Alhaji Abubakar Bwari, the Minister of State, Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, says more than two million people in Nigeria depend on illegal mining for their livelihood.
Bwari made this known at a two-day “First National Stakeholders’ Discourse on Opportunities and Challenges of Artisanal Mining in Nigeria’’ on Monday in Abuja.
According to him, most of the miners are poor and unemployed living in rural areas and employing crude methods and household implements to exploit these minerals which they sell to feed their families.
He said these miners were mostly found mining precious minerals like gold, silver, lead/zinc, sapphire, emerald, tourmaline, aquamarine, gypsum, barytes, silica sand, granite, sandstones, clay, and salt among others.
“We cannot afford to criminalise their activities and we cannot also fold our arms and watch as they damage the lives of our people and the environment,’’ he said.
He said some of the environmental problems which include lead poisoning, mercury pollution, deforestation, poor sanitation, and heavy metals pollution among others were caused by Artisanal and Small Scale Mining in Nigeria.
Bwari said that the use of inappropriate mining methods and unwholesome mineral ore processing techniques impact dangerously on public health as they exposed people to heavy metal pollution and outbreak of infectious diseases.
He, however, said the forum was to address the myriad of challenges posed by illegal mining.
According to him, the ministry has made strenuous efforts to regulate ASM activities over the years.
The minister of state said that in the last three years, the ministry’s regulatory mechanisms had led to some measure of success.
“We are more than ever before determined to ensure better policing of artisanal miners through the newly constituted Mines Police.
“We have also increased the monitoring capacity of our Mine Inspectorate with the recent purchase of new vehicles.
“The formalisation policy of the ministry has also led to the registration of more artisanal miners into mining cooperatives.’’
Bwari said the ministry had trained more than 250 members of these cooperatives across the country.
He urged the participants to provide lasting solutions to the thorny issue of integrating artisanal miners into formal mining in Nigeria.
“As the theme of this conference clearly shows, there are great opportunities in the artisanal and small scale mining subsector which can lead to growth in the economy, while also enriching the lives of the miners themselves,’’ he said.
The minister of state also donated a Toyota Hilux to the Executive of the Miners Association of Nigeria to aid the activities of the association.