Solid mineral sector in Nigeria is said to contribute only one percent to the nation’s economy despite that the country has over forty natural mineral resources beneath various States.

Worried by this development, President Muhammadu Buhari upon assumption of office decided that the Federal Government will do everything possible to diversify the nation’s economy by harnessing the potentialities inherent in the mineral sector.

However, one challenge in the sector is the activities of illegal and artisanal miners, who most times do not remit money to government despite the environmental degradation caused by their business.

In this investigative report Supported by Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, Radio Nigeria Correspondent Uche Ndeke speaks with critical stakeholders in Anambra State on the challenges confronting the sector in the state and possible ways of addressing them.

One of the core mandates of the by President Muhammadu Buhari led administration is to generate employment and increase the nation’s revenue base through the mining sector for optimal performance.

This is considering the fact that the nation is blessed with several mineral deposits. Minerals including kaoline, clay, Bentoline, Tantamite, Latte rite, Red Mud, Tin and Barite are all found in Anambra State in huge deposits richly, just as the case in many states across the country.

However, despite these abundant natural resources and their attendant benefits, the country seems to have been solely dependent on oil resources, which have become a challenge and issue across the world.

Perhaps, this situation prompted the President Buhari led government to consider the diversification of the economy to harness other sectors to enable Nigeria to have comparative economic advantage over other nations.

In the South East for instance, much has not been heard about mining after the coal era in Enugu State and few quarry sites in Abia and Ebonyi states. Despite being richly blessed with mineral deposits, Anambra state is one of the States in need of government attention to harness the mining sector now said to be in the hands of artisans and illegal miners, who risk their lives and expose the environment through unwholesome practices that cause erosion and other environmental degradation.

Though mining activities are going on in the state, the Federal and Anambra State Governments have not benefited much in terms of revenue generation.

The natural resources are deposited in Ogbaru, Ukpor, Ihiala, Ozubulu, Atani, Abagana, Onitsha among other areas. Radio Nigeria discovered that on daily basis trailer loads of these resources leave the state for other parts of the country where they are used for various purposes.

A visit to the Mbara azu sand excavation in Osumogho, Ihiala reveals that over five hundred trips of white sharp sand excavated almost daily are unaccounted for.

One of the site operators, who claims he hails from Imo State, stresses that though they make a living out of the business, governments involvement will help to organize it better to the greater benefit of all.

A young man in an apron with the inscription, Revenue Agent, Anambra State Internal Revenue Service, was sighted collecting money from each tipper that lifted sand off the site while another man believed to be representing the interest of the community was also on the other end collecting another round money.

It was gathered that each of the driver paid one thousand naira for every truck load of sand. Getting closer to the pit was not a friendly move as the young men numbering over five hundred kept asking our correspondent, “Oga how many trips do you want?” They asked the question with the thought that he was a prospective customer as they excavated deep into the ground and up the hills.

Another site of interest is Oru, after Ulasi village Ihiala, which shares boundaries with Ogbaru Local Government Area where kaoline, clay, bentoline are mined indiscriminately by artisans and illegal miners. One of the residents said in a chat, “the lands here are very expensive to hire.

The communities won’t even allow you to pass unless you show a clearance paper collected from traditional leaders in the area.” Radio Nigeria gathers that heavy mining activities go on in the area but mostly during dry season due to the slippery nature of kaoline and other natural resources found there.

Kaoline is used as a raw material to process and produce a lot of products, including toilet soaps, floor tiles, groundnut oil, paper, ceramics, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, bleaching oil and dredging.

Visiting a kaoline production company at Ubahuekwem was not indeed an easy one at the initial stage but an artisanal Miner, Mr. Titus Obiasogu, became relaxed after our reporter explained to him the need for government to recognize his efforts and encourage him to mine legally.

“Whatever you are seeing here is self effort and help, no government is ready to assist us. I have gone for exhibition in Abuja, written letters to government and applied for several grants and loans but none has favored me, so I resort to self help and struggle to survive,” Mr. Obiasogu cried out.

Mr. Obiasogu was trained as Geological expert overseas in late 70s before he decided to return home to settle down and also help in harnessing the natural resources inherent in his state, Anambra.

He delved into mining of kaoline, bentoline and clay resources which are largely deposited within, Ihiala, Ozubulu, Ukpor and Ogbaru. The Miner lamented that his expectation was yet to be met due to neglect by successive administrations.

Mr. Obiasogu has two machines and about four workers who assist him to sundry the raw materials, park them to the engines and process them to produce various products, which are distributed to other parts of the country where they are needed.

The miner lamented saying “this is not what I want, the risk and stress is much, I want to be producing in a big way if government can only assist me with loan or buy the machines, install it and be collecting the money from us.” Though Mining is on the exclusive list, successive administrations in Anambra State and at the federal level neglected the sector for so long as confirmed by another miner, Chief Mbazuluike Amechi in Ukpor, Nnewi . “I developed kaoline in Nigeria when I invited an Italian geologist who did the survey that discovered the mineral deposit in the then Eastern Nigeria but the government in Anambra State is so myopic and are not even interested,” lamented the only surviving first republic Minister and elder statesman.

Chief Mbazuluike Amechi noted that the mineral resources in Anambra State could support twenty-one manufacturing industries and called on the Federal Government to encourage local miners by setting up companies that would consume kaoline as raw materials.

Radio Nigeria also spoke with the Patron, Miners Association of Nigeria, South East Zone and Traditional Ruler of Ancient Kingdom of Awka, Obi Gibson Nwosu, who lamented the neglect but believed that outside oil, solid minerals could be the next money yielding venture for government.

Obi Gibson Nwosu agrees that illegal mining robs the Federal and State Governments the necessary revenue. “Illegal Miners keep mining without control and regulations, eighty percent of the environmental degradation and erosion in the state is caused by illegal mining activities but a lot of revenues will be generated if the government does the needful and empower these people,” the Awka monarch cried out.

The Chairman, Miners Association of Nigeria in Anambra State, Chief Henry Igboeli, alleges that most illegal mining activities are done with the assistance of officials from the relevant ministries in the state, who give them cover to degrade the environment.

Chief Igboeli, who is also a miner, expresses regret that despite efforts by President Muhammadu Buhari to reposition the mineral sector, youths and miners in the state do not benefit from the available grants and loans in the sector.

Chief Igboeli said “sometimes I sympathize with illegal miners because no one has really approached them to explain in details what is expected of them.” Meanwhile regulatory authorities express mixed feelings over the development.

The enforcement arm of the Federal Ministry of Environment in Anambra State observes that it has been a bit challenging regulating the mining sector in the state.

Interacting with our correspondent, the Coordinator, National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency, (NESREA), Anambra State Field Office, Mr. Penni Ojaka said “it is not because we don’t have the wherewithal to enforce but our approach is to persuade and inspire the consciousness of the miners so that together we can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The NESREA Coordinator said the agency was collaborating with relevant state and federal ministries with a view to train all the identified miners.

A mining expert and Professor of Geology at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anthony Okoro, is of the view that Anambra State is endowed with earth materials that can sustain it and beyond if well harnessed by government.

Professor Okoro says “there is no organized mining in the state as the artisanal miners only do market taking; the process of mining is very dangerous and it is not proper to mine without remediating the environment and that is what causes erosion within the state.”

He observes that the white sand at the banks of River Niger and Atani axis can provide enough raw materials for a glass sand industry, which will in turn employ a lot of people as well as bring more development to the area.

But what is the Anambra State Government doing about indiscriminate mining activities in the state? The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tertiary Education, Science and Technology where mining is domiciled, Mrs. Pauline Nwandu says the ministry is trying to get a database of all illegal and artisanal miners in the state with the aim of having a meeting with them by early quarter of 2020.

According to Mrs. Nwandu “once we collate their names, we will meet with them so that we know what they are doing because some money should go to federal government and some to the state.” Section 19 of the Nigerian Minerals Mining Act provides for partnerships with state governments on the exploration of solid raw materials even though mining is on the exclusive list of the Federal Government.

The Minister Of Mines and Steel Development, Mr. Olamilekan Adegbite told Radio Nigeria that the Federal Government for the optimization of the mineral sector. He said the country was desirous of diversifying her economy to avoid over dependence on oil and gas which contributed about ten percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and eighty percent to the total earnings of the country.

Mr. Adegbite noted that efforts were on by the president Muhammadu Buhari led administration to raise from one to five percent, the contribution of the solid mineral sector to the nation’s GDP with practical moves already on ground towards achieving that by 2025.

A fact that remains incontrovertible is that the mineral sector in the country remains largely untapped and will blossom, when properly harnessed. No wonder most of the respondents have said that if the relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) collaborate with a view of realizing the lofty intension of the Federal Government on harnessing the Mining sector, the nation will not only earn foreign exchange but will also create more job opportunities for the teeming unemployed citizens.