Opinion

Post-COVID-19: Mining sector on my mind

At the moment, countries of the world over are seriously busy thinking and creating policies on how to cope and become successful during the impending post-Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic era. At such a time, governments at all levels are expected to think outside the box with a view to ensuring that moribund resources are utilized by the authorities rather than continual dependent on a particular resource or endowment.

Today, I’m more concerned about the compelling need for the Nigeria’s government, currently led by President Muhammadu Buhari, to pay greater attention to the country’s mining sector, which possess tremendous opportunities for economy of the acclaimed giant of Africa.

Mining is simply the extraction of valuable minerals cum other geological materials from the earth crust, usually from lode, vein, ore-body, seam, reef, or placer, deposits. These deposits constitute a mineralized package that is of economic interest to the prospective miner.

Ores gotten via mining activity are gemstones, limestone, coal, oil shale, metals, dimension stone, clay, gravel, potash, and rock salt, among others. Mining is required to obtain essential commodities that cannot be possibly grown via agricultural processes, or created artificially in a factory or laboratory. Mining of stones and metals has been a well recognized human occupation since prehistoric era. Modern days mining processes involve prospecting for ore bodies, analyzing the profit potential of the proposed mine, extraction of the desired materials, and final reclamation of the affected land after the mine is closed.

The economic importance of mining cannot be overemphasized. In Ghana, for instance, the country’s mining sector is a very vital segment of its economy, and has played a significant role in its socio-economic development since the colonial period. Historically, the Ghanaian mining sector’s contribution to the country’s gross foreign exchange – particularly gold – has only been paralleled by its cocoa sector. Not only do the products power the family car as well as heat the family home, the manufacturing sector, high tech industries, and even the better known resource industries, are all dependent – in one way or the other – on the mining industry.

The mining industry will continue to be an important support to the economy of any country that embraces it. Aside boosting Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it encourages high rate of employment opportunities and equally thrives to ensure that the number of entrepreneurs in the country is increased tremendously. In spite of the ongoing boom in the sector, Nigeria still lags behind. It’s shocking to note that notwithstanding the unquantifiable solid minerals the country is blessed with, mining accounts for barely 0.3 per cent of the country’s GDP, due to the influence of its vast petroleum resources.

The country’s domestic mining industry is obviously underdeveloped, leading to importation of minerals such as, but not limited to, iron ore and salt, that could be domestically produced with ease. It’s a shame that the only material that’s overtime mined across the country is sand. Rights to ownership of mineral resources is held by the Federal Government (FG) who grants titles to interested organizations to explore, mine, and sell mineral resources, but ab initio, the business has been relatively unpopular.

The Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration began a process of selling off government-owned mining corporations to private investors in 1999; till date, those firms are ostensibly lying moribund. On assumption of duty, perhaps piqued by the ongoing devastating physiognomy of the Nigeria’s mining sector, the Buhariled government strongly assured Nigerians that the administration would rejuvenate the industry. Little wonder the government consequently approved a sum of N12.7 billion solid minerals exploration contract.

Yet at the moment, pathetically no serious and practical impact has been recorded, probably owing to lack of policy direction. It’s therefore high time Nigeria started mining the available solid mineral deposits abound in the country – tale, gypsum, lead, zinc, bentonite, gold, uranium, bitumen, coal, rock salt, gemstones, kaolin and barite – all which are highly lucrative and of economic value. This can only be actualized by deploring the required techniques tactically as well as imbibing viable policies into the system.

Surface mining and sub-surface (underground) mining are the available two major forms of mining. The targeted minerals are generally divided into two categories of materials namely, placer deposits and lode deposits. The former comprises valuable minerals contained within river, gravels, beach sands, and other unconsolidated materials, whilst the latter are those found in veins, layers, or in mineral grains widely distributed throughout a mass of actual rock. Both classes of deposits could be mined by either of the aforesaid mining types. Moreover, in-situ leaching is another technique mainly used in mining rare earth elements cum soluble minerals like uranium, potash, potassium chloride, sodium chloride, and sodium sulfate.

Of all, surface mining is currently much more common and viable. However, it’s pertinent to acknowledge that mining, likewise petroleum drilling, is associated with various environmental factors. These include erosion, formation of sinkholes, and loss of biodiversity, coupled with contamination of soil, ground cum surface water by chemicals from mining processes.

In some cases, additional forest logging is done in the vicinity of mines to create space for the storage of the created debris and soil. Basic examples of pollution from mining activities include coal fires, which can last for years, producing severe amounts of environmental damage.

The above can be properly controlled through the effort of the concerned law enforcement agency by implementing stringent environmental and rehabilitation Acts and functional policies. Now that diversification is apparently the only way the country’s economy can remain firm after the COVID-19 crisis since the oil sector is not anymore reliable, the government ought to endeavour to take the bull by the horn towards ensuring that the mining industry is accorded a well deserved attention.

It’s more interesting to note that exploring the industry remains one of the prime agenda of the present administration. But for such an agenda to be holistically actualized, hands of fellowship must be duly and sincerely extended to the cognoscenti who can spur the sector to do more even when challenges are enormous.

Considering the impact the sector stands to create on the country’s economy at large, especially during the post- COVID-19 era, it’s needless to state that its exploration is long overdue, thus feasible action is seriously needed. Nigeria as a country has all it takes to boom the mining sector, which is seemingly moribund, hence shouldn’t dwell on excuses. Think about it!

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