There is no gainsaying that the Nigerian economy is in a quagmire. So are the vast majority of its over 200 million people, as a blighted tree amounts to a blighted fruit.
This train of despair has been a long time coming. It has been arriving in installment, coach after coach, chug after chug, hoot after hoot.
But the station masters took little heed. So here we are in a quagmire.
The country is burdened with fearsome debts, a mono-economy, mismanagement and ineptitude.
In a bid for repair, we have removed the oil subsidy albatross, set the local currency on a free float and economy experts say this is the proper course, but these medicines seem as painful as the ailment we seek to cure.
Again, economy experts say among other things, we must diversify the economy and in so doing we must look for quick fixes, the low hanging fruits.
One long-neglected low hanging fruit on the track to diversification is the country’s rich and diverse solid minerals sector.
Nigeria is blessed with lithium, iron ore, gypsum, bitumen, gold, talc, bentonite, lead, zinc, coal, gemstones, and kaolin, to name a few.
There are ready markets for these resources at home and abroad and foreign exchange waiting to be earned.
The hurdles on the way to seeing the light include the old bad habit of depending on crude oil, poor visioning or the lack of vision altogether, outmoded and impractical laws and policies, and lack of reforms.
Efforts have been made over the years to clean up the laws and policies. Enter the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act which is made as Act to repeal the Minerals and Mining Act, No. 34 of 1999 and enact the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act, 2007 for the purposes of regulating all aspects of the exploration and exploitation of solid minerals in Nigeria and for related purposes.
The Act is detailed as it makes provisions on such issues like ownership and control of minerals; administrative provisions including functions of the minister, establishment of the Mining Cadastral Office, Mines Inspectorate Department; mining incentives including tax reliefs, and establishment of the Solid Minerals Development Fund.
According to the 2023 Fiscal Framework, total solid minerals revenue to the Federation Account was N6.312bn in 2021, N6.944bn in 2022, and N8.680bn is expected in 2023. With this level of expected revenue, it is clear that the reforms proposed in the sector have not worked and there is no plan to make the reforms work.
There is therefore a need for review of the rules, processes and supervision of implementation processes to open the way to a diversified economy and the accompanying benefits.
One shadowy but sure incentive to take this path is the fact that Nigeria’s landscape is strewn with all manner of illegal, undocumented and untaxed artisanal miners from all corners of the world who risk life, limb and the wrath of the law to tap gems from the richness of our nation’s underbelly.
In light of the foregoing, it has become imperative for the President Bola Tinubu administration to review the implementation of the Act and take steps to ensure that its provisions are respected to yield the desired dividends in terms of increased Federation Account revenue. This will involve getting the right leadership for the ministry and taking care of all policy, infrastructure and financial challenges. If other countries less endowed in terms of human and material resources are earning high revenues from this sector, we should at least understudy what they have done to learn and improve revenues from the sector.