By NBF News

Remi Babalola
For the Minister of State for Finance, Mr. Remi Babalola, it does not make sense  for Nigeria to  still  continue importing cement, 50 years after independence, despite the abundant  limestone deposit in the country.

Babalola spoke with  Daily Sun in Abeokuta, Ogun State  capital shortly after  the inauguration of   a 1.2 million metric tonnes quarry belonging to   Multiverse Plc at Alaguntan Village in Obafemi-Owode Local Government Area.

According to him, Nigeria should be able to export cement to other African countries by now if the country had been able to put its acts together in terms of infrastructure and the right policy support for different sectors of the economy.

What Nigeria  needed to do was to open up the economic environment for the private sector to thrive, particularly in the area of mining  which he said could be liberalized in a way that it would significantly contribute to the annual Gross Domestic Product of the nation. He disclosed that the turnover in the telecommunications companies was beginning to outgrow the turnover in the manufacturing companies.

His words: 'Why on earth should we at this point be importing cement? It doesn't make any sense, whatsoever. What we should be doing at this point in time is that we should be exporting cement to other African countries.  We have some challenges in the area of power generation but some measures are already being put in place to address this.

'What we should consider should be holistic, the whole gamut of the economy; not just in the mining sector. It is about restructuring the economy. What the Federal Government has been doing with Vision 20:20-20 is to reconstruct, restructure and change the architectural platform of the Nigerian economy, so that we move away from the mono-cultural perspective, whereby what we are dealing with is oil and gas.What we are doing  is to open up the whole of the economic atmosphere in such a way that it will be conducive for the private investors like Multiverse to be able to participate and move the economy to another level.

'So, what we are doing is to open up the economy like what we have witnessed in the telecommunications sector, where the turnover is beginning to outshoot that of the manufacturing sector. How old is the liberalization of the telecommunications sector and you can see that the manufacturing industries had been there even before independence.' His words: ''We are creating enabling environment for private sectors in all spheres of human endeavours  so as to help reduce the employment in the country. Essentially, it is not what government should, but government allowing freedom of the system to actually bring the best in them''.

''Construction companies have direct linkage to employment and unemployment. The greatest challenge we have aside from governance and leadership is  unemployment. People do not  appreciate that the extent of unemployment is huge. All we can do is to remove the binding constraints not allowing people to bring the potentials in them.

'The Mines and power has the capacity to transform our economy. Why on earth should we be still importing cement. It does not make any sense. In fact what we should be doing at this point is exporting to some African countries.

''We should be exporting  rice, and other agricultural products. For us to be able to do this is  to allow private sector to run it. We are going to give policy support and policy focus and allow them to do the best that they can do. Babalola stated: ''As the availability of mineral resources has remained a visible feature of our nation's economy, the arduous task of mining and transforming them into useful economic values should  be consistently pursued for the entrenchment of a broad  based mining culture and the adoption of a realistic mining strategy which operational frame work is responsive to raw-material needs of our economy.

''As a way of creating conducive environment to bring out the best  of the mining industries operating in the country, the Federal government has concluded plans to set up a special Solid Mineral Development Fund. We will do what is the optimal in the interest of the generality of Nigerians. Babalola insisted  that the Federal Government was not interested running such businesses but concerned with freeing the system for the private sector to operate and bring out the best in the system.

The minister believed that the nation's GDP could hit $900bn if the restructuring process was achieved especially with the liberation of the mining sector, which he said had been underutilized. 'My coming here (Quarry) today is a testimony the importance we attach to things like this. How many companies like this do you have in Nigeria today, listed on the Stock Exchange? The mine and steel have the capacity to transform the economy significantly. What we should do is to take some sectors like this and allow the private sector to come in. If we do this, we should be exporting cement, exporting rice and other products,' he said.

He assured that the government would give policy support and policy focus to different parts of the economy, saying an Act was already in place in the mining sector, which would be energized so that the active private players could be allowed to flourish. Babalola,  also declared that the greatest prevailing problem of the country was high rate of unemployment,  and stressed  that the economy could not be diversified and generate more employment without the diversification of the mining industry.

His  position was also shared by the  Minister of Mine and Steel Development, Alhaji Mohammed Sada,  who during his address as a guest of honour announced  that the Federal Government had approved the setting up of the Solid Mineral Fund. This he added was meant to fast-track the development of the mining sector.

Sada said the  fund would ensure that the mining sector received the fillip that would allow the sector the same economic stature and viability as the oil and gas sector  pledged that the new strategy of the Federal Government was to open up all sectors for private sector participation.

The Minister also disclosed that the ministry was about releasing the results of the airborne survey, carried out to determine the prevalence of mineral deposit in different parts of the country, explained that the legal framework to back the setting up of the fund, had been completed.

He said, 'I must tell you that the mining industry and this industry has the capacity to generate as much as what the nation generates from the oil and gas sector. But there is need for diversification in order to realize this dream. So, to do this, the Federal Government has set up the Solid Mineral Fund just as we have dedicated funds for

agriculture, textile, manufacturing industries. This is to aid our diversification effort.

'To aid this diversification, a well organized body will be set up to oversee the fund. The legal framework is already in place. With this, we are sure that apart from the resources and revenues that would accrue, the employment opportunities would be enormous.' Sada explained that the ministry had studied the same arrangement in China, Ghana and India, where  such funds had been set up, saying the arrangement in these countries had assisted the ministry in setting up the fund.

We want to get out of the way so that companies like Multiverse can emerge and employ more people; float companies that will be bankable and viable so that the economy can grow,' the minister said.

The Ogun State Governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel in his speech read on his behalf by Mr. Gboyega Isiaka assured that his administration would continue to provide enabling environment for industries to flourish in the state'.

Isiaka  also  faulted the recent World Bank report which listed Ogun among states where it was difficult to do business.

Isiaka picked holes in the report saying that ''the facts on ground do not support the report to be true as a studious tour of the state will reveal an unprecedented upsurge in the socio-economic and physical development brought about the proliferation of new businesses and foreign direct investments''.

The Managing Director of Multiverse Plce, Mr. Ayeni Fasina in his welcome address disclosed that the company would soon establish branches in all the six geo-political zones in the Federation. He also hinted that the company would soon diverse its activities by veering into the construction company.

Fasina, who said the five-year-old company engaged 400 Nigerians and expatriates on its pay-roll, urged the government to back up local entrepreneurs to ensure the grow of the local industries.