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Reform Nigeria’s Mining Sector

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President Bola Tinubu's recent remarks at the counter-terrorism summit in Abuja served as a sobering wake-up call regarding the inextricable link between illegal mining operations and the financing of terrorist activities across Africa.

He highlighted a harsh reality that can no longer be ignored – the unchecked exploitation of the nation's precious mineral resources is not just an environmental or economic issue, but a matter of grave national security. For too long, illegal mining has been allowed to fester, sustained by a toxic collusion between unscrupulous actors from host communities, compromised traditional rulers, corrupt security personnel, and officials driven by greed rather than public interest.

The consequences of this unpatriotic act have been disastrous as the nation's wealth is used to fuel the agenda of those who seek to sow chaos and insecurity through unspeakable violence.

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The emerging statistics paint a grim picture. According to a data from Beacon Security and Intelligence Limited, a security risk management and intelligence company based in Abuja, at least 2,583 people were killed and 2,164 kidnapped in the first quarter of this year.

On average, a horrifying 28 people were killed and 24 kidnapped each day during this period. This is an utterly unacceptable state of affairs that demands immediate and far-reaching action. However, the detrimental impacts of unregulated mining activities extend far beyond the realms of security. The environmental degradation and health hazards inflicted upon resource-rich communities are nothing short of catastrophic.

We need only cast our minds back to the harrowing tragedy of Zamfara, where over 400 innocent children perished due to lead poisoning from gold mining activities between 2010 and 2013. Like the Niger Delta's plight with hydrocarbon exploitation, communities hosting mining operations have borne the brunt of industrial-scale mineral extraction, their lands, livelihoods, and very lives imperiled.

In the considered opinion of this newspaper, it is a moral imperative that demands that the nation takes decisive steps to rectify this untenable situation. The first step must be the unwavering implementation of existing laws and regulations governing the mining sector.

For too long, these safeguards have been flouted with impunity, allowing unchecked exploitation to persist. The government must strengthen the institutions and personnel tasked with oversight, reinforcing them with the necessary resources, equipment, manpower, and skillsets to function effectively.

Moreover, in our view, it is pertinent to ensure that all prospective mineral title holders possess the requisite expertise and comprehensive plans to mitigate potential adverse impacts on local communities and the environment.

The federal government should mandate social impact assessments and negotiate mining development agreements based on international best practices that prioritize the protection of community rights. Concurrently, we must focus on better regulation of small-scale and artisanal miners, who often operate outside the purview of legal frameworks.

The establishment of a National Solid Minerals Areas Development Commission, modeled after the Niger Delta Development Commission, could play a pivotal role in promoting sustainable practices, ensuring equitable distribution of benefits, and fostering socio-economic development in mining communities.

There is, also, a nagging urgency to increase transparency and accountability within the sector. Detailed and accurate data on revenue generation, expenditures, and other vital statistics must be publicly disseminated. This will not only promote good governance but also enable effective monitoring and evaluation by civil society organizations and other stakeholders.

Furthermore, the government ought to explore avenues for restructuring the governance system to provide host communities with a greater sense of ownership and equitable participation in the decision-making processes that shape the of their lands and livelihoods.

In this regard, we suggest that funding mechanisms, such as adequately resourced state-level Mineral Resources and Environmental Management Committees (MIREMCOs), should be prioritized to ensure effective oversight and community engagement.

Ultimately, in our opinion, the path towards a responsible and sustainable mining sector in Nigeria is a multi-faceted endeavor that necessitates a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach. It demands unwavering political will, robust legislative frameworks, strengthened institutions, and active collaboration between all stakeholders – from federal and state authorities to traditional rulers, civil society organizations, and the host communities themselves.

Presumably, in our view, the stakes could not be higher. Left unchecked, the illicit exploitation of the mineral wealth will continue to imperil national security, undermine our economic development, and ravage the lives and environments of vulnerable communities.

In our considered opinion, President Tinubu's clarion call must be heeded, for it represents not just a chance to reform a critical sector, but an opportunity to safeguard the and well-being of all Nigerians.

It is crucial at this point to suggest that the country unites in a determined resolve to harness the immense potential of the mineral resources for the greater good, while simultaneously protecting the people, the environment, and other national security interests.

Only through such a comprehensive and sustained effort can the nation ensure that the mining sector becomes a catalyst for sustainable development, rather than a conduit for instability and exploitation.


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