Land ownership disputes for solid minerals sites between states and the Federal Government have been a contentious issue among stakeholders in the industry.
The contention is slowing down the growth of the mining sector at a time the President Buhari administration is intensifying effort at developing the sector for national economic diversification and development.
Many genuine minerals title holders are currently facing challenges in carrying out their legitimate businesses at the sites due to agitations from the locals. Even the most celebrated Nickel site in southern Kaduna is facing the same community issues. A source said discussion on how to handle the community’s issues, is one of the reason for the delay to fully deploy to site by the title holder.
The recent court case between the Lagos State Government and the licensed dredgers operating in the state has added to the confusion in the sector. A Court of Appeal in Lagos issued a stop work order to duly licensed dredgers despite the earlier court pronouncement on the matter in favour of federal government.
The governor of Taraba State, Chief Darius Ishaku, said at the just concluded Nigeria Mining Week in Abuja that there must be a change in policy to allow for state and communities’ participation in ownership of mineral titles in order to avoid conflict.
He said on several occasions, some title owners deployed to states for exploration but unknown to them the land where they have allocations belonged to someone.
He said the same constitution that grants the Federal Government power to allocate mineral titles also recognizes state governments to issue certificate of occupancy of a land within its territory.
“You see, there is a conflict. You have to get to the land before you mine the mineral under it. So if you come to me and say that I have the license to mine this mineral, then you don’t have the CofO on the land then there is a problem. We have a lot of cases like that where people come and put their rigs to mine but the land actually belonged to somebody else.
“So there has to be a legislation to amend or to refine this conflict, without which we can’t make much progress. In most of the sites, there is this conflict, most of them not only in my state,” Ishaku said.
A geologist, and Secretary of Women in Mining in Nigeria, Emily Achor, said the world is moving towards ease of doing business, adding that even the Federal Government has now embarked on serious campaign on ease of doing business. She noted however that to ask mining title holders to go and acquire CofO after getting the license from the Mining Cadastral Office is bringing more confusion to the system.
“Like we all know, the miners are just coming for the products not for the land. I think the government should be looking at how this can work, may be to get the communities involved by giving them equity in the business of the person who is coming to mine.
“But getting CofO from states, I don’t think that will work,” Achor stated.
The President of Miners Association of Nigeria (MAN), Shehu Sani, said his members are having a big challenge when dealing with issues of land ownership. He, however appreciated the present effort by the Federal Government by engaging with stakeholders, especially the state governments and communities to address issues.
He said the constitution is very clear on mineral titles. According to him, once mineral title is granted, it supersedes any title by the states – just as in the oil and gas sector, the law is the same with solid minerals.
“While we are advocating for the status quo to be maintained pending the amendment of the constitution, the governors should be cautious in handling the issues because it has many implications.
Sani said some of his members were affected by the actions of the states, citing Taraba State where three mining sites were shut down by the state governor. “What he did was illegal and I think it’s time for Federal Government to take a stand and stop such action now.”
The implications is that the states are now encroaching into federal laws, and both local and foreign investors are watching.
He warned that mining is a very competitive business, adding that as some countries are easing their processes, Nigeria should not complicate its own process, because the investors are always smart in their choices.
Sani said beside the land tussle, illegal mining on sites acquired by genuine title holders was also a big challenge that drew the sector back.
He however said the current crack down on illegal miners by the Federal Government had encouraged more miners to invest in the sector. He called for a sustenance of the crackdown.
The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr Kayode Fayemi, has said the Federal Government has improved its partnership and engagement with states in order to have a win win situation.
The Minister in a statement on the Lagos issue said “It is trite to state that by virtue of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as amended), federal laws in respect of administration of mining activities and utility of inland waterways supersede those of States. In the instance as it affects issues on the exclusive legislative list.”
“The Ministry takes this development with all seriousness and solemn commitment. We hereby call on all legitimate dredgers to disregard the order and continue with their lawful operations without let or hindrance.”