How illegal miners hurt economy

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Mining-site
Mining-site

MINISTER of Mines and Steel Development Olamilekan Adegbite is crest-fallen. At a time gains of his ministry’s aggressive investment drive to showcase Nigeria’s nature-endowed mineral and mining potentials to prospective and genuine global investors are beginning to manifest, the activities of illegal miners across the country are throwing spanner in the works.

On the strength of Adegbite’s investment campaign, things appear to have started looking up for the mining sector. International investor interest in the sector has improved, propelled by various initiatives put in place to de-risk the sector and make it attractive to local and international investors.

These include, among others, dangling some mouth-watering fiscal and regulatory incentives to woe investors such as tax holiday and exemption from customs and import duties in respect of types of machinery, equipment, plants and accessories imported exclusively for mining. The result is the deluge of enquiries by would-be investors for investment opportunities in the sector.

Encouraged by the positive response, the Federal Government started recognising the sector as a potential prime job and income generator away from oil. But, while the government and indeed, Nigerians are warming up to reap the gains of the improved investor interest in the sector, some unscrupulous investors, who are mostly foreigners, allegedly backed by powerful and influential local collaborators, are determined to short-change them.

The crux of the matter is that while Adegbite has been literarily climbing the mountains and crossing the oceans in search of genuine international investors to help transform the mining sector into a strategic catalyst for growth in terms of job creation and increased revenue, unscrupulous investors, who are illegal miners, are busy pillaging the nation’s mineral commonwealth.

The illegal miners are without any genuine mining licenses or registered with the government. The Nation learnt that their only ‘legitimate’ claim to Nigeria’s bountiful, but largely untapped mineral resources is their alleged unholy alliance with the powers that be; the illegal miners enjoy the strong backing of some powerful and influential Nigerians.

This much was confirmed by the recent arrest of 27 illegal gold miners in Osun State. The culprits included 17 Chinese nationals and 10 locals, including a local traditional ruler (Baale).

They were arrested on May 3, 2020, by the recently inaugurated Osun State Security Taskforce (Amotekun) around Ilesa and Ife axis of the state,

Ordinarily, the Osun State Government ought to have handed over the 17 Chinese nationals and others involved in the illegal mining to the Federal Government for prosecution, as mining is under the exclusive list. But this has not been the case. Rather than do so, intense pressure is being mounted on the State Government to release them.

The Deputy Chief of Staff to the State Governor, Abdullahi Binuyo, who confirmed the arrest, said the 17 Chinese nationals and their local collaborators neither had genuine mining licenses nor registered with the government.

“What they claim to have is an exploration license, which does not allow them to mine the way they are doing. So, we will prosecute them and make them pay damages,” he said, noting that no responsible government will fold its arms and watch its land degraded by unauthorised persons.

Binuyo pointed out, for instance, that beyond the economic leakages, the illegal miners had also polluted the Osun River with poisonous metals, thereby making it unsafe for human consumption and irrigation.

He stated that as part of the government’s economic reforms, solid mineral is a major sector the country is looking to explore for job and revenue generation. He said for the reforms in the sector to work, it has become imperative to stop illegal mining and step up enforcement activities.

But as things stand, Binuyo may not make good his promise to prosecute the arrested illegal Chinese gold miners. Although it was the Osun State Government’s Security Task Force that blew the lid on the economic saboteurs, Adegbite said some influential and highly-placed Nigerians have mounted intense pressure on the Federal Government to free the Chinese nationals.

Although Adegbite, said his ministry will present all the facts of the case to the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria so that it will not appear as if the Chinese nationals are unfairly targeted, his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Ayodeji Adeyemi, told The Nation that the minister believes in the sanctity of the constitution and laws and that he will always stand by what the laws say.

Under the 1999 Constitution, mining of solid minerals is on the exclusive legislative list, which makes the issue a Federal Government affair. This means that the Chinese miners should not be in the custody of the Osun State Joint Task Force, but should be released to the Federal Government for prosecution.

Affected farmers scream blue murder

Some farmers and landowners affected by the harmful activities of the illegal miners are screaming blue murder. Some of them, who spoke with The Nation, have kicked their heels in, insisting that they must be prosecuted and adequate compensation paid.

For instance, in a petition to the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, dated May 7, 2020, lawyers to owners of Late Madam Grace Olufunke Okudulu Estate, one of the areas affected by the activities of the illegal gold miners, are demanding for about N1.3 billion as compensation from the Chinese miners for “Illegal mining and excavation of gold.”

The Principal Partner of the law firm of Edmund Z. Biriomoni & Co., Mr. Edmund Biriomoni, told The Nation in an interview that the N1.3 billion being sought as compensation for damages on behalf of his client, Late Madam Grace Olufunke Okudulu Estate, under the corporate name of Moeje Nig. Ltd. was the total value of over 60, 000 grams of gold accrued to his client from January 2020 to May 2, 2020.

He said sometime in January this year, his client (Moeje Nig. Ltd.) discovered that some Chinese nationals under the corporate name of Jin Xiu Global Resources Limited “Unlawfully without the consent of our client entered into their land and have been mining and excavating gold illegally since September 2019…”

He said when accosted, the Chinese nationals, in the presence of the Commandant of the Osun State Joint Task Force (JTF), CSP Sulaiman Ishola, confirmed in the palace of the Oba of Epe land, that a revered monarch in the state collected a huge sum of money from them to enable them to gain access into the land.

Biriomoni also said a letter written by the Osun State Commissioner of Police to the Chinese nationals ordering them to stop all illegal mining and excavation activities were ignored, with the Chinese miners insisting that they made all the necessary payments to a top monarch.

Biriomoni stated that there was an attempt to sweep the matter under the carpet.

Also complaining, Olaiya Olowe, a farmer, said he caught some Chinese nationals in his farm with heavy equipment used for the illegal gold mining. He said their excavation activities have destroyed his farm, as his cocoa trees and cassava plant had been pulled down.

Stakeholders demand prosecution of culprits

The National President, Miners Association of Nigeria (MAN), Alhaji Kabir Mohammed Kankara, said the arrested Chinese illegal miners should be released by the Osun State JTF to the Federal Government for prosecution since it is a Federal Government affair.

Kankara told The Nation that what happened in Osun State was “a clear indication that things have been going wrong and that God has started exposing them.”

Also speaking, the President, Women in Mining (WIM), Nigeria, Janet Adeyemi, said  the illegal Chinese miners should be handed over to the Federal Government. “The Chinese are not working in isolation. They work with powerful politicians and traditional rulers,” Janet Adeyemi told The Nation in an interview.

She revealed that during her recent visit to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), she discovered that a whole market was dedicated to Nigerian gold. “These pieces of gold were smuggled out of Nigeria for a pittance without the payment of royalty.

“The gold would then be sold at the international market price. It is time to cry out against this kind of economic sabotage. I like the way the minster came out in the open and cried out about the illegal Chinese miners,” Janet said.

She also emphasized that the exclusive right of mining still lies with the Federal Government. According to her, Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) were created to accommodate states because of their agitation, but mining is still the Federal Government’s exclusive responsibility.

“The states should not run foul this. So, the Federal Government can go ahead and sanction whoever is involved in illegal mining. If Osun State does not hand over the Chinese to the Federal Government for prosecution, it will be contravening the laws which could be viewed as sabotage,” she concluded.

However, the apprehension of the 17 Chinese nationals and their local collaborators was just one in the long list of cases of illegal mining going on across the country. Two Chinese were also recently arrested for the same offence in Zamfara State by the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).

The Executive Director, Global Rights Nigeria, an international humanitarian organisation, Abiodun Bayewu-Teru, raised the alarm that over $500 million worth of gold is illegally shipped out of the country annually.

Bayewu-Teru spoke at a stakeholders’ engagement in the mining sector held in Abuja.

Will the Federal Government demonstrate the political will to prosecute the Chinese nationals and their Nigerian collaborators? Failure to do so will mean that the heavy financial haemorrhage inflicted on the economy will continue.

The Nation

– May 25, 2020 @ 10:21 GMT |

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