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Federalism is the answer, after all – Part 46

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[FILES] An illegal mining site.

In the course of elucidating why and how the practice of true federalism can lift this country from its morass of underdevelopment, this newspaper had focused on the mining sector, with a strong contention that it is best handled by the federating units producing the minerals. That need keeps surfacing, as reflected in current activities of the Senate arm of the National Assembly which would, in three days time begin a three-day public hearing on illegal mining and gold smuggling and the attendant losses of about $9 billion yearly to Nigeria.

A theme that is expected inevitably to ring out of deliberations on the issue is how government can reverse the huge loss it is presently posting due to illegal mining activities. It will be interesting to know how effectively the Federal Government has been protecting the mining reservoir, considering that the sites are scattered widely and deeply in the states, the topography of which is firmly within the grips of the governors. It is worth recalling that under the Land Use Act, governors are the custodians of the land, held in trust for the people of their state. It makes a lot of logic therefore that the states should be held responsible for the minerals, not just in terms of exploitation and accountability, but also in terms of security.

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If anything, the country’s experience in the oil sector ought to provide very big lessons, to the effect that the people are best put in charge of their resources. Recall that over the past 40 or so years, cries of undue exploitation of people and their resources, as well as degradation of the environment have dominated the public space in the oil producing regions; and even with derivation funds being given the oil producing states, and institutions like the Ministry of Niger Delta and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) being set up, there is yet no deep or satisfactory consolation. The question then is whether or not Nigeria will be prepared to replicate the Niger Delta agitations in all the regions producing solid minerals. At the moment, the discussion is on gold. To be sure, it will extend to other minerals.

The coming Senate hearing is sequel to a motion by Abia North Senator and Chief Whip of the Senate, Orji Uzor Kalu. Former Nasarawa Governor and Chairman, Senate Committee on Solid Minerals, Mines, Steel Development and Metallurgy, Tanko Al-Makura, is expected to preside over the legislative hearing in which the Senate would be expected to grill major government and non-governmental stakeholders in the mining sector over the prevalence of clandestine activities of illegal miners.

According to a notice signed by Al-Makura, the committee extended invitations to state governors; Central Bank of Nigeria; ministers of Mines and Steel Development; Finance and Budget;  Mines and Steel Development; DGs/CEOs of parastatals and agencies under the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development; Executive Secretary NEITI; Nigeria Labour Congress, Nigeria Immigration, among others. The Senate action has been lingering. At its plenary last year, it had passed a resolution to investigate the losses from illegal mining activities.

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In his motion, Kalu, former governor of Abia State, had disclosed that Nigeria lost an estimated $54 billion from 2012 to 2018 due to illegal smuggling of gold. He also said the country was losing about $9 billion yearly to illegal mining and gold exportation. He lamented the activities of unlicensed miners and incessant smuggling of the solid minerals out of the country by middlemen given the huge revenue losses.

Kalu said gold mining operations in Nigeria was capable of providing no fewer than 250,000 jobs and over $500 million annually in royalties and taxes to the Federal Government. According to him, jobs and revenues accruing to the mining sector would further diversify the nation’s economy and improve its foreign exchange reserve. He said due to Nigeria’s current estimated gold reserves of over 200 million ounces, most of which have not been exploited, developing sustainable programmes that would catalyse increased investment in the extraction and refining of gold sourced from mines in Nigeria, was vital.

Making reference to data obtained from the Ministry of Solid Minerals and Development, Kalu explained that there were gold deposits in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, Abia, Bauchi, Cross River, Edo, Niger, Sokoto, Kebbi, Oyo, Kogi, Zamfara, Osun and Kaduna states. He argued that if the country conserves her gold reserves, and ensures effective exploitation, the accruing revenue would surpass that of oil and gas.

He drew the attention of the Senate to section 44 (3) of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Law of 1999 which provides that ownership and control of all minerals in Nigeria is vested in the Federal Government, which is mandated to manage such natural resources in a manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.

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From all indications, the Senate hearing looks set to be more of the same old story, given that the Senate has shown no indication of radicalising exploitation of solid minerals to reflect genuine federalism. Acting on Kalu’s motion, the Senate in its resolutions mandated its Committee on Solid Minerals, Mines, Steel Development and Metallurgy to investigate the matter and report back to the Senate. That being so, its deliberation next week may be overtaken by events even before it commences.

Already, other matters scheduled for the three-day public hearing include bills on Nigerian Minerals Development Corporation (Establishment) Bill 2021 (SB.505; Solid Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (Establishment) Bill 2021 (SB.713); and Institute of Bitumen Management (Establishment) Bill 2021 (SB.663). These are all in preparation for a repeat experience of the Niger Delta conundrum.

But it does not have to be so, if only the Senators look beyond their personal convenience and the immediate gains for the country.

Nigeria, in the long term, will benefit immensely and more peacefully when and if the states are allowed to control their solid mineral resources among others; and tend, within agreed formula, to the needs of the Federal Government at the centre. The issue of theft will be kept at a minimum, just as the people will be highly motivated to see the returns of their resources directly on their vicinity. That will, for once, be a sincere demonstration of the federal structure that the country has professed only theoretically over many years.

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