Arc. Olamilekan Adegbite, Honourable Minister for Mines and Steel Development

Why influential Nigerians are seeking release of illegal miners —Minister

* Reveals Osun Government resisting moves to discharge culprits

* Why illicit foreign miners are seeking Nigeria’s gold

* Government considers special courts to checkmate illegal mining

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

As the Osun State Government moves to prosecute the 17 illegal Chinese nationals and their Nigerian accomplices arrested for engaging in unlawful mining of Nigeria’s mineral resources and polluting water for human consumption and irrigation in the state, Arc. Olamilekan Adegbite, Honourable Minister for Mines and Steel Development, has revealed that ‘powerful’ Nigerians are currently seeking the release of the illegitimate Chinese miners.

ConsumerConnect reports that Arc. Adegbite, who spoke to journalists in Abuja, FCT, Friday, May 8, said the Osun State Government had resisted the efforts to release them so far.

It is recalled that the state Joint Task Force (JTF) and Amotekun security apparatus May 4, had apprehended some 17 Chinese nationals and nine Nigerians for illegal mining.

Abdullahi Binuyo, Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Adegboyega Oyetola of Osun State, on the development, said the illegal miners were arrested following a coordinated sting operation around Ilesa and Ile-Ife axis of the state.

Governor Adegboyega Oyetola of Osun State

In terms of the environmental impacts of illicit mining, Binuyo stated that the illegal miners had polluted the Osun River with poisonous metals, thereby making it unsafe for human consumption and irrigation.

The Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor said: “No responsible government will fold its arms and watch its land being degraded by unauthorised persons.”

However, as the Osun State set for prosecution of the alleged perpetrators, Adegbite said the state government had been pressured to release the offenders.

“There has been pressure, especially in Osun… on the state government, that these people should be released because most of these people are working for Nigerians. “Nigerians in high positions, Nigerians in authority. But, thank God, the Osun State Government has so far resisted this pressure.”

Some of the 17 Chinese nationals arrested for illegal mining in Osun State recently.

Report says at the media briefing, the Minister disclosed that the Federal Government is working to set up special courts in every state of the Nigerian Federation to check the activities of illegal miners.

As Nigeria has massive mining resources, he said the Federal Government desired to reposition the sector to contribute three percent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2025.

Adegbite, nonetheless, noted that the activities of illegal miners have continued to underrate the progress being recorded in the sector.

Part of the problem has been the inability to prosecute past offenders due to the clogged nature of the nation’s courts, he observed.

“In the past, we’ve had challenges for people we’ve caught. Because the Federal High Courts in every state are so busy.

“Whenever we file a case, we find that it gets lost in the long list of cases. And it is not unusual for you to find somebody who had been arraigned in court to be caught again doing the same offence,” he disclosed.

The Minister added: “Sometimes early this year, around January, I went to see the Chief Justice of the Federation on this.

“And he advised that we should work with the Chief Judge of the Federal High Courts and the Attorney-General to designate some particular courts within the existing court system in every state for mining offences… so that we can have accelerated hearings and, of course, do justice with these people.

“So, this set of people that have been caught now, we’ve asked the state to prosecute them to the maximum extent of the law.”

On reasons why illegal foreign miners are going for Nigeria’s gold and other mineral resources in recent times, the Minister for Mines and Steel Development stated that mining has become lucrative because gold price is rising despite the Coronavirus pandemic.

A raw gold stone

In regard to the government plans to prosecute the foreign nationals caught in illegal mining in Zamfara and Osun States recently, he said: “If you notice keenly, the states where the 19 foreign illegal miners are apprehended are states where gold deposits are found, Osun (17 miners) and Zamfara (2 miners).

“Of course, one can guess why gold at this time. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic all over the world, other metals/minerals are not selling much because industries who will use them have shut down.”

According to him, because of the economic difficulties associated with the pandemic, currencies are losing their value, and gold is fast becoming the safest currency in the world now.

Because the price of gold is rising daily at the international stock market, the demand for it has increased which has also increased the illegal mining of it by foreign nationals in Nigeria, Adegbite stated.

He said: “The foreign nationals that have been identified are Chinese, Burkinabes, Senegalese but particularly, the Chinese.

“In Osun, 17 foreigners have been apprehended while in Zamfara, just two of them. We are taking them to the Federal High Court, their case is being compiled.”

If Nigeria guards her gold reserves and ensure that they are exploited properly, the revenue derived from it would be comparable to what is got from oil and gas, noted the Minister.

Additional reports by Alexander Davis and Emmanuel Akosile.

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