A fact-check by Allwell Okpi of Africa Check
Millions of people in Nigeria survive on artisanal and small-scale mining, the country’s minister of mines and steel, Abubakar Bwari, reportedly said recently.
“With the renewed interest in mining brought about by the current administration’s diversification efforts, at least 2 million people in Nigeria are now directly or indirectly dependent on artisanal and small-scale mining for their livelihood,” the Nation newspaper quoted him saying.
Bwari was speaking at a national conference on small-scale mining in Abuja in August 2018. Artisanal and small-scale mining are simple mining operations, done mostly without the help of machines, that can be started without much money but need a lot of labour.
“At this stage in our development, these are the people responsible for 90% of the country’s mineral production,” Bwari said.
But available data doesn’t support the minister’s claims about the number of people who depend on small-scale mining, or the amount of minerals these miners dig out of the ground.
In his speech, the minister referred to a January 2018 report published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development. The think-tank, based in Canada, promotes human development and environmental sustainability.
The report says there are 500,000 small-scale miners in Nigeria, who support another 2.5 million people.
But how many people do small-scale miners support?
Dr Felix Hruschka, a mineral economist who runs the website, told Africa Check his methodology included “triangulation of legacy data, empirical statistics on the gold price and unstructured interviews”.
It also “draws on informal conversations with various Nigerian mining professionals” from when he visited Nigeria in March 2018. Hruschka is also a board member of the Alliance for Responsible Mining.
The figure of 1 million small-scale miners was only an estimate. “Bottomline, I would call it an ‘informed best guess’,” he told Africa Check.
Hruschka said each miner supported an average of five people, according to previous estimates. He had found this ratio of one miner to five dependants to be true on the ground for most local miners in Nigeria.
“Based on this rule of thumb, I would consider 5 million a reasonable guess for dependants on artisanal mining activities in Nigeria.”
‘No way of verifying the data’
Prof Gavin Hilson of the University of Surrey’s business school told Africa Check that nobody knew for sure how many small-scale miners there were in Nigeria. He wrote a 2016 paper exploring the links between agriculture and artisanal and small-scale mining in rural sub-Saharan Africa.
“These are all estimates,” he said. “There is no way of verifying the data, as they are all requoted from outdated reports.” He added that the lack of data on small-scale mining was one of the reasons for the launch of the Delve initiative.
Delve – a platform for artisanal and small-scale mining statistics – is being developed as a partnership between the World Bank and Pact, a nonprofit international development organisation. It is set to publish its first State of the Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Sector report in October 2018.
There is no accurate, up-to-date information on how many small-scale miners there are in Nigeria, let alone how many people they support. We, therefore, rate the claim as unproven.
Olu Jacob, the aide who prepared Bwari’s speech, told Africa Check the 90% figure came from the ministry’s artisanal mining department.
But data the ministry provided to the National Bureau of Statistics didn’t back the statistic up.
This comes from the records of licensed miners. These include artisanal and small-scale miners registered with the ministry through cooperatives but exclude unregistered artisanal miners.
The mineral extracted the most was granite (38%), followed by limestone (31%) and laterite (8%), which is used for road construction.
Small-scale miners go for gems and precious metals
Prof Sola Ajayi of the First Technical University in Ibadan told Africa Check that in his experience in the field, small-scale miners don’t extract granite and limestone, but rather mine for precious metals and gemstones with hoes and diggers.
The solid minerals produced in the largest quantities in Nigeria are mined by large companies, while the minerals dug out by small-scale miners don’t even feature in the top 10.
We, therefore, rate the claim that artisanal and small-scale miners are responsible for 90% of Nigeria’s mineral production as incorrect.
Africa Check is the continent’s first nonpartisan and independent fact-checking organisation