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Zamfara: Can states exploit their mineral resources?

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Gold. Photo: TWITTER/NIGERIAGOV

The recent disclosure by the Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Muhammad Matawalle, that his state has reached a deal to supply gold worth N5 billion to the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN), has re-opened the contentious issue of resource control and by extension the demand for restructuring and federalism.

The Zamfara move merely underscores the burning desire of states across the federation to exploit their God-given natural endowments and by so doing diversify their economy and leverage their people.

There is no doubt that there are legal encumbrances in the constitution and the Minerals and Mining Act, which bar states from exploiting their mineral resources but instead confers on the Federal Government the right to exploit these minerals resources. But the time has come to question the rationale and benefits of these laws to the people of Nigeria.

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Section 1 of the Minerals and Mining Act, all lands in which Mineral resources is found or contained therein belongs collectively to the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria held in ‘’trust’’ by the Federal Government for the benefit of its citizenry.

And Section 44 (3) states: “Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, the entire property in and control of all minerals, mineral oils and natural gas in under or upon any land in Nigeria or in, under or upon the territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone of Nigeria shall vest in the Government of the Federation and shall be managed in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.”

To what extent have these laws helped to make life comfortable for Nigerians? How could some states be sleeping on gold, silver and several other very useful mineral resources and they are labeled poor? Is it funny that Nigeria is labeled the poverty capital of the world amid the wealth of mineral resources endowments?

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My take is that Zamfara should be supported. I would advise the lawmakers from Zamfara State to come up with a bill to expunge Section 44 (3) from the constitution to gives states the leeway to exploit their mineral resources to make life better for their people. The bill should be supported by lawmakers with like minds from other states. It is sad how the system has wittingly created the conditions that promote poverty.

Not long ago, the former Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi said that state governments are free to explore and exploit mineral deposits in their domain. The statement excited many right-thinking Nigerians who want unfettered development of the country but are disappointed that self-imposed constitutional strictures have for decades, hindered development and kept Nigeria napping over her abundant mineral wealth. Certainly, the issue of states exploiting their mineral resources is not possible not until the obnoxious constitutional provisions are expunged.

Dr. Kayode made that statement while hosting officials of the Lagos State Government in Abuja. The then Lagos State Commissioner for Energy and Mineral Resources, Mr. Wale Oluwo, who led a team of his state officials to the minister to present some requests to the Federal Government pertaining to the mineral resources of Lagos State.

Olowu told the minister that his state has limestone, silica, clay and a few other minerals in commercial quantity. According to him, estimates put the limestone in the region of 12 million metric tons around Epe; silica sand of up to 200 billion cubic metric tons around Ibeju-Lekki area and clay of about 180 billion cubic metric tons around Lagos East. He noted that the state has been carrying out geological surveys to obtain key data on the minerals.

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While acknowledging that the Federal Government has exclusive rights over minerals, Dr. Kayode pointed out that the constitution encourages states to either set up their own investment corporations or partner with private investors to exploit the minerals in their domain, “provided they go about such in a legal manner that will not interfere with locations already given to other stakeholders before application comes from the state.” If the states had rights over their mineral resources, why should there be other stakeholders not approved by the states?

Was the minister saying that states have to apply for approval from the Federal Government to be able to exploit their mineral resources? If that is the case, there are still encumbrances, given the nepotism, favoritism, cronyism and corruption in the system. If we go that way, only states, indeed, governors, in the good book of the Federal Government would be granted such approval while those in the opposition won’t. As a matter of fact, that will create avoidable tension in the polity.

If Dr. Kayode is genuinely desirous of lifting the constitutional restrictions on solid minerals, he may have to go a step further to ensure that the law is abrogated. Ideally, every state should own its mineral resources without having to apply to the Federal Government for permission. Dr. Kayode should rally the lawmakers from Ekiti State now that he is Governor, to initiate a bill to be sent to the National Assembly to abrogate the constitutional provisions that gave exclusive rights on solid minerals to the Federal Government. The right environment should be created, legally, for states to have unfettered access to their mineral resources.

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How does this apply to the oil resources? Like other minerals, crude oil resources should belong to the states in whose domain they are found. As Dr. Kayode rightly pointed out, the states will then pay royalties to the Federal Government. This, absolutely, is the way to go in a federal system like Nigeria. The burden of catering for the states has to be removed from the Federal Government while the states are leveraged through the exploitation of their mineral resources.

Certainly, Dr. Kayode said what many people would like to hear. And, whether or not he was flying a kite, the truth remains that the mass poverty and underdevelopment quagmire in the land are self imposed and are an embarrassment to the world.

It is pertinent to ask why the state governments, over the years, have not been able to unveil the constitutional provisions that allow them to exploit their mineral resources irrespective of the Federal Government’s exclusive rights. Dr. Kayode should avail himself with the constitutional provisions. He should make the same move the Zamfara State Governor is making.

He should not overlook the minerals, while illegal miners feast on them? Why should the Federal Government focus on oil alone with all the attendant economic mismanagement and corruption? One way to curb corruption is to stop the monthly sharing syndrome and let the states cater for themselves using what they have as resources. At present, the country is facing severe economic hardship. My people say when there is famine, people remember where yams were once stacked.

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The Zamfara move is coming at a time when the country is in dire straits as a result of the drastic fall in crude oil prices. There is no doubt that both the states and the Federal Government have been hit by the crisis arising from the oil glut, which warrants inward looking. It is senseless for Nigeria to be caught in the web of global oil downturn when there are numerous alternatives to leverage on. Let the mineral wealth be opened up.

There are indications at present that many federal government workers don’t receive their salaries on time. Similarly, many states are in a quagmire unable to pay pension and salaries of workers or meet other basic statutory needs.

The Federal Government is not earning more revenue as the price of oil plummets to around $40 per barrel. There are fears that the oil price may fall further.

Given the crises around the world and manipulations on oil, what happens if oil falls to $5 per barrel? What would be the fate of Nigeria? The entire budget projections would be in jeopardy. But that would not happen if the states could leverage on their huge mineral wealth.

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