30 May 2012

Nigeria: Developing Solid Minerals - Challenges, Prospects

The solid minerals sector remains crucial to economic development, wealth creation and poverty alleviation, Ruth Tene looks at the minister's effort at developing the sector which was until recently moribund

The Governor of Katsina State, Alhaji Ibrahim Shema, has described the solid minerals sector as a veritable source of wealth and revenue if its resources were properly harnessed.

The governor who said that the nation has large mineral deposits that could comfortably displace oil as major revenue earner, commended the drive and consistency of Mohammed Musa Sada, the minister of mines and steel development and his team for their unrelenting drive in attracting both local and foreign investments.

The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development occupies a prime position as the nexus of any meaningful development of the non-oil sector.Unfortunately,government appears to make only fanthom promises of revamping the sector which at best could pass for lip service as the sector continues to totter from one challenge to another.

Experts contend that the sector has the highest chances of solving the country's unemployment problems only if its resources were properly harnessed.Ironically,the challenges of poor budgetary allocation and lack of investors have remained strong militating factors against its development.

The present security challenges, as well as the activities of illegal and informal miners which deny huge amounts of revenue to the government have also further compounded the problem.

Successive ministers have in the past, made attempts to bring the sector out of the woods with little results. However, the present minister has been applauded by stakeholders for the direction he is providing in order to bring the sector to where it ought to be.

Regarding economic development, it is not in doubt that the sector has made great strides in the recent past, it could still be argued that it has a long way to go, considering the fact that government is too lackadaisical about confronting head-long the challenges that need to be surmounted.To date, the sector remains one of the most poorly funded, with little prospect of attracting the right long term investment.

Since the minister assumed office he has ensured that an enabling environment was created to stimulate sustained growth through the full exploration and exploitation of available resources.He has also carried out root and branch reforms, placed a comprehensive Mineral and Mining Act and also a set of Mining Regulations among others.

The Governor of Kogi State, Inuwa Ichalla, is optimistic that what was missing in the moribund sector would be actualised even as he assured of the willingness of the state to partner with the government.

The ministry has also ensured that a transparent cadastre system was fully operational, while the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency(NGSA) has generated large scientific data on the mineral deposits in the country.

In order to ensure that licences are easily acquired by investors, the ministry has enabled easy access to mineral rights, achievable through the office of the mining cadastre which was established recently. The mining cadastre office operates on first come first serve basis and ensures that mineral rights are given to all eligible licence owners irrespective of tribe, religion or other consideration.

According to Sada,the attractive incentives and guaranteed security of tenure were also part of government's efforts at ensuring that investors were guaranteed profits as they invest in the sector.

Despite all these efforts,the challenge before the ministry is to ensure the development of the sector, irrespective of availablility or non- availability of resources by providing attractive platforms to attract investors and investments into the sector.

In view of the importance of developing the sector, the ministry through Sada has commenced a pilot project of acquiring geoscientific data on one solid mineral resource in each of the 774 Local Government Areas across the 36 States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. this will aid wealth and job creation as well as ensure a steady source of revenue for the nation.

He explained that the essence of acquiring the geoscientific data is to facilitate the creation of cottage industries that would use the solid mineral endowments within the local government areas for job and wealth creation.

The minister said that since infrastructure and other services would be required to facilitate the establishment of cottage industries, his ministry was working in collaboration with the ministries of trade and investment, transport, power, and other relevant government and non- governmental agencies.

With these and many more efforts, it remains a fact that the sector holds great prospects and will be a sector to look up to with in the nearest future.

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