Prosperity And Peace Through Solid Minerals

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Prosperity And Peace Through Solid Minerals
 

By

 

Oby Ezekwesili

 

 

October 24, 2005

 


CRUDE oil, Nigeria's major foreign-exchange earner, is often referred to as "Black Gold." This speaks poignantly to the superiority of gold if crude oil has to be likened to it. The eternal validity of this logic may be debatable as the value of natural resources changes over time. But one thing is certain: gold will continue to be of value as it has been over time and it will be well beyond that foreseeable future when the world will no longer be beholden to hydrocarbon as the principal source of energy.


There is, however, little to suggest that we as a people are prepared for that inevitable day. And equally worrisome, we have done little to widen our basket of products by taking adequate advantage of the numerous resources that our land creaks with. Nigeria has gold in commercial quantity, but no one, even the most charitable, will name Nigeria as a major gold-producing country. Apart from gold, Nigeria is blessed, abundantly, with numerous solid minerals, ranging from marble, granite, gypsum, silver, limestone, topaz, sapphire, coal, bitumen to zinc.
In fact, our country has at least 34 mineral types, spread across 450 locations in all parts of the country. Some of these are precious stones, some are industrial minerals, some are metallic minerals, and some are energy-generating minerals. All are valuable minerals whose optimal exploration will enhance wealth creation, revenue generation, job creation and industrial development in our country. Sadly, however, we are yet to fully take advantage of these endowments for the growth of our economy and the development of our people


Despite these considerable endowments, we have operated largely as a mono-cultural economy. We have unduly exposed ourselves to the boom-and-bust cycle of being tied to a single product. We have equally robbed ourselves of the opportunity to benefit from the exploration of these God-given minerals.


A good illustration of this neglect is that Nigeria earned only a paltry N80.9 million from solid minerals in 1999, that is the first year of President Olusegun Obasanjo administration. Through the efforts of this administration, income from this sector leapt to N298.5 million in 2004. Though this represents more than a tripling of income in five years, it is still a trifle when compared to the sector's actual potential. Nigeria can earn at least 100 times more than it presently earns from solid minerals. The challenge, however, is not in sketching the possibilities - it is in making it happen.


If the resources are optimally accessed and the potential fully harnessed, Nigeria can earn 100 times more than it presently earns. Solid minerals thus offer us a veritable opportunity to jumpstart our economy. It will enable us grow the economy, generate more revenue, create more jobs, and develop both human and physical capital. We definitely need to wean ourselves of over-dependence on oil and diversify the base of our economy. Solid minerals point to a great way out.
It is clear, however, that the mere presence of these resources will not automatically translate to growth and development for the country. Our experience so far has more than borne this out. For us to take adequate advantage of them and reap the benefits associated with this, we need to institute and implement well-thought-out policies and programmes that will attract investors, build capacity of operators, safeguard the environment and promote amity between the operators and the host communities. This process has commenced apace. We have started the process of turning the solid minerals sector in Nigeria into one of the hottest investment destinations in the world.
Government is transforming from "owner-operator" to "administrator-regulator". Reliable geo-physical database and a mineral title registry are being compiled. An investment-friendly legislation is in the works at the National Assembly. And human capital gaps are being bridged.


We are putting in place policies and programmes that will serve not only the big operators, but also the small scale industries. Unlike in the oil industry, there is ample space for the small operators in the solid minerals sector. As we all know, small-scale enterprises are regarded as the engine of growth all over the world. There will however be a deliberate policy to strengthen the capacity of the small operators and enhance their capacity to attract necessary capital.
A major lesson that has been learned from oil exploration in Nigeria is the possible negative impact on the environment and the host communities. A conscious effort will be made to ensure that this ugly development that has led to tensions, conflicts and deaths does not repeat itself with intensified exploration of solid minerals in the country. In fact, a major plank of the reform in this sector is the review of the 1999 Minerals and Mining Act to ensure that the operation of the industry conforms to global best practices. The review would allow for the establishment of State Environmental Management Committees to foster greater understanding among all stakeholders, resolve conflicts, award compensations, and enforce environmental rules. The review will also permit the setting of good standards on environmental management, remediation, health issues and safety practices in the mining industry. The review of this Act is receiving quality attention from the National Assembly. They deserve a lot of commendation for that.


Proper management of the Solid Minerals industry will grant us more than additional revenue. It could also grant us a valuable opportunity to increase the stakes of the different segments of the society in the national economy. Unlike oil, which is mainly localised to few states of the country, solid minerals are present in all states. Viable exploration of resources from all parts of the country will increase the contribution of all to the national purse, enhance healthy regional competition that was last seen in the sixties and increase the demand for accountability.
Also, if we manage the exploration with respect for environmental sustainability and respect for the host communities, it is possible to create examples that could be replicated in the oil industry as well as boost community development, enhance social capital and societal amity. This means that prosperity in resource extraction shouldn't be at the expense of peace. The two shouldn't be mutually exclusive. That is our challenge. And am sure we are up to it.


   Ezekwesili is the Minister for Solid Minerals Development
 

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