INVESTIGATION: Osun, Ondo-Southwest states where illegal mining, untapped resources scoop Nigeria’s economy
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As illegal and unrestricted mining of the nation’s solid minerals continues unchecked in many parts of the country, it is becoming clearer that it will be near impossible for the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to achieve its Economic Recovery Growth plan (ERGP) 2017-2020. In this report, Uthman Samad who visited Ibodi in Ife-Wara, Ilesha, in Osun State and Agbabu in Ondo State reveals how billions of naira is lost to illegal, informal mining and how economic resources are left untapped.
IT was a drizzling Wednesday morning and it looked the torrents would increase as the day rolled by, but no, this would not deter the illegal and informal miners at work. They were busy drilling and mining the gold that can sustain the host state for more than four decades even without allocation from the Federal Government.
But that is not the only anomaly about the illegal mining taking place in Ibodi, a community in Ife-Wara, Osun State. Land and farmers have also lost their properties to the unlicensed miners who have forcefully taken over their land for mining purposes.
For Sunday Aina, his life-long dream has been to reap the fruit of his labour, until the artisanal illegal miners, mostly from the Northern parts of the country, chased and threatened him with death if he tries to disturb their activities on his farmland.
Close to tears, Aina recounted his weird experience in the hands of the miners.
“I am going to the police station to arrest the Hausa guys on my farm land,” he said.
“They even have the effrontery to threaten to kill me. They told me their boss has bought the land from the owner, anyone disturbing them should be laid off,” he added with his voice trembling out of fear.
“If I don’t see the police, I am heading straight to the Baale Asun’s palace to report them.”
His cocoa plantation was all destroyed by these invaders while looking for the precious stone.
But Aina is not the only one facing this problem. Adeloba, a septuagenarian who lives in a village called Baale, some kilometers away from Ibodi mining sites, is left with nothing after his farms were also destroyed by the invaders searching for gold. His house is the only remaining building in the area after others have been destroyed.
Ayeda’de village, a neigbhouring village to “Baale” is no more in existence due to the artisanal and illegal search for gold as villagers fled after their farmlands were destroyed.
Adeloba lamented that the now dredged lands were basically for farming and were dedicated to cocoa cultivation over the past years.
He told this reporter that any landowner or farmer who wishes to be paid by the king after the land had been taken over from them by the miners, will go to the Oba Enitan Ogunwusi’s (Ooni of Ife) palace.
“They will only be paid for the farm produce or for the economic trees and not the land as the Yoruba believes “the land belongs to the king,” Adeloba alleged.
This reporter reached out to the palace of Ooni of Ife through the press secretary. On November 10, Moses Olafare, the Press Secretary to Ooni of Ife, replied to a request on WhatsApp, saying that he was in the United States and would reach out by November 13. Till the last minutes of filing this investigation, Olafare did not reply further WhatsApp messages or pick several calls from this reporter.
Alluvial gold was first discovered in 1940 around Ife and Ilesha both in old Western Region later old Oyo State and now in Osun State. Gold was first sighted in September 1940 from the Owena River North of Ife-Ondo road. Later in December 1941, mining began South of Temogun. Between 1941 and 1952 over 50 ounces of gold were recovered from the stream sediments. According to research, Osun State’s gold is second to the best in the whole world.
Hard drugs, money drive illegal mining at Ibodi-Ife Wara
In July this year, governor of Osun State, Gboyega Oyetola, visited Ife-Wara mining sites. He decried the horrible state of exploited land and promised to regulate the activities of the miners.
Despite his promise, there was no sign of regulation on the sites when the reporter visited. However, new roads were just being graded for heavy trucks to transport the raw gold.
At Ibodi mining sites, over 110 men were seen in the dug area using local instruments to mine. Meters away to the site were wooden houses built —makeshifts— by these same men that serve as their abodes.
A stranger walking on any farmland in Ibodi and Ifewara needs to be careful as activities of artisanal miners had left many places with big craters, others have turned to ponds without fish. This reporter fell into one of the half-filled dug grounds before being helped and briefed by a farmer around the area.
Rabiu, a 26 years old artisanal miner from Katsina welcomed this reporter who disguised as a labourer into their midst by handing handling a pack of cigarette and a wrap of Indian hemp to this reporter.
“When you smoke this, you go get energy to work well, oga will like you like me”
He has been mining in Ife since 2017.
“I leave Sabo as early as 5.00 am and by 6.00 am, I will be here and that’s when I start work daily.
“If I don’t mine gold in a day, I may fall sick. My Oga like me very well for my hard-work. That’s why he pays me N4,500 daily. Others collect less”, Rabiu was divulging this information as he was lighting the wrap of Indian hemp in his hand. He confirmed that other artisanal miners on the site collect between N1,500 and N3,000 daily, based on how they are able to dig and come out with gold.
According to Rabiu, other miners on the site are from Zamfara , Katsina and Niger states. Others come from Niger Republic, Mali.
“Mining in Ife-Wara is a lucrative business. That’s why you see us coming here.”
On the other side of the site is another set of miners who are over 30 in number. These ones have one interpreter among them who understands Yoruba and Pidgin. They are mostly from Kogi, Niger and Zamfara states, and each of them has lived in Ile-Ife communities for four years.
Aliu, popularly known as ‘Boss’ and Abubakr welcomed this reporter to their midst brandishing shovel and a digger asking different questions, enquiring to know the reporter’s mission in their circle.
“I am here to work as a labourer. I want to be mining too” this reporter said with a pleading voice to the interpreter.
Aliu told this reporter to feel at home. He shared his opinion about Nigeria being divided by language and politics.
“The Chinese on this land have always form to be our boss, whereas we Yoruba and Hausa are one. We are here on Yoruba land mining for them, and making money together.”
Aliu has spent more than four years in Ife-Wara mining sites. He has worked for over 10 different unlicensed companies as labourer as he later confirmed. He is currently with the 11th and still hoping to make more living from the gold farming lands.
He divulged that a couple of months ago, the present mining site was a very fruitful cocoa farm. “It was just earlier this year that the Chinese brought heavy machines to this site and crushed away all the cocoa trees on the land. I can’t really say the farmers were really paid but I saw them coming here afterwards crying one afternoon and till now we have been here working. Money dey here ooo”, he said smoking and laughing to show his excitement.
Aliu left this reporter to take his digger and jumped into the heavy water logged section of the site to work.
Welcome to “Store” where gold is a street business.
For someone hearing “store” as a name of a community for the first time, it may have a variety of interpretation and inferences. The first thought will be “a particular building for cocoa storage and trading”. Exactly, that’s the grand idea behind the naming of the place a long time ago, but now, it’s for gold!
Store, however, is a small community in Atakumosa East beside Igila village in Ilesha. It is a densely populated area with a hybrid of Yoruba and Hausa artisanal miners —mining is the main preoccupation of the inhabitants.
Informal and illegal mining here have become a norm to the extent that bargaining of farmland is done without formal agreement nor signing of any paper, thereby making gold mining and trading the only attractive business here.
For a land to be bought for mining, it has to be tested which the intending buyer pays as low as N10,000. The expanse of the land dictates the amount to pay for it after the land has been confirmed positive. The positivity— the availability of gold and quantity, then dictates how expensive the land will be sold.
This reporter disguised as a student of Geology at the Obafemi Awolowo University when he ‘ran into’ a popular gold miner and gold black marketer popularly known as “Single 2”.
Single 2 left Ife Wara in 2014 for Ilesa. Since then, he has moved from one gold rich community to another till he got to Store where this reporter met him. He owns a kiosk-like shop close to the expressway that leads to the mining farms. He operates the kiosk collecting mined gold from the miners.
“As you are seeing this place like this, it’s N3,000 per month, it’s even less, some people rented theirs for N4,000 or N5,000. We are all making our sales, especially during raining season.”
“If you can wait for more minutes, you will see as my clients will be bringing market for me. You will see how we dry it and sieve the sand away, they are just being late today maybe they are still in farm mining.”
A Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) 2016 report shows that the informal mining sector dominates mining activities in Nigeria. The report also contains the details of 1,200 registered mining cooperatives across the six geo-political zones of the country, mainly represented by the Artisanal or Small Mining (ASM) actors.
As the reporter was about calling it a day, two teenagers, Musa and Adnan entered Single 2’s shop for business.
Musa, 16, had worked on a mining site where he stole a bit of raw gold into an emptied sachet of pure water to sell to Single 2. “Single 2”, Musa and Adnan chorused with an amused face which was met with a grin from Single 2 too as he understood that they were there with “market”
Musa does not do this often—only when they are not paid well for the work done for the day. The money made from this kind of brisk business takes care of his dinner and his friend Adnan. Both left Zamfara State in 2018 when mining activities in the state turned was no longer profitable.
They both followed Zubair, a Suya seller, to Osun State to learn business and serve as apprentices to him before they noticed diggers and other artisanal mining instruments being sold in shops in “Store”. It didn’t take them long to abandon their apprenticeship under Zubair to join illegal miners.
Adnan, 17, lamented how they were unduly paid by the owner of the mining site they worked because they were seen to be young while not considering their level of professionalism.
At one side of the shop is a 2 kilogramme gas cylinder and spoons of different sizes. Musa brought out the stolen gold particles from his trouser, tied to his right thigh. He put the particles, three times the quantity of a pinch of salt, into a sizeable spoon and placed it on the lit gas burner. This process enables quick separation of sands from the gold particles.
Musa was given a new N1,000 note to place the remaining particles which will give a better separation as he blew away other sand particles.
The gold particles were then placed on the scaling machine which was weighed to worth N2,000 in value.
Single 2 told this reporter that gold particles of “this size- using the upper part of his thumb as a perfect example- is around N5 million.”
Environmental degradation takes over Ife-Wara
As as result of these illegal and unregulated mining, the extent of environmental degradation in Ife-Wara is unimaginable. For a stranger, it is always best for the person to follow the foot track on the ground, otherwise, a wrong step could lead to death. This is due to the haphazard nature of the mining carried out there over the years.
“Just walk on the same path with me. If you like, do otherwise. Those grounds you are seeing bare having been connectedly dug from one side to another, if you step on it, you are gone ooo,” Single 2 warned this reporter.
Single 2 said this while taking this reporter on a visit to a mining site situated inside an army barrack in the community. The land was said to be sold by the authority of the barrack following a forensic survey of the land and was confirmed to be positive.
Students’ hostels under threat of collapse
Students of Osun State College of Education, Ilesa residing in Ajangila Hostel have lamented the desperate attempts of artisanal miners to dig too close to their hostels.
Agangila Hostel is a storey building located meters away from Osu-Ilesa road in Atakumosa East Local Government area. The mining site beside the building has made students who are more than 40 in number to start searching for new hostel due to the fear that the building may either collapse over night or sink into the ground overnight.
According to a resident, the hostel and the land were inherited by the sons of a late chief in the community. The mining activities on the land started earlier last year. The house was willed to a son of the chief’s first wife, while the land is for the second wife’s eldest son.
“we have complained to them that we use to hear them digging close to our rooms. But our caretaker seems not to take it seriously. The other son sold the land to a rich man earlier last year, and can you see, see them, that’s how they will dig till evening. We are already planning to leave; we are leaving after this semester. Imagine we sinking overnight”
Can Gold Exploration sustain Osun State?
Gold is used for stability of paper currencies, jewelries in alloys with platinum – it is used in dentistry and as a coating on aircraft engine.
A research paper published in 2014 in European Journal of Business and Management, titled “Mineral Prospecting Potentials Of Osun State” written by Ajeigbe O.M, Adeniran O.J and Babalola O.A of Department of Banking and Finance, Osun State Polytechnic, Iree, proves that 20 million ounces of gold are available in Atakunmosa East; Atakunmosa West and Ife East of Osun State as the quantity available was discovered to be exploitable over a period of 50 years at an economic rate of about 850 ounces per day.
The research avers that a total of 15, 300,000 ounces is the minimum available gold in Osun State which amounts to over N263 billion: this is justified on the premise that the supply of gold at an economic rate of 850 ounces per day is the only rate that can last Osun State for a period of 50 years and more without diminishing in quantity. With more discovery of gold in the state, it can only increase to 850 ounces supply per day but it never reduces it.
According to a professor of Geology at the University of Ibadan, Olugbenga Akindeji Okunlola, his research finding entitled “Riches Beneath Our Feet: Mineral Endowment and Sustainable Development of Nigeria”shows that the gold deposits in Osun sSate is worth $5 billion, which equals N1.5trillion (at current CBN exchange rate).
He said Iperindo in Ilesha, Osun State, has a proven reserve of one million ounces “in a one kilometre area up to a shallow 100m depth, comprising a series of gold bearing (gold-quartz-carbonate) veins localised by subsidiary faults, hosted within biotite gneiss and mica schist. Grade ranges between 1–23.6g/ton. Currently, this deposit is worth over $1 billion”.
“The worth of the Ilesha gold belt occurrences could be in the range of $3.1 to $5 billion at current price regime… Nigeria might well be the new frontier in the coming years for gold exploration in West Africa,” he said.
He added that “If it is mined and Osun takes 13 per cent derivation, that is some N200 billion revenue over the lifespan of gold mining.
The professor explained that the Federal Government does not mine any deposit as her main function is to regulate mining activities.
“Federal government does not own any mining company, what it does is to regulate the mining activities. So, if anybody can collect a license, once you fulfil all the rules and requirements,” he said.
Professor Okunlola also expatiated why state governments stand to gain more from the mining.
“In fact, state governments have more advantage because they know where the resources are. The state themselves have every opportunity to even get licenses for choice areas.
“So, what the law says is that its not for bureaucracy, form a company like Osun State livingspring company or Omoluabi company, get licenses. Like they have which I am aware of, Osun State has about six to seven licenses on gold alone and they form joint ventures.
“Whatever comes out of that joint ventures, if they have formed a joint venture, for example, with segilola and they co-fund, they will be part of the over N2 billion asset of segilola. And do you know it is projected that by 2030 that gold will be selling for $2000 per ounce,” the professor of Geology said.
In contrast, for the whole of 2016, Osun State collected N5.9 billion as federation allocation and internally generated is N8.89 billion while in 2017 and 2018, the state received N10.4b, N22.8b and generated N13.49b, N20.2bn respectively
Through management, diligent exploration and sincere dedication to end illegal and informal mining in the state, Osun can be one of the financially independent states in Nigeria. This also will lift the state out of her drowning domestic and international debt which at present sums up to over N169.9 billion
Agbabu: where economic resources are left untapped
Aside gold, Nigeria is also greatly endowed with large deposits of other mineral resources that are left bare, naked and untouched. Agbabu’s bitumen in Ondo state is an instance.
Nigeria is ranked as one of the first five countries in the world endowed with largest deposits of natural bitumen. However, research activities on the vast deposit of Agbabu natural bitumen in Nigeria have largely been concentrated on the physico-chemical and engineering characterization.
In Nigeria, bitumen reserves are found in Lagos,Ogun, Ondo and Edo states. Agbabu in Ondo State, is known for her high deposit of natural bitumen which rakes huge amount of Nigerian bitumen deposit.
Nigeria being one of the largest producers of crude oil however, the mid-stream sector of the oil and gas sector has made her heavily dependent on importing refined petroleum products and this includes bitumen. Currently, Nigeria’s annual consumption of bitumen is a little over 500,000 metric tonnes and the market has been quite stable and increasing due to the epileptic performance of the Kaduna refinery which is the only refinery in the country that produces bitumen at the moment.
This reporter visited two observatory wells built by the defunct Nigerian Bitumen Corporation (NBC) located opposite Saint Stephen’s Primary School, Agbabu and the other close to the community head’s house.
As observed, the bitumen deposit is so much in the ground to the extent it keeps pumping to the surface on its own and at the moment coated the surrounding environment.
A member of the community who gave his name as Abraham, he “ We know quite well that we have bitumen which has been a point of attraction. We have no problem with it but, I am not educated, but I know this can make this state richer if tapped.” Abraham, the septuagenarian has been living and farming in the village for over 45 years.
He expressed that the only moment they feel happy having bitumen on their land is when the representative from the federal government comes to check yearly.
“Don’t go there, no one dares to,” Abraham answered with full strength while this reporter quizzed if he has ever heard of illegal tapping of the resources. “ We can never take that here. No one can even try it without being led here by the government.”
“We have it in abundance, we want government to tap it and make our people employed, you can also see it flowing out already. Our children are jobless. We are just tired here but hopeful,” he lamented.
According to an academic paper, Nigeria has been reported to have a proven reserve of about 42.47 billion tons of bitumen- almost twice the amount of existing reserves of crude petroleum- but yet to be explored for economic purposes.
Geologists, economists blame Ondo State Government
A professional geologist and a former permanent secretary in Ogun State, Ipinniwa Steve commented that the political will to diversify from oil is the only constraint stopping Nigeria from attaining the desired economic status.
“We have potentials in every mineral sector. We are very blessed in this country. Our problem is that we have been paying less attention to solid minerals,”he said.
“If our attention as nation is tilted to the sector, it can bring us the economic status we have been clamouring for.
“If we are to talk of sustainability and other things, let’s ask for political will with it. Do you know when bitumen was first discovered in the country? And we continue to import. The bulk of this lies on the state government. But we can’t still blame them too when the Mining act gives less power to the state”.
Atiku Samuel, and economist and BudgIT research lead also shared similar view with Ipinniwa. He condemned the structural issues surrounding the extractive sector generally and called for revamping of the whole system, which he opined can cure the sickening economy.
“You begin to wonder why states which are endowed with this mineral resources still suffer for economic survival,” Samuel said.
“The FAAC is there to tell you that there is little significance these resources hold to their economy, virtually less connection. The structural problem is all mineral resources in the ground is being “owned” by the federal government of the federation and that is by design.
“As such states like Kogi, Zamfara, Osun can not independently bring in investors and invest in these solid minerals, that’s one thing. Limestone also is a solid mineral, Kogi produces limestone, likewise Ogun State, but we need to look at their IGR and revenue distribution and you to ask yourself some difficult questions that how much is the federal government of Nigeria earning from these things, it is totally non-existing.
“If you look at FAAC and what government earns from solid mineral, then look at how much Kogi, Osun, Ogun, are getting individually in terms of 13% derivative, you will be shocked that it is nearly zero, that shows that less attention is paid to solid mineral. Another thing that will shock you is that there is no incentive whatsoever for these states with solid minerals.
“I don’t think the principle around the fiscal governance around solid minerals in Nigeria is actually favourable to the people. The general assumption there is that the solid mineral sector in Nigeria by design to fuel what we call private accumulation.
“Absolutely, I can tell you if these states are independent in thinking and have the will to turn the sector, they will be able to stand on their own. My general assumption is yes, you can use the solid mineral in your state to build a basis for you to have a vibrant economy.”
Light at the end of the tunnel
At the last economic summit held in Osun State which lasted three days, between November 19 to 21 2019, the State Governor, Gboyega Oyetola, disclosed that the state has received a sum of N100 million from Badger Mines, a Canada-based mining company, as sign-on fee for exploration and development of one of the state’s mining titles.
The governor disclosed that the government had earlier executed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the mining company as part of necessary preparation for the commencement of mining operations in the state.
He said, “Our mining sector, like agriculture, is an old industry yet to be fully harnessed. The State of Osun has ample reserves of a variety of minerals, notably gold, lead/zinc, quartz, feldspar and several precious metals.
“We occupy a unique place in the mining sector in Nigeria. We are a mining State that hosts solid minerals. We are also a State that has invested in acquiring the licences for solid minerals under our land from the Federal Government.
“No other state in Nigeria can offer the unique combination of both regulatory and commercial fusion. We are a risk-ready State with an appetite for enterprise and reward for winnings.
“The State acquired 17 mining licenses for Gold – 10; Quarry – 4; Lead/Zinc – 2; and Quartz and Feldspar -1, from the Nigeria Mining Corporation, and we are willing to partner with interested local and foreign investors to develop these mineral resources.
“Our policy for the mining sector is implemented and overseen by the Osun Solid Mineral Development Programme. This programme commenced in June 2019, and has already achieved some encouraging milestones in its First Quarterly Report in 5 of the 7 intervention project areas of the programme.
“The intervention areas are Osun/Omoluabi Mining Business Restructuring Scheme (OMBRS) to commercialise the state-owned mining company. Osun Revenue Diversification and Maximisation Scheme (ORDMS) is a scheme to register all miners, mines and mining equipment and report on all mining activities in the State in partnership with private sector technology partners.
“We are happy to report that 9,000 artisanal miners have registered their biometric data on RFID-enabled tags with our technology partners. I am also happy to inform you that Osun recently executed an MOU with the renowned international mining firm – The Badger Mines – for the exploration and development of one of our mining titles with a signature bonus of a Hundred Million Naira (N100m) already paid.