By Segun Ayobolu

Shortly after his appointment as Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dr. Dele Alake, in articulating his 7-point agenda stressed that the strengthening of security around mining deposits across the country and decisively combatting widespread illegal mining would be a cardinal objective of the ministry under his leadership.

This was understandable as, from all indications, most of the rich mineral deposit sites in several states were no better than unmanned geographical spaces with lawless non-state actors rampaging and criminally exploiting, extracting, and exporting these precious minerals at will to the detriment of the national economy as well as endangering the lives and property of innocent citizens unfortunate to reside and make a living near these sites. Indeed, there had evolved an intricate and mutually reinforcing relationship between criminal, unregulated mining activities in these areas and such crimes as banditry, extortion of innocent citizens, and kidnapping by ruthless cartels.

On March 22, this year, the Minister formally unveiled a new security architecture for greater security around mining sites nationwide anchored on a new 2,200-strong Mines Marshall Corp drawn from officers and men of the National Security and Civil Defense Corp (NSDC).

The objective of the mines’ security outfit is to smoke out, thwart, and apprehend illegal miners and other violators of the country’s mining laws so that they can be brought to Justice.

While it is operational in all mining sites across diverse states, the Mines Marshal Corp has its command and control centre located in the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development.

It has an initial 60 operatives deployed to each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory but, as the minister has explained severally, will eventually incorporate operatives from the Nigerian police, the army, and other security agencies while its operations will largely be technologically driven.

In his speech during the formal unveiling of the Mines Marshal Corp, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Solid Minerals, Hon. Jonathan Gbefwi, was understandably enthused as he declared that “When the minister reeled out his 7-point agenda during his inauguration address, which included the Mines Police, not a few people were skeptical about it. But today, he has matched his words with action. On behalf of the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I doff my hat for him and say “Well done”. You can be rest assured of the continued support of the House of Representatives and, by extension, the National Assembly”.

There is no doubt that the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development under Dr Alake will require all the support it can muster from the national legislature. This is because a key component of the 7-point agenda he articulated on resumption of office is the establishment of the Nigerian Solid Minerals Corporation to play a supervisory and galvanizing role in regulating and giving a sense of direction to solid minerals mining activities in the country.

According to the Minister, the processes for enacting the requisite legislation for the take-off of the Corporation is already in progress through the House Committee on Solid Minerals Development.

Shedding light on the structure and mode of operation of the envisaged Corporation, Alake said, “We are working with consultants to ensure the smooth emergence of the Corporation which will be private sector driven. We are looking at a Corporation with a structure that has 50% equity for the private sector; 25% for members of the public; 25% for the federal government. Our vision is to erect private sector-led enduring structures for the Corporation that will foster efficiency, outlive the present administration, and consequently wean it from future government interference”.

Like all other ministers in the President Bola Tinubu administration, Dr. Alake joined in the rendering of their account of service in the run-up to the first anniversary of the administration on May 29.

It is not surprising that ministers approached this undertaking with greater seriousness and sobriety than witnessed under successive administrations since 1999. This is because the current set of ministers signed a performance bond after their appointment which detailed their set goals and objectives against which their performance would be tracked and assessed.

Furthermore, a software domiciled in the office of the Special Adviser to the President on Policy Coordination, Hadizza Bala-Usman, enables members of the public to make their contributions to assessing the performance of the ministers through an appropriate feedback mechanism.

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Of course, some ministries such as Works, the Federal Capital Territory, or the Ministry of Interior have the advantage of being constantly in the news and thus at the forefront of public consciousness due to the everyday nature of their activities that touch on the ordinary citizen.

Against this backdrop, Alake is widely perceived to have performed impressively given the nature of his assignment in a ministry of Solid Minerals Development that he is virtually resuscitating from a largely comatose state and imbuing with a new sense of direction and purpose. Indeed, the deployment of the accomplished journalist, media strategist, and public policy communicator to the Solid Minerals Ministry was one of the surprises of the composition of President Tinubu cabinet.

Not a few had wagered that Alake would be deployed to the Information and National Orientation Ministry given his eloquence and his sterling performance in that role in the Tinubu administration as governor of Lagos State between 1999 and 2007.

Yet, those who reasoned this way grossly underestimated the sheer versatility and dynamism of the man as well as the role of the journalism profession in broadening his horizon and enabling him to take on diverse roles with calmness, confidence, and competence. In Lagos, he was Commissioner for Information and Strategy in the Tinubu administration.

The strategy component of his portfolio meant that he had to be abreast of developments in virtually every other ministry so as to effectively help in designing and implementing strategies for result-oriented strategic policy communication with the public. In that regard, his preparedness and capacity to function competently in any assignment not excluding his current one is beyond dispute.

In his inaugural lecture delivered at the Leed City University, Ibadan, on November 7, 2013, Professor Chibuzor Nwoke, who has studied and written extensively on the role of mineral resources in the contemporary global political economy, dilated on the topic, “Rich Land; Poor People: The Political Economy of Mineral Resources in a Peripheral Capitalist State”.

In my review of the lecture at that time, I had written in this space that “While exhaustively documenting Nigeria’s huge mineral endowments in diverse sectors, Professor Nwoke also argues that there is absolutely no reason why, with visionary, competent and patriotic leadership, these resources could not be utilized to achieve self-reliant industrialization for the country as well as uplift the quality of life of the Nigerian people…

“His detailed catalogue of the variety and spread of untapped mineral resources throughout the length and breadth of the country proves that there is no excuse of Nigeria’s sustained dependence on oil, which is responsible for over 90% of the country’s resources. Most of the states, which are dependent on oil revenues from the centre, are shown to have untapped mineral deposits that could have enriched the country’s resource base and facilitated their socio-economic development”.

It is instructive that under Alake, the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development has entered into partnership arrangements with a number of state governments towards the development of solid minerals within the jurisdiction of such states.

Just as the ongoing decentralization of operations and control in the electricity sector from the centre, the Tinubu administration is not averse to allowing the states the requisite autonomy to exploit mineral resources located within their jurisdiction and that is the way to go.

Dr Alake is serving as Minister of Solid Minerals at a critical transitional phase in the evolution of the Nigerian economy. Not only has the price of crude oil plummeted calamitously in the international market, many countries are moving away from dependence on fossil fuels for cheaper and safer sources of energy. Many experts assert that the golden age of oil is over and that current reserves of the commodity have a limited lifespan. Alake thus has his work cut out for him. His challenge is to help to lay the foundation for solid minerals, with which the country is munificently blessed, to become the future major revenue earner for Nigeria.

Experts estimate that the country’s solid minerals sector has the capacity to generate an annual average revenue of no less than $700 billion. It is contended in some quarters that this is an overly conservative estimate as virtually all states in Nigeria have solid minerals deposits within their geographical terrain. In a focused approach to his assignment, Alake has identified eight priority minerals for immediate action and attention. These are gold, baryte, iron-ore, lead/zinc, coal, limestone, bitumen and lithium. His energies are thus centered on undertaking regulatory reforms to restore investor confidence and renewed global interest in these priority solid mineral resources without necessarily eschewing interest and investment in scores of other minerals with which the country is blessed.

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To generate critical data on the eight priority minerals and their deposits, the ministry signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a German firm, Geo Scan Gmbn which will deploy sophisticated technology capable of exploring mineral resources up to 10000 meters underground. Another key initiative of the Ministry in the last one year is the revision of guidelines for Community Development Agreements with the aim of deriving maximum benefits from operations of mining companies while securing requisite derived royalties accruable to government for investment in economic development.

Important to note in this regard is the ongoing strengthening of the ministry’s mines inspectorate division to enhance its capacity to assess the sanctity of mining agreements with a role being designed for traditional rulers in the signing of these agreements for the benefit of host communities.

During the timeframe under review, the ministry entered into MOUs with reputable firms in the United Kingdom and Australia among others for training of Nigerian mining professionals on modern mining technology and practices.

These agreements cover training, study trips, and exchanges of mining professionals with the ultimate aim of attracting foreign direct investment to enhance the country’s global competitiveness in the sector.

On one of his investment pursuit trips, Alake told his audience at the Mines and Mining Conference in London that “The country’s geographical bounty encompasses over 44 distinct mineral types, found in exploitable quantities across more than 500 locations. Recently, recognizing the evolving global landscape and in response to emerging trends, Lithium has been included as a crucial strategic mineral of global consequence”.

As a fall out of these efforts, there are ongoing negotiations with British investors interested in the Lithium value chain towards the production of Lithium-powered energy buses for Nigeria’s domestic market.

With the support of the World Bank, the Ministry has conducted aeromagnetic surveys across the country which have yielded a preliminary analysis of mineral spread and deposits while a more detailed exploration is being worked on to enable investors make more informed investment decisions.

The regulatory reforms which included improving transparency and reducing bureaucratic hurdles has enhanced the revenue buoyancy of the ministry. For instance, shortly after resumption of office, the Minister announced the revocation of 1,633 mining licenses due to default in the payment of their stipulated annual service fees.

The affected entities had exceeded their deadlines to offset their debts as demanded by the Mining Cadastral Office. They retrieved their licenses only after defraying their debts.

It is thus not surprising that the Ministry was able to report that it contributed N16,395,640,771.58 to the federal government coffers between May 2023 and April 2024.

These earnings through the Mining Cadastral Office was N6.7 billion over the revenue target of N10.5 billion set for the agency. With the minister’s determination to institutionalize processes for adding value to solid minerals before export, there is every indication that the Ministry will report even more impressive revenue performance in the near future.

It is no doubt due to his dynamism and versatility that Alake was elected as Chairman of the African Minerals Strategy Group (AMSG), a forum of African Ministers of Solid Minerals/Mineral Resources.

In his address at a recent mining conference organized by the Nigerian Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Alake had averred that “My objective as the Minister is to work to ensure that Nigeria becomes a global mining destination for the first time in history and we are working to make this happen by alleviating bottlenecks and addressing salient challenges that have plagued the sector for decades”.

It is indisputable that Alake is walking his talk.