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Illegal mining, major threat to security, economy

Adeze Ojukwu

Illegal mining is really threatening the nation’s security and economy, in more ways than can be imagined or seen.
The total damage of this illicit business to the miners, environment and community is simply incalculable.

Many excavators have reportedly died or injured, while drilling these deep pits.
The authorities must find a comprehensive panacea to this menace, which undermines national economy and lives of citizens.

Factors escalating this risky venture, according to experts include poverty, unemployment, ignorance and illiteracy.
Clearly, the combined forces of legislation, surveillance, enforcement and other punitive measures, may not be enough to stop these desperate dredgers.

Hence irrespective of the dangers associated with such hazardous occupation, they will not leave the racket, for financial gains.

Indeed for most of these drillers, this venture is their only source of economic survival.

However government agencies must find a way of enlightening them about the perils and vulnerability of their actions.
Ignorance is no excuse for crime, therefore they have no justification for this economic sabotage.

These artisans must find other viable alternatives, because the consequences of unauthorized extraction of solid minerals are incredibly too ubiquitous and massive to ignore.

Undoubtedly, the activities of unlicensed miners contribute, significantly to soil erosion, vegetation loss and land degradation.

These gangsters deploy methods and tools that are crude and unsafe, thus endangering lives and properties.
They also kidnap, maim and kill people, especially regulators, foreigners and security personnel, to protect their violent transactions.

Apparently, their shady deals are reportedly fuelled by some dubious government officers, top elites, political leaders and security operatives, who capitalize on regulatory deficiencies, to insulate offenders.

“Section 44 (3) of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining law of 1999 states that ownership and control of all minerals is vested in the Federal Government. Any operator, without a license from the government is deemed to be carrying out illegal activities and such a person may be arrested and tried at a Federal High Court.”
But this is not being done, which is sad and ironical.

Obviously, the business of unauthorized mining may not end soon, due to compromise and corruption.

These diggers also conduct their activities to their own detriment, but they often claim, that they can not afford modern and safe tools for standard operations.

Sometimes, they dig pits of up to 300 meters radius, without the use of standard machines, boots, helmets, belts or any other safety equipment.

Their action is worsening environmental degradation, through destruction of arable land, forests and landscape, which can lead to severe erosion, formation of sink holes, loss of biodiversity, as well as contamination of soil and water resources.

Sometimes, owners of the sites, particularly foreign operators and their local counterparts fight over control of mining fields and this often leads to violent conflicts.

In 2019, Federal Government moved heavily, against illegal mining in Zamfara State, because “activities contribute to kidnappings and killings in the state.”
It was learnt that about 80 percent of mining in the North West region is carried out illegally and on an artisanal basis by local populations.

In November, 2020, Katsina State Government described illegal mining as “the wheel that propels armed ‘banditry’ in Katsina and neighbouring states in Northwest Nigeria.”

Federal Government has on several occasions, accused some top political leaders of backing illegal mining activities in the country.

The presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu said “there is a strong suspicion that some choppers are being used to ferry arms for bandits and also to evacuate gold illegally smuggled out of the country.”

Also, the chairman of the Association of Licensed Small Scale Mining Operators of Nigeria (ALSSMON), Olugbenga Ajala, said “terrorism financing through illegal mining is regrettably disappointing.”

Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, said politicians “often put pressure on government officials to free Chinese nationals and locals arrested for illegal mining, a development that lends credence to the existence of a powerful network of organized criminals.”

To address this challenge, a security expert, Lekan Alani, said “Nigeria needs to deal with foreign illegal miners, through diplomatic channels and ensure security operatives do not co-operate with members of organized crime in the country.”

Perhaps, with the establishment of the Task Force Committee, laws and regulations, related to the extractive industry, will become more effectively implemented.

The 14-member National Taskforce Committee, chaired by the National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno, is expected to draft a framework that would guide mining activities in the country.

Monguno has severally expressed optimism that some of the security challenges, which led to banning mining activities in Zamfara, Plateau and other states would be tackled soon.

Meanwhile the minister, recently, told the National Economic Council(NEC) that the Federal Government had revived the Presidential Mines Surveillance Task Force to curb illegal mining and destruction of the terrain.

These efforts are highly commendable, but a more comprehensive and digitalized mechanism needs to be incorporated, in order to end this obnoxious venture.

Such programmes may include rehabilitation, re-training, skill acquisition and facilitating of soft loans to these artisans.

These initiatives will be most beneficial to the artisans, government and society at large.

Expectations are high that laudable strategies, will provide the effective arsenal, to destroy mining cartels and their shady enterprises, across the country.

.Ojukwu, a Fellow of Hubert Humphrey Fellowship, is a journalist and Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) advocate.

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