Interview: How I will run my ministry —Fayemi

Minister of Solid Minerals Development and immediate past Ekiti State governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, was in the state recently, the first time since his swearing-in as a member of the Federal Executive Council (FEC). He addressed some journalists at his Isan-Ekiti home on the expectations of Nigerians in the Buhari administrtaion, his ministry and other issues. 

Tribune brings some excerpts: 

You are a researcher, an academic and a teacher. Many Nigerians are wondering if you have not found yourself in a position that makes you seem like fish out of water in the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development.
From the day he was sworn-in, President Muhammadu Buhari made it very clear that in the face of dwindling revenue from oil resources, it’s time for Nigeria to look in very different directions and he mentioned two specific directions: Agriculture and Solid Minerals. I’m delighted that the president has reposed confidence in me to be able to function in an area that is of great importance to him and I believe, to all Nigerians too. So, for me, it’s service not expertise. When you look at the position I occupy, it is really about direction and management; not about expertise. I believe that there are technical experts, there are geophysicists, there are geologists, there are mining and metallurgical engineers in that ministry and that is also for a purchase. I can hire consultants to come and assist me. What the president wants is somebody to turn the potential to reality because that’s what we’ve been pursuing all these while.
So, whether I’m a teacher or researcher, it only comes to relevance because I’ve been a governor. As governor, I superintendent over the activities of budget, finance, health, education, solid minerals in Ekiti State, trade and investment, etc. I have broad knowledge and experience of governance, of management and of leadership. And once I’m able to follow the marching orders of the president in my ministry, we should be able to deliver on the promise made to the Nigerian people.

So, looking at solid minerals to be the next thing for the country, what will you say will be your directional strategy to drive the ministry and attain the diversification so desired by the president?
It’s too early to talk about directional strategy. I just told you that my own sense of Mr President’s mandate is that I turn to potential to reality. So, that’s my strategy.

What are some of the potential you’ve seen?
Oh, the potential are huge. There are 44 key minerals across 250 spots in the country covering the 36 states of the federation. There’s no state in the country that is not endowed with one mineral or the other. To that extent, we have them. Nigeria has gold; it has even diamond in Nasarawa; it has titanium, it has barite, it has tin and we have coal. There are so many things that are there. What we haven’t managed to do in the last 55 years of our independence is translate that. In fact, we used to do it in the past. Nigeria used to be the centre of tin and coal. We started mining tin in Nigeria in 1903 and coal long before the world war. And then petroleum came and we regressed in those two, not to talk of even moving into the other sectors. I thing the focus for us would have to be getting back to that past and ensuring that we are able to fulfill the promise of translating the potential to reality. Right now, solid minerals account for 0.3 per cent of the GDP of the country. I don’t want to give a figure of where I want us to be by the time Mr President completes his assignment as president but clearly, we really need to be moving in the direction of contributing, at the very minimum, five per cent to 10 per cent of the GDP from solid minerals.

There are cartels everywhere. Cartels also await all the ministers across the ministries. How do you intend to rein the cartels in that sector?
I don’t know of any cartels. I don’t belong to any cartel. So, it is difficult for me to start commenting on cartels. But you know that the present administration came into office on a strong current of integrity and character and what we do will be driven largely by our integrity quotient. If there are people operating outside of the rule of law, including in the strategic minerals sector, I think it is time for them to start packing their bags. People operating illegal mines, just to cite an example of that cartel you’re talking about, we would assist them to mainstream their activity. But if they insist to continue along the path of illegality, then they are going to face the maximum wrath of the law.

Illegal miners and sundry activities seem to thrive because of obsolete legislation. So, without a modern, effective law we may not be able to turn this sector around. How do you intend to go about this?

I am new but I happen to know that this is one sector where regulation and law is not the problem. When my friend, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, was Minister for Solid Minerals, she put through the National Assembly the current Mining and Minerals Act 2007. So, the law that we have in place now is one of the most comprehensive laws governing the mineral sector anywhere in the world.

P It looks at the governance of the sector, it looks at the relationship between the ministry and the various mining institutions, it looks at the place of the community where mining takes place. It also looks at the position of the operators and their accountability to the system. The law is quite comprehensive. 

There may be the need to tweak one or two things in the law but I don’t think the law is the problem. The problem is the strategy to translate the law into reality by ensuring an enabling environment for the operators to realise their ambition. Government has tried its best but it surely hasn’t done enough, that is why you will see that every speech by Mr President is punctuated by his determination to diversify to agriculture and solid minerals. That task is what we are saddled with and we just have to try and deliver.

Your successor in office as governor of Ekiti State, Mr Ayò Fayose, while congratulating you for your new appointment, said you should use your good office to turn around the solid minerals sector in the state in the face of its dwindling resources. How do you react to this?

I am Minister for Solid Minerals Development in the Federal Republic of Nigeria,  not just in Ekiti State. Yes I come from Ekiti but, my responsibility is to Nigeria and I will do everything within my powers to ensure that we maximise the resources available in all the 36 states of the country. 

The demise of the traditional ruler of your community, which he explained was as a result of the sudden demise of the traditional ruler of the town, Oba Sunday Ajiboye, came suddenly. What’s your message to the people and his family?

That’s really why I’m home today. It was an unfortunate occurrence. Those of you who have been around in Ekiti for sometime will know that our late Kabiyesi was a strong supporter of mine, not just because I come from this community but also because he was actually my cousin. Most people don’t know that. The Oba Onisan is my cousin and I feel a sense of deep personal loss at his sudden death because I spoke with him a day before. He was preparing to come to Abuja for my swearing-in but the next day I heard the news that overnight the unfortunate occurrence happened. We can’t query God. We have to thank God for he really sacrificed for our community to the very last, he did his best. He put in a lot of effort to make a difference. He was a scholar and he was studying for his Ph.D and he did a lot to ensure that peace and tranquility continues to reign in our community.
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