Mohammed Munirat Nasir (Gusau), Olanrewaju Lawal (Birnin Kebbi), Noah Ebije (Kaduna), Emmanuel Adeyemi (Lokoja), Clement Adeyi (Osogbo), Tony Osauzo (Benin)
With the success being recorded by Operation Puff Adder, the joint police and military operations in Zamfara State, there are now fears among people in other states, which have gold deposits that bandits and miners dislodged from Zamfara would relocate to their areas.
This fear has prompted authorities in Osun, Kaduna, Kebbi, Kogi and Sokoto states to take steps to forestall possible invasion by the dislodged miners and bandits from Zamfara, where abundant gold deposit, which for long was a blessing and source of economic sustenance for the people, has turned into a curse.
In the last 10 years, from available government records, more than 5,000 people have lost their lives to banditry linked to gold prospecting activities in the state.
Local gold mining in the state is an age-long tradition in view of the abundance of the natural endowment in the state, which is additionally blessed with other previous stones.
Instead of the abundance of gold contributing to the prosperity of the people, the state has been turned into a killing field as heavily armed gangs rampage through the state unleashing banditry never before seen in the history of the state.
The catastrophe brought about by gold prospecting was first experienced when an outbreak of lead poisoning was reported in Dereta Yargalma and Bagega villages in Anka and Bukkuyum local government areas in June, 2010. That incident claimed the lives of over 163 children, an occurrence that was considered the highest to be recorded in terms of lead poisoning casualty in world history.
That horrendous incident was attributed to the unchecked activities of illegal miners in the state who turned their homes into gold prospecting and processing sites.
After the 2010 lead poisoning outbreak, the state again witnessed another outbreak in 2012, in Gusau Local Government Area, but it was not as devastating as the first one as less than 10 lives were loss before it was contained.
As the local miners and other legal/illegal foreign prospectors began to make money from the gold mining activities, it was only a matter of time before criminal elements and other renegades, inspired by the new industry of kidnapping for ransom, which became entrenched on the Abuja-Kaduna highway, would step in. From the moment organised and heavily armed gangs got involved, abductions, killings and banditry linked to gold-mining activities became the order of the day, with the result that the state was effectively turned into a fiefdom of the bandits as the Zamfara State governor, Alhaji Abdul’Aziz Yari Abubakar and the police authorities in the state appeared to have become powerless and unable to secure the lives of the people.
When the situation became a national embarrassment, the Federal Government through an announcement made by the Inspector General of Police, banned mining activities in Zamfara State, in a bid to stem the flow of blood in the state.
Adamu described the miners as collaborators to the bandits terrorising the state, stressing that the ban was a proactive measure to stop the gold miners and their collaborators from causing further damage to the state.
Visibly relieved, Governor Abubakar has been showering encomiums on the Federal Government for the ban and the joint military and police operations launched to tackle the wave of insecurity in the state.
Yari said that Zamfara State as host of the miners had not been benefiting from mining activities, but had only borne the sorrow arising from the banditry associated with their activities.
It is to be noted that more than 150 of the miners in the state have been killed and kidnapped by the bandits in the last three years. In one attack on the mining site in Bindin village in Maru Local Government Area, 48 miners were killed in broad daylight and in another attack on Horo mining site in Anka Local Government Area, 32 miners were killed just as bandits killed 13 other miners in Dareta village.
One of the miners (names withheld), who told Sunday Sun that he has been engaged in gold mining in the last 25 years, said that he grew up to know mining as a profession.
He argued that banning gold mining activities without providing alternative source of income for him and others is akin to turning people like him into liability to the society.
“Our prayer and hope is for this banditry going on in the state to end so that we will not die of starvation because of this ban by the government,” he said.
However, other states in the country, which have gold deposits, and have apparently learned from the horrible experience of Zamfara State, have started to take measures to prevent their jurisdictions from suffering the same fate that has blighted Zamfara.
In Kebbi State, the government has moved to ensure that all local miners are duly registered to ensure illegal miners dislodged from Zamfara do not flood the state.
The Commissioner of Environment, Forestry and Mineral Resources, Alhaji Hassan Musa Kalgo, who explained the position of the government said: “All the local miners operating in the state are well known to us; they have registered with us and they formed associations. So, we know their homes and the district heads know them. There is no way they could be infiltrated by strangers; such strangers would be exposed.
“Secondly, all the security agencies are working very closely with Kebbi State governor, Senator Abubakar Atiku Bagudu on security of the state. If there is any stranger in the state, all these local miners would immediately inform their leaders, their leaders will inform the district head and that is how the information will get to the emir and the governor will direct security agencies to take action immediately.”
The commissioner added that the two mining sites, Grain Awall, and Kaoje, located in Fakai and Bagudo local government areas, were properly being monitoring.
During a recent visit to Garin Awall, about 1,000 local miners were said to be exploring in the area while the Chinese firm operating in the area, ISS-HASS Nigeria Ltd, was said to have stopped operation due to financial challenges.
One of the local miners in Garin Awall, 20-year-old Abubakar Abdullahi, confirmed the existence of the association under which they operate.
He noted that the foreign firms were exploiting the host community by not contributing to the development of the place. He said that it was the action of the foreigners to go into local mining.
Explaining what they do, he said: “We always go up the mountain to pack stones in sacks. After that we break the stones into pieces with our tools. Thereafter, we grind it with the grinding machines and then sieve the resulting slurry in the shallow canal we dug. From this process, we could get 300 grams from a sack of stones within one month. A gram is sold for N10,000.”
He revealed that about 1,000 youths from the village are involved in the local mining of gold. He lamented that most of them joined mining because licensed mining operators refused to employ them.
While collaborating Abdullahi’s claims, another local miner, Mallam Umar Danmalu (33) told Sunday Sun that the mining company failed to fulfill its promises.
“We didn’t benefit anything from them, no road, no water, no school; even clinic, they refused to build for us. We have no choice than to join in prospecting for gold with our local tools,” he said.
The head of the village, Alhaji Danjuma Daudu Awall, while criticising the licensed operator, appealed to the federal and state governments to provide the community with basic amenities.
There are indications that the ongoing military operations could drive bandits and illegal miners to shift base from Zamfara to Kaduna State, which requires adequate security measures to ward off such movement.
Kaduna, which has large gold deposits, shares border with Zamfara State at Birnin Gwari Local Government area of Kaduna State.
For a Kaduna-based retired military officer and security expert, Mohammed Magaji, it would be disastrous to allow bandits and illegal miners to escape or relocate to anywhere to cause further socio-economic havoc in the country.
“The Zamfara military operation gives the impression that the security agencies have been unable to completely dislodge the bandits. It will amount to transferring or adding to the already precarious security situation in Kaduna State since the authorities are unable to distinguish the genuine miners from the terrorists or bandits leading to the stopping of mining activities followed by the bombardment of the various mining sites.
“Illegal mining should not be encouraged as it deprives the government of huge resources and revenues that could be used for national development.
“It makes nonsense of the laws relating to mining and related issues as government seems to encourage illegal mining and violation of the law of the government,” Magaji said.
On April 12, Birnin Gwari, was attacked by armed bandits, after several attacks in the previous years, heightening the fear that the Zamfara bandits and illegal miners may have found their way into Kaduna to mine gold in the area.
After two hours of gun duel on the fateful day, between the armed bandits and youth volunteers in Layin Lasan, Kuyello District, Birnin-Gwari LGA, the bandits retreated to a nearby bush unchallenged.
In the attack, two brave men of Layin Lasan village lost their lives while several others with gunshot received first aid at a rural hospital in Kuyello.
Chairman, Birnin Gwari Vanguards for Security and Good Governance, Ibrahim Abubakar commended the bravery of the youths: “We salute the courage of volunteers in challenging the bandits in the absence of security personnel at the time of the attack. We are informing the world that our people have resolved to defend themselves as the security, especially mobile police detachment at Kuyello were in Birnin-Gwari to collect fund for fuelling and logistics at the time of the attack.
“Although, we noticed a hand of fellowship in our area with regards to deployment of additional security, we urge the authorities concerned to beef up security at all our borders with Zamfara and Katsina to forestall infiltration of bandits escaping from the military onslaught in Zamfara.
“While praying for the repose of those killed and speedy recovery of injured, we urge all people of Birnin-Gwari emirate to be smart and raise alarm on suspicious movement of bandits and report to community leaders.”
When Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, first spoke about the gold deposit in the state at the maiden economic summit of the state, he noted that gold deposit in the state was bigger than South Africa’s gold reserves.
Although Kogi State has about 27 solid minerals, including gold, the level is believed to be so low that it would hardly attract the interest of either local or foreign miners, and by extension the banditry associated with gold-mining activities.
Sunday Sun investigations revealed that that there has not been any movement of the miners from Zamfara migrating to any part of Kogi State.
A reliable government source told Sunday Sun the security agencies have been put on red alert to ward off or arrest anyone suspected to be miner coming into the state.
The source further said that across the 21 local governments in the state, vigilance groups in the hinterlands have been directed to report any untoward movement to the state.
He also said that more members of vigilance groups have been deliberately mobilized and redeployed to some of the areas that have mineral deposits and are considered to be attractive to the miners.
The activities of illegal gold miners in Osun State have for long been a major challenge to the government as investigations by Sunday Sunrevealed that though other tribes are at the centre of illegal gold mining, the Hausa dominate the scene.
Scores of them who migrated from different parts of the North into Ilesa area in the state have taken over the communities where there are gold deposits.
It was gathered that the gold deposit in Ilesa, an ancient town predominantly occupied by the native Yoruba tribe known as Ijesa, is 99.6 per cent pure.
The communities, which are predominantly in the hinterlands of the state include Ijana and Wasare in Atakumosa Local Government Area. Others are Igun-Ijesa, Gona, Ajewanwa, Atepe-Akire and Igbade.
The major occupation of the thousands of the Hausa inhabitants in these villages is gold mining. For a couple of years now, the state government had been wielding the big sticks against the illegal operators, which reportedly began some decades ago.
The Ministry of Forestry, Natural and Mineral Resources had engaged the services of the military, police and operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in raiding the illegal miners who operate in cocoa farms and forests where there are pure gold deposits.
But they have remained adamant and continued to operate with impunity. Some paid agents now middlemen between them and the gold merchants are making fortunes out of the business.
With mining as the major occupation of the Hausa in these communities and the seeming ‘immunity’ they enjoy, their growing population, as well as their acceptability by the people to live among them, they now regard the communities as their second home.
With the communities now a fertile ground for their livelihood, chances are that many more illegal gold miners could migrate to Osun State through the connection of their kinsmen who have been on ground in the state.
Credible sources who spoke to Sunday Sun expressed worries over the likelihood of the Zamfara situation replicating in the state as more Hausa illegal gold miners migrate to the state.
Commenting on this, former Special Adviser to the immediate past governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Mr Tunde Ajilore said: “I am more than worried. The past experiences of their operations have been terrible. We know the dangers they have caused our people. They are more than 10,000 in the communities where they operate. Managing them against violence has not been easy.
“When I was in office, we were able to keep them at bay and under control to maintain peace and security. That was why we were able to curb their activities to some extent.
“We recorded a lot of violence. There was one of them who was popularly called ‘Medicine’ who killed people. Others snatched indigenes’ wives. There were cases of robbery. They destroy cocoa farms and forests. They also destroy farm produce. If more of them happen to join them again, then we are in trouble because there could be Boko Haram and bandits among them. The situation is even worse now than what I met and left because they are multiplying in geometrical proportions.”
Ajilore said that the miners are still operating in the communities with impunity.
A source whose family’s land is being subjected to the mining activities by the Hausa illegal miners without permission also told Sunday Sunthat the miners have taken over the land where gold deposit was discovered.
“We didn’t know that our family land in Ilesa has gold deposits. It was when the Hausa gold miners discovered it and started exploiting the mineral resource that they decided to know the owner of the land for compensation that we got to know,” the source who preferred anonymity said.
“When they offered us money, we declined because we believe that what they were doing was illegal and we didn’t want to be involved. We are worried because they are desperate. To push them away now will be difficult. We are expecting the government to do the needful,” the source said.
Investigations by Sunday Sun have shown that the people living in the areas where there are gold deposits, as well as the places where the activities have been going on are apprehensive of danger and violence.
An atmosphere of unease pervades the areas as miners who are predominantly Hausa pose a lot of inconveniences to them.
The community people are lamenting that the miners have ruined most of their farms prospecting for gold. They complained that despite the huge sums of money being raked in from the business, the government has failed to bring development to the communities.
Others complained that the indigenous farmers and landowners are part of the problem because they encourage the miners by leasing out their lands to them and now that they pose as land owners, it is difficult to chase them away.
They also expressed worries that the miners are ready to fight with dangerous weapons if there is any attempt to chase them away.
According to them, they steal farm produce such as cocoa, kolanuts, oranges, plantains, banana and many others. They lamented that whenever they complain against their untoward behaviours, they would wield dangerous weapons to attack them.
A community leader who preferred anonymity said that there were more than 100 illegal mining sites around Ilesa and its environs, making the area very volatile.
“Our communities are now in danger and nobody can predict what the security situation would be in the days to come. We hope that the insecurity situation in the Northwest which has been linked to illegal mining does not become our portion here,” he said.
Former Chairman of the Taskforce on Mining, Forestry and Produce, Mr Adelowo Adebiyi, told Sunday Sun that the government had taken some proactive measures in forestalling the infiltration of miners that might be under pressure to relocate from Zamfara to the state.
He said: “Government is taking steps already. It has already engaged a consultant who has been mandated to design a blueprint on how to tackle the problem. This will be handled from different perspectives such as security of lives and property in the communities, where the mining activities are ongoing, discouragement of migration of miners from any neighbouring states, legal processes through which mining activities could be carried out and several others.
Adelowo disclosed that the government would soon actualise plans on collaboration with foreign investors who would take charge of the mining activities to maximise the economic potentialities of mineral resource for revenue generation.
“I am sure that the foreign investors would come up with adequate measures that would be aimed at averting migration of illegal miners from Zamfara State,” Adelowo said.
He added that government had started working out plans to engage Southwest youths in the gold mining business.
“Apart from the move which will serve as an employment opportunity, it will go a long way in checking the influx of illegal miners from Zamfara and other states.
“When the youths undergo the necessary training and take charge, it will be difficult for any external miners to invade the state,” he said.
Adelowo also disclosed that the government had engaged the services of security agencies, including military, police, Nigeria Securities and Civil Defence Corps whose personnel provide security in the communities where mining activities are already going on.
“Soldiers and police are monitoring the activities of the people. Even, the area commander is seriously involved in the security mandate in all the areas concerned.
Meanwhile, Governor Gboyega Oyetola has held a stakeholders meeting with security agencies, traditional rulers and others to discuss the aftermath of the Zamfara situation and its potential impact on Osun State, to prevent all forms of criminalities.
The governor stressed that it had become imperative to put adequate measures in place to checkmate the influx of displaced illegal miners to prevent replication of the situation in Zamfara State in Osun State.