INVESTIGATION: Digging for death, untold story of Osun artisanal gold miners (2)
For decades, artisanal gold mining has been a daily activity in Osun State, yet left unregulated despite the severe danger it portends to the miners and the environment. Olugbenga ADANIKIN, in the part two of this series, reports about the failure of government to curb illegal mining in Osun State.
It’s farmland, not a gold site
IF a northern labourer in Osun tells you he is heading to the farm, don’t be deceived, he is actually on his way to gold mining sites, spread across the state.
Luckily, lands come cheap for artisanal mining in the community.
For instance, in Ifewara, a piece of farmland with likely gold deposit, also known as ‘Gira’ goes between N60, 000 and N200, 000 depending on the bargaining power of the gold agent. But, the business is secretive, as visitors would hardly know whether the community is rich in gold deposit or not.
“If there were technological support, the device will indicate where to dig, if digging will be 10 feet to the right or left. But with this one [refering to device in his hand ], they just hit a tiny rod into the ground; once they see any sign of gold, they make payment and start digging. Eventually, they may find nothing. So, they just take risks,” says Mr Sunday, a hairstylist close to the miners.
“It is like dipping your hand into a bowl of cassava flour, once you remove your hand, there will be particles of the flour on your hand. So, that’s the simple method they use which doesn’t work most times.”
Land acquisition without the King’s knowledge, a source said, could sell for N10, 000. If he is aware, the king is paid N30, 000 while ‘Soun’, an aide to the king gets N20,000 as his own fee.
The land is sold temporarily to gold agents for extraction purposes and subsequently left uncovered or remediated thereafter.
The ICIR gathered that the locals are either landowners or agents to wealthy investors.
Obviously, there is wealth in gold mining but it comes with great risk. “It’s too risky. Each time the ground collapses on them, they (miners) just say a short prayer, and continue with their job,” a local said.
Across the several sites from Osu to Odubale, Kuku and Bowaje in Ife, illegal mining takes place daily and nights. In states like Zamfara and Niger, miners are exposed to several other threat such as killing or contact with the lead poison.
We are aware of illegal gold mining
Section 19 of the Nigerian Minerals Mining Act provides for partnerships with state governments on the exploration of solid raw materials even though mining is on the exclusive list of the federal government. The Federal Government said it has signed pacts with the relevant states under the State Minerals Resources and Environmental Management Committees (MIREMCOs), including Osun to collaborate on mine exploration. The government also said it has mobilised funds and operational vehicles to support the states, but nothing significant was met on ground when this reporter visited.
“Accordingly, we provided mobilisation funds for 10 State MIRENCOs, and also procured operational vehicles for the affected states. Our efforts in this regard are in the spirit of cooperative federalism in the sector, in order to deepen the participatory governance of the mining sector,” former Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Kayode Fayemi said.
The Osun State government confirmed to The ICIR of the illegal gold mining activities. A top source at the Office of Forestry, Natural and Solid Minerals Resources shifted the blame on the federal government, saying mining is in FG’s exclusive control, thus it should develop the sector and prevent the illegal miners.
“It is the FG that gives directive on who gets licenses that is why it suspended mining in Zamfara. So mining is a national problem.”
He accused traditional rulers who dispose lands for illegal mining and held the belief that the federal government is not serious about the mining sector. “FG has not done anything serious in the mining sector. It is just the illegal miners so we are yet to explore our gold.
“The shovel cannot go 500 metres or 2 kilometres down…because it happens in the jungle, the miners are like nomads, so the state cannot create a database for them.” the source argued further.
Though, this partly contradicts what this reporter met on ground. A number of the miners do have Identity Card issued by the state government. The former administration daily issued N 100 tickets to the miners. Miners, however, confirmed the issuance of tickets is currently on hold.
Mr Gboyega Oyetola, the Osun State Governor, also recognised how haphazard mining activities in the state had been, denying the state of revenue and development. The state acknowledged several findings of The ICIR and promised to meet with the traditional rulers and security operatives.
Abdullahi Binuyo, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor, admitted to the illegalities in Osun gold mining communities. “We have since organised a security sensitisation programmes which includes the Kabiyesis, the local chiefs, heads of LGAs and local Serikis who supervise the illegal mining. They stand as guarantors to them (miners),” he told The ICIR.
“…We don’t want to make them illegal but formalise their activities through biometric capturing. Some of the miners are from Mali, Niger, Chad so we are planning to meet with the security chiefs to conduct enumerations.”
Failed promises, weak regulations, rising hopes
Since 2015, findings by The ICIR revealed there has been a steady budget increase to the sector yet it still remains undeveloped. From N10.43 billion in 2015, approved budget to the ministry grew to N16.73 billion in 2016, N22.84 billion in 2017, N22.94 billion in 2018 except 2019 proposed budget, which showed a decline of 10 percent. The budget is pegged at to N20.48 billion.
The presidency, last year, also disclosed that N644 million has been earmarked to strengthen the mining regulatory agency. In December 2017, the federal government further proposed to launch the National Gold Purchase Scheme, to increase revenue from gold, thus providing extension services, support and off-take gold mined by ASGM.
Though some of these supports were enshrined in the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act, 2007 as well as the Solid Minerals Development Fund it is still yet to commence two years after.
However, the MMSD Press Unit offices were under lock as at 2 pm when The ICIR, visited to seek reactions. The reporter moved to the Department of Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM), where the Director in- charge, Ojeka narrated travails of the sector.
He stressed how oil discovery led to the abandonment of the mining and agriculture sectors.
“Over time, Nigeria has over-depended on resources from oil. It has become detrimental because when international oil prices crash, the nation sneezes,” says Ojeka. But in 2015, the current administration, he said, commenced a reform of the sector where unused licenses were revoked yearly and re-issued to other investors.
He agreed that foreigners from Niger, Chad and others illegally work at the sites. He also alluded to the speculation about the Chinese prisoners working at the mines under purported quota system offered by the Federal Ministry of Interior.
Reacting to why the miners lack access to funds, the director, said the miners would need to satisfy requirements of the Bank of Industry (BOI) before they can qualify.
N5 billion has been set aside at the BOI to support artisanal miners, but: “the small scale-mining cannot access the fund because they are yet to meet-up with the conditions by forming a cooperative,” he disclosed.
“This is a 520-member cooperative group, minimum of 10 persons in a group,” the director said. “If we add it to what we have before, it will be over 1,200 cooperatives in the country.”
The ICIR learnt that the miners ought to register with the Cooperative Unit of State Ministry of Trade and Commerce before accessing support forms at the MMSD, fill and pay a token of N5,000. With this process carried out to the letter, he said the miners would get needed supports.
Meanwhile, responding to the health and environmental impact of mining to both ASGM and the host communities, Engr. Sallim Salaam, MMSD Director, Department of Mines Environmental Compliance (MEC) confirmed the mining effects on soil quality, water resources, which includes loss of biodiversity-plants and wildlife, leaching among other environmental implications.
“Perhaps the most significant impact of a mining project is its effects on water quality…key questions are whether surface and groundwater supplies will remain suitable for human consumption and whether the quality of surface waters in the project area will remain adequate to support native aquatic life and terrestrial wildlife,” says Salaam.
While the environment department focuses on registering mining organisations that adhere to the Environmental Impacts Assessments (EIA), the department often awaits the go-ahead from the ASM to remediate debilitated mines.
When the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) was contacted, the Director-General, Prof. Aliyu Jauro, said he was unaware of the environmental degradation.
“I am not aware of it. You know I just came in a few months ago but I will speak to the director in charge and we will do our best to ensure their compliance with the EIA.”
Environment expert calls for proper regulation
Abiodun Baiyewu, Executive Director of Global Rights, a civil society organisation that promotes human rights and environmental safety attributed the incessant mining collapses on workers to lack of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and poor regulations.
“I raised an alarm a few years ago that it’s quite possible that if mining activity is not properly regulated and artisanal miners grouped into cooperatives, it may support terrorist activities until they are registered,” says Baiyewu.
“But if they are registered, you know the identity of members of this group and know how to trace where the minerals go to….every state should have minerals buying centre, but the government is not creating the centres so they just sell to anyone.”
She said the resources should be used to develop the host communities. “…Because of the failure to effectively regulate the mining industry, then you have situations where people do what they do.”
“If there is a cooperative, the government can develop small EIA for groups of miners. Visit the communities and design mitigation plans,” she said.
Dr Oloyede Johnson, former Head of Geography Department, Osun State College of Education, an affiliate to the University of Ibadan, Ilesha was more worried on the imminent tremor that may devastate the environment due to massive excavations across the mining communities.
The security implication, he noted, could become worse, especially now that the government has suspended mining in Zamfara State. He called for proper regulation of artisanal miners and compliance with the EIA.
This investigation was done with the support of International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) and Ford Foundation.