Sunday, April 18, 2021 1:00 pm
Strabag Precious Stone International market in Ibadan, Seyi Makinde, Bola Bolawole
By Bolanle Bolawole
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The write-up you are about to read was forwarded to me by a friend who now lives in the United States of America. We had been comrades at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife. Interestingly, the write-up is an investigative report by the Abuja-based Daily Trust newspaper and their object of interest – Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State. With little editing, my comments come after the write-up:
“Strabag Precious Stone International market in Ibadan is a silent gold mine for many billionaires across West Africa; yet, (the Nigerian) government is being short-changed as they (the billionaires across West Africa) fail to pay royalties while the market (itself) remains an eyesore. If you are visiting Strabag precious stone international market, Ojoo, Ibadan, Oyo State for the first time, you will not believe that billions of Naira is being exported out of the community monthly.
“From the narrow entrance to the market, which is dominated by foreigners from other West African countries, everywhere looks unkempt and dirty with dilapidated structures. Owners of some of the buildings have vacated them but still receive monthly rents of between N1,500 and N2,000 from the tenants.
“Located within the yard of the defunct Strabag construction company, the company which constructed the Lagos-Ibadan expressway in the 70s, the market occupies about 250 houses and has only 10 percent Nigerians earning their daily income in the market while 90 percent foreigners operate in the market. Every Thursday, precious stones worth N500m are moved out of Ibadan to countries like Thailand, China, the United States of America, Hong Kong and other developed countries of the world by some powerful billionaires from West African countries.
“Our correspondent who went round the market disguised as a customer revealed that stones like tourmaline, Beryl, morganite and granite are exported through NAHCO airport, Ikeja while buyers launder money through the land borders so that the government cannot determine the amount spent on transactions. Daily Trust Saturday gathered that officials of the Ministry of Mines and Steel both at the federal and state levels, the Nigeria Immigration Service, and Customs at airports are also culprits as they are allegedly being bribed to keep mute.
“Our correspondent gathered that most of the precious stone merchants who are foreigners live in the most sophisticated estates in Ibadan, Lagos, Abuja and other big cities in Nigeria. Some of the merchants have been in the business in Ibadan for over 40 years because of the stability of precious stones deposited in the Oke-Ogun area of the state while their agents hunt for precious stones in the 36 states of the country, said a source who spoke to our correspondent in confidence. The gimmicks employed by the foreign businessmen include wooing village leaders with construction of roads leading to their villages and building of schools for their children.
“It appears Section 94, Chapter 3 of the Mining Act 2007 (as amended) which states that ‘No person shall purchase any mineral unless he holds a licence to purchase minerals issued under this Act’ does not apply to the foreigners as many of them dare Nigerians in the market. A Nigerian source in the market told Daily Trust Saturday: ‘Government is aware we are here. Government raided us in this market some time ago but the foreigners were released after the intervention of their big men. Many petitions have emanated from here but were swept under the carpet. With this business, the Nigerian government needs little money from the oil sector if they are serious. What we are experiencing here can only happen in Nigeria and no other country in the world. How will you take precious stones out of a country without paying royalty?’
“Precious stones, which are determined by their colour and texture, are in large deposits in every state in Nigeria, especially in the Oke-ogun area of Oyo State where mining camps are numerous. Our correspondent further gathered that other states in Nigeria have alluvial precious stones while Oyo State is blessed with pecmitine (vein), which is exported from the state without the state getting anything in return.
“Another source in the market told our correspondent that the foreigners control the market by determining how much they buy gemstones in Nigeria and how much it is sold in the country: ‘They are able to control the market because they have markets abroad and they have the money in Nigeria. There are some people sabotaging the efforts of the government, the community, and the citizens. Ibadan is the centre of gemstones in Nigeria, the centre of marketing and the centre of exploitation…
“Government has no idea what is going on. There are industrial stones which they export and refine but the gem stones are the ones they cut and use in making jewelleries. We have the best stones in the world. Talk about tourmaline, sapphire, emerald and other gemstones; we have the best. When you travel to the international market, they prefer our stones to those of other countries.
“Precious stones thrive in the international market. The foreigners – Malians, Burkinabes, Guineans, Gambians, Senegalese – determine the market: How much they buy and how much they sell. If you talk, they tell you ‘this is Nigeria’! They are also members of ECOWAS and if you take them to any station, they always have their way. We want to know who is protecting the government’s interest here. How do they pay royalties and to who?
“Petitions have emanated from here but the (authorities) didn’t act on them because people who are supposed to act are also benefiting from the illegality. We are not against international trading but due process must be followed. There was a time we brought up an issue here but before we knew it, some ambassadors called the Nigerian government officials that their men were doing their business here in Nigeria and we should not disturb them because we are all members of ECOWAS.
“Meanwhile, you cannot try that in their country! There is no country in the world where such a thing can be done except in Nigeria! You live in a country, go to their mining camp, and exploit it without paying royalties to anyone? Never! It is either they buy it from the site and take it directly to the airport or they take it from here to the airport without notifying the government and our government does not care. We need lapidaries in Nigeria; a centre where we cut and polish stones. Here, we sell it per gram while, over there, they sell per character. When you sell one gram for $5, they sell a character for $500. Meanwhile, one gram contains five characters.
“As at the time of going to press, the chief press secretary to the governor, Taiwo Adisa, neither picked calls nor responded to text messages for us to know the efforts of the government in addressing the abnormalities”.
My response to Comrade AA, who forwarded the above write-up to me, was: “This is one of the compelling reasons why Nigeria should break up. If we do and no free money comes from the Niger Delta, we will pay attention to our own resources. The story here is the same in Osun, Ondo in the Southwest and Zamfara, Niger, etc in the North. Breaking up Nigeria will do all of us a world of good. Those opposed to it are cogs in the wheel of our progress. They are beneficiaries of the present corrupt system and not the patriots they purport to be”.
Some people preach break-up because they think it will punish the North; such people are jaundiced and miss the point. Some people oppose break up or restructuring because they think it will short-change them; they, too, are myopic and miss the point. Recalibrating or breaking up Nigeria is a win-win situation for each and every one of us. We will all be weaned from the present feeding bottle mentality that does not serve the interest of anyone.
I continue to remember my sister and professional colleague, Funke Egbemode’s description of the 36 states of the country (and the 774 local governments, to boot) as beggars who throng Abuja, the seat of power, every month with “begging bowls” for what is called allocations from the Federation Account. Now, what they get monthly has diminished to the point it is no longer enough for them to pay salaries! But, mind you, they still get their own jumbo monthly security votes! No flea will be allowed to touch that! It is a ‘no fly’ zone!
Was it not Gov. Nasir el-Rufai who cried out recently that he was not elected just to pay salaries? So also has his Ekiti state counterpart, Kayode Fayemi, complained about dwindling revenues! What percentage of the entire population in any state are the civil servants? When they gobble everything that is available, what is left for the provision of infrastructure and other services? Yet, this is not to say that the salaries are anything to write home about. It is ‘take-home pay’ that takes no one home – except you find a way to augment it. And everyone must – through fair or foul means and by hook or crook, as they say. That is why corruption is not going to go away any time soon. Rather, expect the cankerworm to eat deeper into our societal fabrics.
Those who warned of the “oil curse” knew what they were talking about. Crude oil is a curse. Finding it in commercial quantity in Nigeria turned our attention from agriculture and manufacturing and we became a rentier state. We abandoned all other resources and focused exclusively on crude oil. Return, backslidden children! We must now enthrone fiscal federalism. We must restructure or break up this country. Until the crude oil feeding bottle is yanked off them, states all over the country will not look inward to develop their own resources.
Sadly, our leaders are set in their ways. This decadent system which they are bent on holding on to must be destroyed in the interest of all; theirs’ inclusive! This “Carthage” must be destroyed! Ceterum autem censeo Carthaginem esse delendam, says Cato the Censor!
Every nook and cranny of this country is richly endowed but we neglect this. Focused only on crude oil, we all have accepted the fable that Nigeria is rich; it is not! It is potentially rich – and, therefore, potentially great – but not rich and not great until we tap into our potentials. Foreigners are the ones doing so all over the country at the moment. And we are their laughing stock! Place our revenue side-by-side our teeming, mostly idle, liability-prone population and compare this with what operates in other countries and you will realise that we are poor – very poor. Nigeria is a poor country. We are not rich – not at all! And never will be if we continue the way we are going!
Published in my “On The Lord’s Day” column in the Sunday Tribune newspaper of Sunday, April 18, 2021.
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