Wasting solid minerals – The Nation

  • This must stop if we want to achieve meaningful diversification

Given the sheer quantity, diversity and geographical spread of Nigeria’s deposit of valuable solid minerals, with great economic potential, there is certainly no excuse for the country’s dependence on crude oil for over 90 percent of her revenue earnings. This overdependence on oil earnings has led to the inability of governments at all levels to effectively fulfill their responsibilities to the vast majority of citizens, especially against the backdrop of constantly falling and unpredictable oil prices.

The revelation that the earnings in Nigeria’s solid minerals revenue account as of June, 2019, is N14.7 billion is troubling, even though this shows a marginal increase in the figure of solid minerals earnings from the N 12.2 billion recorded for November, 2018. In May, 2019, the country collected N350, 945, 757 from solid minerals transactions.  The monthly revenue target of the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development put at N342, 064, 757.90 is clearly less than ambitious and does not reflect the country’s immense potential in this sector.

It has become very urgent for the ministry to come up with a roadmap for the revitalisation of the solid minerals sector so as to unleash its fulsome but still untapped promises as a vehicle for rapid economic progress and development. Over the last three years, the ministry has reportedly awarded about N14 billion worth of contracts for exploration of solid minerals prospects as part of efforts to diversify the economy for newer and more buoyant sources of revenue. Yet, much more needs to be done to revive this critical sector.

A survey by the Geological Survey Agency of Nigeria and the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development indicate that there are over 34 minerals in 450 locations spread across all geo-political zones in the country. The implication is that there is hardly any state that is not blessed with one solid mineral or the other that can be tapped to enhance the effectiveness and developmental capacities of these often financially incapacitated units of government. Some of these largely untapped solid minerals found in substantial quantities in Nigeria are gold, lead, zinc, tantalite, coal, bitumen, limestone, kaolin, marble, dolomite, gypsum, gemstones, talc, columbite, barite and clay.

The Federal Government’s reported plan to work with financial institutions like the Nigerian Export-Import Bank (NEXIM) and the Bank of Industry (BOI) to devise new strategies to catalyse the funding of mining projects in the country is commendable. But the changes necessary to optimise the dormant benefits of our solid mineral resources must be more far reaching.

Today, the Federal Government monopolises the rights to the ownership of mineral resources as well as the authority of granting of titles to enable organisations explore, mine, and sell mineral resources. Thus, many state governments which have solid minerals within their territorial jurisdictions cannot benefit from such advantages. Ironically, therefore, in states like Zamfara and Ondo, which have sizable deposits of gold, mostly criminal elements have exploited the vacuum to engage in illegal mining of the resource to the detriment of both the health of the environment as well as the security of the people.

It is thus critical to urgently decentralise the control and management of such solid minerals to the respective states, which can more effectively utilise them to benefit their respective economies while paying the requisite taxes to the Federal Government. No less imperative is the need to create the necessary environment as well as incentives for legitimate private sector investment in solid minerals. Given the urgent need to lift millions of Nigerians out of poverty, and the reality of ever dwindling fiscal resources to meet urgent challenges of governance, Nigeria cannot afford to allow her abundant solid mineral resources to be a wasting asset.

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