Recently, the Nigerian Miners Association (NMA) raised alarm at the influx of unregistered Chinese companies into the mining sector. According to its President, Alhaji Sani Shehu these companies’ recruited Chinese labourers to do the jobs usually reserved for Nigeria’s lower and middle class workers. We call on the authorities to investigate this claim with a view of putting a check it before it gets out of hand. There is no self-respecting country that gives foreigners unfettered access to its mines, neither would it encourage competition at expense of the locals.
It is very shameful that the Inspectorate Department of the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development charged with monitoring operations in the sector has become incapable of enforcing the rules. That unregistered Chinese companies are displacing Nigerians in the local mines speaks volume on the state of rot and decay in the sector. Question is who gave the foreign nationals the permission to go into mining for precious stones and other metals in Nigeria.
Definitely, these foreigners are engaging in illegal mining, which to all intents and purpose should not be tolerated in the country. There is no gainsaying that the Chinese labourers in Zamfara and Nasarawa mines are also engaged in smuggling of gemstones across the borders. Moreover, such illegal mining activities have constituted a cog in the activities of corporate investors. Statistics show that some of those licensed to engage in legal mining have either abandoned exploration/exploitation or are contemplating such a line of action, in the absence of security guarantees.
We also should be bothered by the severe degradation that such illegal and unregulated mining does to the environment. It is known that some of the disused pits in many states are oozing highly hazardous waste and polluting rivers in areas contiguous with mining fields. It is therefore time the government brought sanity to the mining of solid minerals. We advocate for properly organised production activities and development of local expertise in processing minerals.
Nigeria can learn from examples of Thailand, Israel and India that have grown their gemstones and jewellery industry from cottage level to vibrant multi-billion export oriented sector. Besides, the industry offers vast opportunities to teeming unemployed youths. There is the need for Nigeria to take up the development of her non-oil sector, including the solid minerals industry which has the potentials to give her some level of sound reprieve in times of such unhealthy gale in commodity prices.
Reports from the Mining Cadastral Office and Nigerian Geological Survey Agency have it that Nigeria could deliberately plan an economic life outside of crude oil with more than 33 commercially viable mix of solid minerals deposit across the length and breath of the country. An active solid minerals sector in Nigeria will guarantee internal and external revenue from exports and use in domestic industries. If well managed, Nigeria with her solid mineral abundance might as well be on the path to building a brighter economic future with minimal reliance on crude oil.