Analysis of the Legal aspects of Mining in Nigeria

By: Sree Kuttan


Nigeria is regarded as a country endowed with abundant natural mineral resources such as iron, lead-zinc, tin, tungsten, tantalum, gold, manganese, and nickel. In Nigeria, there are a number of laws applicable to the mining sector such as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), Land Use Act, Laws of the Federation 2004 (the Land Use Act), Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act, 2007 (the Mining Act), Nigerian Minerals and Mining Regulations 2011 (the Mining Regulations). The Act and the regulations have since introduced a better regulated sector and provided an attractive investment climate for foreign investors seeking to invest in the mining sector.

The Mining Act

The Mining Act is Nigeria’s major legislation governing the mining sector. It regulates all aspects of the exploration and exploitation of solid minerals in Nigeria. The Mining Act also provides that all lands in which minerals have been found in commercial quantities shall be acquired by the Federal Government in accordance with the Land Use Act.

The Mining Regulations

The Mining Regulations are the subsidiary legislation issued under the Mining Act. The Mining Act and the Mining Regulations are administered by the Ministry of Mines and Steel and the Mining Cadastre Office.

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The Land Use Act

The Land Use Act is Nigeria’s legislation governing land acquisition and ownership. However, the use of land for mining purposes is considered as constituting an overriding public interest. , the Mining Act also provides for contractual arrangements applicable to the lawful use of any land for mining purposes.

Licences and Permits Applicable to the Mining Sector

Under the Mining Act, a person is authorized to search for and exploit mineral resources when he or she has obtained a mineral title to do so. The different mineral titles available under the Act are: Reconnaissance Permit, Exploration Licence, Small-Scale Mining Lease, Mining Lease, Quarry Lease and Water Use Permit.  It is an offence under the Act to undertake or be involved in the search or exploitation of mineral resources without having the requisite mineral title.

  • Reconnaissance Permit:

This permit allows, on a non-exclusive basis, reconnaissance activities on all land within Nigeria that is available for mining operations. In Nigeria, a reconnaissance permit allows the holder of the permit to only obtain access into, enter or fly over any land within Nigeria to search for mineral resources on a non-exclusive basis and to remove surface samples in small quantities. A reconnaissance permit is not transferrable or assignable to a third party under any circumstance whatsoever16 and where the holder of the permit becomes mentally incapacitated or diseased, the permit shall be revoked.

  • Exploration Licence:

An exploration licence gives its holder the exclusive right to conduct exploration activities within the area permitted. In order to be qualified to apply for an exploration licence, an applicant has to be either a company that has been duly incorporated under Nigerian law or a mining co-operative or the holder of a reconnaissance permit already granted in respect of the area which is the subject of the exploration permit application. In Nigeria, an exploration licence is granted for an initial period of three (3) years and may be renewed for two further periods of two years.

  • Small-Scale Mining Lease:

Small-scale mining is defined under the Mining Act as artisanal, alluvial and other forms of mining operations involving the use of low-level technology or application of methods not requiring substantial expenditure for the conduct of mining operations within a small-scale. A small-scale mining lease shall not be granted in an area which is the subject of an exploration licence, small-scale mining lease, mining lease, quarry lease, or water use permit or any area close to mining operations.

  • Mining Lease:

A mining lease grants the holder of the mineral title the right to obtain access and enter the mining lease area to carry out exclusive exploration and exploitation of mineral resources activities. In Nigeria, only a corporate body duly incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act or any other legal entity which has demonstrated that a commercial quantity of mineral resources exists in an area is qualified to apply for a mining lease. Mining leases are required to be granted or denied by the Minister within 45 days of application. A mining lease is valid for a period of twenty-five years and renewable every twenty-five years and shall not be granted in respect of any area within an exploration licence area or a small-scale mining area except to the holder of the exploration licence or small-scale mining lease covering such area.

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  • Quarry Lease:

Quarry leases in Nigeria are granted in respect of all naturally occurring quarriable minerals. A person shall be ineligible to apply for a quarry lease if it is shown that any of the members or directors of the applicant or a shareholding holding a controlling share of the applicant has been convicted of a felony or an offence under the Mining Act or the Mining Regulations.

  • Water Use Permit:

Only the holder of or an applicant for an exploration licence, small scale mining lease, mining lease, or quarry lease is qualified to apply for a water use permit under the Mining Act and the Mining Regulations. The validity of a water use permit is for as long as the small-scale mining lease, mining lease, quarry lease or exploration licence for which use it was granted and shall expire upon revocation or expiry of the small-scale mining lease, mining lease, quarry lease or exploration licence for which use it was granted.

Fiscal Incentives of the Nigerian Mining Sector

Of paramount importance to any mining investor are the fiscal regime and tax incentives of the host country. Under Nigerian mining laws, a mining project is entitled to enjoy various tax advantages, incentives and benefits as follows:

  • In determining total profits, a licence holder is entitled to deduct from his assessable profits Capital allowance of 95% of qualifying expenditure incurred in the year in which the investment was made on all certified exploration, development and processing expenditure including feasibility studies, sample assaying costs, and infrastructure costs.
  • The amount of any loss incurred by a licence holder shall be deducted as far as is possible from the assessable profits of the first year of assessment and thereafter in the year which the loss was incurred and in so far as it cannot be so made, then from such amounts of such assessable profits of the next year of assessment and so on up to a limit of four years after which the period any unregistered loss shall lapse.
  • Exemption from customs and import duties on approved plants and machinery, equipment and accessories imported specifically and exclusively for mining operations.
  • Tax holiday for the first 3 years of operation which period may be extended for another 2 years. The Tax relief begins to accrue on the commencement of operations. This is at odds with CITA which only grants tax holiday of 3 years without any option of extension.
  • Expatriate Quota and resident permit in respect of expatriate quota
  • Personal remittance quota to expatriate personnel for the transfer of foreign currency out of Nigeria.
  • Free transferability of dividends or profits;, payments in respect of servicing a certified foreign loan; and foreign capital in the event of sale or liquidation of mining operations in any convertible currency.
  • The Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN) may permit a title holder who earns foreign exchange from the sale of its minerals to retain in a foreign exchange domiciliary account a portion of his earnings for use in acquiring spare parts and other inputs required for mining operations which would otherwise not be readily available without use of such earnings.
  • Grant of investment allowance of 10% on qualifying plant and machinery.
  • Tax deductible for environmental cost.
  • Tax deductible for pension funds for employees of mining companies.
  • Annual Capital Cost Indexation-unclaimed balance of capital cost shall be increased yearly by 5% for mines that start production within 5 years from the date of enactment of the Act.
  • Deferment of royalty payments on any minerals for a specific period on the approval of the Federal Executive Council.
  • The investor may also be entitled to claim an additional rural investment allowance on its infrastructure cost. This is however dependent on the location of the company and the type of infrastructure provided.

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Considerations for Mining Operations

Before the commencement of mining operations by a mineral titleholder, there are certain legal considerations that a person interested in mining business in Nigeria must take into cognizance such as lands excluded from mining operations, surface rent and compensation, outright ownership of mining land, annual service fees and royalties.

  • Lands Excluded from Mining Operations
  • Surface Rent and Compensation
  • Ownership of mining land
  • Annual Service Fees and Royalties

Incentives Applicable to Mineral title Holders

A mineral title holder under the Mining Act engaged in mining operations under the Act and the Regulations is entitled to certain benefits;


  • Extension Services for small-scale and artisanal mining
  • Capital Allowances
  • Exemption from Customs duty and Other Benefits
  • Permission to Retain and Use Foreign Exchange and Free Transferability of Foreign Exchange
  • Pioneer Status and Tax-Deductible Costs

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Factors Impeding Development of the Mining Sector

Given that the Nigerian legal and regulatory framework meets all the major considerations of a mining investor, it is difficult to understand why the survey conducted by the Fraser Institute ranks Nigeria so low and the World Bank’s forecast for mining investment in Nigeria between the years 2000 and 2020 is nil. This may not be unconnected with the following:

  1. Security: Majority of the naturally occurring minerals are located in the schist belt which covers an extensive part of Northern Nigeria where the present insurgency is being experienced. Security is one of the main risks to any mining investment as it has a bearing on the overall cost of the project. As the government improves the security situation in these parts of the country, mining juniors and TMC’s may begin to refocus their attention to Nigeria.
  2. Funding: There is a challenge of funding mining projects. Mining projects have long lead times and as such require long term capital which simply is lacking in Nigeria presently. Perhaps with the introduction of the single treasury account and limitation of focus on short term funds, banks may be forced to start providing longer term funding to sectors such as the mining sector.
  3. Infrastructure: The lack of adequate infrastructure is also a challenge to any mining investor. The mineral deposits in Nigeria are too distant to the ports for the export market and there is presently very little domestic use for the minerals presently being produced. The railway system is archaic and in need of a complete overhaul to be able to serve the sector. In the absence of a functional railway system, Nigeria won’t see any major mining investment in the immediate future. It is crucial to begin to look at various models of how the needed transportation infrastructure for mining activities can be provided. One model could be the use of Public Private Partnership to deliver multi-client/multiuser mining related rail infrastructure in Nigeria. The pension funds are also a veritable way of funding the infrastructure investment for the sector.
  4. Illegal Mining: Illegal mining contributes to about 60% of the mining activities in Nigeria. This is perhaps the biggest challenge to the mining sector. However, the loss of revenue is not the only by product of illegal mining as same also results in the degradation of the environment and loss of human life mainly from lead poisoning.
  5. Political and Economic Risk: Nigeria has witnessed 16 years of uninterrupted democratic rule and more recently the transition of power from a ruling party to an opposition party. This clearly signifies political stability to any foreign investor seeking to invest in the solid mineral sector. The ongoing devaluation of the Naira posses its own hindrance to investment but there are ways of addressing currency risks in mining projects and this includes currency hedging.

Recommendations for the Sector

There are a number of recommendations and these include:

  1. The urgent need to improve on the funding of the public mining institutions so as to ensure effective monitoring and regulation of mining activities.
  2. The spate of illegal mining must vastly reduce so as to ensure order and prevent environmental degradation and loss of life.
  3. The Federal Government must as a matter of urgency address the security situation in the northern region of Nigeria which is ore rich.
  4. Enforcement of the “use it or lose it principle” with respect to licences which are not utilised within a specific timeframe.
  5. Improved mining related transport infrastructure through Public Private Partnerships.
  6. Identify a specific set of minerals to promote through roadshows showcasing the potential of mining these minerals in Nigeria.
  7. Privatisation through competitive bidding of existing Federal Government mining properties as a means of kick stating the sector.


As Nigeria plans to take advantage of the inherent growth opportunities available in the morning sector and open the sector to private and foreign investment and investors, it is important for all players, new and existing players to be aware of the regulatory and commercial considerations for the mining sector in Nigeria. As being the largest economy in Africa, with a population of 170 million inhabitants to provide skilled and unskilled labour and a transparent legal and regulatory framework offering some of the best fiscal incentives in the global mining industry, offers attractive mining investment opportunities to the discerning investor.

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