The hues and cries over the diminishing revenue from the country’s oil and gas sector is no doubt still playing out with the resonance of a broken record. Since the early 1960s when the increasing revenue from the sector somewhat blinded the vision of past
leaders, Nigeria thought, drank and lived for the revenue from the black gold, as it was referred to then. But that is not any more. Current developments have since consigned that to the dustbin of hadbeens. Welcome to the reality of the dispensation of looking beyond the oil and gas tenure.
By stating its commitment to developing the solid minerals sector during the last presidential campaigns, the then opposition party, All Progressives Congress, APC, did not lose sight of this reality that was gradually dawning on the global community. But today, with the revenue from the sector dipping and the national currency, the Naira exchange rate sliding as low as almost 280 to the Dollar, the need for immediate practical steps towards turning around things in the country’s solid minerals sector must be taken as central to the immediate and future survival of the country.
Instructively, the Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dr. KayodeFayemi has by his public utterances on the subject matter, landed on the same page with us. If there is one thing the country needs most now is to move away from the mono- product economy that it has been known for and find solutions to the economic challenges that we currently battle in the solid mineral sector.
But we see the minister’s pronouncement, especially at his inaugural press briefing on the activities of the ministry, as a mere restatement of all that Nigerians have heard about a sector that, if properly developed and managed, can add immense economic value to the country, but over which little or nothing has been done. At the risk of stating the obvious, the repetitive expression of commitment by government, will not diversify Nigeria’s mono-product economy. A number of fundamentals, including implementation are vital to developing the sector. And in this, as in all else, the buck will ultimately stop at the president’s desk.
Yes, Fayemi told the nation that the main focus of his ministry is to reposition mining activities and ensure the sector contributes immense growth to the economy within a decade. He also declared that the government was determined to make the Ajaokuta Steel complex work despite an alleged international conspiracy to sabotage the project. The minister disclosed that the solid minerals sector currently makes up about 0.34 % of
GDP, which translates to about N400 billion in value to the economy. He regretted that the sector has been operating far below capacity, and promised that from March, any current holder of a mining license, who fails to use it would forfeit such when the ministry would start enforcing the “use it or lose it” doctrine as enshrined in the 2007 Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act.
For a country that has proven commercial deposits of gold, bitumen, tin, columbite and coal among several others, we hold that once the right will from government alongside relevant enforcement of provisions of the Mining Act is demonstrated, the journey to the land of Nigeria beyond oil will truly begin. And alongside the obvious incidental opportunities that it will throw up, government will then be seen as actualising its vision of using the sector to diversify the economy and create jobs. The opportunities are almost endless. There is absolutely no state in Nigeria that is not endowed with solid minerals that, if exploited efficiently, will exponentially enlarge their revenue base. From Abiathrough Benue to Sokoto; from Bayelsa through Enugu, Osun and Kogi to Plateau, Nigeria is blessed with at least, 44 varieties of solid minerals many of which exist in commercial and exploitable quantities. Indeed, many of these are strategic minerals, so-called because they are critical to the manufacture of high-tech products, as well as for military and other strategic purposes.
It is, for instance, estimated that three billion tons of iron ore deposits in states from Kogi through Edo to Niger and Nasarawa; 42 billion tons of bitumen in Ondo and Ogun states, and 600 million tons of proven coal reserves in Enugu and Ondo states. So too are barite and bentonite in Adamawa and Plateau states. Iron ore is also found in Kwara and Benue, uranium in Bayelsa and Cross River, columbite in Kwara and Osun, mica in Kaduna, and gold in Zamfara, Abia, and Kebbi. Precious gemstones exist extensively in Benue, Ondo, Kano and Gombe. Similarly, coal, gypsum and bitumen are in abundance in many states of the federation. All these are waiting for purposeful action on the part of government.
What the country needs now is for relevant will and sense of purpose that can drive the exploitation of these blessings of nature. Enough of the talk shows, rhetoric and empty cheap talks about how this can be done with no concrete step being taken in that direction. As far as we can observe so far, it is all motion without movement in this obvious need for shift of emphasis away from revenue from the oil and gas sector to the solid mineral sector.