The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development today organised the maiden edition of a National Stakeholders’ Discourse on Opportunities and Challenges of Artisanal Mining in Nigeria.
The two-day discourse which brought together stakeholders from different parts of the country was declared open by the Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Hon. Abubakar Bawa Bwari.
The Minster called on participants to use the opportunity provided by the conference in finding lasting solutions to the thorny issue of integrating artisanal miners into the mainstream of formal mining in Nigeria.
He acknowledged the opportunities in the Artisanal and Small Scale Mining (ASM) subsector which he said can lead to growth in the economy, while also enriching the lives of the miners themselves. He however noted that it can only be possible if the practice is regulated and miners can benefit from extension services on safer mining methods, soft loans, and modern technology.
The Minister said the stakeholders’ forum is coming at a time when the activities of artisanal miners globally have reached unprecedented scale. He made reference to the International Institute for Sustainable Development (2018), that says close to 50 million people are now engaged in artisanal mining globally.
He said about 2 million people in Nigeria are now directly or indirectly dependant on ASM for their livelihood and are responsible for 90 per cent of the country’s mineral production. These Artisanal miners, according to him, are mostly found mining precious minerals such as gold, silver, cassiterite, coltan, lead/zinc, sapphire, emerald, tourmaline, aquamarine, gypsum, barytes, silica sand, granite, sandstones, clay, salt, and so on.
While noting that Mining is generally not an environment-friendly business, he said it is often worsened by a poorly regulated ASM subsector, as ASM remains the most serious impediment to environmental sustainability. “We cannot afford to criminalise their activities wholesale, we also cannot fold our arms and watch as the damage to the lives of our people and the environment continue unabated,” he added.
He listed some of the environmental problems arising from ASM operations to include; lead poisoning, mercury pollution, land/soil degradation, deforestation, poor sanitation, degradation of river banks, and heavy metals pollution.
In its efforts at transforming the ASM subsector into a robust and more effectively regulated and vibrant industry, the Minister said the ministry has made strenuous efforts to regulate ASM activities, which he said has led to some measure of success.
“The formalisation policy of the ministry has led to the registration of more artisanal miners into mining cooperatives. This year alone, the ministry has provided training to over 250 members of these cooperatives across the country,” he explained
Hon. Bwari said the government is poised to properly reposition the ASM for a more effective contribution to national economic development. He charged the stakeholders to come up with actionable strategies towards the formulation of sound policies that will check the negative effects of ASM activities whilst exploiting its positive aspects to improve the livelihood of the miners, their communities, and the nation’s GDP.
In his opening remarks, the Permanent Secretary, Dr. Abdulkadri Mu’azu said poorly regulated artisanal mining operations have great consequences on the immediate mining host communities, national economic development and national security as it leads to pollution and general degradation of the environment when not properly handled.
He assured participants that amidst the difficult regulatory challenges, government is working assiduously to enthrone a vibrant and robust ASM sector in Nigeria.
The President, Miners Association of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Sani appreciated the steps taken by the Ministry to rejuvenate and reform the Mining Industry in Nigeria. He opined that the practical solution that would be proffered to the challenges of ASM at the end of the discourse would be implemented.