The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Lekan Adegbite, on Tuesday revealed that it was impossible for the federal government to halt the activities of illegal minerals miners in the country due to Nigeria’s vast size.
Speaking on ARISE NEWS, the minister noted that as it is, the nation cannot pre-empt illegal mining operators, stressing however, that wherever they are found, they will be dealt with according to the law.
Adegbite explained that the federal government had begun to organise the so-called illegal miners into cooperatives to ensure thorough monitoring, stressing that so many foreign nationals were being arrested and prosecuted for breaking the law.
“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 disclosed that in the ministry, there now exists a satellite monitoring system from which illegal activities are closely watched.
While artisanal mining is a major activity in Nigeria and therefore not illegal, the minister said the government had not made it unlawful because many of those involved use proceeds from it to feed their families.
Noting that there are currently over 4,000 cooperatives, Adegbite explained that members can borrow through the Bank of Industry (BoI) to the sum of up to N100 million at 5 per cent interest rate per annum stretched for 10 to 20 years.
He opined that Nigeria has become a major location for investors because while for instance, it will cost about $400 to mine an 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.