By Segun Tomori
The world over, the first 100 days of a leader’s assumption of office usually sets the tone for his leadership style, gives a glimpse into the policy direction and lays the foundation for assessing his vision or otherwise. Conceptualized by the then United States President Franklin Roosevelt, it soon became a benchmark, globally, to measure the early success of a president or public servant.
The Ministry of Solid Minerals Development (MSMD), though hitherto co-existing with Steel Development as Ministry of Mines and Steel, Nigerians and indeed the international community paid scant regard to it, despite having the potential to generate at least $700bn revenue. Almost every state in Nigeria has a preponderance of most sought-after mineral resources in commercial quantities, yet the potential of the sector remained under-utilized, absence of efficient governance structures stifled development alongside the menace of illegal mining and opaque nature of the sector. Visibility for the industry was also hampered by fixation on oil by successive governments, but all of that changed with the advent of President Bola Tinubu administration and the appointment of Dr. Dele Alake as Minister.
Alake swung into action by conceptualizing a 7-point agenda that pragmatically seeks to reform, restore investor confidence, and renew global interest. He identified eight (8) priority minerals that require immediate intervention and focus – gold, baryte, iron-ore, lead/zinc, coal, limestone, bitumen, and lithium. Within his first 100 days, several landmarks have been recorded already. Of particular significance is the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a German firm, Geo Scan GmbN who will deploy their cutting-edge proprietary technology that will be able to explore mineral resources up to 10,000m below the earth. The firm will deploy its plant and establish its technology at no cost to Nigeria. This will culminate in the generation of big data on specific eight priority minerals and their deposits – a cardinal plank of the Minister’s agenda.
Recently, Alake launched revised guidelines for Community Development Agreements (CDA), which aims to ensure host communities derive maximum benefits from operations of mining companies whilst requisite royalties accruable to government is secured for economic development. “The mining companies must ensure that host communities enjoy the benefit of minerals in the belly of their land while host communities must also ensure a free and unfettered environment for smooth operations. Without peace, there will be no gain for anybody”, he asserted, at the launch. At a separate fora, Dr. Alake pledged to strengthen the ministry’s mines inspectorate to enhance its ability to ascertain authenticity of mining agreements and also hinted about a role for traditional rulers in the signing of agreements on behalf of host communities.
In furtherance of reforms, Dr. Alake announced, days ago, the revocation of 1,633 mining licenses due to default in payment of stipulated annual service fees. The operators had exceeded by almost three weeks, the 30-day notice to clear their indebtedness, issued by the Mining Cadastral Office (MCO) as stipulated by Sections 11 and 12 of the Nigerian Mineral Mining Act (NMMA). Reading the riot act to other category of defaulting operators, Alake declared that the era of shortchanging government in royalties and taxes, amongst others, is over, warning illegal miners to also desist from their illicit trade. “Like I always say, a new sheriff is in town. President Tinubu has the political will and is committed to total reforms. Those that refuse to turn a new leaf will be made to face the full wrath of the law”.
Plans for the establishment of Mines Police and mine surveillance task force to effectively secure the mining environment are in full swing. The clearest indication of this was the visit of Minister of Defence, HE Abubakar Badru and his Minister of State, HE Bello Matawelle to Alake’s office, few weeks ago. Giving an insight into what transpired at the meeting, Matawelle pledged unalloyed support and collaboration with the solid minerals ministry to secure all mining sites in the country, restating the significance of the sector to Nigeria’s economic development. On the new security architecture, Dr. Alake emphasized that the outfit will encompass an infusion of a huge dose of technology while its structure will be developed in collaboration with all inter-military agencies. Part of proposed technological innovations will be the capacity to covertly monitor all mining sites in the country, detect intrusion, and provide rapid response to nip threats in the bud.
Aside from giant strides on the home front, engaging the international community on the prospects of investing in a revamped mining sector has been a top priority for the minister in the last 100 days. Quite a number of diplomatic shuttles have started yielding fruits. A deal for free training of Nigerian mining professionals on modern mining technology and practices was signed in Australia by Dr. Alake on behalf of Nigeria, and Hon. Bill Johnston, the Australian Minister of Mines and Petroleum, on behalf of Australia. Nigerian miners will benefit from training, study trips, and exchanges of mineral professionals, while the collaboration will also attract foreign direct investment, enabling Nigeria to compete globally.
Just days ago, the Minister made a strong pitch for investment in Nigeria’s mining sector at the Mines and Money Conference in London. He thrilled his audience with advantages of investing in Nigeria, citing lower production costs due to surface mining and billions of dollars of untapped minerals lying fallow in the country. “The country’s geological bounty encompasses over 44 distinct mineral types, found in exploitable quantities, across more than 500 locations. Recently, recognizing the evolving global landscape and in response to emerging trends, Lithium has been included as a crucial strategic mineral of global consequence”, he added. Not done, The Minister assured that the Tinubu administration is dismantling bottlenecks to ease of doing business in the sector, addressing security challenges and placing premium on solid minerals beneficiation and value-addition, as a panacea for sustainable growth in the sector.
A major highlight of the enthusiasm that trailed Dr. Alake’s performance was the subsequent high-level meeting with British Deputy Prime Minister, Oliver Dowden. Dowden, who chairs British National Economic Security Council, is interested in partnering with Nigeria on energy minerals such as Lithium. Alongside founder of Carousel Bio-energy, Jafar Hilali, the British leader promised to facilitate investment by a consortium of British companies in the Lithium value chain that will culminate in the production of Lithium battery powered energy buses for the Nigerian domestic market. In the spirit of strengthened relations, Mr. Dowden seized the occasion to convey the invitation of the British Government to President Tinubu to attend the African summit, scheduled for next year.
On the sidelines of the London conference was also a meeting with the United States Assistant Secretary for Energy and Natural Resources, Geoffrey Pratt. Both leaders agreed to set up a joint team of officials to explore financing for credit to mining firms and infrastructures. Pratt expressed satisfaction with the ongoing reforms announced by the Minister at the plenary of the conference, stressing that the US would like to be Nigeria’s partner of choice in developing the solid minerals sector.
Already, there is palpable excitement in the mining industry on account of the renewed interest of government in the sector. Alake’s office has been a beehive of activities as local and foreign investors continue to troop in, seeking to contribute their quota to mining sector development.
In just three months, Dr. Alake has led the charge with the dexterity of a skilful visionary, shifting global attention to Nigeria’s solid mineral resources. The Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris during a recent courtesy visit, aptly captured the essence of the “Alake magic”- “Since he came here, he has managed to put solid minerals on the front burner, to the extent that people are becoming extremely envious of this ministry, because of the work he has done. It is not a mistake that the president brought him here. He knows that he can turn things around”.
Like they say, “the reward for good work is more work”. That will be the mantra of the Minister as he seeks to consolidate on his “Agenda for the Transformation of Solid minerals for International Competitiveness and Domestic Prosperity”. Key elements like creation of the Nigerian Solid Minerals Corporation; Joint Ventures with Mining Multinationals; Creation of six (6) Mineral Processing centres to focus on value-added products amongst others, will ascend the implementation stage, in the coming months. Indeed, it is a new dawn for the mining sector. Renewed Hope is here!
Segun Tomori is the Special Assistant on Media to the Honourable Minister of Solid Minerals Development