Harnessing Solid Minerals For Socio-Economic Development

Nigeria is the second largest world producer of solid minerals, yet successive governments are not taking steps to exploit it despite the fact that this sector is capable of making a turnover of not less than $60 billion dollars annually. Currently, about 80 per cent of the 44 commercially viable solid minerals scattered in 450 locations across the country are mined illegally, thus depriving the various tiers of government billions of naira which should be paid as royalties. For instance, the country lost about N353 billion between 2016 and 2018 from gold smuggled out and sold in the international market. However, to stem the activities of illegal miners, the Federal Government launched the road map for the development of the solid mineral sector in August 2016 and highlighted seven minerals in high commercial quantity for strategic exploitation. The seven minerals include iron ore, coal, lead/zinc, bitumen, limestone, barita and gold. These minerals are capable of contributing directly and indirectly three per cent to the nation's Gross Domestic Products (GDP) annually.  As the world is considering a future without oil, the imperative of harnessing the solid minerals sector by exploiting opportunities that can raise government's earnings and generate employment is now. As a matter of fact, in the near future, the hydrocabons (crude oil) will lack market and every country will be using solid minerals and other alternative sources of power, hence the directive by the President to diversify the economy through mining and steel development; including agriculture. However, the realization of this viable projection is facing a serious threat by the activities of illegal miners who collaborate with foreign nationals to pillage Nigeria's solid minerals to the detriment of Nigerians. This therefore is the reason every state and local government should key into the geosciences data released by the National Exploration Project (NIMEP) which is anchored by the Federal Ministry of Solid Minerals and Steel Development for possible investments.  In Akwa Ibom State for example, her soil is host to several mineral resources that can be commercially exploited and are fairly distributed across the various local government areas. The minerals are gold and silver nitrate which are useful in the production of jewelries. Clay and hydrated alumino-silicate are found in Eket, Etinan, Ikot Abasi, Ikot Ekpene, Ini, Itu, Onna, Oruk Anam and Nsit Ibom Local Government Areas. Kaoline deposited in Itu can be processed directly into kaoline useful in the production of ceramics, bricks, tiles and pottery. It can also be processed into calamine lotion for babies and also find direct application in the paper, paint and porcelain manufacturing glass and occurs extensively in the coastal local governments with sand stones. High grade silica and beach sand are abundant in Eket, Itu, Oron, Esit Eket and Ibeno as well as Mbo, Ikot Ekpene, Abak, and Etinan Local Government Areas.  The glass sand are useful for the manufacture of a number of glass products such as bottles, glass sheets, drinking glasses, mirror, optical glasses, laboratory glasses and lenses. It is also used in foundary, abresive and the oil and gas industries.  Limestone deposits and impure calcium carbonate can be found in Ikono. It is important in the building and construction industry in the manufacture of cement, hydrated lime and calcium carbide for welding. There are also abundant deposits of gravel in Ikono, Itu, Ibiono Ibom, Ini, Oron etc. which could be supplied to the building and construction sector. Commercial deposits of salt also exist in the state which can be processed into table salt, sodium carbonate, sodium hydroxide and other industrial chemicals for flavouring, food preservation and skin tanning.  Flowing from the above, government at all levels should harness the potentials in the solid mineral sector to create employment and reduce poverty in the rural communities through sustainable processes of the mineral value chain. They will also derive benefits from royalties and scarce foreign exchange to the nation from export, and very importantly, the post COVID-19 Economic Recovery Team should give serious thought to the development of the solid mineral sector in Akwa Ibom State.

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