To avert the Niger Delta scenario in the mining sector where oil production threw up environmental crisis and community agitation, the Federal Government is formulating a number of downstream policies to address sustainability concerns, especially as exploitation of solid minerals intensifies.
According to the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, some of the reforms require consent before communal exploitation of resources.
Besides, he expressed optimism about the Ajaokuta Steel Company coming on stream by 2023.
Speaking during a visit to the corporate headquarters of The Guardian in Lagos, yesterday, Adegbite said the Niger Delta region provides a learning curve for mining of solid minerals, necessitating the introduction of certain reforms that engender community relations and environmental protection before issuance of licences.
Some of the improvements involve investors obtaining permission of owners on whose property minerals are discovered in addition to reaching an agreement with the community on corporate social responsibility, benefits and compensation.
The minister said the Ministry of Environment was involved to ensure enforcement of remediation of affected host communities, adding that at the end of mining, there must be plans for land reclamation.
His words: “We have learnt a lot of lessons from the mistakes of Niger Delta. There is something called consent in mining; if you don’t have the consent of the host communities, you cannot mine. That is to say the people are important, it is now left for you to negotiate with them and convince them.
“There is what is called community agreement which must also be obtained. This is a graduated system of benefits to the people. If you are starting out, you will be compelled to develop the community. And as you (miners) begin to prosper, the community must also prosper.
“The first thing to do is to get the consent of the people, after which you can get your licence. You must agree with the people on what you are going to do for them.
“However, we moderate the expectations of the people as well, because somebody who is just starting out can not really spend a lot of money. But as soon as he starts making money, the community must also prosper. There must be plans for grading of roads, community halls, building of schools, scholarship benefits and even cash gifts on a yearly basis. These are some of the things that are in the community agreement”.
Community is being carried along, unlike in the Delta, that was the mistake.”
On the Ajaokuta project, Adegbite explained that the global travel restriction occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic was preventing the Russian experts from arriving the country for an audit of the steel plant.
He said the exercise would be carried out soon as flights resume.
“I am hopeful that Ajaokuta will come on stream before the end of President (Muhammadu) Buhari’s tenure and when that happens, it is poised to create thousands of jobs,” the minister said.
Adegbite added that the country was on its way to becoming a major gold producing hub in the West Africa sub-region in line with its quest to diversify the country’s revenue base and create jobs for the teeming youths.
He observed that government was creating an enabling environment across the gold value chain.
“Indeed, the international road shows we have had in the past have borne fruits. Today, we have Thor exploration in Osun State through the Segilola Gold project, which is projected to start producing in the first half of next year. The project is expected to create about 400 direct jobs and 1000 indirect jobs,” he stated.
The minister equally revealed that the government had licensed three gold refineries to process the product up to the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) standard.
Furthermore, he projected that a slew of industries would spring up across the value chain.
‘‘Numerous industries will spring off when our gold economy becomes full-fledged. Some of them would include equipment leasing and repairs, logistic and transport as gold requires a specialised means of transport, security, insurance, aggregators, and so on. These would ultimately create tens of thousands of jobs.
Indeed, the government of President Buhari is all about job creation,” Adegbite submitted.