In April when the federal government gave the order for stoppage of illegal mining in Zamfara, a North-west state in Nigeria, little did the authorities know that they were indirectly breeding a new abode for non-licenced miners.
One of them, Ahmed Tajudeen, a native of Anka Local Government in Zamfara State relocated to Ilesha in Osun State to continue his mining business.
“After the government pursued us from Zamfara, we had to relocate for survival. While some people travelled as far as Lagos, many of us came to Osun to continue our long-time activities,” Mr Tajudeen said.
He had been mining gold in Anka Local Government Area of the state for four years.
Findings by PREMIUM TIMES show that a large number of illegal miners pursued from Zamfara now carry out their unauthorised business in Osun, a state in South-west Nigeria, over 700 kilometres away.
While illegal mining in the state is not new, the influx of new entrants, including the Chinese, has increased dangerous mining activities capable of endangering the environment. Their activities are aided by local chiefs and the police who capitalise on regulatory failures, PREMIUM TIMES investigation revealed.
With their collaboration, several hectares of forests have been damaged due to activities of illegal gold miners in Ilesha, Itaagun, Ifewara and Ibodi areas of Osun visited by our correspondent.
Section 44 (3) of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining law of 1999 provides that ownership and control of all minerals in Nigeria is vested in the federal government, which is mandated to manage such natural resources in a manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.
The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development is responsible for granting licences to operators. Any operator without a licence from this ministry is deemed to be carrying out illegal activities. Such person may be arrested and tried in any Federal High Court.
Information on the ministry’s website indicates that the federal government issued gold mining licences to only 12 operators in Osun. Of this number, none of the miners in places visited by PREMIUM TIMES operates under any of the 12 licenced companies.
Chinese in Itaagun, Ilesha
For several hours on October 5, this reporter was on a motorcycle trying to locate Chinese miners reportedly dwelling in Itaagun, Atakunmosa West Local Government Area. Eventually, the location was found in an isolated thick forest.
Disguised as a final year student of geology, this reporter headed for the entrance of the mining site but was soon accosted by a gun-wielding guard who issued threats.
Despite several efforts, this reporter was not allowed entrance into the facility. Instead, he was harassed by three Chinese nationals who questioned his effrontery for coming to the location.
One of the Chinese @ Akad, Ilesha Machines used for digging @ Akad, Ilesha
“You should not have come here,” a police officer with bullet-proof jacket covering the name tag on his shirt said after mandating our correspondent to delete pictures on his gadgets. “Go and do your research somewhere else. No stranger comes here and leave freely,” he said.
This officer is one of the multiple uniformed men guarding the unlicenced mining site.
Akad, a community in Ilesha, Ilesha West LGA, is another location for Chinese gold miners in Osun State. On October 6, this reporter embarked on a similar journey of fact-finding the activities of Chinese miners in the community.
One of the Nigerian workers who identified himself as Segun said the illegal operations had been taking place at the sites for months.
Segun also confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that the Chinese working in Akad came from Zamfara. He, however, refused to tell this newspaper the name of the ‘company’. He also warned against moving close to where the Chinese illegal miners were camped because there were policemen around ”protecting them against harm.”
Although this reporter was again denied entrance into the company, traces of environmental destruction were all over the community.
A non-observant person could easily fall into any of the dug pit.
The apparently illegal mining activities are happening amidst a call by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, on security agencies to arrest and prosecute foreigners who deal in illegal mining of the country’s mineral resources.
On the sites visited are Nigeria police officers, protecting the illegal miners. On this day. This reporter counted about 15 police officers on the site.
When confronted with our findings, Folashade Odoro, the Osun State police spokesperson declined to speak to our correspondent. She also did not respond to text messages.
Also, PREMIUM TIMES could not independently trace the trade flow of gold mined by the Chinese.
A resident of the community, Iya Akinkunmi, told PREMIUM TIMES how the Chinese acquire land for their illicit mining.
“Once the Chinese understand that there is gold on a farm or bush, they reach out to the owner and the community leaders who always give them permission. They will pay the owners. After this has been done, you have no right to go there again.”
She narrated how a young man in Itaagun in June went for farming but never returned.
“We heard he had an encounter with the Chinese questioning them for destroying his father’s land. We later realised the deceased father made the mistake of not telling his son to stay away from the farm having collected money from the Chinese. Nothing happened at the end of the day.”
Manual mining at Ifewara, Ibodi
“Manual mining is more or less an activity purposely done to dig your grave by yourself, after digging, you excavate the soil until you get gold. If you are lucky, you get gold and if you are not, you go back home to start digging the following day,” one of the miners, Kabir Yahaya, in Ifewara told PREMIUM TIMES.
Illegal Miners @ Ifewara, Osun
Mr Yahaya said he dropped out of Usmanu Dan Fodio University, Sokoto, in 2015 after he could not get support for his studies. He joined (illegal) miners in the state. He got to Ifewara in April and has since then joined other colleagues in search of gold for survival.
He was arrested by the police on two occasions but bailed alongside others by their employer.
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He told PREMIUM TIMES that residents who buy gold from them have links with the police and other elites in the communities. While he would not want to direct our correspondent to their buyers (employers), he said a gram of gold is sold for N10,000.
In Ibodi, hundreds of illegal miners carry out their activities on the roadside without fear of security officials. The miners dig pits of up to 200 metres radius without the use of any machine. They are exposed to risk as they do the job without boots, helmets or any other safety equipment.
“We defend the earth from falling off with palm trees to avoid getting trapped under the bowel of the earth,” a miner who simply identified himself as Usman told this newspaper.
Residents who spoke with our correspondent explained how the illegal miners go about getting land for their activities.
Buy and selling on illegal mining site, Ibodi, Osun
Iyanu Ajiteru, who resides in Ifewara, explained that after a farm is suspected to possess gold, interested illegal miners meet with farm owners, pay the sum of N10, 000 to ‘test’ the land. If eventually, they find gold on the land, they will push for an agreement including paying off the landowner.
PREMIUM TIMES findings indicate that the price is usually pegged between N200,000 and N1 million depending on the size of the land.
Many residents who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES on how illegal miners acquire land alleged that kings and local chiefs were major stakeholders sabotaging the fight against illegal mining in Osun.
While some of the perpetrators use names of influential people without their knowledge, many reportedly receive blessings from them. Some of the miners reportedly get the support of monarchs in the area.
PREMIUM TIMES could not independently verify the role of the monarchs in the illegal trade.
Illegal mining disastrous – experts
Experts said illegal mining destroys landscapes, lush vegetation, and leads to erosion, the formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity and contamination of soil.
Niyi Adebambo, a senior lecturer at the Department of Geology in Obafemi Awolowo University said: “The problem is multi-dimensional. The entire landscape of Ilesha west has been altered such that if you go for field-work, you may fall into the pit dug by these guys and die.
“The land has been degraded. When they excavate the mining materials, they wash them in the stream such that people who don’t know still use water that has been polluted with lead for domestic purpose. This is a serious environmental catastrophe.”
Dr. Niyi Adebambo @ Geology, OAU
Olumide Ogun, another geologist in Osun, told our correspondent that illegal mining without protective gears can lead to death.
“Beyond the fact that some involved are exposing themselves to risk, they are also not helping the lives of those living around the area,” he said. ”They are exposed to acute respiratory failure which has an effect on their kidneys, lungs, skin and even kids around are liable to have terminal diseases.”
Speaking on the effect of illegal mining on farmers, Akinyemi Fisayo, an agriculturist, told PREMIUM TIMES that it destroys natural landscape.
“Mining generates significant problem such as water pollution which automatically renders agricultural land unusable and this has displaced some farmers even in this Osun and perpetuate a cycle of poverty after losing their farm lands to miners,” he said. “The time frame to return land to a condition it was before mining could take 100 years and the effect can even go beyond the site mining takes place which means virtually all the soil surrounding the place are polluted.”
‘Worried’ state government
In May, during a security meeting with stakeholders in Ilesha, Governor Adegboyega Oyetola said the activities of illegal mining vendors, if not checked, ”will shatter the safety, security and peace of our people as they are capable of engaging in untoward behaviours.”
After explaining our findings to Mr Oyetola through his Chief Press Secretary, Ismail Omipidan, he said: “the essence of the enumeration is to identify who is mining and where”.
“The state is equally setting up the joint task force on security, one of the assignments is to flush illegal miners out of the Osun land and also apprehend for prosecution those that degraded the land.”
Ministry of Mines and Steel reacts
Edwin Opara, the ministry’s spokesperson, told PREMIUM TIMES they are aware there are lots of illegal miners in the country.
”But I will direct you to the department handling that to get more insight from him,” he said.
He later directed our correspondent to an officer at the Mines Inspectorate Department who disclosed that the ministry ”is aware of the irregularities of gold miners in Osun”.
“We already have our special mines surveillance task force. They are called presidential special mines surveillance task force who will move to Osun and other state where illegal mining is gaining ground to carry out ‘total’ arrest of these Chinese and the local miners because from the information you provided to us, it appears the police also compromise.
“The kings are also problems. I am not going to sit here to tell you that there is no illegal mining. The Chinese are not even supposed to carry out local or small-scale mining like you witnessed during your investigation.”