Abubakar Bwari, the Minister of State, Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, says more than two million people in Nigeria depend on illegal mining for their livelihood.
Mr Bwari made this known at a two-day “First National Stakeholders’ Discourse on Opportunities and Challenges of Artisanal Mining in Nigeria’’ on Monday in Abuja.
According to him, most of the miners are poor and unemployed living in rural areas and employing crude methods and household implements to exploit these minerals which they sell to feed their families.
He said they were mostly found mining precious minerals like gold, silver, lead/zinc, sapphire, emerald, tourmaline, aquamarine, gypsum, barytes, silica sand, granite, sandstones, clay, and salt among others.
“We cannot afford to criminalise their activities and we cannot also fold our arms and watch as they damage the lives of our people and the environment,’’ he said.
He said some of the environmental problems which include lead poisoning, mercury pollution, deforestation, poor sanitation, and heavy metals pollution among others were caused by Artisanal and Small Scale Mining in Nigeria (ASM).
Mr Bwari said that the use of inappropriate mining methods and unwholesome mineral ore processing techniques impact dangerously on public health as they exposed people to heavy metal pollution and outbreak of infectious diseases.
He, however, said the forum was to address the myriad of challenges posed by illegal mining.
According to him, the ministry has made strenuous efforts to regulate ASM activities over the years.
The minister of state said that in the last three years, the ministry’s regulatory mechanisms had led to some measure of success.
“We are more than ever before determined to ensure better policing of artisanal miners through the newly constituted Mines Police.
“We have also increased the monitoring capacity of our Mine Inspectorate with the recent purchase of new vehicles.
“The formalisation policy of the ministry has also led to the registration of more artisanal miners into mining cooperatives.’’
Mr Bwari said the ministry had trained more than 250 members of these cooperatives across the country.
He urged the participants to provide lasting solutions to the thorny issue of integrating artisanal miners into formal mining in Nigeria.
“As the theme of this conference clearly shows, there are great opportunities in the artisanal and small scale mining subsector which can lead to growth in the economy, while also enriching the lives of the miners themselves,’’ he said.
The minister of state also donated a Toyota Hilux to the Executive of the Miners Association of Nigeria to aid the activities of the association.
Also speaking, Abdulkadir Muazu, the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, said the stakeholders gathering was to brainstorm on the issues associated with artisanal mining in Nigeria.
Mr Muazu said ASM had implications that were cross sectoral in their nature such as poor regulation which had affected host mining communities, national economic development and security.
He said that artisanal mining activities had also been linked to smuggling, social disruption, child labour, influx of illegal migrants, and outbreak of diseases due to poor sanitary environment under which mining camps thrive.
“On the contrary though, artisanal mining has been known to provide jobs and livelihoods to great number of people around the world.
“Globally, it is estimated that more than 40 million people are engaged in the sector producing more than a filth of the world’s gold, tin and tantalum supplies.
“ASM also accounts for more than 80 per cent of global supply of gemstones, especially sapphire, emerald, tourmaline, rubelites, aquamarine, and topaz.
“More than 90 per cent of Nigeria’s mineral production comes from the artisanal miners and these miners use inappropriate methods and very rudimentary tools to exploit mineral deposits,’’ he said.
Jean Bakole, the Regional Director Band Country Representative for Nigeria and ECOWAS, UNIDO, quoting the World Bank report said that 80 countries were involved in ASM practices and there were 100 million Artisanal miners globally.
Mr Bakole, represented by Yemi Banjo, Environmental expert with UNIDO, called for more support from mining stakeholders to holistically address ASM activities in Nigeria.
Shehu Sani, the President, Miners Association of Nigeria said the association would continue to support the ministry to reduce illegal mining in Nigeria.