By Segun Tomori
When President Bola Tinubu appointed Dr. Dele Alake as Minister of Solid Minerals Development, it was akin to the fifth wonder of the world as Nigerians wondered in hushed tones what a renowned journalist and communications strategist would be doing at the helm of managing the nation’s mineral resources. Many would have placed a bet that he would be assigned the Information and National Orientation beat, but alas, the President, given his determination to diversify the nation’s economy, had his eyes set on his most trusted ally – Alake, for the more important role.
Over the years, the contribution of mining to Nigeria’s GDP has been less than 0.5%. Therefore, substantially scaling it up will be required to make a significant impact on the economy. This fact is not lost on Alake as he swung into action on assumption of office to develop the Solid Minerals Development roadmap. Tagged the “Agenda for the Transformation of Solid Minerals for International Competitiveness and Domestic Prosperity”, the roadmap seeks to increase mining sector’s contribution to the nation’s GDP to at least 50%. Highlights of the 7-point agenda include, creation of the Nigerian Solid Minerals Corporation; Joint Ventures with Mining Multinationals; Big Data on specific seven priority minerals and their deposits; 30-day grace for illegal miners to join artisanal cooperatives; Mines Surveillance Task Force and Mine Police; Comprehensive review of all mining licences and the creation of six Mineral Processing Centres to focus on Value-Added products.
Aside from launching the roadmap, the Minister has since followed through with concrete steps to bring the action plan to fruition. Addressing prevalent security challenges is a sine qua non to improved mining environment and an incentive for investment in the sector, hence, the Minister’s high-level engagements with the National Security Adviser (NSA) to the President, Minister of Interior and other top security officials to fine-tune modalities for the establishment of the Mines Surveillance task force and Mine police.
At a recent meeting with the Interior Minister, Alake had this to say, “If we are to achieve our aim of developing solid minerals in the country, we have to address the challenges of insecurity, the menace of illegal miners and the activities of immigrants that are not properly documented, but mining our resources and illegally carting away funds that should accrue to our nation. We cannot achieve this without synergy with the interior Ministry”. The deliberations led to the setting up of a joint task team by the two ministries to devise modalities for collaboration on immigration issues and securing the mining sector. Plans have also reached an advanced stage on the establishment of the special police outfit called Mine Police that will be sourced from the Nigeria Police, specially trained to detect illegal mining and apprehend offenders. The Mine Police will be controlled by the Ministry of Solid Minerals, and its operation will also cover marine and blue economy.
Generating the requisite geological data on critical minerals is at the heart of the Alake-plan, and work has started in that regard. On the heels of the recent visit of German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz to Nigeria, the Solid Minerals Development Fund (SMDF), an agency under the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with German firm, GeoScan GmbN for exploration of vast mineral deposits worth over $700bn, scattered across the country. The German firm will be deploying cutting-edge proprietary technology at no cost to Nigeria, capable of exploring mineral deposits up to 10,000 meters below the surface of the earth. This exploration pact will assist in generating geo-data on priority solid minerals and ultimately lead to the development of mineral resources essential for the production of electric vehicles, batteries, and advanced technological equipment.
Fostering cooperation between host communities and mining operators is crucial to a secured mining environment, hence, the Ministry’s Mines Inspectorate is being strengthened to verify the authenticity of mining agreements whilst the repositioning of Mineral Resources and Environmental Management Committee (MIREMCO) for protection of community rights and prompt payment of due royalties is underway. Paramount rulers of host communities will also be carried along in the signing of mining agreements to ensure the interests of the people is protected.
The era in which Nigeria is short-changed in mining operations is coming to an end as the proposed Solid Minerals Corporation will give the country a stake in all mining activities. Conceptualized as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to engage with multinationals, the corporation will enable the government to harness mineral resources substantially. “A special purpose vehicle (SPV) like the Nigerian Mining Corporation (NMC), will go a long way to entirely regulate and sanitize the sector, and act as a government face with multinationals, engage in joint venture agreements, so that all Nigerians will have a stake in all of the ventures that go on in that sector. That is the role the corporation is going to play, and it is going to be seriously sanitized with efficient governance structures”, Dr. Alake stated at a fora recently.
If truly “the morning shows the day” as the ancient saying asserts, Alake has, in less than 3 months, justified the confidence reposed in him by President Bola Tinubu. He has, with clarity of purpose and unflinching focus, heralded a new era in the mining sector. The renewed interest in the sector by mining stakeholders, foreign and local investors is a pointer to this fact. Indeed, the days of oil sitting comfy as the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy is numbered, as solid minerals is poised to be Nigeria’s new oil!
Segun Tomori is the Special Assistant on Media to the Honourable Minister of Solid Minerals Development