By Kasim Sumaina
The federal government has said it received 138 loan applications, totalling N14.59 billion, and has approved 13, covering N1.08 billion, under the Artisanal and Small-scale Miners (ASM) Financing Support Fund.
Out of the 13 approved loan applications, a total of N311 million had been disbursed as of September 30.
The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Mr. Olamilekan Adegbite, said at an Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) workshop programme yesterday in Abuja, that the fund was established in 2017 by the ministry in collaboration with the Bank of Industry (BoI). The ministry provided N2.5 billion while the bank matched it with another N2.5 billion counterpart funding, bringing the total to N5 billion.
He explained that the disbursement was low when compared with the total applications largely because applicants failed to meet the stringent requirements stipulated by the bank.
The minister stated that the federal government would ensure that the difficulties inherent in accessing the funds are removed.
“In this regard, we are developing a unique and favourable template for the disbursement of the fund. This includes equipment- leasing and hire-purchase loan facility. We are of the belief that the new template, when fully operational, would spur enormous growth in the sector,” he added.
While highlighting some of the reform achievements under the ASM department, the minister said the ministry had registered about 1,495 mining cooperatives with each having over 10 members.
Out of the 1,495 registered mining cooperatives, 140 are gold mining.
He noted that mining in Nigeria is still largely artisanal-based, which is why the ministry created a department called Artisanal and Small-scale Mining to provide institutional support for artisanal miners who form the bulk of the operators and manpower in the sector.
According to him, the workshop has brought together industry operators from across the country to deliberate and meet minds on how best to access the support fund for artisanal and small-scale miners.
The minister identified one of the core pillars of President Muhammadu Buhari’s economic policy as the repositioning of the mining sector as a way of diversifying the economy to create wealth and jobs, to increase its contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and expand the range of economic opportunities available to Nigerians.
Ms. Olayinka Mubarak who represented the Bank of Industry (BoI) at the event, charged the miners to meet the requirements, as according to her, “the first few encounters we had were not pleasant.”
She said that many of the initial loan applicants did not meet the requirements to access the loan.
She added: “The money is a loan, not a grant. If the miners don’t repay the loan, the BoI will have to deep hands into its own account and pay it back to the federal government. Where will you see money at five per cent?
“By the time you take the loans and you pay back, we will be able to give you more and give loans to more people. Even the commercial banks will give money to miners when they see that the loans given by the BoI have been repaid.
“It is our job to support you but the financial industry will not support you if you are not sincere. If we give you a loan and after some time they call you and the phone will be switched off and they go to your site and you are no more there, how can the financial sector support you?”
Ms. Mubarak said the BoI, in collaboration with the federal government, was ready to have a meeting point with the miners in its determination to re-activate the sector, in the diversification efforts of the present administration.
She explained that while some miners are complaining about the loan application requirements, serious minded-miners are already accessing the funds.
She said a particular miner had not only obtained the loan but had also repaid in full by September and has been encouraged to apply for another loan.