Mining was not only a once revered profession that oiled the wheels of the colonial enterprise, and signposted abundant tidings for national wellbeing into Independence, but also one that equally spun great challenges, whether to the environment or even to the national revenue it was supposedly heeled to.


In its modern manifestation, the fortunes of the Nigerian economy have been fundamentally tied to that of its extractive sector, at least since Independence, with these hitched to both the vagaries of international commodity markets, alongside a medley of concerns around the activities and quality of decision-making of local in-country actors.

In broad terms, the Nigerian extractive sector, having the oil and gas subsector as its flagship revenue earner has, through past decades, not only served as a source of great national affluence but an equally prominent factor in a series of unnerving challenges. The latter issues are linked to the bourgeoning ecocide in the oil producing regions – with the environment getting lynched as fallout of oil pollution, while the ecosystem becomes progressively fragile in its deterioration.

Equally critical are the issues of national economic sabotage from crude oil theft and pipeline vandalism, inadequate oil and gas industry infrastructure, concerns around the problematic regulation of the energy value chain, and the restiveness of host communities, etc.

These are issues essentially shared with the mining subsector of the extractive industry, even if of varied expression, whether in relation to crucial environmental impacts of the mining activities or the criminal proclivities of sectoral actors, largely comprised of artisanal/small scale miners (ASMs), or equally the disconcerting gender dimensions of the industry concerns, among others.

Due to the huge early twentieth century prospects it exhibited, mining has returned to reckoning as one of the critical sectors of consideration, and studied intervention in, if the Nigerian economy is to overcome the needling crisis of revenue that has persistently afflicted it in the past couple of years.

With the national quandary becoming exacerbated, as the unraveling of traditional sources of revenue deepens, this newly contemplated lifeline is – rather ironically – still linked to the extractive industry, though hopefully not to its persistent concerns in any sustained manner.

In recent memory, when its earnings are not subjected to local abuse, the country’s oil and gas sector has become continuously susceptible to the massive price shocks immanent in the international commodity markets. With the picture frequently complicated by fluctuating volumes of output, no doubt linked to travails in Nigeria’s oil-bearing deltas.

Definitely with a huge solid minerals resource base, as a humongous repository of some 44 minerals of vast economic value, situated in about 450 locations across the federation, Nigeria appears to have great potentials of an economic revival, if the promise presented by mining is properly and judiciously harnessed.

Yet, mining might not be such genial indicator of beckoning posterity: being no new activity set in the minerals exploitation sector, the vicissitudes of vocational mining in Nigeria have been less than fortunate, despite its early manifestation as a formal activity in sections of the country from 1903.

Mining was not only a once revered profession that oiled the wheels of the colonial enterprise, and signposted abundant tidings for national wellbeing into Independence, but also one that equally spun great challenges, whether to the environment or even to the national revenue it was supposedly heeled to. In the many years of operation, mining has drawn as much illegal actors, as conniving public officials, to its practice, hence punching far below its capacity, in spite of government’s best intentions for the sector.

While there have been the more recent attempts at a reset in the past two decades, after the mining sector fell into major doldrums from the 1970s into 1980s, these efforts have been principally plagued by a series of problems, keeping the sector at the level of continuous low performance. And, much of the issues involved pertain to factors of institutional lapses – not unconnected with issues involved in the administration of mineral titles and concerns around the regulation of the sector, which have kept investors and major private sector participation away.

More insidious have been the extensive activities of illegal miners and their enablers, usually a concert of actors involving low-skilled artisans, allegedly in partnership with law-enforcement, and even politicians in the country – all bound in a criminal enterprise of unlawful mineral exploitation. The rather ubiquitous undertakings of artisanal/small scale miners (ASMs), engaged in informal mineral extraction activities, have turned out as the most serious bane of the sector, through the decades.

The legal system created for the exploitation of coal through the Coal Ordinance of 1950 led to the establishment of the Nigerian Coal Corporation (NCC), creating an upsurge in production that fed into the operations of Nigerian railways, the Oji and Ijora coal-fired power plants and the Nkalagi Cement Manufacturing Company, etc.


Importantly, there are the huge concerns around the unwholesome social impacts evolving with the practices of the mining sector. And, these have spawned multiple levels of hazards, including the environmental degradation that host communities continue to bear, and the pollution suffered from general exposure to mining and its processing methods, such as those involving metal ores.

Alongside these are the disturbing issues of the utilisation of child labour in the mines, and the latent tensions between miners and host communities, easily manifesting in the breakouts of violent conflict, coupled with the social disruptions that these trigger. Also, there are instances of decline in the security of lives and property in host communities, besides incidences of other deviant social behaviour, as in the practice of prostitution, etc.

An Earlier Century Pull

While endeavours pertaining to mining in the geographical space now regarded as Nigeria are noted as dating back into millennia (say 2400 years ago) with evidence in the art works credited to the Nok Culture and Igbo-Ukwu civilisation, etc., mining formally commenced in Nigeria as part of the activities of the British, who commissioned the Mineral Surveys of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1903 and 1904. These were precursor to the tin, tantalite and columbite mining activities physically carried out by the Royal Niger Company in the Jos area in 1905, and the coal exploration and production in Enugu in 1906. By 1914, gold mining had started in areas in the present day Kogi and Niger States.

Subsequently, the Geological Survey of Nigeria was established as a department of government in 1919, tasked with the responsibility of producing geo-scientific data for mining operations in the country. With the advent of mechanised mining, there was increased productivity, and by the 1940s Nigeria had become a major producer of coal, columbite and tin, witnessing tin production grow significantly in volume from the 1.3 tons of 1904 to 15,842 tons in 1943.

Equally, as zinc was then mined in Enugu and Ogoja, the mining of other solid minerals such as lead took place in Zurak and Ameri in the current Plateau State, while coal production, which had commenced in the Agbete mine in the Enugu area in 1916, rose from the over 30,000 tons of the 1920s to volumes in excess of 900,000 tons by 1960.

The legal system created for the exploitation of coal through the Coal Ordinance of 1950 led to the establishment of the Nigerian Coal Corporation (NCC), creating an upsurge in production that fed into the operations of Nigerian railways, the Oji and Ijora coal-fired power plants and the Nkalagi Cement Manufacturing Company, etc. Earlier, Nigerian coal had served as feedstock for British vessels between 1939 and 1945, during the Second World War.

With the large scale extraction and production of solid minerals like tin came the establishment of the Makeri Smelting Company in 1961, alongside the creation of industrial complexes for manufacturing, like the Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill and the Delta Steel Plant. Also, the setting up of three steel mills in Osogbo, Jos and Katsina. Whilst Ajaokuta was established with the capacity for 5.7 million tons of liquid steel, the Delta mill was designed for handling about 2 million tons of steel products.

In 1971, a change in policy at the federal level saw to the government’s decision to become a catalyst in the mining sector by being a direct participant, leading to creation of the Nigerian Mining Corporation (NMC), established through Decree 25 of 1972, as a vehicle for prospecting and processing the various mineral resources of Nigeria, with the exception of petroleum, coal and iron.

Ultimately, the NMC evolved in the ensuing years to comprise over 20 subsidiary companies dealing with the mining of particular minerals, such as gold, marble, kaolin, feldspar, columbite, limestone, clay, barites, tin, etc. Back in the day then, the Nigerian Uranium Mining Company (NUMCO) was set up for the production of uranium, the Nigerian Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO) for iron ore mining, and the National Steel Raw Materials Exploration Agency (NSRMEA) to focus on the exploration of iron ore and coking coals, etc. However, these companies were, much later, either privatised or sold off, in line with the recommendations of the Technical Committee on Privatisation and Commercialisation.

Among the numerous factors leading to the subsequent downturn of the Nigerian mining sector, besides the emphasis that the government had then come to place on the much commercially rewarding oil and gas industry, was the indigenisation decree of 1972. This saw to the expropriation of many major mining companies in the country, consequently activating the exit of the mainly expatriate professional labour that ran the sector, along with the massive repatriation of foreign investment from the industry.

The gap created by the departure was thereafter filled by small-scale indigenous miners, who had neither the requisite skills nor financial capacity to keep the sector functioning optimally, hence its great dip in production and consequent decline from the later years of the 1970s.

The Huge Potentials of the Solid Minerals Sector

With its contribution to the national GDP put at over 12 per cent between 2012 and 2013, and above 15 per cent in 2017 by the National Bureau of Statistics, and a yearly growth rate of over 2 per cent, the Nigerian mining sector appears poised to become a significant area of intervention for lifting the country out of its economic downturn. Such indication is equally given in the Economic Growth and Recovery Plan (ERGP), leveraged as the strategic framework for rolling back Nigeria’s recent recession and actualising its fiscal buoyancy.

The regime of reform necessitated a revamping of the legal and regulatory framework governing the sector, involving the introduction of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007 (NMMA) – which superseded the earlier Nigerian Mineral and Mining Act of 1999 – and the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Regulation 2011.


This is further bolstered by the over 300 per cent increase in revenue (from royalties and fees) in the sector in the past two years, and the unfolding evidence of the potentials of solid minerals, inspiring the coordinated efforts to revive mining as a key driver of economic recovery. No doubt, the travails of the Nigerian economy are linked to its mono-product structure that is heavily reliant on revenue from the oil and gas industry, which is yet highly susceptible to the boom and bust cycles of commodity prices.

Still, with the abiding paradox of huge wealth accruing to the federal government over the past decades, in what has been otherwise described as “jobless growth”, in tandem with the rising misery that has also been attendant upon spiraling unemployment and deepening poverty, this has found routine recourse to armed conflict. As such, the diversification of the Nigerian economy away from over-reliance on crude oil as its mainstay, to creating major roles for sectors such as mining, is considered as having the capacity for generating more even wealth and jobs in the country. This is informed by the spread of national endowment, as most states of Nigeria are known repositories of solid mineral resources.

However, in spite of the scale of endowment, having about 44 minerals spread over some 450 locations, the mining vocation in Nigeria has been a low performing sector in the past two decades, with a series of challenges drawing it back from fulfilling its potentials. While the issues involved include institutional and regulatory lapses, alongside the huge challenges of illegal mining, many efforts to reform the sector have also been undertaken over a number of years.

The Exigency of Sectoral Reform

In as much as the reform of the mining sector has been a subject of concern for the federal government since the dawn of the Fourth Republic, determined efforts in this regard commenced in 2005, with the assistance of the World Bank. Key indicators in seeking the attainment of a robust mining sector have included the need for a review of its legal, regulatory and fiscal regimes; institutional and human capacity-building; the creation of reliable geological information; the design of computer-based geo-data sets; and an address of the artisanal and small-scale mining problem.

The regime of reform necessitated a revamping of the legal and regulatory framework governing the sector, involving the introduction of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007 (NMMA) – which superseded the earlier Nigerian Mineral and Mining Act of 1999 – and the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Regulation 2011. These bodies of legislation provide for the ownership and operation of mineral and metal projects in the country by the private sector, with the role of the government being restricted to that of regulatory and administrative functions. In addition, the Nigerian Minerals and Metals Policy was approved and published in 2008.

Furthermore, there was a structural reformation of the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, as the hub of the governance and administration of mining in the country, to make it more compact and service oriented. As such, the erstwhile Geological Survey Department in the Ministry was made an independent agency, backed by an act of the federal legislature.

Similarly, the Mining Cadastral Office (MCO), which allocates and manages matters around mineral titles, became autonomous and was constituted to have zonal offices. In addition, new departments were created to cater for artisanal and small-scale mining and the environment within the Ministry, while more technical staff were recruited to boost the workforce and take charge of the various offices created to regulate mining activities at state levels.

Equally, the other levels of support given to the Ministry, as a result of the reforms, included the provision of field vehicles and office equipment, coupled with opportunities for local and international capacity-building for staff in the different aspects of mining, mineral processing and exploration, and regulation.

In addition, the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency was empowered to embark on a series of geological mapping projects, with one of the outstanding projects embarked upon being the aero geophysical mapping of the entire country. Others included various regional mapping exercises, involving geochemical mapping, hydrogeological investigation, as well as the creation of the National Geoscientific Research Laboratory in Kaduna, the National Geohazard Centre in Awka, Anambra State, and the National Centre For Marine Geoscience in Bayelsa.

Importantly, the federal government saw in artisanal and small-scale mining, a unique opportunity to address rural poverty in Nigeria. As such, the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development began the process of incorporating the artisanal miners into the formal economic system by organising them into legally identifiable units through the process of ‘formalisation’.

As an incentive to key into the formalisation programme, the Ministry, through the World Bank-assisted Sustainable Management of Mineral Resources Project, allotted $10 million out of the $120 million earmarked for the project to be disbursed (as micro grants) to artisanal miners, who had been structured into registered mining/quarry cooperatives.

This incentive, together with other capacity development activities, in the forms of trainings, study tours, etc., led to massive registration of artisanal miners into cooperatives. At the end of the project, the Ministry recorded over 1000 mining cooperatives.

Fatima Ibrahim Maikore, a geologist, is one of the ambassadors for promotion of best Mine Closures Management in Africa. She can be reached via maikoreif@yahoo.com.

Picture credit: olaniwunajayi.net.