Lekan Adegbite, the minister of mines and steel development, said Wednesday that Nigeria’s vastness made it difficult for the federal government to put a stop to illicit miners’ operations there.
However, he emphasized that wherever they are identified, they would be dealt with in accordance with the law. The minister acknowledged that as things are, the country cannot prevent illicit mining businesses.
Adegbite emphasized how many foreign nationals were being detained and prosecuted for breaching the law and how the federal government had started organizing the so-called illicit miners into cooperatives to guarantee rigorous surveillance.
“As for illegal mining, that’s a problem because Nigeria is a very vast country. I must admit to you that we do not have the resources to pre-empt all these illegal activities because Nigeria is vast.
“But we react to it very well, because we have been monitoring through the locals, through the states and all that and the security guys are aiding us. We’ve actually arrested a lot of these nationals that you mentioned, and we have prosecuted them.
“We are working with agencies like customs, like immigration. We’re working with them to tighten the noose. We are saying don’t let these illegal people come in in the first place. But wherever we are alerted to the activities, we are left with the responsibility and we have got support of security services.
He added: “ I sincerely admit that we have some illegality all over the place because Nigeria is a vast place and I cannot come out and tell you that yes, we have the resources to pre-empt this, because we can’t be everywhere at the same time. No, it’s not possible,” the minister posited.
Adegbite said that a satellite surveillance system is currently in place within the ministry, and that it is used to keep a careful eye on unlawful activity.
The government has not declared artisanal mining illegal, despite the fact that it is a common practice in Nigeria and is not, according to the minister, since many people who engage in it utilize the money they earn from it to support their families.
Adegbite noted that there are already over 4,000 cooperatives and that members may borrow up to N100 million through the Bank of Industry (BoI) at an annual interest rate of 5% for a term of 10 to 20 years.
According to him, Nigeria has grown to be a popular destination for investors since, for example, it will cost around $400 to extract one ounce of the minerals in Nigeria, in mature jurisdictions, it may cost about $1,200 because in Nigeria it is closer to the surface of the earth.
On Ajaokuta Steel, Adegbite stated that the current arrangement is markedly different from the concession done in the past , where people just come to get things for free. According to him, the new deal will be based on equity stakes , with the process expected to be completed sometime in March this year.
“The transaction advisor in this case is guiding the federal government on the proper thing to do. We have people who are going to come in into Ajaokuta with their equity.
“We don’t want a free ride anymore. That’s one of the lessons learnt from the past. We’ve learnt a lot of lessons because we’ve had two sessions of concessions of Ajaokuta that failed.
“This time around, we are being guided by experts, and because of the value inherent in Ajaokuta, they appreciate it but we’re saying this time there is no free lunch,” Adegbite stressed.
He noted that President Muhammadu Buhari is the first president in the history of Nigeria to have committed money to mining in the country, of up to the tune of $100 million.
“We’ve talked about diversification over the years from one administration to the other, but actually putting money where the mouth is, President Buhari did that and because mining is a very risky venture, the government needs to de-risk the sector.
“ We invested money in exploration and of course, acquiring data, which is what President Buhari did, especially from 2017. This data is what is attracting people to the sector now.
“ And additionally when we came in, I noticed that we were going the route of petroleum again, where we exported the crude oil and they will bring in refined product, so we started the process of engaging stakeholders.
“It took us about two years, but today it’s an official policy of government. It was approved by council, where without beneficiation you cannot export raw ore from Nigeria anymore,” the minister explained.
Describing it as a major achievement, Adegbite noted that the government does not want to be ‘a raw material place’. He added that the federal government was working with the private owner of Burutu port in Delta State to make sure that Nigeria designates the port as the mineral port in Nigeria.
On monies generated by the activities in mining, Adegbite said: “Well, you need to appreciate that the journey of 1000 miles starts with the first step. If you look at what mining was contributing to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), let’s say 10 years ago, and what it is contributing today, it’s a giant leap.
“Where we were doing less than N1 billion, today we are doing N10 billion,” he noted.