Engr. Simon Nkom is the Director-General of the Nigeria Mining Cadastral Office (MCO). In this interview which was first published by THISDAY Newspaper, he discusses the goals scored by the administration in mineral licensing, adding that the management of the MCO has repositioned the Agency in order to increase revenue generation and create more jobs.
Francis Kadiri brings excerpts.
How many license holders do you now have?
There are over 6,000 licenses now, but the figure on our website is 9,989 because over 3000 have been revoked. Recently, we have just gazetted and we are going to implement that. When you now look at that implementation, and 3000 is removed, we end up having 6,000.
How much have you been able to generate into government coffers since your appointment?
The agency generated N14.59 billion between 2018 and 2022 from the issuance of mining licenses. in 2018, 2019 and 2020, we generated N1.55 billion, N2.38 billion and N2.57 billion respectively. However, between 2021 and 2022, the agency’s revenue fell from N4.3 billion to N3.79 billion respectively. The drop in revenues was due to changes in its internal operating system which temporarily affected our revenue inflows.
Revenue Generation is key because we have had to be able to ensure that we improve on it. We had 86 percent increase in revenue from 2001. But I can tell you that with the new system, without mincing words that subsequently we are going to have a steady increase.
In our revenue generation, it is nothing, but application fees, processing fees and the annual service fee.
We are not in charge of other activities like payment of royalties and so on. So, even with these little aspects of revenue components we still want to ensure that at the end of the day our revenue increase and we are able to add to the development of Nigeria and increase the wellbeing of citizens, particularly the key components of job creation and revenue, based on our vision for the country.
The Cadastre has of recent witnessed an increase in the number of applications for mining permits, due to the transparent nature of the process. Among our key accomplishments, is the more you are transparent, the more you will be able to see people coming in to submit application. So we have quite an increase in that regard and the increase is not just nationally. You have foreign investors getting attracted by way of our transparency, our policies and the way things are being done.
We have also opened zonal offices, which has taken it closer to the people and the intent of the agency is to be able to ensure that we reduce the number of illegal or informal miners so that at the end of the day, we make licensing easier for them.
Despite the transparent and open process in your agency, we continue to see revenue loss to the government due to illegal mining and devastation of the sites. How is your agency dealing with those who compromise your transparent open system?
The question is tied to huge revenue loss. I am in charge of Rights and there are some other departments under the ministry in charge of illegal mining; in charge of making sure that they eradicate illegal mining. My mandate stops at the issuance of licenses and they take over. But the ministry is there where you can ask those questions. I talk about revenue loss in terms of titles.
Between September 2021 and September 2022, your agency revoked over 3,400 tittles of miners across the country. How do you balance revocation of titles and your efforts to increase revenues?
Some will say that people were issued licenses and they put it in their drawers; others are saying that if we are looking for revenue how do we balance revoking licenses from those people? Our primary concern is to ensure that the rightful people are holding those licenses and that is why we have the principle, which is international, ‘you use it or lose it’.
We give you the license, if you don’t use it, we revoke it. Go to the provision of the Act, the primary aim of government was to be able to ensure that we develop the sector. There are other big companies that come and you find out that some of these pockets of areas that are rich, some are holding those titles and not doing anything for one reason or the other.
So we ensure that we implement the angle of use it or lose it. As long as we are having revenue at the back of our mind, our priority is the development of the sector.
What is the level of collaboration between your agency and state government towards the needed enlightenment to those involved in mining activities as a way of reducing illegal mining in the country?
We collaborate closely whereby we have mineral resources committees which are established in the states and the chair of that committee is a nominee from the state. The essence of the committee is to advise the minister on mining matters periodically.
Apart from that we have quite a number of state government that have Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV) that are arms of investments for governments. There are many of the states that have those companies as their investment arms to be able to compete favorably and be the driving force to the investments in their states.
Recently, we saw activists were protesting against coal mining in Germany, the reason for the protest was different from what we saw when coal was a major revenue earners in Nigeria. Are you considering these issues in issuing licenses for coal miners in Nigeria?
On the issue of Coal, I think it is very clear that the coal aspect and other minerals and energy, coal to power project, in this country, so there are restrictions and conditions for the issuance of licenses unlike what used to happen before.
It is not just that in terms of other minerals, we have been able to now put a strategy. I emphasized that we are not just issuing licenses because you have met the conditions, we are thinking about putting in a strategy to ensure that we look into our country, we look at the future and be able to now ensure that we strategize. Just like I have indicated, are we now going to give licenses for all the minerals associated with the production of steel in Ajaokuta and then when the time comes, we will now be importing minerals? We think beyond that in terms of strategies.
Who are the title owners owing Nigeria, how much are they owing and what efforts are you making to recover the debts?
The issue of transparency is involved in this question on people who are owing. Like I said, the list of the people have been published.
The essence of the whole thing is that people are aware and we went further to even gazette it. This gazette is a public document we made available to the press.
The Director, Registry is here; we have those gazette, it’s not meant for us. If you are owing, you’re owing whether big or small. The amount you’re owing is there. In fact, from the law we have provisions to ensure that you pay.
If you don’t pay, we revoke the title and once we revoke the tittle the area becomes free.
When you are owing government, the law gives us the right to get our money back and we have done that a couple of times to ensure that anybody who is owing must pay. We used that strategy and the revenue went up. You have four titles, you are owing in two, you are now putting the fifth application, we say ‘you’re welcome and they say who must come to equity must come with clean hands. We tell you ‘go’ and clear your debts, when you’re clean we receive the fifth application’. That’s what happened when our revenues went up and we are putting in some of those strategies to ensure that our revenues go up. Even during COVID, that was when our revenues went up.
The issue of revenue is very key at this particular time and we are very transparent. If you need the CTC of any document or license whatsoever, the law permits us to give it to you. Like we say anything we are doing can be subject to litigation in terms of these revoked tittles. Recently, the gazetted ones, we have defaulters published some few weeks ago, of 3,432 and we have revoked tittles of 3,402, and we equally have people who have grants and have been communicated. Just wait until when you cancel it, then you see lawyers writing to us that we didn’t follow the provisions; we have gazetted it and that’s what the law says. We have gazetted 495 for people who have grants because we are going to cancel it when the time lapsed. Then we have people who have licenses and have refused to come and collect it because the law says before you do anything you send letters to address of the applicants and if after 30 days, he does not remedy the defects, you revoke or you gazette. As much as we appreciate communications, some people will look for windows but once it is gazetted, we ensure that we put it on our website so that they don’t have any excuse and that is final. We now have this one to arm ourselves because we know what it means to lose a case.
How are you comfortable with just issuance of licenses when we have foreigners carting away Nigerian resources by engaging in illegal mining?
When you look at the general mandate of the ministry, it is to attract foreign investments so each department has that responsibility. In everything you do, whether licensing, monitoring, mines environmental compliance or geological surveys, whatever you do, is to be able to attract investments for the country. Same time, in every component, we look at the law. If you read the law on the Mining Cadastral, it says to administer and management of mineral tittles. At the same time we have the responsibility of having other departments keying in with our own contributions. Even when we go for conflict resolutions, we don’t just go on our own to the field. We make sure the mines officer, the one who is in charge of the state in terms of activities, becomes part of it. So, we are not running away. We have our own component of supporting to ensure that whether it is non nationals doing illegal activities or whatever, we have our own responsibility to be able to key in. The whole idea of administration of mineral tittles is to ensure that everybody carrying out an activity is licensed. Your point is noted and I know that another department and the whole ministry is looking at it carefully.