Parliamentarians in Niger are preparing to draft natural resource legislation, which could possibly include the creation of a sovereign wealth fund to benefit future generations. During her August 2014 visit with two colleagues to study such laws in Ghana, the Honorable Mariama Moussa, a Nigerien parliamentarian, spoke with NRGI’s Rushaiya Ibrahim-Tanko about civil society, development and capacity building in mineral-rich West Africa. The objective of the Nigerien lawmakers’ mission was to meet Ghanaian government officials who manage petroleum issues, members of the majority and the opposition, and members of civil society organizations working in the field of transparency in management of natural resources. (Please note that this interview has been translated from French.)
NRGI: Many say that African countries could derive greater benefits from their natural resources. What is keeping Niger from realizing these opportunities in the extractive sectors?
Hon. Mariama Moussa: Obviously the sector could bring opportunities. But Africans lack vigilance and the necessary expertise to govern the extraction of these natural resources. If we had expertise and a high level of patriotism, which would help us ensure that the resources are not stolen for nothing, I think that the sector could bring enormous opportunities for Africa. Niger has several resources that we haven’t even started exploiting, and so we have to work hard to educate Nigeriens about how they can profit from these resources.
What is the status of parliamentary oversight in the extractives sector in Niger?
In my opinion, parliamentarians in Niger do not have enough information about the management of our natural resources. This is to say that Nigerien members of parliament (MPs) need more capacity in this sector. In Ghana, the Public Interest and Accountability Committee oversees the petroleum sector, but in Niger we do not have this. As MPs, we work with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and any information or training we have acquired relating to extractives is thanks to them. Mining contracts in Niger do not pass through parliament, but rather they are signed or ratified by the executive arm of government. MPs do not have the capacity to analyze them and understand what they contain.
As a country, what lessons have you learned from the ongoing Areva negotiations? Do you think this will affect future negotiations between the government and extractive companies?
Of course, you know that Areva has been operating in Niger for almost 40 years now. Today if you go to the town where uranium is being mined, you would never believe that there has been any such activity there for so long. Currently, we have a very active civil society that is working to change how we negotiate contracts with these companies, and their experience will continue to inform our decisions. Such negotiations are supposed to benefit both parties equally, and that is what we are striving for.
Do you think civil society organizations (CSOs) in Niger are well placed to be a watchdog, actively and effectively monitoring government activities to ensure transparency and accountability?
First of all civil society is a very important tool to monitor governmental actions. I would say that CSOs in Niger are generally active. However, they lack the necessary experience to analyze issues and propose solutions to problems. You need a certain level of expertise to do this; unfortunately, our civil society needs more capacity building.
You are currently in Ghana on a mission to learn about sovereign wealth funds and the petroleum sector. What is the biggest lesson you have learned from this trip, and how do you think it will help you in your work as a member of parliament?
The biggest lesson here in Ghana is that everything works in the national interest. That is to say, you go beyond personal interest to figure out what is in the interest of the general population and what is best for the nation. This is what will advance the country and fuel development; this is what we need to move forward.
This is what has guided us to come here to listen to the people in charge of managing the petroleum revenues. When you govern the sector well, you not only earn the confidence and trust of the population, but you also ensure stability, and there is no development without stability.
Rushaiya Ibrahim-Tanko is NRGI’s Ghana office manager.