Abdulsalam Lukeman Omuya is the spokesman of Anthracyte Nigeria Limited, a consultancy company operating in the mining sector of the economy. In this interview with FRANCIS ADINOYI KADIRI, he says the government must encourage the participation of grassroots miners in the formulation of policies for the sector
How would you describe the state of the Nigerian mining sector as it is today?
Ideally, a country’s mining sector is supposed to be a very vibrantdriver of the national economy, but like other sectors of the Nigerian economy, the mining sector has its own problems. The administrators are doing their best to ensure progress of the sector, but the fact is that we have not gotten to where we ought to be. Frankly speaking, a lot has been achieved, yet there is a lot more to be achieved, we can say we have done very well. There is a gamut of problems that need to be addressed. So I would say the regulators of the sector have not failed, even though they have not arrived at the desired destination.
What is your assessment of the attitude of foreign investors to the rules and regulations guiding solid minerals sector in Nigeria?
I would say they have not complied. But more importantly, I do not blame them so much because we have a structure that is supposed to check their excesses and ensure that their activities conform to Nigeria’s prescribed standards. There is the minerals and mining act, but it is a regulation that needs to be enforced in its letter and in its spirit.
If you go to some mines and quarries even here in Abuja, the expatriates do not have qualified Nigerians as part of their teams. This situation is against the law of expatriate quota, and the appropriate authorities should move to correct the trend in the interest of developing the sector.
I’m sure you know that there is the mines inspectorate department in the ministry that is responsible for routine inspection of mines and quarries to ensure compliance. The mines Inspectorate Department ought to ensure that local and foreign operators comply to the standards but there is a problem in that aspect. In a situation where excesses are not checked, it is difficult to believe that operators will willingly abide by the law. It is in human nature to err, and laws are put in place to correct errors and punish offenders. The regulators of the sector must take cognizance of this fact. I have heard that if there was no law in London, people could have turned the streets to what suits them.
What is your score of government in terms of response to industrialization?
I do not wish to say much in that respect except to say that the policies are not clear. Vague policies make it difficult for objectives to be understood. Nothing seems to be forthcoming because the policies are fragmented.
What is your advice to the private sector on the issue of responsibility of sector’s general development?
Practitioners should understand that the sector should be tailoured toward alleviating the sufferings of the grassroots people. I mean the labourers such as the artisanal and small scale miners in particular. This class of people should be given a chance to contribute to policy formulation. Government should consider the fact that the local people hardly know policies of government. So, government should educate them. As a matter of fact, if policy makers claim to be making policies without listening to the common fieldworkers, the policies will leave out a lot of valuable inputs. So it is very important to give a fair share to the said class of miners.
Policy making in any sector should not be about the big wigs alone, it is also about the commonest people who survived the profession when government was not serious about the sector’s development. In fact, im not happy when I hear government refer to them as illegal miners. As a matter of fact, they may not have gotten licenses from the mining cadastral office but it is the responsibility of government to tailor them to what they should do. If government is able to this, the millennium development goals sill certainly be achieved.
There are situations when the so called illegal miners gather themselves together and apply to the Mining Cadastral Office for license but theirapplication was thrown out. To be fair, the miners may have failed in the quest for sustainability in their regular payments.Eventually, the license is confiscated. What I’m trying to say is that there should be incentives for the local miners. If there is no incentive for indigenous miners, the foreigners will influx and take over the industry. This would be shameful and it should not be allowed to happen. As a matter of fact, Nigeria has all sorts of qualified miners who can do anything that foreigners are doing.
But even for graduate miners, there are no opportunities to begin the practice of the mining profession because a lot of capital is needed. So many of us have to search for work, and we have hardly enjoyed direct benefit from government. But as you can see, we are contributing our quota to the country’s development and we are happy at that. So we are trying to advise government so that it can provide for prospective miners what it could not provide for us.
Essentially, what I am saying is that we need to put the artisanal miner in perspective in whatever we are doing. As we know, if the sector is well managed, the sector can greater a great lot of opportunities for the populace.
How can the sector be rejuvenated?
The missing link here is that the private sector is yet to be given due recognition in the scheme of progress in terms of policy formulation. When the agencies of government sit to make policies without adequate involvement of the very people who mine the fields, you will agree that there will be a missing link, and it will affect the end product. So things look so good on paper but in practice, it is not possible.
How can the private sector contribute more meaningfully to the development of sector?
They should stay focused and adhere to the law.
Is the sector still fertile for business?
Without mincing words, the sector is still very fertile despite the challenges. The problems bedeviling the sector is that we lack funds to develop it on the local front.