The need to regulate mining activities

Despite the abundant solid minerals in the country, it is sad that the federal government has paid more attention to the exploitation of oil and gas resources. As a result of this utter neglect of the solid minerals, the sector has been dominated by foreigners and some Nigerians. However, most of them are illegal miners. That is why the federal government is not earning much money from its gold, coal, limestone, tin, tantalite, basalt, and other minerals.

The recent trapping of about 50 miners in a collapsed mining pit in Galkogo community in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State has further reinforced the need to urgently regulate the mining sector. The pit reportedly collapsed after a downpour. While one of the miners died, six were rescued with various injuries. The mining sector has been exploited by unregistered expatriates and their greedy Nigerian counterparts, thereby depriving the federal government of billions of dollars. The lack of regulation in the sector has led to avoidable deaths of the local miners and degradation of the environment.

Apart from oil and gas, the solid mineral sector appears to be the next oil in terms of revenue earning. The government can easily diversify the economy if it regulates the sector. The economic potential of the sector is enormous. Recently, Katsina State discovered 442 new mining sites. In the absence of regulation by the federal government, artisanal and small-scale mining activities have been prevalent in many parts of country, especially in the rural areas, where the bulk of these minerals are located, away from the prying eyes of security agencies. Unfortunately, the federal government loses billions of dollars annually to illegal miners.

It is based on the foregoing that we welcome the recent bill to regulate the mining sector, which was sponsored by Senator Natasha Agboti-Uduaghan, representing Kogi Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly.  Senator Natasha said that gold could be a good source of income for Nigeria if the country handled the sector efficiently.

Considering the loss of revenue from the sector and the attendant deaths in the unregulated sector, we enjoin members of the National Assembly to expedite action on the bill meant to regulate mining activities in the country. With the overdependence on oil and the downturn in the economy, the federal government should urgently explore the abundant solid mineral sector to rev up the economy and create new jobs. Overlapping responsibilities between federal and state governments have exacerbated the problem in the sector. The land tenure system has equally deterred investment in the sector. These challenges must be addressed.

Besides regulating the sector, the federal government should address some peculiar challenges militating against the sector. The remote location of mining sites poses big infrastructure challenges in accessing water and power, as well as high cost of transportation. Consequently, miners have to deal with security concerns, from community conflicts to armed banditry. This has created an unstable operating environment for the sector. Investors would not like to invest in an unsafe environment. This is a wake-up call on the federal government to curb the lingering security challenges across the country.

The lack of regulation in the sector has also made it possible for poor mining practices to flourish with devastating environmental and health consequences. Illegal miners are in the habit of using unregulated mercury. Trees are cut with reckless abandon, leading to deforestation. The consequences of this environmental degradation are huge.

We believe that developing the sector will reduce the routine vulnerability of the economy to fluctuations in oil prices in the international market. Nigeria has no reason to be hugely indebted when the country’s vast mineral resources can engender economic prosperity and growth, if well harnessed. Part of the reason the naira has been losing its value is the paucity of exports. Exporting the abundant solid minerals can generate foreign exchange and boost the nation’s balance of payments.

The government can grant incentives, such as tax rebates, duty-free importation of mining equipment to investors in the sector. Emphasis should be placed on developing local content in the mining sector in order to promote technology transfer, job creation, and skill development among young Nigerians.

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