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EFCC, illegal mining and economic recovery

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BY ABDULSAMAD ANKA

Since the new current leadership of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) assumed the driver’s seat at the foremost anti-graft agency, the commission appears to have got its groove back. For an agency that had been castigated in certain quarters and regarded as a toothless bulldog, the perception rating has suddenly soared.

Thanks to the current executive chairman of the EFCC, Ola Olukoyede, an experienced crusader, who has grown within the organisation to understand its workings.

It is instructive to note that Olukoyede’s three focal areas —focus on the mandate of the EFCC, pursuit of transparency and accountability and building the image of Nigeria — have changed the narrative at the commission.

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To achieve the three-point agenda, the EFCC boss has harped on the need for collective responsibility, greater emphasis on preventive frameworks against graft and premium attention on transactional credits.

But in spite of its current pragmatic operations, many Nigerians who have become fixated with the belief that the EFCC function starts and ends with issues related to financial misappropriation by public officers are confused and asking questions about whether the commission is stepping beyond its bond on illegal mining activities.

It’s understandable but a quick look at the Act that established the commission has since cleared the doubts and affirmed that EFCC is on course in its crusade against illegal miners and working within its scope for the positive development of the country.

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It is important to note that an investigation by the EFCC revealed that most of the solid minerals were illegally mined by artisan miners who do not have operating licenses.

Further investigation by the commission also revealed that some of the miners who have licenses to purchase or possess minerals, buy from illegal miners instead of legitimate miners as stipulated in their licences.

The EFCC and its zonal directorates have also lived up to expectations in the fight against illegal miners in Kwara, Oyo, Osun, Zamfara and other states in the country.

For instance, the Ilorin zonal directorate has arrested over 90 suspects for illegal mining activities and secured the convictions of seven illegal miners while 26 cases are still pending in court. The directorate also recovered 52 trucks carrying an average of 30 tonnes of assorted solid minerals each.

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As the current administration is working hard to deepen its commitment to economic diversification, the EFCC has become an indispensable body to block leakages. In the spirit of diversification, the mining sector that was hitherto left unattended has become a gold mine. From Zamfara state to Osun state, Ekiti to Kwara and other parts of Nigeria, where mining activities are currently going on, the federal government has now seen the need to beam its searchlight on the sector and make every stakeholder accountable.

But the more the government and its agency work to open up the sector for economic buoyancy, the more illegal miners who have seen the sector as a place to make free money work hard to sabotage the effort. These economic saboteurs have consistently carried on with their illegal operations with total disregard for the laws guiding mining in Nigeria, not minding the constitutional provisions. Today, it’s becoming a thing of the past as the federal ministry of solid minerals and federal ministry of steel development have formed a synergy with the EFCC to nip illegal mining activities in the bud.

Last year, the federal government, in its plan to tackle the abnormal trend, also announced a partnership between the EFCC and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to combat illegal mining activities in Kwara, Ekiti, Oyo, and Osun states. Just last week, the operatives of the commission arrested 11 suspects for illegal mining activities in Kwara state. The command also impounded eight truckloads of assorted minerals.

The organisation is also working round the clock in Zamfara, Osun and other places where mining activities are going on to make sure both Nigerians and expatriates involved are checkmated and restricted.

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Perhaps Nigerians need to be reminded of where we are coming from to appreciate the work of various agencies of government who are at the forefront of the fight against illegal mining in the country. The ministry of mines and steel development has full responsibility for mining regulations under the Federal Minerals and Mining Act of 1999. When former President Olusegun Obasanjo took office, he privatised the extractive industry because the public corporations in the sector did not have any redeeming value left.

Our mineral assets are huge and they can be found in several states across the country. More than 40 minerals — excluding oil and gas – have been documented by the ministry. They include gold, tantalite, coal, bitumen, silver, iron ore, barite and gypsum. Tantalite deposits are in Nassarawa, Kogi, Osun, Ekiti, Kwara, Cross Rivers and a few other states, and you are most likely to find the mineral alongside columbite. Tantalite is a dark brown mineral chemically similar to columbite and they have significant economic value.

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Apart from being the largest exporter of columbite, tantalite and tin in the world before independence, Nigeria also had one of the best coking coals in the world. According to Dr Ikenna Nwosu, an energy expert and public policy analyst, coking coal produced from Onyeama Mines in Enugu was used to generate energy that powered engines in factories, trains and so on. During colonial rule, expatriate miners used mechanised mining — mining in commercial quantity — but they left Nigeria during the civil war that lasted from 1967 – 1970.

Illegal mining began to gain prominence after independence in 1960. Mining rights belong to the federal government but it grants licences for exploration, mining and sale of minerals. But it was under former President Obasanjo that a bold reform initiative in the mining sector was introduced; Dr Oby Ezekwesili was the Minister at the time. It was essentially a strategic policy framework to regulate the mining industry. For example, the policy reform led to the creation of the Mine Police, a unit that was supposed to work with the mines department of the ministry to fight illegal mining. Unfortunately, the level of success recorded is nothing to write home about, a scorecard that continues to harm the image of the Nigeria Police Force.

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In the absence of effective policing, illegal mining has continued unabated and no royalties are paid to the federal government. Irresponsible mining practice harms the environment and ecology. In addition, the environmentally unfriendly methods and materials used in mining put the health of everyone in the community in grave danger. The miners, working mostly in the north-west and south-west zones of the country at the behest of their masters, use diggers, shovels, hoes and axes to dig for minerals. Unlike mechanised mining which involves mining and processing minerals to add value, illegal miners extract minerals, especially gold, in their rawest form and smuggle them out of the country to willing buyers without any interception by our security agencies.

Illegal and unsafe mining activities take place in remote villages where labour is cheap. Villagers are employed to dig for minerals but due to their crude methods, the mines sometimes collapse resulting in several deaths. The digging is wide and deep, forming craters on the land. When it rains, the trenches become “mining ponds” which is very dangerous because of the metallic residue from the mining operations – it is acidic and poisonous. Once mining is over, the trenches dug are abandoned. The Zamfara state story immediately comes to mind – acute lead poisoning caused by the processing of ore affected more than 3,500 children

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Illegal mining activities not only harm the economy directly but also indirectly by disrupting the operations of legally registered mining companies that lawfully bring revenue to the government. Illegal miners often encroach upon legal mining sites, leading to conflicts and jeopardising the security of workers

Illegal mining has emerged as a pressing issue with significant implications for economic growth and development in Nigeria. Apart from the fact that illegal mining has adverse effects of illegal mining, including environmental degradation, social instability, governance challenges, and lost revenue, it sometimes leads to the death of innocent citizens as recently witnessed in the Bodija area of Ibadan, where scores of Nigerians met an untimely death. Succinctly speaking, illegal mining hampers economic growth by undermining formal mining activities, reducing investor confidence, and limiting government revenue. Broadly speaking, it has detrimental effects on key sectors such as agriculture, tourism, and infrastructure. The environmental consequences, including deforestation, water pollution, and soil degradation, also pose long-term challenges for sustainable economic development.

Over the years, I have come to realise one fact; governance gaps and regulatory weaknesses are key drivers of illegal mining in Nigeria. With a strong agency like the EFCC in partnership with relevant ministries and agencies of government, I’m not in doubt that there would henceforth be adequate enforcement and eradication of corruption that would help the federal government maximise the gains from the sector.

When all these are done, the rule of law would be upheld in its raw form, there would be effective resource management that would enhance sustainable development and the impact of the sector would be felt maximally on the economy.

Anka, a mining engineer, writes from Gusau, Zamfara state



Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.
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