Engr. Janet Adeyemi is the President, Women in Mining in Nigeria (WIMIN), an affiliate of International Women in Mining. In this exclusive interview with The News Diet, she analyses Nigeria’s mining sector and its opportunities with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). She also notes peculiar banking challenges and harps on sufficient data for mining.
Adeyemi, an astute Nigerian politician who served in the National Assembly as Chairman on Irrigation, Flood and Erosion Control, also shares insights on the Nigerian political terrain and the opportunities for women, how to grow women-based businesses, among others.
Janet Adeyemi was speaking with our correspondent on the sidelines at the recent 2022 MMS Woman of Fortune Hall of Fame Induction ceremony in Lagos.
As Nigeria looks to optimizing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), what are the opportunities in the mining sector?
Mining has always been there but the new thing is that it is now brought to the fore front for everybody to see the improvements because of the sudden closeness of the world. The world has become so close because of the digital age we are in. What is happening in America in real time, can be seen in Nigeria and other parts of the world. So, you can see what is happening in industries all around the world this has accelerated the discussions on mining.
Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic became a catalyst to make us see the gaps and the realities of the world we are living in and how mining suddenly became so important. People who had heart problems during COVID-19 needed pazer. Suddenly, there was short supply of pazer because you need the metals from the mining sector. Houses couldn’t be furnished because there were no metals to complement the manufacturing of necessary equipments, such as; air conditioners, television sets, doors, among others.
Nevertheless, mining is as important as it is also a destroyer. It is one of the main sources of destruction and it is a culprit when it comes to climate change. I think mining contributes about 4.7 percent of the green house gases (GHG). So there must be a balance between mining, best practices to mine and the utilization of it.
If you look at Africa, it is an underdeveloped continent. We are the reservoir, yet we have a lot of mineral resources. What do we do with our mineral resources? We just allow people to plunder it and take them away and we are contented when we are paid for unfinished products. With the AfCFTA was signed and ratified by the 55 countries is to promote trade and not necessarily mining alone.
The regional agreement also creates an easy access to products across the countries where you ascribe the origin, where the goods are coming from, who manufactured them and the acknowledge the various inputs and only encourage finished products to leave Africa or to be transacted amongst regional countries.
For the continent, mining sector is an interesting sector because there are mineral resources all across Africa in varying quantities and different types. We don’t all have the same things. In Nigeria, there are precious gem stones that Ghana cannot boast of having; but they have gold. We can have what is called conjunctive development of ideas where you have one thing and I also have one thing then we can complement and develop. When we develop or build up that thing, we can utilize it and that takes us easily to energy.
In energy, we found out that the various sources of energy are equally pollutants creating the GHG emissions and things like that. So, people are looking at alternative sources of energy but these clean sources of energy will demand a lot from African countries to work together. That is what our discussion was about, few weeks ago at Addis Ababa where we converged to look at what advantages and how we can shift to the energy space, and also what roles to ascribe to one another to be able to do these things effectively.
On November 4th and 5th, 2022, we would be showcasing an aspect of it and that aspect is value addition. We need not import these women jewelleries from China. Nigeria has precious stones. We can cut them because there are people who are cutting and polishing. We have people who make the chains and produce beautiful rings. There’s a selection process which we can have in order to be able to do beautiful things. So, we don’t need to import these items.
We want to focus our attention on women jewelleries, even if it is just making the jewelleries we have and consume them within, it will change our fortunes. We also have industrial minerals. We have barite in the country. You cannot drill without barite in the oil and gas sector.
We have vesper and gypsum which are used in cement industry and there are so many things Nigeria has that could be gainfully utilized including led, zinc, gold, among others. If one picks up the Nigerian map and looks out for the minerals distribution; there is hardly any local government that doesn’t have mineral resources. Some might not be in commercial quantity but every area has got something of value. So, it is very important for the government to pay attention to these things. Let’s avoid the errors that we made in the oil and gas sector and make sure that with the mineral resources we have, we create a value chain which would provide employment and reduce the burden of Importation.
As we create awareness on the opportunities in mining, there is a lot of talks on exports but I see that as silly because we are yet to satisfy the local market. We have a population of over 200 million and about 60 percent of that population or more are youths. They have the energy, we just need to build the capacity, redirect them and create the enabling environment. Let there be energy and technology; let’s also ensure the nation’s productive youths have access to the right skills with government supporting incubation centres and this nation will be amazed to see how much we could achieve with mineral resources..
Government support the institutions and organizations involved in mining to ensure that there is value addition most of the resources are consumed within, before we begin to diversify. Nigeria should have mineral development as part of its National strategy to grow the economy. Finland started its economic growth with mining and it is one of the major manufacturers of all kinds of compressors. The country later moved into log business. One thing about mining is that once you take the mineral off, it is off forever. So, you must utilize the resources of mining very well. It is not something you can say you will use today and another one is coming tomorrow. We need to be very strategic in the utilization of our mineral resources.
The private sector plays a key role in developing industries via Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) and privatisation. How would you describe the policy framework for mining activities which is still under the exclusive list, do we need better policies?
I think Nigeria’s mining policy is one of the best policies in the world. We used to have a moribund policy but in 2007 a new mining law came into existence and then in 2011 the mining policy came up where it was pronounced that the mining agency that is Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel became an administrator and a regulatory agency. I am sure all the mining industries owned by government were privatized such as the Nigerian Mining Corporation and other agencies like that. It might not be perfect but it is already done.
Our perception index used to be very poor, but today we are competitive. If you look at our tax incentives, we are doing very good. But beyond that, there are some areas that are lacking because if you look at our laws, our laws are gender blind. The sustainability component was not addressed but it is not their fault. It is just because of the dynamic nature of the sector and the sector keeps evolving.
Today in the Western world, you cannot go into mining without having your Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) profile. The ESG profile is to show that you are certified and you wouldn’t even find a bond or get anybody to give you money because mining is capital intensive. It is not something you can develop on your own. No international body will give you any loan because they will need to access you ESG component. They also want to look at your sustainability that is the local communities where you are taking the goods from to see if there is any responsible tracing and tracking. In those days, they take rubber from Cross River state and take cocoa from Ondo state.
The people that are planting those things are so wretched and there this popular programme by Richard Quest when he went to Ivory Coast to showcase where chocolates are coming from showing that the people planting cocoa are so poor. There was an outcry and if you go to that community today, you would find a difference. That is it. Sustainability is very important. These people are equally thriving. As you are exploring, you are taking things out of them and they are making money from it. If you say this diamond is from a place, you must be able to track where it came from. You also look at good governance. What type of governance it is and the tax?
There are continuous amendments in our laws which have been forwarded to the National Assembly to look into that. I believe that in terms of that, we are ready. The only thing I see mitigating against Nigeria is the capital. Mining is extremely capital intensive. We also don’t have sufficient data and I think the government is addressing that. No one is generating data for the mining sector. They just get an overview. They are supposed to get in-depth data beyond what we have. We used to have some geological data during the colonial era that was built up with time. But now through the Minamel project, the government has gone extensively to generate some more data. By the time they throw this data in the open space for people to access, investors will come, buy the data and they go for deeper exploration within their coverage to really know their investment. This is because if they are going to invest billions of dollars into a thing, they must as well get a clear perspective on it.
So, I wouldn’t write off our laws and policies, by saying that they are not right. Yes, they can be improved upon; but it is a continuous build up. Our government is doing so well in sensitizing and directing the world. We also have NGOs. We have met with some of them who are classy women that are successful to be able to go into mining business. We were able to market the mining investment to them especially the gains in the industry.
The challenge of funding and single digit interest is peculiar to almost every sector in the country. Do you think women gender partnership and forming large conglomerates will help?
When I talk about gender, I always want to make clarity. We cannot live in an exclusive world. We need the two. When we bring out gender, we are just saying “wait a minute, we are here, include us to be your partners.” We aren’t trying to isolate ourselves. This is because if you isolate yourself you wouldn’t get anywhere. We need both knowledge and contributions. We all have our strengths.
There is a need for collaboration. As regards sourcing for funds, I feel women should just step up and build up their capacity, understand the dynamics, form ventures, go into partnership with men, understand what it takes and you’re good. So, it goes beyond wanting or thinking that you can do it all alone.
Also, our banking sector needs an overhaul. Nigerian banking sector doesn’t know beyond giving short term loans. They don’t know how to take risks. So, there is a need to expand the banking risks by bringing in professionals or engage consultants who can really breakdown the system and understand the risks involved in mining. Without the support from the banking sector, one can’t get loans; even if you get international investors, you still need your local bank to be part of the deal. It is very important for banks to have an understanding of this sector.
2023 general elections is edging closer, what role do you see women playing in Nigerian politics?
Politics in Nigeria can be very interesting. I encourage women who have the stamina and the time to be there. This is because if you are not at the table, you don’t get much. But unfortunately, I even see that when most women get to National Assembly, it is like they kick the ladder and disconnect from their fellow women which is not good. When I left the National Assembly, it occurred to me based on my experiences, that the time is not even there for one to source information.
I was lucky that IRS gave me a sponsorship to go to the US Congress based on my performance in the house to understudy the US democratic system with their legislators. I started what we called female parliamentary cacus but within this cacus most people that are savvy were not active. You will have to call and force them. For example, if there’s a bill at the National Assembly, you will want to be able to conduct an opinion poll, give them the concept around the bill and the contents to discuss. But when they are not even relating with you, how do you do that? They are only interested in greeting you Happy Birthday or talk about aso-ebi, and all that.
I got discouraged, but I think we need more of that. Women need to set up structures to be able to help those in government articulate. I think when women get there, they feel they have joined the boys club; so to start identifying with the girls club may seems difficult because they feel people will see it as a sign of weakness. I see it as a sign of strength because if you advance a gender issue, it is not because you are the one marginalized but because you are a success and confident about it. This is because there’s always a need to generate a generational pipeline. Some top women like Margaret Ekpo, Queen Amina, Madam Ransome Kuti, among others, paid the price for us to get to where we are today. We should also pay the price so that our female children will no longer be begging. It becomes automatic for them.
Nonetheless, I can tell you that the pipeline is still very constricted which shouldn’t be. Where else can we solve this if not at the National Assembly. So, I encourage women who have the capacity and money to engage one another. Women in offices should try as much as possible to include women based/owned institutions to be part of their programmes and contracts.
How did the men make their monies that aided their political aspirations? They got it from contracts from government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and other forms of government patronage. When a woman is in an office, it is important that she looks at her contracts approvals to ensure that women based companies are given opportunities. Banks should also think and act this way to ensure women-based businesses succeed. The moment sisters start keeping sisters interest then we will definitely succeed. But those who have gotten up there mustn’t look down on others, we must raise more people up.