FG Rolls out Measures to Support Artisanal Miners

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•Provides N2.5bn loan, free lease for equipment
•Says Ajaokuta to manufacture weapons for military

Peter Uzoho

The federal government has provided N2.5 billion counterpart loan facility and lease-for-free mining equipment to support artisanal miners, Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Mr. Olamilekan Adegbite, said yesterday.

The minister, while featuring on a breakfast programme, Morning Show, on Arise TV, a sister broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspaper, said the federal government was also working to ensure increased value addition in the nation’s mining sector through benefication of mining proceeds.

Adegbite, who explained that the fund made up of N2.5 billion from the federal government and another N2.5 billon added by the Bank of Industry (BoI), was deposited with the BoI for access by the artisans at a maximum interest rate of 3.5 per cent.

According to him, the government is organising the beneficiaries into cooperatives to make access to the facility as well as repayment very easy while mining equipment is being provided for lease by miners at no cost, to improve their productivity.

The minister, who also stated that the country’s mining sector has been experiencing growth, growing from 0.03 per cent to 0.55 per cent while the revenue from the sector has also increased to $5 million.

He said: “Since President Muhammadu Buhari came into power, he has put a lot of money into mining. There was a presidential intervention of about N30 billion, which is being used very well. There is also the World Bank support in mining, which is about $150 million. But there is this fund that is created. We have N2.5 billion which we have put with the Bank of Industry. Bank of Industry has also backed that up with another N2.5 billion, making it N5 billion fund, that is for artisanal miners.

“It is to help them, it is so easy to access because we have tried the method in the past and then there was a problem. Everybody thinks this is part of the national cake; they want to access the money and then go away with that. That is not what we want; we want to use this money. We are given out this money at about 3.5 per cent interest rate maximum. So it is actually something that is very inexpensive to get.

“But the best way we are doing that is by organising these people into cooperatives. We use cooperatives so that we use peer pressure. You don’t have to bring any collateral or any asset. But when we give members of the cooperative, maybe five members in a cooperative of about 200 people, they are going to be the guarantors of this people and if they don’t return that money, nobody else gets from that cooperative, they are blacklisted.

“So we are using peer pressure; that is the easiest way. Once you have registered at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), we will also help you with that registration, your cooperative is registered, you have trustees and all those things, the cooperative can approach us, and of course, we look at the activity.

“Another way is that we are providing equipment for them. Instead of giving them, money, now they are using simple implements, using their hands, we are providing them with excavators, bulldozers. So the equipment is warehoused by a leasing company. We supply the equipment to the leasing company: they can go to the leasing company and lease the equipment at next to nothing.

“We localised this leasing outlet, so that wherever mining activity is taking place you have something very close to you. They bring equipment for you; you use it for a few days, it enhances your productivity and all that. So these are some of the ways we are supporting artisanal miners.”

On government’s plan to ensure value addition and beneficiation in the mining sector, Adegbite explained that the federal government has a policy known as ‘Downstream Policy’, which is to ensure that Nigeria gets full value of all mining produce.

He added that this would ensure that the losses being experienced in the petroleum sector did not occur in the mining sector.

“In the past, most of the minerals mined in Nigeria were exported in the raw form. We are now saying there must be beneficiation. That is, you must add value before you export them. Of course, there is a lot of job opportunities in this as well. And of course, we will not be getting peanuts. When we export crude oil for instance, we don’t get as much as we should get.

“If we refine the crude oil and we export petrol or diesel or aviation fuel and all that, we get more. So, we are avoiding that pitfall in mining. We are making sure that we add value, that is beneficiation.

“We add value to whatever we are doing whether it is steel, it is melted and all that. We are giving licences to at least two gold refining companies. One is based in Ogun State, the other one is in Abuja.

“So instead of just taking the raw gold abroad, we refine them locally. Government has also created a situation where the CBN can buy gold from us and keep some of their reserves in gold. So these are measures to encourage mining in Nigeria. Like I said, the revenue will come but most importantly, at this point in Nigeria, we need to create employment for our people, because the idle hands are the ones causing the problem in the country,” he stated.

Ajaokuta to Manufacture Weapons for Military

The minister also pointed out that when completed, the Ajaokuta steel would manufacture arms for the Nigerian armed forces.

He explained: “Everybody talks about Ajaokuta and I know people are emotional about it. Nigeria has spent close to $6 billion on Ajaokuta as it stands. Just to give you an impression, it is bigger than the whole of Abuja and a lot of money has been sunk into that place.

“So, Ajaokuta is a game-changer for Nigeria because you cannot industrialise if you don’t have steel. We spend several billions of dollars yearly, importing steel into this country. If Ajaokuta starts producing, we can even begin to make ammunition for the military. We can begin to make car parts, panel for vehicles and engine blocks. And of course it is going to create a lot of employment.”

He added: “We need to be optimistic about Ajaokuta. This particular administration is giving its best shot now on Ajaokuta. We have tried quasi-privatisation in the past; we have tried concession with the American, the Indians and all that, but it all failed. Now, we have gone back to the original people that built Ajaokuta.

“Everybody will tell you it is about 95 per cent to completion and you just wonder why not that little push. There was a conspiracy internationally for Nigeria not to produce steel and that was why Ajaokuta failed. But, that is in the past. The focus now is on making sure that Ajaokuta works. President Muhammadu Buhari has said we cannot throw Nigeria’s hard-earned revenue into Ajaokuta again. Now, we have gone back to the Russians who were the original builders under the sovereign union.

“The arrangement we have in place now is that the company will come in with the funding we are getting and Ajaokuta would pay for itself. So, we don’t have to involve public funds into Ajaokuta. As we speak, we are developing a business model to justify that.”