The exploration of minerals in Nigeria by the artisanal method has occurred for over 2400 years from mining basic clays to base metals and gold. There have been popular culture in Nigeria that have mining symbols as symbols of their existence like the Nok culture, Ife, Benin and Oyo cultures. At a time in Nigeria between 1903 and 1940, ASM operations dominated the mining in Nigeria and up till now, there is still a substantial dominance of Artisanal and Small Mining. Artisanal and Small-scale mining accounts for over 90% of solid mining in the country. In Nigeria some of the mining products mined in the ASM include precious metals, gold and varieties of gemstones like Sapphire, Emerald, Tourmaline, aquamarine, topaz, zircon etc and also Metallic minerals like Cassiterite, Columbite / Tantalite, lead /Zinc Ore and in addition the non-metallic minerals, gypsum, barite, silica, sand, Bentonite, Dolomite, Limestone, Aggregates, Gravels and Zircon sand.
There are around 170 ASM sites identified in the country with over 400,000 people directly involved and 300,000 indirectly involved and around 300,000 as service providers.
For a proper description of the term Artisanal and small-scale mining, ASM is a pro-poor livelihood strategy that involves people using simple tools and equipment in an informal sector outside the preview of regulators and with near no official and legal regulations. As a result of the non-formal involvement of the government and environmentalist there are potential environmental damage, social disruptions and conflict, as a result, the activities of the artisanal and small-scale mining needs to be closely monitored and formalized.
Apart from the poor livelihood strategy and the use of local tools the other characteristics of Artisanal and small-scale mining include that it is poverty driven, it is exploited in marginal and small-scale minerals, lack or low level capacity, unskilled personnel involved, low level of productions, poor access to markets, chronic lack of investment capital, low level of consideration for health, safety and environmental implications, low level of income among operators, operating without legal mining rights, titles, conflict as a result of the contending interest, gender issues and child labour prevalence.
Furthermore, the sales channel is largely unofficial and embedded with smuggling and distribution cartels leading to loss of revenue from taxes, loss of revenue from royalties, exposure of miners to uncontrolled risks, uncontrolled and non-systematic evacuation, resulting in environmental degradation, erosion and excessive pollution, amongst other negative effects.
However, for effective and efficient maximization of the benefit of the ASM, the country should double efforts towards the formalization of the process of the ASM operations. Some of the measures to be taken include the intensification of advocacy and sensitization on the need and benefits of establishing and joining cooperatives to galvanize and formalize the resources and access to service.
The registration of the cooperatives by the relevant government organizations and agencies so that ASM cooperatives enjoy the services of the extension services provided by the government and other relevant stakeholders. Some of these extension services include prospecting and exploration services, assist small-scale miners on mine/quarry design and planning, teaching on mining techniques, environmental impact assessments and guidelines for waste and safe mining, provision of marketing facilitates, introduction of simple mining technologies, plant hiring, access to grant and finance, foster technical corporations by international organizations and liaising with government agencies to providing holistic regulations in the sub-sector .
The government should as a matter of urgency establish policy initiatives as a way forward towards improving the ASM. The government should allocate sufficient funding to government department and organization to ensure they lay out the necessary framework and policy for ASM growth and development, the human capital development of the technical staffs to carry out the extension services, regular monitoring of the mining sites nationwide, the establishment of mining support centers in all the states of the country, sensitizing of miners on the need to access mineral buying centers in the country and the commencement of equipment leasing programs for ASM operations.
Formalization offers advantages not only to artisanal and small-scale miners but also to governments, large-scale mining companies, and rural communities. Formalization helps promote better working practices and conditions; reduces negative environmental impacts of activities; prevents and helps to better manage conflict associated with encroachment of miners and operations onto large-scale mining concessions; supports ASM to become an engine of enterprise and growth leading to higher government returns and job creation and stability; enables government to capture the revenues and tax from ASM activities. Formalization is an essential first step to transforming ASM into a sustainable livelihood activity and reducing criminality and criminal elements associated with some ASM activities.
For formalization to be effective, the host communities, miners, governments at all levels, the regulatory agencies in charge of mining, international organizations and initiatives all have a vital role to play in helping this vital sector to maximize its benefit and potential in Nigeria.