WHEN COMMUNICATION IS NOT RHETORIC

Hopefully, a comprehensive policy agenda for Nigeria’s minerals and mining sector, which has been themed, “Roadmap for the Growth and Development of the Nigerian Mining Industry – On The Road to Shared Mining Prosperity” will be unveiled soon. Since end of March 2016 this roadmap had gone through various reviews and interrogations from key stakeholders, especially state governments.

At a time when there is increasing demands on government’s ministries and agencies to communicate to Nigerians their plans and undertakings especially as it relates to the economic agenda of the Buhari-led administration, it is bewildering to hear or read citizens who now see such regular civic interface as mere mouthing of rhetoric. Quite ironically though, there are times when such scurrilous perspective of public officials comes layered with a tinge of wise words. We must continue to welcome them, invariably.

So a friend had pointed a story at me on Twitter. It was an article posted by Channels TV’s, Sulaiman Aledeh, but which had been written from the pens of a certain Mayowa Michael Adeleye. In the said-article, the writer had ascribed a gimcrack title to an otherwise fantastic intervention on what the mining sector should focus on in the immediate to medium term. Coincidentally, his suggestions are neither innovative nor unbeknown to the highest levels of governance and policy decision-making in the ministry. Indeed, the roadmap referenced above already enunciates the strategic focus of the minister and his team as part of the quick-win approaches for jumpstarting renewed investment interests in solid minerals development.

For instance, Adeleye suggested that the minister should focus on “Iron Ore, Bitumen and Coal for the next three years.” Indeed, the ministry has already set for itself to concentrate energy on development of 7 strategic minerals that, in addition to the 3 he mentioned, include: Limestone, Gold, Baryte and Lead/Zinc. In the past, it is not uncommon to hear slogans about the presence of 54 minerals in the country, but decidedly major attention will be paid to these 7 minerals. It must be stated clearly that paying strategic attention to these minerals is not an excuse to excise considerations for the remaining proven mining assets.
Pointedly, the silence on granite does not imply an intention to allow decline in quarrying operations, rather the idea is to add fillip to enable for cutting and polishing for ornamental purposes. Same kind of in-country multiplicity of value will have to happen for virtually all other mineral assets. The recent signing of the modified concession agreement (MCA) to free Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited from the grip of Global Steel Holding Limited (GSHL), was to cut loses, retrieve the lynchpin steel plant and commence plans for getting it back on stream for the benefit of Nigerians. The Minister also recently paid scheduled visits to some of the areas in the Bitumen belt to assess situation in preparedness for the reactivation of the award of the Bitumen blocks. Right now, a ministerial team, with support of world-class consultancy firms and transaction advisers are reviewing past exercises, updating existing information and setting necessary criteria in readiness to kick start exploration of the Bitumen reserves.

Indeed, only a few who have reviewed the roadmap had come back with specific reservations, more of which have been about external factors not under the control of the ministry or the minister. Yet, we remain undaunted and have commenced the evolution of plans on practical ways to mitigate the causes and effects of such extraneous conditions. Even more than sector policy decisions, such conditions add more to undermine the global perception of the Nigerian mining sector.

To undertake the kind of investments expected to unlock the potentials in the sector, first step, in my estimation, is proper diagnosis of events that led us to the current state. This has been [and is still being] done meticulously thoroughly. More than assurances and stated focus on few minerals, mining investors will require the government to acquire and make available, in usable form, a multiverse of investment-graded geological information of the various minerals available in Nigeria. I have now learned that to acquire this level of information, even a dedication of the full national budget will not achieve level of details required. Way to go is the focus on few minerals, which are then used to trigger additional investigations in a gradualist pattern to increasing our wealth in mining exploration. My close range interactions with the sector regulators and governance systems show that a lot of work has been done already.

A modest but assured approach is the collation and fusion of such existing information, and perhaps to make attempts at titivating such information to entice junior mining corporations into our mining sector.
Not so sure of writer’s whigmaleerie of mining, or maybe it is his own attempt at me-tooism, but in my short stint so far, I am credibly informed that upward of 80-85% operations in our mining space, is heavily artisanal, small scale and/or under-the-radar. More of these operations involve shovel-and-pan excavation of earth for gold and led/zinc in remote, sometimes unreachable, areas. Formalisation of these vermin operations represent for us a quick-win that cannot be overlooked, which examples in brother West Africa countries of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Guinea show is the way to go.

What we must not do as conscientious public officials is to invest time and efforts in woolgathering about what is not possible in the context of the mining jurisdiction that we now find ourselves. Perceptions and expectations need to be managed while sending out the right signals. Certain policy statements actually require more than repetition to ensure wider and deeper reach, if sometimes, to further clear ambiguous air or for puissant clarity.

For us, the train has left the station and we have moved past the velleity of policy without work plan or accompanying efforts. We have transited from plan to execution. Having a solid plan cannot be an opportunity cost for sending the right signals to industry players and into the markets. In the coming weeks, a number of key announcements will emerge to signpost results of some the efforts invested in the last couple of months. In his May 29th Speech, the President already hinted Nigerians about the minister’s discussions with the World Bank to get a multi-year budget support loan for the sector. The agreement has been executed and inception phase of the project is about now commencing. Mining in Nigeria should soon have its day in the sun. We are surely not here to fard on what has gone wrong as plans are in place to get out of the years in the doldrums of the mining and steel sector. Communication, as an integral part of that plan, will not give way to cynicism.
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