Reflective of the persisting paradox of preventable poverty and insecurity visited on innocent and defenceless citizens in the midst of plenty of natural resources, the recent deaths of five Nigerians, with 77 others injured and 58 buildings badly damaged at the Bodija axis of Ibadan is truly painful. That is more so, because it was preventable. According to Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, some illegal foreign miners were behind the tragedy. Also, the Minister of Solid Mineral Development, Dele Alake during a recent visit to the place reiterated the fact that the current President Bola Tinubu-led administration has not issued a licence to the entity involved in the catastrophe.
That situation certainly triggers the pertinent questions. Who brought in the foreign mineral miners into the city? What were the agreements reached between them? How much has Nigeria lost to the menace of illegal miners sabotaging the economy? How many of such similar unpatriotic acts have transpired in places such as Zamfara, Plateau, Kwara and Osun states and what punishment was meted out to the culprits? If not, who are the masterminds behind it all, and why are they going scotfree? Answers to these millionnaira questions have to be provided by the inter-ministerial committee recently set up by President Tinubu to look into the security of the country’s natural resources, including solid minerals, forests, and marine economy. While it is good enough that it is headed by Dele Alake, who has promised to institute a forensic investigation into the real causes of the mishap at Ibadan; to find out the types of explosives involved and the underlying circumstances, a holistic approach has become an imperative. Though the Ministry of Solid Minerals has deployed Mines Inspectorate to such places across the country there is still cause for serious concern. For instance, back in May 2020 the then Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, blew the whistle that there was pressure mounted on him for the release of 27 persons arrested for the illegal mining of gold in Osun State by those he referred to as “Nigerians in high authority”. According to him, 17 of those involved were Chinese. The minister also accused some soldiers of aiding and abetting illegal mining in some parts of the country.
In a similar vein, the then governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike also accused some military officers as the masterminds behind illegal oil bunkering in the state, as a sleazy heist referred to as a highstake game for the players. But how many of these highly placed citizens have been identified, prosecuted and brought to justice? At the end of all the talk without meaningful walk on the crime and criminality, it is the country and the people that are left to stew in preventable pains. In fact, that a country, which in the 1940s boasted of over 40 solid minerals, including gold, bitumen, silver, iron ore, columbite, coal, barite, gypsum, tin and tantalite amongst others, is currently home to some of the highest number of extremely poor people in the world shows gross leadership failure over the decades. It is worthy of note that Nigeria was ranked second on the African continent that has 30% of the world’s mineral resources by the United Nations. It was reckoned as the world’s largest exporter of columbite and tantalite even before political independence in 1960. And the coal from Enugu was used to power engines in factories and trains. But the expatriate miners left our shores during the civil war that raged between 1967 and 1970. Subsequently, the Federal Minerals and Mining Act came into effect in 1999. The Chief Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration privatised the extractive industry because the public corporations did not provide the expected economic value. Unfortunately, illegal miners have been having a field day for decades. Now is the time for the gap to be fully closed. For Nigeria to stop losing about $3 billion revenue to illegal mining per year as at 2021, according to the Director of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Dr. Dieter Bassi, drastic steps have to be taken. And that is because the figure has since increased to $9 billion per year as at November 2023 according to the Federal Government. Such steps should include regulating the reckless activities of local artisan miners that scrape the surface and harm the environment. Secondly, the borders should be effectively secured against foreign miners.
The states should liaise with the Federal Government on mining since it is still on the Exclusive List of the 1999 Constitution as amended. It should therefore, also collaborate with security agencies in their states to be able to identify the powerful individuals bringing in foreigners to take our resources away. Even as we applaud the Federal Government for the new initiative of the deployment of Mines Inspectorate, to protect our solid mineral deposits, all those found culpable in the act of illegal mining and exportation thereof should be made to face the full wrath of the law, no matter how highly placed they might be.