Education is seen as the path to job creation and poverty alleviation, but the solid minerals sector also creates a huge platform for job creation irrespective of the literacy levels of individuals. Ruth Tene looks at existing job opportunities in the sector.
While many jobs demand varying degrees of specialisation and expertise, the solid minerals sector often only requires basic knowledge and brawns rather than brains to mine, thereby creating great prospects for employment generation for the masses of illiterate Nigerians.
When the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported that there was an estimated 40 to 45 million illiterates in Nigeria, all hope seemed lost for this group of people who had failed to get any form of education whether as a result of poverty, carelessness or the ancient disparity among the sexes, where the male child was given preference in education to the female child.
The Director and Country Representative of UNESCO, Dr Joseph Ngu said that Nigeria is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa that has the lowest literacy levels amongst the E9 group of nations (countries with a population of 100 million or more.)
Speaking in Abuja recently during the 'Cultivating Peace' event in celebration of this year's International Literacy Day, he said that "the UN office in Nigeria has a three-year project called 'Revitalising Adult and Youth literacy' which they hoped will put a dent in the number of illiterate people in Nigeria, even if it is only reducing it by 4 to 6 million people."
The UN Resident Coordinator, Mr Daouda Taoure stated that "a recent survey conducted by the National Bureau of statistics in Nigeria estimates that the adult literacy rate was 56.9 per cent, with huge variations between states; while Lagos had 88 per cent, Yobe had only 14 per cent."
But the solid minerals sector can change all that by making individuals at all levels - both literates and illiterates and males and females - employable, as well as generating huge revenues and security for communities and governments.
According to Emily Achor, a consultant and stakeholder in the solid minerals sector, the mining industry holds great potential for employment generation.
"There are different channels for job creation not only for geologists and mining engineers, but also for the miners who could be involved in the processes of minerals beneficiation (separation) even if they are not geologists, as well as the mining of gemstones which are used for different purposes both locally and internationally."
The employment of mining police is also another avenue for employment generation, and their functions will serve to check the activities of illegal mining operations across the nation. This is a necessity as the activities of the illegal operators not only denies government of revenue through the payment of royalties, but also endangers the lives of citizens through the destruction of the landscape and exposure to poisoning, as was the case with the Zamfara lead poisoning incidence.
Mining is a major contributor to the GDP of South Africa and Gabon, and many opportunities still remain untapped in the industry as even rare fossils and plants can be excavated and polished for exhibition purposes, especially in countries that have never been exposed to the abundant natural materials Nigeria is blessed with.
With such opportunities lying fallow, it has become necessary for the government to take a critical look at the abounding opportunities in mining, not only to serve as watchdogs but to invests and take advantage of all existing opportunities for the benefit of all Nigerians.
With one of the core mandates of the minerals and metals sector being to develop the industry into a viable job creating sector of the economy, it is believed that the problem of unemployment is already halfway to being solved, considering the presence of solid minerals in all states of the federation including the Federal Capital Territory.
The present government's transformation agenda looks at alternatives to Nigeria's dependence on oil, and while lip service has being paid to the development of alternative sectors, Nigeria still has several resources on which it can rely on for wealth and revenue generation.
A report co-written by the African Development Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Development Centre, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), stated that despite world-topping economic growth rates and a better educated youth, young people represent 60 per cent of Africa's unemployed, and of these 40 million youths, 22 million have given up on finding a job and many of them women.
The report further stated that the continent created only 16 million jobs for young people aged between 15 and 24 between 2000 and 2008, and argued that youth unemployment figures will increase unless Africa moves swiftly to make youth employment a priority, turning its human capital into economic opportunity. On the other hand, youths can present a significant threat to social cohesion and political stability if they do not secure decent living conditions.
But President Goodluck Jonathan's announcement that 350, 000 additional jobs were created from the activities of newly registered operators in the mining industry - which was made during the 2012 Democracy celebrations - revealed the hidden opportunities in the sector.
The President added that the government had initiated a programme to support private steel production, which resulted in an increase in production figures for steel and other metals to over 1 million tonnes. This will create jobs both in the sector and abroad, as well as provide a means towards the industrialisation of the nation on its way to achieving vision 2:20:20.
President Jonathan assured Nigerians that his administration was committed to the rapid and beneficial development of the country's minerals and metals potential, stating that "In the last year, we recorded remarkable achievements in Mines and Steel Development."
The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Architect Mohammed Musa Sada confirmed that "the 350,000 jobs came from registered cooperatives groups, with some involved in quarry and gemstone mining. Because the operatives were licensed, there was an accurate figure of those benefitting from the available jobs opportunities, from minor to major among operators, especially in the chalk-making cottage industries in several communities now."
He said that the registered cooperatives informed the cottage industry's programmes, with one programme in each local government, which has since kicked off in several states of the federation.
"We increased the number of investors in the mining sector due to the transparent manner in which titles are now issued on a 'first come-first served and use it or lose it basis.' A total of 2,476 active mineral titles were issued this year, compared to 666 titles issued out in the previous year, thereby significantly reducing illegal mining activities."
This announcement was taken with a pinch of salt as not many believed in the sector's potential to create so many jobs, refusing to believe in the President's diversification plan to reduce our dependence on oil by looking to other alternatives for employment generation.
Recently, the Chairman of the House committee on Solid Minerals, Mr Isa Mohammed stated that the sector had the capacity to generate over five times what the oil sector was getting if its resources were properly harnessed, and not just for the benefits of a few individuals to enrich themselves at the expense of teeming poverty, as was seen in the case of the recent outcry by the Miners Association of Nigeria (MAN) about the alleged misappropriation of over N700 billion reserved for natural resource development.
The government can harness the benefits of the industry by forming cooperatives and creating attractive working conditions through the provision of infrastructure to encourage youths and investors in the sector.