Wednesday, November 11, 2015 3:58 pm
By Funsho Balogun.
On Wedenesday, 11 November 2015, Presdient Muhammadu Buhari swore in members of his cabinet. Among them was Dr Kayode Fayemi who will be in charge of Ministry of Solid Minerals. Apart from making sure that the economy is diversified to shift Nigeria away from depending only on crude oil ( a task which the ministry will handle with that of Agriculture), Fayemi will have to tackle the problem of illegal gold miners in Osun State and other places in Nigeria
Prospecting for gold is yet to be topmost priority for the Government of the State of Osun. But artisanal miners who have for years been digging for gold in parts of the state have stuck to the trade. To these miners, the end justifies the means. Although the indiscriminate digging of pits from which they occasionally get gold is a risky venture-leading to the death of many when such pits collapse- thousands of such pits can be found in parts of the state where gold is believed to be hiding beneath the ground.
The State actually boasts gold deposits in some parts. In Igun-Ijesha in particular, over 2,000 pits have been dug by miners with their crude implements in the course of their search for gold. While the quantity of the precious metal beneath the ground has not been accurately determined by scientific means, artisanal miners, who lack the requisite skills needed for standard gold mining activities as it obtains in the more developed climes have been making money by selling the quantities they can extract at prices far below standard global prices.
The reason for this is not far-fetched. Since the miners only need to pay as little as N50 to obtain a daily ticket that allows them to dig endless pits in search for gold, they assume they are not running at a loss by currently selling an ounce of it to middlemen between N5, 000 and N6, 000, a mere fraction of the international selling price of over $1,000.
While the artisanal miners claim to be completely unaware of the existing Nigerian Mineral and Mining Act 2007, section 94, which stipulates that the purchase of minerals without an officially issued license is prohibited, the middlemen are also unperturbed about the illegality of their activities. Since the miners claim that the tickets that allow them to dig endless pits are purchased from officials allegedly attached to the Mines Ministry, and having continued their activities unmolested for years, even dwellers in the host communities have hitherto deemed it a legitimate venture.
However, the host communities where these miners carry out their activities have much to lose as the pits and channels being dug actually expose them to various risks. In Igun –Ijesha, the miners dig wells as deep as twenty metres at least, and also create channels under the ground. These activities are already affecting the major access roads which are at the verge of caving in.
Abiodun Babateru, country Director, Global Rights Nigeria says these miners, who dominate Nigeria’s mining industry know very little about the inherent dangers of their practice, putting their lives and that of the dwellers in the host communities of the extractive industry at risk. She describes the situation as a disaster waiting to happen. And the Global Rights Director is miffed about the attitude of the State Government which has remained detached from the activities of the crude miners, despite the attendant negative consequences of their practice.
“What we find in these communities is that government is not making any attempt to regulate artisanal mining despite the fact that there are laws mandating it to do so, ’’ she said. She pointed out that apart from the fact that the miners do business at a loss; the government is also losing a lot of revenue. Abiodun noted that the activities of the miners have remained unchecked in Osun and many other states because the state governments generally believe they have no stake in it.
Meanwhile, the federal government on its part is far removed from the situation as little can be done from Abuja. ‘’The state government has missed out concerning the provision –section 17 of the Minerals and Mining Act that says state governments at that level should have a mineral and environmental monitoring committee which should advice the Ministry of Environment,’’ she said. She noted that states appear alienated from these mining activities, and do not take the trouble to be more involved despite their enablement by the law because they consider mining as being vested in the Federal Government constitutionally.
Although the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel (all are now under Solid Minerals) claims to be doing a lot to regulate mining activities, it does not really boast the wherewithal to effectively accomplish this, considering its limited resources in terms of manpower, equipment and funding.
Abiodun also posited that exhaustive laws are not in place to protect the rights of local miners and the local communities. ‘’As good as our mining laws are, they need to be reviewed, our mining laws were put in place to attract direct foreign investment, not taking into context the fact that most of the mining done in Nigeria is artisanal mining,’’ she said, while also calling on State Governments to inaugurate their State’s Mineral Resources and Environmental Management Committees, MIREMCO to help in filling the gaps temporarily created by the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel.