Investors fleeing mining sites as bandits seize control.
The activities of criminals (bandits) in the sector have stopped exploration and exploitation of gold in Zamfara State; Lead-Zinc mining in Zurak, Taraba State; exploration activities in Southern Kaduna restricted due to frequent kidnappings and exploration and small scale mining in Igangan, Oyo state, infiltrated by herdsmen.
In Osun State recently, two Chinese were abducted by bandits, who invaded a mining site in Ifewara, Atakunmosa West local government. The spokesperson of Osun State Police Command, Yemisi Opalola, in a statement said a gang of criminals attacked and abducted the two Chinese namely: Zhao Jian, 33 years, and Wen, 50 years at Okepa/Itikan Village, the gold mining site in Ifewara, in which two private guards were shot.
Speaking with our reporter, an exploration geologist, Agoro Abdulraheem, said the source of raw materials for the green technology comes from mines and no mines could operate in an unsafe environment.
He observed that countries were intensifying efforts to become key players in the supply and production of Lithium-Cobalt-Rare Earth Elements (Li-Co-REEs) batteries, and these could be in minerals such as Spodumene, Petalite or in micas such as Zinnwaldite and Lepidolite that are very common in Nigerian pegmatite.
“These minerals are the gold for the future, but sadly they exist in places with recurrent banditry. Nigeria is, however, not striving aggressively enough to compete with the rest of the world in the production of these metals, owing to insecurity across the length and breadth of the country.
“Nigeria is endowed with metals of interest such as tantalum, niobium, tin, lithium and so on. These have to be explored and reserves proved for investors to invest. How then is it possible to explore gold, gemstones or these metals in an unsecured environment?
“The Li-Co-REEs and gemstones, for instance, are hosted in diverse rare metal pegmatite bodies in five of the six geopolitical zones. All these zones have reported incessant cases of insecurities. It is more or less like a suicide mission for geologists and the likes to enter any forest in search of minerals.
“To discover any deposit, geologists are expected to conduct traditional bedrock mapping, geochemical sampling and detailed exploration in the form of pitting, trenching and drilling. Effectiveness of all these have been hampered, and hitherto restricted only to the safe zones.”
Abdulraheem lamented that during exploration, many geologists have been a victim of banditry, saying, “despite our knowledge of gold presence in Zamfara, Bauchi, Kebbi, Niger, Kwara, Osun and Oyo; no serious exploration has taken place except for some new operators in Osun state.”
Abdulraheem urged the government to, through immigration, identify the forest dwellers that are non-nationals and as a matter of urgency deploy robust digital forest-tracking devices such as drones.
“The government should establish a GIS-mapping division in all the police force’s state headquarters to gather information on landowners, inhabitants, land use and past criminal reports (bandits) on our forests. This will help to buffer areas that are prone to banditry and mining for effective security consciousness to geologists and miners. It should also arrest and prosecute bandits to deter others as opposed to compensation that will only escalate the issue.
“Government should create a blueprint detailing what is expected of all the three tiers of government to address insecurity challenges. Communities should be sensitised on “know your neighbour” and report “suspicious movement” to appropriate quarters. Wealth redistribution should be in the government’s long-term plan if only the government is serious about insecurities.”
Also, Akanbi Tomiwa, a geologist stated that it was sad that foreign investors are avoiding Nigeria’s mining sector.
“The mining sector in the country is not strong. We are just trying to find our foot. The government has not been helping per se. What has been making our mining sector to function is because of the foreign investors. They are the ones in charge, they do exploration, in fact, most of the mining sites we have belonged to either Australian or South African companies or even a Chinese company.
“With insecurities, we are chasing the investors away. Nobody will invest in a place that is not stable. We need stability because the investors don’t want a situation whereby they will release millions of dollars and in the end, they will not be able to account for it.”
Tomiwa, who added that the sector is not faring well, as the investors have lost confidence, advised that technology would chase the bandits away.
“For a safe environment for exploration and mining, security personnel would always need to accompany geologists and miners to safely carry out their duties. Miners should also take Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) seriously because it is the genesis of most of the violence that we have in the first place.”
President of Geological Society of Africa, Prof. Gbenga Okunlola, corroborated that the concept of criminality in the mining industry would affect new investors from coming in because they want to see a sector that is open and not opaque.
“The effect will also be on the fact that some of our products if criminality is allowed to fester will not attract international recognition. It should not be allowed to get to the level where the world, the global mining industry, marketing and buying industry will boycott our products.”
Okunlola advised that the government should imitate the process in which infiltration of criminals in the banking sector was addressed, adding that efforts should be made to clean up the licensing system.
“There are so many areas occupied by what we call scavengers; people, foreigners and locals are just scavenging all over the country. I have seen cases where the Chinese infiltrated some places. People from Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal have also infiltrated the sector. We have also seen our people where they will just occupy land without adequate licensing. So, we need to clean the sector up. We can achieve the clean-up by having a very open cadaster system, digitised, electronics and also technology. If a land is occupied by scavengers and immigrants, genuine investors will not put in their money, and when we don’t have a genuine investment in the mining industry, the return will be abysmally low like we have it.”
He added that the government must buckle down and ensure that regulations in the sector are enforced. “Nigeria mining regulation is good, though there are some areas that we need some changes, of course, there is no perfect legislation. What we need to do is to enforce what we have. There is a need to empower all the institutions that are involved in enforcing this legislation, such as, the mining inspectorate, task force on minerals and security, and the environmental protection unit.
“Also, we need more personnel. They don’t have to be directly employed by the government. There are many of our youths who are geoscientists that are unengaged. We have the Npower, why must everybody in N-power go to agriculture, we can have geologists in Npower too, after which we will mobilise about 500 youths out of the Npower and employ them as geologists for one or two years. It will just take an average of one to two months to retrain a graduate of geology for what you want him to do on the field.
“We cannot just decree against criminality, there has to be systematic ways and means to reduce it. Let’s have micro-processing centres that as they are mining the gold, let’s upgrade it. Empowerment, enforcement and galvanizing towards value chain development are key. We should move from artisanal mining to value chain development.”