Buhari must urgently establish Minerals Development Bank – Prof Opafunso
There has been so much talk about the wide availability of solid minerals in Nigeria, but little organized effort by its leaders to earn huge income from them. What can President Muhammadu Buhari do to reverse the situation?
I will start by briefly defining that gemstone or gem (also called a fine gem, jewel, or a precious or semiprecious stone) is a piece of mineral crystal, which, in cut and polished form, is used to make jewelry or other adornments. However, certain rocks (such as lapis lazuli) or organic materials that are not minerals (such as amber or jet), are also used for jewelry, and are, therefore, often considered gemstones as well. Most gemstones are hard, but some soft minerals are used in jewelry because of their lustre or other physical properties that have aesthetic value.
Nigeria happens to be blessed with many diverse mineral resources, be it solid minerals or oil and gas, but the country remains at the level of a “developing” economy due to its failure to harness the full potential of the sector. Oil and gas have been the major source of servicing the country’s economy but might as well be its doom considering the recent challenges faced by the sector at both local and international levels.
Gemstone mining has boomed in various parts of Plateau, Kaduna, and Bauchi states for years. These stones include sapphire, ruby, aquamarine, emerald, tourmaline, topaz, zircon and fluorspar, which are among the world’s best. Good prospects exist in these areas for viable investments. However, the availability and distribution of these minerals are not really the issue; what is is a seemingly lack of information on the investment opportunities available in the sector.
Nigeria has abundant gemstones. This was known through a baseline study carried out by the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency in both the northern and southern parts of the country which revealed that the nation has several gemstones of the right quality and quantity to attract investments to the country. The states surveyed included Borno, Ekiti, Gombe, Kaduna, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Ondo, Osun, Oyo and Plateau. The study team visited 30 mineral deposit locations across the country out of which 17 were active, with all but one at crude artisanal level.
To what extent has the country been able to exploit the gemstones sub-sector?
Nigeria has failed
to Experts say Nigeria’s raw gemstones are worth millions of dollars if properly harnessed. In this exclusive interview, Professor of Mining Engineering at the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), Zacheus Opafunso spoke on the worth and commercial value of Nigeria’s gemstones and ways through which they could be an economic mainstay harness the full potential of the available gemstones due to the overdependence on crude oil. The exploitation of the gemstones in Nigeria is majorly in the hands of illegal artisanal miners scattered across the gemstones locations in the country. The gemstones sector in Nigeria is severely constrained, with most operations unguided and unregulated. Policies in place are inadequate, and generally, gemstones miners are untrained and contribute hugely to environmental degradation, poor quality operational techniques and loss of minerals. This has caused substantial losses in revenue to the country by way of exports, as well as through royalties and taxes. These artisanal miners are being sponsored by some higher dealers who buy the raw gemstones at cheaper rates and sell them at high cost to foreigners. Sometimes last year, the then Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Mr Musa Sada disclosed that 80 per cent of gemstones in Nigeria was smuggled out of the country annually. That is a huge loss.
So how can the country harness the full potential of its abundant gemstones?
Full potential of gemstones for the economic development of Nigeria can be achieved through diversification from crude oil to the gemstones sector. This will enhance the development of the sector. Mining legislations regulating the titles and licenses for mining operators should be overhauled. With improvement on, and adequacy of such a legal framework, illegal mining will be phased out and full potential of the gemstones would be achieved.
Provisions for short and long-term loans with low interest rates will help the people to diversify into the gemstones sector, which in turn will lead to the full potential of the gemstones sector to be harnessed across the country. The long talk about establishment of a Mineral Development Bank should be given urgent attention by the Buhari administration. Government should set up a presidential advisory committee on the development of the solid mineral sector, comprising seasoned financial administrators, legal experts and academic professionals who are knowledgeable on the sector.
Also, universities like the Federal University of Technology, Akure, the only university in Nigeria running degree programnes in Mining Engineering, Applied Geophysics, Applied Geology and Metallurgical Engineering under the same roof, should be involved in this presidential committee on solid mineral development. As well, provision of modern technology for safe and effective mining will guarantee the harnessing of gemstones potential in the country.
How much are Nigeria’s gemstones worth?
Nigeria’s gemstones are abundantly available and of good quality. The presence and locations of these stones across the country prove their abundance, while the characteristics of the gemstones, in terms of refractive index, dispersion, specific gravity, hardness, cleavage, fracture, and luster, coupled with their high demand across the world, depict the good qualities of those gemstones.
Due to the scarcity of gemstones, their nonavailability in so many countries and their diverse uses, they are costly across the world. The worth of Nigerian gemstones cannot be easily quantified as a result of their large deposits across the country and their various types. In respect of these, the actual worth of Nigerian gemstones cannot be estimated. The economic importance of a gemstone industry to a country like Nigeria with a monoeconomy cannot be overemphasised. For example, it was projected in 2010 that Nigeria would have to export one million tonnes of coal to earn $3m. Within the same period, it needed to export less than five tonnes of top quality gemstones to earn about $200m. According to a report by Wenk and Bulakh in 2004, it was reported that Nigeria’s gemstone deposits are worth billions of dollars. According to the report, a carat (0.2g) of gem quality uncut diamond, for instance, then cost $5,000, same quantity of sapphire cost $1600 and ruby sold for $4200. So it’s a goldmine of sort if only proper attention would be given to the solid minerals sector.
The Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Mr. Olusegun Awolowo once confirmed that gemstones were capable of earning more foreign exchange than agricultural products like cocoa, rubber and bulk industrial minerals such as gympsium, kaolin, coal, tin and columbite, hence the need for the authorities to expedite action and conclude arrangements on the establishment of the gemstone centres planned for Ibadan and Jos. That should be the thrust of revamping the sector.
Prof. Z.O Opafunso