Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dele Alake, has said that the act of banditry and kidnappings associated with parts of the country were being sponsored by powerful Nigerians engaged in acts of illegal mining in the country.
Alake said this on Tuesday when he appeared before the House Committee on Solid Minerals to defend the Ministry’s 2024 budget estimate said those he described as heavy and powerful Nigerians were actually the ones behind the insecurity in areas of the country with solid mineral deposits.
He said the government was identifying those individuals and will take appropriate action against them as part of efforts to ensure that the areas are secured for investors who have shown interest in investing in the solid minerals sector in the country.
He said: “One discovery that we have made is that a lot of these insecurities and banditry associated with this sector are sponsored by illegal miners.
“These are not your artisan miners. They are not the people who pick gold on the ground. These are heavy and powerful individuals in our country. They are Nigerians and not foreigners.
“Yes, you can see foreigners as symptoms, but they are not the basics. Nigerians are the powers behind those foreigners that you see on the streets. We are identifying them and employing various strategies, both kinetic and non-kinetic.
“The non-kinetic with that artisan miners, I gave them an ultimatum that they should form themselves into cooperatives because every Nigerian has a right to life and necessities and if the government cannot provide these necessities, we cannot push them into the bush.”
In addition, he said his ministry has encouraged the small-scale miners to form themselves into cooperative societies, adding that as of the last count, about 50 of such cooperative societies have been formed.
He disclosed that with the creation of the Ministry, they embarked on a sensitization programme aimed at drawing the attention of the world to the solid minerals deposit in the country.
He said as a result of such a drive, foreign investors have begun to make enquiries about the possibility of investing in the sector.
According to him, the ministry has identified about 44 key solid mineral deposits in the country which have global demand, pointing out that out of this number, the ministry has singled out seven for particular attention because of their importance.
Alake said that with the right investment by the government, Nigeria has the potential to become a global hub for solid minerals in the world.
He said one of the non-kinetic strategies being deployed is the involvement of host communities in the exploration of the solid minerals, adding that sponsors of banditry often draw from the poll of unemployed Nigerians in such communities.
He said the ministry plans to invest heavily in exploration activities, adding that the government cannot leave issues of exploration in the hands of the private sector, adding that it will not be in the interest of the country to do so.
He however described the N29 billion allocated to the Ministry as its budget for 2024 as a non-starter and sought the assistance of the lawmakers to ensure adequate funding for the sector.
The chairman of the committee Gaza Jonathan Gbefwi said there is no time in the nation’s history that the nation has needed the input of the solid mineral sector like now because the solid minerals sector remains the last hope of our country to attain the level of economic diversity it requires.
This, he said is hinged on the fact that Nigeria possesses the solid minerals needed to attract the kind of foreign exchange required which has been exemplified when in the seventies, the solid minerals sector was accounting for over 50% of contributions to the GDP as against today where we are barely contributing meagre 0.63%.
He said however that “all hope is not lost especially because Mr. President, during his budget presentation re-echoed the priority this administration has placed on the solid minerals sector and of course the person he has mandated to steer the ship of this sector.
“It is quite exciting to note that he hit the ground running by embarking on strategic bilateral and trade expeditions that will bring the needed investment into our country.
“To start with, exploration has never been the business of the investor but the government who carries out the exploration and based on values gotten, engages or attracts the necessary investments.
“It will shock you to note that the Petroleum sector which is more or less mining and an extractive industry, has earmarked $400 million for frontier exploration as captured by provisions of the PIA being a percentage of the operating profit of the NNPC.
“When you calculate or convert $400 million, it will give you an idea of what the NNPC is spending on just frontier exploration which is not its major exploration activity.
“Let me use this medium to call on the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to rethink and reconsider the paltry sums that were allocated to this sector. We must be careful not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.
“We are in a phase of energy transition and solid minerals are the next frontier for industrialization and world development. The House of Representatives will not rest on its ores to form strategic partnerships with the executives, the Minister, and all agencies to make sure we make good on the oath of office we swore to at our respective inauguration.
“To this end, we have taken proactive steps to put up motions and bills that will strengthen and bring about some reorganization or restructuring in line with the seven-point agenda of the Honorable Minister.”