleum Act 1969 vests all minerals in the country in the Federal Government. The 1999 Constitution (as amended) in Item 39 of the Second Schedule also states that “Mines and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, geological surveys and natural gas, belong to the Federal Government.” Despite this provision, illegal miners are still exploiting the nation’s solid minerals without government’s approval. This is the best time to give priority attention to the non-oil sector. Unarguably, illegal mining tops the list of the challenges facing the sector. With the volatility in the price of crude oil in international market, attention should be focused more on the solid mineral sector as another source of revenue.