Mr Sunday Ekozin, is president Progressive Miners Association of Nigeria. He has been in the vanguard of those urging the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan to reform the nation’s mining sector. In this interview Ekozin speaks on the prospects and problems of the sector.
How long have you been in mining and why are you championing the reform in the mining sector?
I have been in this sector for well over two decades and I have been in the leadership seat of the miners association in Nigeria for almost ten years. But recently, because of politicking, we had to come up with a different body known as progressive miners association, to differentiate from orthodox miners association of Nigeria. Of course I was the president of the miners association of Nigeria before now but I presently the president of the Progressive Miners Association.
Ghana has been able to harness its resources, which is about 30 per cent of Nigeria’s mineral wealth. The current situation of the sector is just 0.3 per cent of the GDP contribution. This is solely from the sale of papers in the name of mining licenses which is about 7,000 mining licenses in the country. With less than one per cent of those mining licenses actually operating in the country or what you can call operational mines in the country.
We believe that mining is an antidote to all of these insurgencies that are taking place particularly across the Northern parts of the country. Our appeal is basically to Mr. President to set up a standing presidential committee otherwise we would just be dumping N15billion annually as budget to the ministry of mines and steel with nothing to contribute to the nation or to the sector. So if the sector must contribute to the national GDP, for us as operator we said 2 million jobs annually but to them in the ministry they said 3million jobs which is okay if they can create 3million jobs by their own record, the generation of employment thus far up to date since their establishment in 1995 of the ministry is less than 300,000 so what are we talking about, so we just need the political will and the patriotic drive to really amend these huge potentials. It is too massive and time will fail me to give you statistics.
Can you give us a little explanation on the proposed presidential committee on solid minerals?
Yes, the presidential committee, most of my colleagues in other professions like in the steel sector for example, the Nigeria society of engineers, the mineral raw material processing department of that society also are in the same page with us that there should be a presidential committee because the conventional ministry that is set up with tax payer money, that were having N50billion sunk into them year after year. This is accumulating just like a pool all manner of fund from both local and foreign intervention are consuming the whole thing without any impact being felt in mining and without actual development taking place in the mining sector. So, with all of these frustrations the option left is to have a standing committee that is responsible, patriot in Nigeria, stakeholders in the sector who will drive the system, reporting directly to Mr president, all what we need from our own point as operators, we don’t even need the government giving us 50billion to take off, just create a platform for us. We will galvanize the fund from international donors to drive the sector and we will generate between now and 2015 at least a trillion naira as revenue for the nation.
We will generate this from royalties, we will generate all of these from taxes because once you create an economic stimulus as a government, mean the private sector will strive and when the private sector is striving to pay royalties and taxes and rents ensuing from mining and off course licenses and all other things will not be a problem. All we need do is just to create a platform and once that platform is there, we have assured him based on position papers we have presented that we will create on monthly basis an average of a 100,000 job monthly and we will report to the state government, we will ensure that all of these issues that we are experiencing in Zamfara where you have issues of infant deaths resulting from unethical mining, unprofessional mining due to lack of basic mining implement with less than N10million equipment that you can fabricate locally or import it to the country to do this. People are scratching the earth, using mortar used in pounding yam to engage in mining, I mean that is inhuman. We just need all of this, we know exactly what to do and if the platform is created to generate this money. Let me reiterate, as per jobs, we say as a group, we can generate about 2 million jobs, and an average of 100,000 jobs on monthly basis. But when they came up, when they modified the paper, they said they would generate 3 million jobs. 3 million jobs? By the same ministry that has generated so far about 300,000 jobs from 1995. I mean, it is laudable.
When you talked about two million jobs, what are the categories of jobs you are referring to? Is it artisanal or unskilled miners?
No, that’s what we are fighting against. What we are doing currently is just slavery in mining. Where the slave masters – the Chinese come with their pockets loaded and say, my friend, jump into that hole, get me anything you can get there, money is ready if you finish the job, I will give you money. That is the situation we are in currently, and our people are dying. So long as they want to escape poverty and they are seeing the money, they want to die doing it. So we want to stop that. And the way to stop that is to raise new and modern plants that will not cost more than N10 million. In fact, in some cases, for mining purposes, all you need is a pole and a drill and that’s enough, and those things are less than N5million for the artisanal families who are in villages and all that. And that’s nothing because these are monies you can get back within a month. The resources are just there and local market is massive. Our importation of raw materials is ridiculous.
You said miners are buried under earth regularly, why are they not reported?
You know in cases like this, they are often termed illegal miners. If they are illegal miners, are they not Nigerians? Are you not to protect the lives of Nigerians? Must you say because somebody is involved in illegal mining, he should just perish like that? If it is so, why is the federal government setting up amnesty for Boko Haram that is destroying lives of human beings? So we should be concerned about them.
There is an ecological fund but we have been hearing that the fund has been diverted. With your call for a presidential committee do you want the money transferred to that committee?
Last month we made a paper position when we saw the National Assembly discussing the natural recourses development fund, now by the funding there is eight hundred and seventy three billion naira (N873 billion) in that account, is deductions made from incomes of 1.75 per cent from the sale of oil and gas now that fund is there, you know Nigerians we never talk about issues like this issue of development how do we get there nobody want to talk about it they only talk about money when money is involve that is when the National Assembly are interested and what happen is this is another conspiracy theory. The ministry for mine and steel, set up the solid mineral development funds purportedly approved by Mr. president but with no single dime from that fund to take off by the board there was no allocation whether as a budget or a direct fund sent to that and of cause we as the operators have completely rejected the constitution of that board we have made it known publicly and we have made it known privately that the constitution of that board is illegal because the head and the people that make up that board to operate that solid mineral development fund are people with questionable character and Mr president has been mislead by approving that board and so we have asked that the board be reconstituted to be made up of the actual stakeholders to manage that solid mineral fund, what they now did was the board and the beneficiaries now went to National Assembly to blackmail the presidency into pushing part of that fund into solid mineral development fund that was why it came up recently so when I was then president of the National Association of Nigeria Miners in 2009 not now that I am now the president of Progressive Miners, we took up the matter then to the National Assembly as at that time it was N400 billion and requested that a N100 billion be given as a loan to banks with conditions spelt out, not as a grant, so that miners can have access to the fund and develop the sector it was never supported.
Do you think the president will listen to and agree with you to set up this standing committee?
We hope he will, and we have no personal agenda, and we want to see development in this sector, and that is why we are not involved in any government contract. We told them that if you don’t do the right thing we are not interested.