Plunder of Nigeria's solid mineral deposits - National Mirror

By The Citizen

Nigeria appears a country that lends herself to being kicked around like football even when she is down; or that wounded man that relishes the pouring of salt on his wounds. How else can we buttress a situation where a country now literally struck down by falling oil prices, which should busy herself with plugging all financial waste channels, exploring other revenue sources and diversifying her economy, is permissive of the plundering of her solid mineral endowments, as was reported early last week? Illegal local and foreign miners scrambling for semi-precious stones and gold, among others, are said to be bleeding the nation to the tune of billions of dollars annually in states like Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Kogi and Osun, et cetera, due to government's ineptitude and ineffectiveness in regulating mining operations in the country.

We recall that the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act of 2007 passed into law on March 16, 2007, which repealed the Minerals and Mining Act, No. 34 of 1999, vests control of all properties and minerals in Nigeria in the state; and prohibits unauthorised exploration or exploitation of such mineral deposits. All lands bearing minerals in commercial quantities, beginning from the moment the Act came into effect were to be acquired by the Federal Government in accordance with the Land Use Act; while property in mineral resources would pass from the government to the person by whom the mineral resources are lawfully won upon their recovery in accordance with the provisions of the Act.

The Minister of Mines and Steel Development has the charge of ensuring orderly and sustainable development of the nation's mineral resources, creating an enabling environment for local and foreign investors (providing adequate infrastructure for mining activities and identifying areas where government intervention is desirable for achieving set policy goals in mineral resources development). The Act equally made provision for the establishment of the Mining Cadastre Office (MCO), which is responsible for the administration of mineral titles and the maintenance of the cadastral registers. The minister, by regulation, has power to determine areas eligible for the grant of exploration or mining leases based on competitive bidding processes, among others.

Roughly seven years after the law came into effect, however, it is sad that it is business as usual for solid minerals' thieves. The cavalier attitude of those charged with regulating the sector to their bounden responsibilities is unacceptable. A former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, Mr. Linus Awute, was quoted as saying, for example, that Nigeria lost $50bn (aboutN8tn) in the last two years to neighbouring countries as a result of illegal mining and exportation of unprocessed gold, a colossal hemorrhage he described as monumental. The activities of the illegal miners were also said to be far beyond control. The seeming helplessness of the government while such huge losses are flying in its face will go a long way in finding explanations for the massive crude oil theft the nation is witnessing in the Niger Delta axis. Even if the nation is in a war time situation, the loss of about N8tn, which could conservatively represent the nation's annual budget for two fiscal years, to solid mineral thieves portrays Nigeria as one nation where law do not count; a nation where anything goes.

It is, however, not improbable that the rot in solid minerals sector regulation has links with the ridiculously poor budgetary allocation to the Mines and Steel Development Ministry over the years, despite the fact that projects in the sector are capitalintensive. Our expectation, nonetheless, had been that with the approval of the Solid Minerals Development Fund (SDMF) about the second quarter of 2013, the financial stress would be over. But it never did! Reports said the SDMF board's request of about N250m to start operations in the 2013 fiscal year was slashed to N100m by the Federal Ministry of Finance; and that even the N100 million has not been released till date.

In whose interest or favour could the unmitigated looting of the nation's solid mineral deposits be? Who is frustrating the funding of SDMF? For us, however, the buck ends with the Presidency. We therefore implore the Federal Government to revert its castration of the Mines and Steel Development Ministry and the SDMF. It is immoral for a government to enact laws and treat same with utter mockery and contempt. We condemn without equivocation the mess.