The pandemic disruption and destabilization of Nigerian economy enforces urgency of economic diversification. For Nigeria, the task falls on the lap of those managing the solid mineral sector. More specifically, the focus is on the Mining Cadastre Office, regulating mining licensing under the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development. The expectation of the public is high while the Federal Government itself is in search of a magic wand to accelerate the diversification process and ensure sustainable mining licensing and management.
The realisation of a virile mining sector however depends heavily on the right leadership with acute knowledge of the sector and an anti-corruption mind to drive reforms to realise government goal for diversification. Such a leadership must equally be reform minded, innovative and command the confidence of fellow professionals within and outside the sector. In a sector riddled with all sorts of malfeasance, the right person can be difficult to find. But alas, a man combining all the requisite attributes was appointed some times in January 2019 to the surprise of many. He is Engr. Obadiah Simon Nkom, a 1983 beginning staff of the Federal Ministry of Mines and Power, an incorruptible former Director of Concession at the Agency and a leader of the Nigerian Mining and Geo-sciences Society.
Ably guided by the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, Nkom’s Cadastre Office has launched world class reforms, some even anticipating the ease of the pandemic. Nigerians have several concern about the mining sector notably issue of corruption in mining licence administration, disconnect between regulator and miners, menace of illegal mining, low application of technology, inefficient policing of the sector, low revenue contribution to the treasury, low investors’ confidence and the issue of environmental sustainability.
In the past one or so year, several policy actions have been initiated, both ministry wide and specifically at the agency level. From the revenue perspective, verifiable improvement was recorded last year when by October, the agency earned two billion naira, a first in the history of the office, amounting to almost 50 percent of total sector’s earning. The secret of the sudden jump was the introduction of ‘First Come, First Served’ and ‘Use it or Lose it ’, in the licensing administration. This has helped to re-organise, eliminate speculators and led to revocation of about 1,566 Mineral Titles. This has activated many dormant licences and increase revenue inflow into the treasury.
To further drive investment, eliminate corruption and boost revenue, the agency initiated migration online of licensing processes long before COVID-19 pandemic. Elimination of human to human interaction is the best practice in enthroning transparency, accountability and anti-corruption in licensing and other governmental transactions. This is a smart response to the evil of corruption, low investment and dwindling revenue earnings. The Electronic Mining Cadastre system (eMC+) is a state of the art in the administration management of Mineral Title for prompt, efficient and transparent management of Mineral Titles throughout their life cycle. The migration of MCO operations to an online-based Mineral Title Administration system also encompasses the digitalization, automation, recording and archiving process (e-Recording/Archiving) as well as the establishment of six zonal offices in Nigeria. The migration to be launched later this year is in line with the Federal Government’s reform to increase investor’s confidence, thereby attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), increase revenue generation, and create wealth and employment for the teeming youth.
A major issue is the perceived gap between the office and miners across the 774 local governments across the country. That gap weakens government support for miners, slows down liaison activities, dis-empowers troubled miners and hampers licensing dispute resolution. Now, a new initiative is being implemented to open zonal offices. These offices are to become operational from next month.
How significant is this? Aside the migration to virtual mode, zonal office will save miners the drudgery of having to visit Abuja office for minutest of issues. A more robust engagement and mobilisation of the stakeholders will emerge, empowering governmental support for miners and enhancing miners’ capacity to boost the sector. The outcome will be more revenue to the treasury, development of mining value chains and creation of sustainable jobs for the employed youth.
Licensing administration is however only one section of the solid mineral sector. As the ministry pushes ahead with ministry wide reforms, the Cadastre Office appears set to widen the scope of reform. The advantage is the experience and competency of its leadership, the national aspiration for diversification and global movement towards sustainable mining.
However, funding the office should attract urgent attention of the administration. An effectively equipped and financed licensing regulatory office is a precondition for greater contribution to the treasury, to Gross Domestic Product and more specifically to job creation in a post-pandemic world.
Abuja Chamber of Commerce