Small-scale mining (SSM) is an important part of the Nigerian mining sector, which has the potential to raise internal revenue in addition to foreign exchange, create employment and encourage foreign direct investment (FDI) via government incentives.
SSM is crucial to the growth of the sector, given that it is easier to break through the economic constraints as a group of small-scale miners, than for one or two small-scale miners to take on the capital and technologically intensive projects on their own. SSM is a vital stepping stone for Nigeria to fully develop this potentially vibrant sector.
However, SSM in Nigeria is severely constrained, with most current small-scale mining practices unguided and unregulated. Policies in place are inadequate, and generally smallscale miners are untrained and contribute hugely to environmental degradation, and poor
quality operational techniques and the loss of minerals. Most activities have gone undocumented, resulting in loss of minerals and precious stones. This has caused substantial losses in revenue to the country by way of exports, as well as through royalties and taxes.
It will be impossible to consider mining and SSM in Nigeria without putting illegal mining in perspective. Over 95% of mining activities in Nigeria are artisanal and another 95% of these are illegal 3 (this includes minerals such as Tourmaline, Cabochon, Limestone, Feldspar, Tantalite, Coal, etc. 4 ). Illegal mining is a major drawback to the sector.
It is pertinent to identify the constraints to SSM in order to determine appropriate policies and strategies for its development, which are vital to the overall growth of the Nigerian mining industry. The object of this paper is to critically assess the constraints to smallscale mining in Nigeria and the steps taken so far towards its development. The paper will also consider various policies and strategies for SSM crucial to development in Nigeria. Recommendations will be made as to implementing the policies in the short and long term.
The Federal Ministry for Solid Minerals is still in the process of creating policies to guide SSM in Nigeria. This is by no means an easy task, given the large-scale of illegal mining and the peculiarities of Nigeria’s situation, namely: the nation’s dependence on oil for revenue, and a recently created ministry of environment plus the political climate (the country recently returned to democratic rule after decades of dictatorship under military rule where laws and policies were created mostly for selfish reasons). However, with bills emplaced and the approval of financial schemes and solid minerals committees, Nigeria is in the process of developing its SSM. Before policies and strategies ideal for developing SSM under the Nigerian situation can be created. (which other developing countries can learn from) it is pertinent to critically analyse the constraints to SSM in Nigeria.
Over the decades of military rule, Nigeria’s economic development has been stifled. Along with other factors such as over-dependence on oil, this has caused lack of development in the mining sector. Investments were not encouraged in legal SSM, and potential investors saw better returns in the black-market illegal trade.
With low incomes (if any at all), the unemployed rural populace with access to mineral deposits could hardly bear the capital or technological costs required to develop proper mining cultures and this inevitably resulted in illegal artisanal mining. This populace account for a large percentage of individuals engaged in illegal mining in Nigeria, which holds back the feasibility of organised SSM groups and unions. Due to this low level of income, (and unregulated practices) the more lucrative illegal trade became the mainstay in the mining sector.
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