History of Mining in Nigeria

Mining activity is the extraction or removal of mineral deposits from the earth.  Mining is one of the oldest economic activities, and dates as far back as to when the early mankind first extracted clay and metals for the productions of cosmetics, working tools and utensils. In Nigeria, extraction of tin dates to as far back as 500BC when the Nok culture of Benue/Northern Zaria was known to have knowledge of iron smelting. The rise of the Benin bronze casting of Ile-Ife around 1400AD was also renowned. The advent of the early European explorers on the country’s shore led the discovery and informal mining of tin, gold, galena and other minerals that could be traded internationally.

Organized mining however began in Nigeria in 1903 when the mineral survey of the Northern protectorate was created by the British colonial government. With the creation of the mineral survey of the southern protectorate a year later, Nigeria witnessed an increased opportunity in the mining sector with an attendant influx of mining companies to tap the abundant mineral wealth underneath the surface of the country. Organized mining of cassiterite and its associated minerals such as tantalite and columbite started in 1905 by the Royal Niger Company. Gold was mined at the present day Kogi and Niger states in 1914, while coal was mined at Enugu state in 1916. The Geological Survey of Nigeria was established in 1919 as a department of government to take over and continue mineral surveys of the country from the defunct mineral survey of both northern and southern protectorates. The Nigerian Mining Corporation was established in 1972 by the Nigerian Mining Corporation Act to play a leading role in the development of the mining industry of Nigeria.

 The introduction of mechanized mining by the mining companies such as Amalgamated Tin Mining Company of Nigeria coupled with a non-extant law and regulations by the colonial government to guide and regulate mining activities paved the way for an increased operation with the attendant degradations of vast land expanses and other environmental consequences. By 1940, the Nigerian mining sector has therefore experienced a boom with a global image as a major producer of tin, columbite and coal; a status it maintained till the late 1960s.

The bitter-sweet discovery of oil at Oloibiri in 1956 however dealt a fatal blow on the fortune of the Nigerian mining sector, as government and industries swiftly shifted attentions from the solid minerals to the newly discovered liquid gold. Following oil discovery, a decade later was the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970 which led to the mass exodus of many expatriate mining professionals out of the country and the consequent abandonment of many mines. This led to the total collapse of the mining sector. With the exit of multinational companies and their expatriate professionals following the civil war and the Indigenization Decree of 1972 aimed at entrusting Nigerians with the control of their economy, small-scale artisanal miners took over the activities of the mining sector. There was a shift of focus from the mining of metallic minerals such as tin and columbites to industrial non-metallic minerals such as limestone, clays, sand, gravel, gypsum, marble and others needed for construction purposes, and raw materials for domestic industries during this period due to the depletion of the surface, near surface and shallow depth deposits of the metallic minerals by foreign companies.

The Nigerian mining sector currently accounts for 0.3% of the GDP due to its neglect by past and successive administrations. The federal government of Nigeria reserves the right to ownership of mineral resources. It grants titles to organizations to explore, mine and sell mineral resources. The Ministry of Solid Minerals Development oversees the management of the country’s mineral resources, and it is in charge of mining regulations. The principal legislation regulating mining activities in Nigeria is the Minerals and Mining Act 1999. The 1999 Act has been reviewed and amended to ensure security of tenure of a mining title and greater transparency in licensing procedures. State owned public corporations were hitherto responsible for the control of the Nigerian mining industry. This led to the dwindling fortune of the industry before the federal government led by the Obasanjo administration began a process of selling off government corporations to private investors in 1999. It is therefore glaring that government is embarking on a return to privatization and private sector driven operations of the mining sector.

A major drawback of the Nigeria mining industry over the years is the issue of illegal mining. The indigenization decree of 1972 which led to the emigration of foreign miners and mining expatriates gave rise to a massive displacement of mine workers from their jobs with an attendant rise of the unemployment index, forcing them to embark on illegal mining as a means of livelihood. This illegal mining activity was given momentum by the availability of a ready export market created by an increased global demand for solid minerals and the introduction of the structural adjustment program (SAP) by the international monetary fund (IMF) and the World Bank, paving way for the emergence of middlemen and smugglers. The huge revenue loss and the attendant environmental degradations as a result of the illegal mining have forced the government to take a very strong position against illegal mining in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the enforcement of policies has not seen the light of the day. Illegal mining therefore still continues and flourishes unabated in the country.

With the bleak future outlook of the oil and gas industry as evident from the incessant instability of oil prices in the world market, and the unreliability of a mono-product economy, now is the time for the Nigerian government to take radical approaches and decisive actions aimed at the diversification of the economy, taking advantage of the huge potentials of the solid mineral endowment of the nation.  The problems of infrastructural difficulties, inadequate financing,  deficiency of well-equipped laboratories, inadequate regulations, the proliferations of illegal mining companies, deficiency of accurate geological data among host of other difficulties bedeviling the mining sector should be tackled head on and holistically if Nigeria should ever be able to witness her glorious days of the mining sector again.

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