As revenue dwindles from Nigeria’s foreign exchange reserves, calls for the government to find alternative export revenue sources have never been as loud. A return to agriculture, once the biggest industry before the oil boom of the seventies, has been touted as the most viable solution. Mining has come to the fore as another potential revenue earner, though the drop in global commodity prices will have a bearing on investor appetite.
These alternatives can generate significant revenue for the nation but, as seen with oil, a robust and watertight system will be required to ensure that all revenue from mining is redeployed into states where there is mining activity.
There are many factors that have prevented mining in Nigeria being considered a real growth earner. Whereas Nigeria’s oil is internationally recognized, the grade and quality of the country’s minerals are not recognized as meeting international standards. This has led to questionable practices being carried out by miners and traders to ensure that they make a profit on their substandard material. Furthermore, testing centers and labs are few and far between, diluting the viability of finding a buyer.
The recently installed Minister of Solid Minerals and Mining, Kayode Fayemi, has already begun to develop strategies to ensure the development of the sector is maintained from federal to artisanal level. The fragmented nature of the mining sector in Nigeria allows for local cartels to take advantage of what is seen by many as a hostile business. Due to the lack of legislation, locals prefer to sell ores for quick gains to foreign buyers, rather than dealing with the bans and restrictions that come with the legal channels. Foreign buyers are able to get more for their money by capitalizing on the porous laws. The government in Congo is aware that the trace minerals, associated with the ores, amount to something valuable and have made it illegal to export them.
Confidence precedes investment and, with the global mining sector experiencing a downturn, the lack of protection given to mining in Nigeria risks deterring potential investors. Abundant natural resources should be a gift, not a curse. The lack of policy presents an opportunity for the ministry to develop the legislation that governs the sector. This will give confidence to mining companies who want to invest in a robust system. As with the Local Content Act in the oil and gas sector, there are policies that can protect the mining sector to keep the wealth in Nigeria. A ban on importing raw materials that could be mined in Nigeria is a start.
Today, a lot of Nigeria’s mining is at artisanal level. A workforce is usually made up of locals from surrounding villages. Armed with a spade, they get to work using crude techniques to extract the ore. This exposes toxins, leading to poor health and damage to the environment.
When visiting a mine, it is not uncommon to see the landscape punctuated by parcels of land ransacked for their minerals. In countries where mining is prominent, there is a synergistic approach with environmental and mining ministries working together to ensure that the environment and surrounding communities are not negatively affected by the excavation.
Unofficial tax collectors are also known to plague the routes on which the mined material is transported. While companies have come to expect this in Africa, business will increase if this practice is eradicated in Nigeria. The mining ministry must engage with states and local governments to ensure that royalties and taxes reach federal accounts. With idiosyncratic systems catering to minorities, the fact that no major international mining companies are established in Nigeria is indicative of the lack of confidence they have in the country’s mining sector.
The general perception among Nigerians is that Minister Fayemi has the skills and intellect to successfully navigate his challenging post. During his term as Governor of Ekiti State, he attracted international finance. He is now expected to be just as bullish in Nigeria’s potentially lucrative mining sector.