One of the campaign trademarks and promises of President Muhammadu Buhari prior to the 2015 general elections was diversification of the economy from oil sector to the solid minerals sector. A year after his inauguration, however, the sector seems to be inactive, writes JEREMIAH AREMU-OKE.
Major mainstream of diversification of the Nigerian economy proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari is the mines and steel sector. This, President Buhari emphatically said, will be captured in the 2016 national budget and begin implementation immediately after passage of the budget.
The importance of this sector cannot be over-emphasised as Nigeria is in dire need of diversified income sources and it is endowed with many natural mineral resources across the country. These natural resources include gold, coal, bitumen, limestone, iron, lead/zinc and barytes.
The Minister of Solid Minerals, Dr Kayode Fayemi, emphasised this when he said “The role of solid mineral development in the history of our nation’s economic development cannot be overemphasised.
“We have seen the damage that over relying on oil as a major source of revenue generation has done to our economy. This is why President Buhari is so passionate about solid mineral development. He has never hidden his views about how he wants the sector to be properly harnessed.
“He has seen the need for diversification of our revenue source, and solid mineral is one key area we want to properly explore. Let me remind us all that this is the era of change. And we are not just to say it, but we must be seen putting it into practice. The president didn’t send us to the various ministries to witch hunt anybody, but to ensure that things are done in a coordinated manner. The best way to face challenges is through performance,” he said.
President Buhari also emphasised the need and benefit of diversification of the economy to solid mineral sector when he said it will reduce unemployment and also help to improve security in the country, adding that unemployment and insecurity are inseparable.
While speaking with a delegation of French investors under the aegis of Movement of the Enterprises of France (MEDEF), led by its President, Mr Pierre Gattaz recently, President Buhari said the policies currently being evolved by his administration would boost domestic manufacturing and attract greater investment to Nigeria’s agricultural and mining sector. This will also generate more funds for the national development.
“Ultimately, reducing unemployment will also help to improve security because unemployment and insecurity are inseparable,” President Buhari told the French investors.
However, the Ministry of Solid Minerals has in recent time been mostly docile, dull and if continues this way, cannot drive the vision of the government.
A mining expert who craved anonymity, asked, “When will the Ministry of Solid Minerals come out with a road map, which will buttress the vision of Mr president of making the sector a major plank in the diversification strategy for the economy? If truly the government was serious about this, we expect them to come up with a blue print in that regard. Has the government invested in this sector?” he queried.
A source close to the ministry who pleaded anonymous, confided in our correspondent that lack of finances is crippling the mining sector.
The source further explained that all the mining sites in the country are not performing maximally to drive the nation’s economy so soon. “Let government support this sector with fund and see the result,” he noted.
A geologist and mining expert in Abuja, Dr Tajudeen Oyebanji, noted that lack of directions by government is what is affecting the sector over the years. He carpeted the government saying the present administration which promised heaven and earth on mining sector is not doing enough in that direction.
“Hindrances affecting our mining sector are so enormous, but one of the fundamental hindrances is government interest to invest in mining sector and if you are talking about interest, fund must be available to support the industry. The industry is large and capital intensive. If government is determined to invest in the industry as it has promised, massive infrastructure must be in place.”
He explained that Nigeria is blessed with many natural resources which are capable of driving the economy if truly the Federal Government is serious about the diversification.
“I could remember there was a time expatriates from the United States visited Nigeria to access the mining deposited in Nigeria and also see how they can sign a working agreement with Nigeria, but to their surprise, we have about 38 different solid minerals across the country.
“Taking stone for instance, we have metallic stone, industrial stone and we also have the precious stone. The precious stone alone has about 38 species. Just one of these species can provide economy stability for Nigeria.
“It is enough to provide our need to take Nigeria to the promise land and forget about the oil sector. I am talking about Tourmaline alone. But before we pass through the gestation period which is a minimum of 15 years, Nigerians must endure and depend on oil as usual. I mean we have to invest for 15 years before we could get to pure and real stone that will attract polish and cutting in the mining market, which will be weighed by carat and not per gram. I am not talking of raw stone now but cutting and polish level which is now in secondary level.
“At this level, it constitutes three things, which include the cleaning, size and the colour. It must be rich in colour, clean inward and the size must be 10 grammes upward. So, before any investor could reach that level, it will wait for minimum of 15 years, which is the gestation period.
“We have all these types of stones across Nigeria. From the west to south and from south to east. We also have across the northern part of the country. I don’t know why government is not exploring this to develop Nigeria rather than mere promising.”
On the inclusion of the development of the mining sector which is in the 2016 budget, Oyebanji said if truly it is included in the budget, it can’t be implemented this year and not even in the year coming because government is not preparing for it.
“It is true that the Federal Government said it is included in the 2016 budget, but we are not seeing anything to that effect. Government is always looking at mining sector as its destination for diversification of the economy, but I am not seeing anything on ground to that effect. Up till this moment, there has not been any invitation to serious experts in the world. No convention or workshop for miners in the country or outside the country. No international conference of solid minerals. All we hear from our Minister of Solid Mineral is vocabulary, but the real practical aspect of mining is not there yet.”
The geologist commended the government for inviting the World Bank for development of the sector, but urged government to expedite action, if going in that direction.
“Although I commend the government for inviting the World Bank to support our mining sector, they must begin now. Artisanal miners were directed to form corporate bodies, which means the Federal Government will be their guarantor and the World Bank will now invest in the artisan mining industry. But is the Federal Government really serious about it? It has been like that for many years and it has not yielded any positive result.”
He advised the Federal Government to invite countries that had been successful in mining exploration as their means of survival and hold an international conference and invest hugely in the sector.
“So if the Federal Government is ready to use mining as an opportunity to diversify the economy and drag it forward, all the mining nations must be invited and hold an international conference with them. There are many nations of the world that had been successful through mining sector. So we have to invite them to support us and invest in our economy.
“Fayemi as a Minister of Solid Mineral is an embodiment of talent but he is a novice in the system. So he needs professionals. I mean practical professionals. Mining needs practical than theoretical aspect. It needs somebody who understands what is going on in the industry. He needs to step forward to show Nigerians his blueprint or roadmap for the ministry. He needs to learn about establishment of mining company, gestation period and massive infrastructures, so that he won’t be taken for granted for his empty promises,” he advised.