The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Mr. Olamilekan Adegbite, yesterday disclosed that ‘Powerful individuals’ were behind the surge in illegal mining activities in recent years across the country.
This is even as he disclosed government’s readiness to prosecute about 19 foreign nationals recently apprehended over illegal mining in Osun and Zamfara states.
The minister, while briefing the press in Abuja on the recent activities of illegal miners particularly in Osun and Zamfara states, said the federal government in the interest of the nation would have to prosecute the criminals in the court of law to serve as deterrent to others.
He informed that it had been discovered that the foreigners perpetrate the illegal act using the cover of the artisanal miners whom government in a bid to grow the economy at small scale levels had identified with their activities and christened them Artisanal and small-scale Miners with the consent of some monarchs and elites in the country.
According to Adegbite, most of the foreigners arrested in connection with crime were largely Chinese and a handful of Bukinabes and Senegalese who connive with powerful individuals in the country.
Giving the breakdown, the minister, “said the two arrested in Zamfara and 15 of those apprehended in Osun State were all Chinese, one from Burkina Faso and Senegal.”
Speaking further, he observed that unlike in the past when illegal mining cases were frivolously handled and let off, the suspected foreigners and their local accomplices would be investigated and prosecuted, adding that in the face of the dwindling fortunes of oil in the international market, the federal government had no other option than to focus on agriculture and solid minerals to survive as already captured in its diversification agenda.
He explained that the two states were the epicentres of the surge in illegal mining because the only mineral selling very well in defiance of the current global COVID-19 crisis is gold, and Osun and Zamfara states are the most endowed in the precious mineral.
“It is all about gold this time because other minerals are not selling very well now as the industries that use them have been closed down as a result of the global pandemic.
Secondly, as a result of the economic downturn occasioned by the pandemic, currencies world over are being devalued, yet the price of gold, which was about $1,768/ounce the last time I checked, is still rallying.
He said, “We found out that there are a lot of miners especially the foreigners, they are also here illegally, so some of the measures that we would want to take is with Ministry of Interior because what is the status of these people when they come in, some of them have only visiting visa and some of them have visas that have expired.
“How do we make sure that the Minister of Interior keeps track of all these villains who come into Nigeria and they go back as at when due. These are some of the measures to checkmate this.
The minister who commended the governments of Osun and Zamfara states for their role in the arrest of the illegal miners, said “It is a good development that states are now waking up in safeguarding the mineral deposits within their jurisdiction, having realised that with the crisis being experienced in the oil sector, solid minerals will be a major way out for all economies.”
He said they had appealed to the two states to hand over the cases to the federal government which had the power to prosecute such mining offenders to take it up from there in prosecuting them, adding that he was aware that Osun State government has been under pressure to let the illegal miners off the hook.
Credit: This Day