By Femi Ogunshola
At the recently concluded Green Economic Summit, Gov. Muhammed Bago of Niger spoke extensively about the illicit gold trade in the state where according to him, dealers rake in an astonishing 1.2 billion Naira daily.
A recent report by Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparent Initiatives (NEITI) estimated that Nigeria loses about 9 billion dollars annually to illegal mining and smuggling of gold.
This revelation highlights a deep-rooted issue that has severe implications for the nation’s economy and environment.
Bago, speaking at the inauguration of the Mohammed Umar-Bago International Gold Market in Minna, emphasised that: “in spite of the staggering daily turnover in the black market gold trade, the government gains nothing from it.”
This assertion underscores a critical challenge: How do we halt the illegal trade? Can we bring perpetrators to book? What is the implication of their actions on the economy?
How can a state with many impoverished citizens afford to forfeit N1.2 billion daily to illegal miners?
Experts argue that unless Nigeria takes serious action to combat the menace of illegal mining and profiteering, the nation’s economy will continue to languish.
It’s worth noting that a significant portion of these illegal miners are alleged to be foreign nationals, such as Chinese and Lebanese, who collaborate with locals.
These unscrupulous actors strip the country of its precious resources, perpetuating a cycle of exploitation.
Fortunately, some state leaders are beginning to recognise the gravity of the situation hence the attempt by Niger government to inaugurate a gold market
Bago’s commitment to a gold market aims to ensure that gold mining benefits the state economically. This step holds promise for revenue generation and development.
In Zamfara, illegal mining has become a rampant issue, further exacerbating the state’s poverty index.
Like Bago, Gov. Dauda Lawal has initiated measures to combat this problem, as illegal miners have been linked to increased insecurity in the region.
He understands the urgent need for the state to regain control over natural resources and protect its citizens from ‘gold thieves’.
Worried by the activities of illegal miners, Zamfara government on Sept. 23 announced a ban on all illegal mining activities in the state.
He directed law enforcement officers to take stringent actions against violators, including shooting those involved on sight.
Lawal said he was ready to tackle illegal mining, a trade often linked to financing criminal activities and exacerbating insecurity.
In Osun, illegal mining has stifled the state’s potential to profit from its natural resources.
The damage caused by these illicit activities is severe, affecting farmlands and water sources. Residents are concerned that the state government has failed to address this crisis.
Mr. Sola Rotimi, a concerned indigene of Osun Indigene, said that in Osogbo, Ijesha, and other communities, the extent of the damage done by illegal miners to farmland is monumental.
He said the rate at which they also pollute their water sources and remains a serious health concern for them.
Rotimi said it appears the state government was helpless as illegal miners operate with audacity and do not care about the impact of their actions on the economy and environment.
He said in Osun State, illegal miners, displaced from Zamfara due to military actions and other exploiters, have reportedly swarmed areas like Arimoro and Isale General in Ilesa.
According to him, they also operate in rural communities spanning Obokun, Atakumosa East, Atakumosa West, and Oriade local government areas.
The Federal Government seems poised to rescue the sector from non-state actors.
The Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Mr Dele Alake, has issued a 30-day ultimatum to illegal mines align with government’s mining policies or face severe legal consequences.
He said mine police, comprising officers from the Nigerian Police Force, would be deployed to apprehend perpetrators.
He said the Ministry is introducing a security task force with mine police as a component to combat illegal mining and smuggling nationwide.
The overarching question is how long will federal and state governments allow these elements plunder our commonwealth?
Mining stakeholders urge governments to match their words with action and ensure that the nation’s solid minerals, gold in particular, is used for the good of all as is the case with oil and gas.