The Federal Government said on Thursday that the fight for supremacy among criminal elements over the control of mining operations in the state coupled with some other security challenges compelled the administration to suspend mining activities in Zamfara State.
The Minister of Mines of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Olamilekan Adegbite, who made allusion to that effect while presenting the scorecard of the Buhari administration in the Mines and Steel sector between 2015 and2023, said that the suspension of mining operations would remain in force until the security situation in Zamfara changes.
Zamfara is the only state in Nigeria where we have suspended mining activities and the situation will remain so until further notice due to some security challenges. Once there is a change, mining activities will return,” the minister said.
The minister, who was flanked by his information counterpart, Lai Mohammed, said that the federal government has made a policy that no individual should engage in artisanal mining but registered cooperatives and corporate institutions to ensure accountability and transparency in the process.
Turning to the state of the uncompleted and Ajaokuta Steel complex in Kogi State, the minister announced that the plan by the government to start production in the plant scheduled for the last quarter of this year would no longer take place.
The Minister explained that due to the prolonged effect of the covid-19 , some Russian experts who were contacted in 2019 to come to Nigeria and conclude work on the steel plant could not do so while other processes put in place for the operation, suspended as a result of the pandemic.
“We are sorry to say that the opening of the plant which was slated for the last quarter of this year will no longer be possible,” Adegbite said on Thursday.
But the minister said that no fewer than 11 companies had indicated interest to take over and run the Ajaokuta Steel Plant and that the court case that had been the major drawback for the progress of the plant, had been settled with the payment of over $491 million to the litigant, thereby paving the way for interested investors to run the plant in a new partnership with the Nigerian government.
The minister said, “The major albatross against Ajaokuta was the court cases instituted against Nigeria by Global Steel which asked for $7 billion compensation but we have successfully settled and paid off the claimant $491 million and we are going to get a new partner through concession to run the plant.
“The assets and liability have been compiled in order to give to the potential investor to settle. In 2019 we said we would restart Ajaokuta but covid started and stalled our plan and we are sorry we can no longer complete work on Ajaokuta and begin production because the stages of work that were to be done could not proceed due to covid. The Russians who were to be brought in in early 2020 could not come because of covid
“Now, we are also talking to Russians and out of the 11 entities who have indicated interest to run Ajaokuta, three are Russians. People are interested to bring in their money to invest in Ajaokuta and we are not going to restart the place this year as we earlier promised.
On the activities of illegal miners, the minister admitted that it was still a problem as they hide under the canopy of artisanal miners to operate in the country but that efforts were in place to trace and dislodge them wherever they are found.
The minister also admitted that policing the entire country to stop illegal miners was a serious challenge but that they were putting measures in place to stall such acts and save money for the country.
The minister also gave hope for the production in the country, saying that before the end of 2023, it would be possible to churn out bitumen from plants in Nigeria due to the processes the ministry is putting in place for that purpose.
According to him, no fewer than 26 companies had applied for license to start the production of bitumen in Nigeria and Nigeria had appointed a financial adviser to rank the entities with a view to selecting the qualified ones to go into the business.
The minister said, “We have put necessary processes in place to ensure that bitumen is processed in Nigeria and to enable Nigeria to realize the full benefit of the mineral that is found in large deposits in the country.
“By the grace of God by the end of next year, we will be able to process bitumen in Nigeria so that it would lower the cost of road construction in Nigeria. Twenty six companies have indicated interest to process bitumen in Nigeria for local road construction and export. The transaction adviser is ranking those that can do the production in the country. We are currently in the process of selecting the ones that are qualified to set up their production process in Nigeria, Adegbite said.
He also said that mining is gaining more grounds in Nigeria and contributing 1.5 percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product from the zero percent it was contributing before the Buhari administration came on board.
Adegbite also defended the continued payment of salaries to staff of the dormant Ajaokuta Steel, saying that they payment is to enable the staff to continue to keep the huge machinery in good state.