OrderPaperToday– Odonigi, a mining community in Moro Local Government Area of Kwara State has thrived with gold deposits over the years. These deposits were in large quantities such that illegal miners took charge of the area — five of them were arrested in 2017 with seven bags of gold.
Sadly, however, in the midst of this flourishing business is a community where basic amenities like schools are considered luxuries for the members of the community.
The only school in the area was under lock during a recent visit by this reporter, leaving the children to travel about seven kilometres to Alapa in another local government to get basic education. The story is not any different with healthcare and other basic necessities of life.
For a community grappling with such harsh realities, one would have expected the resources would be harnessed for their growth and development but this is far from the case with the gold mining business which goes on without any form of compensation to the community.
In fact, many like Alhaji Hassan Odonigi, the ‘Mogaji’ of the community, did not know about the existence of gold deposits in the area and expressed surprise at the mention of mineral resources.
In an interview with this reporter, he lamented their poor living conditions and dearth of basic infrastructure in the area, adding that asking for hospitals would be requesting for too much from government authorities that cannot provide teachers for the school in the community.
“We have not even gotten teachers for our school, you are talking about healthcare centre. Let them even give us the teachers first,” he said.
According to the Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparent Initiatives (NEITI), Nigeria lost $9 billion between 2014 to 2015 to illegal mining of gold and other mineral resources. While the definition of illegal mining has been restricted to miners without license, little attention is paid to the legal miners acting illegal.
The money lost to illegal mining is mostly licensing fees and royalty to the government. While the government could be losing both licensing fees and royalty to illegal miners, there is a bigger loss incurred through government’s inability to properly monitor and regulate the activities of miners.
Another town, Oro, in Kwara State had its mineral resources rush in the early 2000. Tourmaline and topaz were in abundance and people travelled from far and wide to partake in the rush. Labourers and buyers of gemstones from both within and outside the country including Mali and Senegal thronged the place to get their share of the loot but this did not last beyond 2005, even though the exploration of mineral resources has not ceased.
Labourers continue to dig massive holes looking for gemstones, using crude tools such as hammer, digger and shovel. With a general lack of trust in the government and due to the portable nature of the gemstone in this region, the difficulty of monitoring both the legal and the illegal mining remains a huge challenge.
After an initial difficulty encountered in getting access to miners and stakeholders in the town, the reporter was finally directed to Alhaji Dahiru Liman, a former senior special adviser on Solid Mineral to a former governor of Oyo State, Rashid Ladoja, who currently coordinates the mining activities in the town.
Liman told our reporter that illegal mining persists because of the failure of the federal government to implement its policies, particularly, financial interventions.
In June 2016, the former minister of Mines and Steel, Kayode Fayemi announced the approval of a N30 billion intervention to the mining sector to, among other things, improve the sector. But for Liman, the disbursement of the funds remains a serious source of concern.
“Even if the goods (assistance) come, miners will not get it, it is different people they will take,” he said.
“They will call the miners together and present all our certificates, they will say we will give you N50 million, N250 million, at the end, only one person will get from Kwara. It will be hard for you to see two people from Kwara and the person, go and look, it’s someone that backed him, they are not miners and the real miners are suffering. How can things go like that? That is why things are going like that.”
Bureaucratic bottlenecks encouraging illegal mining…
There is also a rigorous process of securing licence for a mining site, which the miners said can be frustrating. The centralisation of the mining sector does not also help, with the Nigeria Mining Cadastre — the agency with sole permission to issue mining permit and lease — located in Abuja. The implication is that miners have to go to Abuja to process the permit.
To the miners in Oro, the most important license is to settle the land owners and the Kabiyesi (traditional head) of the town, while Mr. Liman handles the registration and licensing. He also provides protection in the event of police harassment through his company, Afrorocks Nigeria Limited.
There is also a lack of trust in the registration process echoed by both Liman and Ayuba popularly known as Pastor. Just like most miners in the town, he came from Niger State.
“The first place is to go to the owner of the land, then to the Kabeyesi. The Kabeyesi will send you to the local government, then to Ilorin, Ilorin will be the one to send you to Abuja,” he said.
“Most times, we combine with experienced miners. You will spend money, because anywhere you go to, you must drop something. If the state sees that there is plenty of resources there, you that submitted it will not get it, they will exchange your certificate. When you talk, they will say ‘where is your certificate?’ So how can you see another place and take it to them again?”
Provision of the law on ownership of natural resources
Section 44 (3) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) vested the ownership of mineral resources to the federal government. As such, the license to explore mineral resources is the exclusive right of the federal government. For a potential miner to get permit, they must first have a registered company. If he suspects that there is mineral deposit on a piece of land, he will approach the owner of the land in question and after an agreement is reached, then the coordinate of the land is supposed to be taken to Cadastre office in Abuja.
But this is one rigorous process most miners would rather avoid, mostly because of the lack of trust in the system. For these miners, the easy compromise is to get people who are not miners but with existing permit and settle the traditional head, while Liman provides the necessary protection against the periodic raid by police.
A miner and blogger, Ede Obinna, re-echoed this concern during an interview with this reporter, “The process of acquiring permit is cumbersome. The 2007 Mining Act does not recognise individuals. When you locate the site, you will take it to cadastre. They are in charge of issuing mining licences, permit to export minerals for commercial purposes, permit to export minerals for analysis, and collecting royalties on behalf of the government. The problem is that if the government says N50,000, for you to speed up the process, you have to get people to help speed up the process by paying more,” he said.
For a town of civil servants, the economy of Oro significantly benefits from the mining activities, legal or illegal. Here is how: Ayuba explained that the local miners first get the permits from the land owners who they pay, then source for labourers who are usually not paid but settled with food and drinks, after which they get to work until the gems are found. The gems are then divided into 10 places. The miner takes two portions, while the other eight are given to the labourers but are later bought back at “bush rate” which is usually very cheap. They are then taken to Ibadan where they are sold to Senegalese and Malian dealers.
But there seems to be a big problem with such structure: The miners are supposed to pay N75 for every gram of pink tourmaline. How then will the government determine the quantity of tourmaline removed? Henry Bolarinwa, the Federal Mines officer in Kwara State, said there is supposed to be an attaché to sites who monitors the activities of miners.
“It is expected that you have to station an officer, and if you want to station an officer, you must cater for the officer. We need results, but how do you help those officers to achieve those result? You must be able to get accommodation for the officers,” Bolarinwa said.
He further complained about the shortage of manpower, lack of adequate support from law enforcement and l traditional rulers in the state who provide cover for miners to operate illegally.
“Unfortunately, we are constrained by the attitude of our people. At times, you will get to a site, and they will say a particular Emir is in charge. Whatever we get, there is the 13% derivative. The state government is not even helping us, the law says when you are licenced, bring it to the ministry for us to monitor and inspect the site. Unfortunately, they only move to the site as soon as they have the permit.”
The valuation process is equally faulty, according to Ayuba, who said that a pink Tourmaline sells differently going by the structure, but the rigid structure and inability to monitor means that even the royalty is determined at the “bush rate.”
Although the officer said his office is conducting awareness campaigns through the joint committee called Mineral Resources and Environment Management Committee (MIREMCO), however, the level of awareness is still poor. If the awareness had been done adequately, people of Odonigi would have been able to help with monitoring their surroundings.
The other aspect where illegal miners fall short is that of the environment. In Oro, there are several abandoned pits and tunnels that are a little disturbance away from collapse, which pose a great threat to residents and livestock.
A department of the Ministry of Solid Minerals, Mining Environmental Compliance (MEC), is supposed to monitor the mining sites to ensure environmental compliance. However, in all the mining sites, both legal and illegal, abandoned pits are everywhere.
For Ayuba, since they have paid the land owners, they have no business with the pits. To further exacerbate the situation, the sand at the sites are sold to people for sand filling, leaving holes that are more than 10ft deep in the bush.
One of the locals who gave his name as Adekunle recounted how about four years ago, a student at Dab Comprehensive High School, Iddo Oro, died in one of the pits while attempting to swim in one of the pools, some of which have been abandoned for more than four years. The pits are behind the school.
What is the way out?
Bolarinwa said the issue falls within the scope of MEC (Mining Environmental Compliance) department of the Ministry of Solid Minerals. According to him, “if you are removing sand, there is a particular level you can remove it. If you go below that, it means you want to completely degrade the place. And the law says you must have a development agreement, and the Environment Protection and Rehabilitation Programme (EPRP) which you have to do, and also the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which every mineral title holder is obliged to do before the commencement of mining.”
The pits are still there, uncovered, with little or no infrastructure in the area. For the Mogagi of Odonigi, his people will be happy to choose between having a school or healthcare centre but with their mineral resources, these should be basic amenities, and not luxuries.
This report was published with support from the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism