By, Etete Enideneze & Uchechukwu Ugboaja
Ahead of imminent recession occasioned by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Nigeria is weighing in on its abundant solid minerals as one of the potential ways to diversify and provide safety valves for its economy beyond oil, a position advocated by the member representing Yenagoa/Kolokuma-Opokuma Federal Constituency, Bayelsa state, Hon. (Prof.) Steve Azaiki, OON. when he recently paid a courtesy call to the Minister for State, Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Uchechukwu Samson Ogah.
The country has over depended on crude oil and gas obtained mainly from the Niger-Delta Region more than five decades without commensurate re-investments in other sectors such as solid minerals, renewable sources of energy etc, let alone developing the oil bearing communities that have borne the brunt of debilitating environmental impact of crude oil exploration in Nigeria. To this end the mono-product economy continues to exert fiscal pressure on the Federal Government resulting to recession in the past, especially as all levels of government wait hand in cap for dwindling oil revenues from the Federal Allocation Committee (FAC), monthly.
To tackle economic downturn after the COVID-19 scourge, the government is to take full advantage of its abundant solid minerals resources in the various states, which have for the most part been inadequately explored or inadvertently ignored for illegal miners particularly in the Northern States to expropriate. All these happen despite the Federal Government’s exclusive powers over solid mineral resources in the constitution.
Feelers from the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, however, indicate the government’s willingness to optimally explore the solid minerals in the country in order to supplement revenues from other sources. This was revealed when Hon. (Prof.) Steve Azaiki and the Minister for State, Ministry of Mines and Steel, Dr. Uchechukwu Ogah had a conversation around the prospects of solid minerals in Bayelsa state.
According to the Minister, the need to maximally take advantage of the solid minerals in the country has become even more important considering the present and future economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to Nigeria as a major player in the global oil industry. He further assured Prof. Steve Sinikiem Azaiki that the ministry would partner with states that have solid minerals to streamline exploration at a commercially viable level for the benefit of both the state and Federal Government and Bayelsa State will be among first states that the ministry would partner with to explore solid minerals.
Meanwhile, Prof. Steve Azaiki noted that, apart from crude oil and gas, Bayelsa State also possesses solid minerals such as Quartz, Silica Sand, Gypsum, Uranium, Limestone, Manganese, Led, Zinc, Lignite and others, unexplored. Azaiki who represents Yenagoa-Kolokuma/ Opokuma Federal Constituency in the House of Represerntatives on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), further expressed the readiness of the Bayelsa State Government under the leadership of Executive Governor, Senator Douye Diri is open to beneficial partnerships with the Federal Government, foreign and local private investors in the exploration of solid minerals in Bayelsa state.
According to him, the current fall in national revenues due to fall in price of oil and gas at the international market, exhaustive nature of these resources and the shift to renewable energy and electric cars poses serious threats to crude oil-dependent economies like ours. The Lawmaker added that this is the reason why the Senator Diri-led Government of Bayelsa is looking at solid minerals, agriculture, Information Communication Technology (ICT) and other sectors, to boost economic development of the Niger-Delta state.
Azaiki emphasized that given the availability of raw materials in the state, Bayelsa could partner with the Federal Government and private investors, for instance, to produce glass and ceramic products for local and export purposes in order to boost revenues.