The Mining Cadastre Office (MCO) is the government's agency saddled with the responsibility of administering mineral titles to investors in the solid minerals sector. In this interview, the Director General of the agency, Engineer Obadiah Nkom, speaks about the agency's digitalization process to help attract more investors to the sector and improve revenue generation, amongst other germane issues.
Your agency is saddled with the responsibilities of administering mineral titles to investors in the mining sector. how have you fared in the last one year in fulfilling its mandate?
The responsibilities are clear cut in the Mining Act of 2007. It simply states that the agency should administer mineral titles in Nigeria in a very transparent way. In a way, that will encourage more investors into sector without any subjectivity and will be able to bring in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). For the past one year, the activities of the Mining Cadastre Office have been dynamic. When we plan, we follow it with some strategy and then find out if the strategies are really working. If your licensing regime is transparent, you will find investors coming and they don't need to know anybody. So far, we have been able to put those things in place. It's really working for us and is creating the growth in the industry. We are doing that towards migrating to the online title administration system.
Do you have the number of mineral titles issued in the last one year?
Why I don't want to give figures is because the concept of the Mining Cadastre Office is not about how many licences issued but how many licences are active. You may decide to have 10 or 100 licences but out of that 100, the question to ask is how active are there on the field? It's not a growth factor, but rather I feel that licences should be held by people who are not speculative.
Sir, could you tell Nigerians what your agency's 'take it or lose it' and 'first come, first serve' policies are all about?
This policy means we are not subjective in the sense that anybody who comes first and adheres to the guidelines or law, we will give licence. If 10 people come on the same area wanting licences, we are not going to say Mr. B should be treated first. The first to come will be treated first. For the 'take it or lose it' policy, we allow you to take the licence but you must be able to use it. But if you don't use it, we will collect it back-you lose it. That is why we avoid dormant titles. That is what brings us to revocations of titles. If you don't use the titles in line with the provisions of the Act, we go through the provision of the Act and set out for the revocation of the titles. Everything we are doing is according to the provisions of the law. The licences are not given for anybody to open his drawer and put there. That is why of recent, we have had cause to revoke over 1,000 mineral titles either, they have not paid or they are dormant. So, we can now allow serious investors into the field but we are being careful not to send some wrong signals that people are losing titles. We give you 30 days' notice and tell you why we want to revoke your title, we give you opportunity to remedy it. If you cannot remedy it, we revoke the title and allow the area to be free so people who are serious investors will have good area.
Could you tell us about the revenue generated by the agency in the past one year?
What we raised last year has never been raised before. In the entire sector, our revenue was about 50% generated in the sector. The reason is the strategies we have put in place to generate that figure. The revenue was N2.6 billion out of the N5.6 billion made in the sector. This year, when we remit our revenue, we may have to add the challenges of the pandemic. But we are very conscious of that. Long before this time, the Mining Cadastre Office had already strategized of going online. We are being conscious of being more effective. Before the pandemic, we have talked about migrating to online. This means you don't have to start coming to our office physically, you can submit your application anywhere in the world. As I speak now, we have been test-running that and working internally with the online system. Once we are being able to finalize the processes and make the operations hitch-free, we will be able to launch it to the public. In addition to that, we have created the zonal offices which are now functional in the six geo-political zones and there are some components being integrated in the online system such as e-records, archiving, typographic and thematic maps.
If the online migration of the administration of mineral titles is launched, will that make it possible for me to apply from outside the country and get my licence?
You can browse from America and any part of the world and apply. You don't have to travel all the way to apply any more. You can sit anywhere in the most remote place, once there is internet, you apply. You access our website, you upload your application automatically we receive them here. The essence of this is to make Nigeria more attractive to investors. Because when we go for conferences abroad, they say Nigeria has enormous minerals to explore but they ask, are you online? When we tell them No, they feel disappointed. So, with the old system, it means someone from Australia or any part of the world must come to Nigeria if he/she wants a mineral title. But now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it's not affecting the Mining Cadastre office. We are still operating and by the time this digitization is fully launched, you don't have to come here again. You stay in the comfort of your home or offices and submit applications.
Could you shed some light on the period of issuing of licences which has been reduced?
The issue of reduction of the days of issuing of licence, the law stipulated in the Act. That for an application for exploration title, it should not exceed 30 days and for exploitation licence, it should not exceed 45 days. At the same time, we should not say because its 30 days and 45 days and then wait until that period. We try to give people licences within the shortest minimum time. We believe the time you spend in getting licence should be insignificant. If there is way we can process a licence and you will get it in a day, its better, so you can go and develop the site. We have been able to strategize so that the licensing regime is made so easy.
What are your targets for the year despite the COVID-19 pandemic?
They say once there is a storm, only the strong ship can survive the storm. Pandemic is not an excuse for us not to perform. We are accommodating the pandemic, by being online prior before it started, we will have the online system integrated in all aspects. Definitely, that aspect of physical presence is not necessary. You can pay your money/fees online from the comfort of your homes and offices with internet banking. What the investors cannot do online is the physical exploration and development of mining site, they have to be there. The essence of mining is to have rapid development to be able to now have jobs for our teaming Nigerians for the benefit of economic growth. And we are playing our part to make this a reality.