Giving mineral deposits back to the people



THE immediate past government’s entreaty the other day to the new Muhammadu Buhari administration to sustain the ‘one local government, one mineral commodity’ policy targeted at developing one mineral in each local council in the country again is a reminder of the warped federalism Nigeria has struggled with over the years.

It has also exposed further the renowned scarcity of ideas on the part of successive leadership on diversifying the economy or developing other sources of revenue which can benefit the people.

Nonetheless, even in the absence of genuine federalism, the people’s control of resources is a necessity and the campaign must be sustained until a positive step is taken by any serious, forward-looking government to allow maximum exploration and utilisation of the nation’s natural resources.

The policy which the past Mines and Steel Development Minister Musa Sada said was a potential job creator has so far fallen short in implementation.

The then minister rightly observed that each of the 774 local councils in the country is blessed with at least one mineral deposit but he missed the point with his claim that the ministry’s “structured exploitation” would diversify the economy from its mono-product status, solve unemployment (problem) and boost the GDP.

The ministry’s structured exploitation involving the 774 local councils is suspicious, hardly convincing. The proposed programmes implementation under SURE-P even gives it out as a makeshift arrangement instead of an institutionalised economic plan in a properly organised federal system.

Really, to what extent would the ministry’s programme encourage exploitation of solid minerals by the states, a matter that has remained a sore point in the states-Federal authorities’ relationship owing to constitutional limitations on the states to control or mine mineral deposits in their domains? Certainly, a lack of pro-people policies in a defective political system has only heaped all manner of injustice on Nigerians who are supposed to benefit from their God-given deposits.

Sadly, the constitutional amendments or even the laws made by the various National Assemblies till date have all failed to address this important matter which touches at the heart of genuine federal system.

In a proper federation, all terms would have been spelt out to give citizens their rights, including the right to exploit mineral resources and then pay royalties to the Federal Government.

In the absence of this, what has played out so far in the country is a resort to self-help through illegal mining across the land. This bleeding of the economy has been so widespread, creating a gash on the soul of the nation and should end.

It is proper to restate the fact that anything about governance that fails to take cognizance of the people is a waste of time and resources.

The prevailing structural arrangement in Nigeria calls for re-consideration in the face of the economic plight of the people, among other things.

The minerals remain on their lands and so policies must be enunciated to address the people’s needs.

Indeed, with the spread of natural resources all over the country, each state, with appropriate legal backing and necessary support, should be able to sustain itself through exploitation of those deposits, as against the present total dependence on oil revenue by both the Federal and state authorities.

Global developments which keep sending oil prices down are enough to set the leadership thinking at creating avenues for survival outside of oil and the best time to start working is now.

From the gold deposits in Osun to the kaolin in Katsina or Oyo, to the lead in Zamfara or the uranium in the north eastern belt, the states must gear up for a new era of sound governance, investment and creative management of resources and put an end to the hand-outs they collect from the federal purse on a monthly basis.

The executive and legislative arms of government should not shy away from confronting the issue of fiscal federalism headlong to give the country a new lease of life and the implementation of the recommendations of the last Constitutional Conference should provide a good beginning.

The mineral deposits are meant to be exploited for development and for improving the people’s welfare, not to be kept in the ground.

The new leadership of Nigeria must set the tone by fully seizing every opportunity to diversify the nation’s income base and create for all Nigerians an abundant life outside of oil.

The least the new leadership can do to touch the lives of the people and make them remain economically sufficient is to ensure a liberation of their creative energy and freeing their resources for development.

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