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

Special Report: As highly-placed people bankroll illegal mining of Nigeria’s wealth

*Some state governors provide Police escort for unlicensed foreign miners in their domains ─Minister, Senate Committee

*Nigeria boasts of 44 minerals found in commercial quantities across 450 locations in the country ─NEITI

*The people behind illegal mining are powerful, including ministers, senators, former governors, and big men in the society, says Amotekun chief

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

Nigeria’s long decades of preparations towards diversifying its economic mainstay away from oil and gas may have paid off with the Federal Government’s recent efforts at exploring and mining its solid minerals to empower investors and the citizenry to create wealth, enhance economic wellbeing, boost national economic growth and development.

ConsumerConnect reports that latest developments across the country indicate that the Federal Government means business, as it has licensed private investors to participate in the essential exploration and exploitation of 44 minerals found in commercial quantities across the country.

These solid mineral resources with which the country is endowed include gold, zinc, lead, tantalite, columbite, laterite, bauxite, iron ore, tin and gemstones, and others in some states in the country.

However, recent reports have indicated that the earnest efforts of the Federal Government expand the economic space and create more opportunities for Nigerians may be thwarted by the continued activities of illegal miners, allegedly being sponsored by highly-placed individuals, including monarchs, politicians such as former and serving governors, lawmakers, among others.

Of the numerous disturbing cases of illegal mining across the country is the latest revelation regarding illegal gold mining in Osun State.

It was gathered that Comrade Amitolu Shittu, Director-General of the Osun State Security Network Agency, codenamed Amotekun, said that highly-placed persons are behind illegal mining in the state.

The Amotekun chief in a recent interview with The Nation in Osogbo, the state capital, disclosed that the political positions of the illegal mining masterminds have made it difficult for the government to prosecute them over time.

Comrade Shittu, however, threatened to reveal the identities of the perpetrators if any of them dared him.

He said: “With the help of the adhoc personnel, we arrested cannabis farmers in Esa-Oke and three armed robbers at Owena.

“We have arrested 26 Chinese nationals. All the arrests we have made, including those of Malians, Ghanaians and Nigeriens, are 36. We have handed over the suspects to the Police.”

On efforts of the Amotekun to rid the state of criminal elements in recent times, he lauded the Federal Government and Governor Adegboyega Oyetola of Osun State for their support for the outfit in arresting the illegal miners.

According to Shittu, if the authorities didn’t support them, it would have been very difficult to arrest the 36 persons because the people behind illegal mining are powerful individuals in Nigeria, including “ministers, senators, former governors, big men” in the society.

Governor Adegboyega Oyetola of Osun State

“They are behind illegal mining. I am not afraid to say this. Nigeria cannot be a better country if all of us are not interested in good attitudes and conducts,” he disclosed.

ConsumerConnect investigations revealed that illegal mining of gold and other minerals across the state in the South-West region has been on for several decades.

It is, therefore, no wonder that Alhaji Abubakar Bwari, a former Minister of State, Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, August 2018, revealed that more than two million people in the country depended on illegal mining for their livelihood.

It is also recalled that Oba Abdulrosheed Akanbi, the Oluwo of Iwo, June 2019, alleged that some influential indigenes of the state, including royal fathers and politicians, are the real sponsors of illegal mining activities in some parts of the state.

Oba Akanbi, in a media interview, also stated that labourers working on mining sites, who were predominantly youths of Northern extraction, had been flocking into the state because they were getting engaged by some prominent politicians and royal fathers involved in unlawful mining.

The royal father then, urged the government to stop individuals from mining gold, which is the precious yellow metal, as a solution to the security challenge being created by the large presence of the youths in the Ife/Ijesa axis of the state.

As a solution, Oba Akanbi urged the Osun State Government to take over the mining business and ensure that laws governing such activities were fully applied.

He restated that “big men, politicians, traditional rulers in the state are behind illegal mining in Osun and the solution to the security challenges the large presence of the labourers from the North has created is that government should take over that business.

“There is no legal framework for their activities there. There is no law; and where laws are not applied, people will just be acting as they like. Government should take over the business and manage it.”

Raw Gold Block

Unfortunately, the truth about the illegal mining activities going in the state in particular is known not only to the people and stakeholders in Osun State but also top government functionaries in Abuja, Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Arc. Olamilekan Adegbite, Honourable Minister for Mines and Steel Development, and Senator Tanko Al-Makura, Chairman of Senate Committee on Solid Minerals, Mines, Steel Development and Metallurgy, at an interactive session last October equally purported that some governors were behind the illegal mining of some solid mineral resources in the country.

It was learnt the Minister had told the Senate Committee that the challenge of illegal mining was apparently being supported by some state governors who provide Police escort for unlicensed foreign miners in their respective domains.

Despite that Arc. Adegbite did not specifically name the governors alleged to be behind the illegal act, he said they had an “unholy” alliance with some foreign miners who were operating illegally in the country.

“You will find foreign nationals encouraged by our people. Without naming them, we have some state governments that are encouraging these (foreign) nationals that we are talking about; and that is why you see them with security (operatives).

“When they send them to go and do this, they need Police. What do you expect a mining officer to do when the state government is backing this illegal mining?”

Some of the 17 Chinese nationals Osun State Government arrested for illegal mining in the state May 2020

Senator Al-Makura, who is a former Governor of Nasarawa State, equally remarked that some state governors allegedly aiding illegal mining in their domains are “illegal miners”, according to report.

The Federal lawmaker, however, advocated a non-punitive approach in resolving the matter, as both the Minister for Mines and Steel Development and Senate Committee on Solid Minerals, Mines, Steel Development and Metallurgy agreed that mining in any part of Nigeria is on the exclusive list of the Federal Government, thereby restricting the states’ direct development of the mining sector.

Al-Makura further said: “Why are they (governors) giving support to illegal miners? Now, the simple response or answer to that is that they are helping illegal miners because they are illegal miners themselves.

“There is nowhere illegal mining can take place without the knowledge of the community; you cannot illegally mine mineral resources without the consent and the participation of the community.”

He rather urged the authorities to find ways, structurally and legally, to encourage state governments to not participate in illegal mining, stating that it is only by carving a role for them.

He called on the Senate, House of Representatives, and other stakeholders in the industry to come together and unbundle this to give every level of government some measure of participation without usurping the exclusive legislative rights of solid minerals development.

In terms of the abundance of solid minerals in the country in relation to the Federal Government’s renewed efforts at economic diversification in the face of plummeting oils prices, dwindling foreign reserves, and lately, disruptive novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) in a report published February 2019.

In the report titled, “Improving Transparency and Governance for Value Optimisation in Nigeria’s Mining Sector”, NEITI had noted that the country boasts of about 44 minerals found in commercial quantities in 450 locations across the country.

According to the agency, however, the mining sector is responsible for just 0.33 percent of employment, 0.02 percent of exports and 0.3 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) due to non-development of the sector and activities of illegal miners over the years.

It noted that illegal mining of the mineral resources was being perpetrated in about 10 states in the country, notably in Zamfara, Plateau, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Niger.

Zamfara had four illegal mining locations, Plateau had seven, Ebonyi has five, Enugu four, Imo five, and Niger 10, said NEITI.

Likewise, on factors fuelling the rampant cases of unlawful mining in the country, a report once quoted Prof. Clifford Teme, a former President of the Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society, as saying that he would not be surprised if the state governors were supporting the activities of illegal miners because “mining is a lucrative venture.” Why?

Prof. Teme attributed the increasing illicit mining activities to unregulated mining procedures, high poverty level and greed in parts of the country.

“Efforts are being made to establish what is called artisanal mining scheme to ensure that miners are now registered.

“There are many illegal miners who just mine our gold, particularly in Zamfara State, and take it to Dubai,” he added.

He said it would take a very long time before illegal mining could be curbed.

“Mining rules are there, but many are not obeying them,” said the erstwhile President of the Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society.

Meanwhile, Sen. Al-Makura has urged for investments in the mining sector of the country’s economy in order to boost the GDP, just as Arc. Adegbite submitted that as part of the economic diversification, the Federal Government has turned its attention to foreign investors to seek expertise in its renewed efforts at fixing the moribund Ajaokuta Steel Complex, located in Kogi State, report stated.

Al-Makura added:  “We should also think about investing in the future. We cannot say because the solid minerals sector is capital-intensive, then we will leave it to foreign entrepreneurs.

“Why can’t the government create fund avenues and factories that could yield value chain rather than the artisanal miners selling the raw materials at ridiculously cheap rates?”

As the Minister for Mines and Steel Development disclosed at the 3rd National Council on Mining and Minerals Resources Development (NCMMRD), meeting in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State capital November 2019, about 1, 759 illegal mining sites had been uncovered across the country.

“A total number of 1,759 Artisanal and Small Scale Miners, ASM, sites have so far been identified across Nigeria.

“With consistent interventions by the Federal Government through the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development 1,346, artisanal mining operators have been drawn into forming registered Artisanal Mining Cooperatives (AMCs) in readiness to access Small-Scale Mining Licences (SML).

“Each of the 1,346 mining cooperatives comprises over 10 members; with additional 20 mine workers for each cooperative.”

Observers of developments in Nigeria’s budding mining industry suggest the government and other industry stakeholders should continue to fast-track the integration of artisanal miners in order to enhance the holistic development of the evolving sector of the economy, and curb the perennial plundering of the national wealth derivable from mining of solid mineral resources.

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