Recently, the Zamfara State Commissioner for Solid Minerals, Dr. Nurudeen Isa, disclosed that his state does not own any goldfield. He also said that as a result, the state government was not involved in the mining of gold in the state, but buys from artisanal miners. His reason: to prevent the artisanal miners from selling the mineral and using the proceeds to procure weapons. Specifically, Dr. Isa said: “The state government doesn’t own any portion of the goldfields throughout the state and is not involved in mining activities. What the state government does is to buy the gold so that it doesn’t fall into wrong hands who in return sell it outside the country and purchase weapons for the bandits.”
The Commissioner also said that the state had placed a lien on mining activities in the state. Further, he said the government had asked those who are interested in mining gold to obtain licence from the federal government before they could mine gold because “all mineral resources belongs to the federal government”.
On October 7, 2020, the economicconfidential.com published a report to the effect that the Zamfara state government had entered into agreement to sell gold worth N5billion to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The report quoted the state governor, Bello Matawalle, as saying the state will buy the precious mineral from artisanal miners in the state and sale to the CBN.
Governor Matawalle said: This strategic decision is part of the effort to prop up the economy of the state and guarantee the economic and social wellbeing of our people now and in the future. It is also the first of its kind by any state in the federation. For a start, we have purchased 31 kilograms of gold, wholly mined and refined by our artisanal miners. We will subsequently continue to buy gold from our local miners so as to gradually improve the reserve. The precious metal would be deposited in a bank… Even though our state, like other states of the federation, is grappling with competing demands from the public and the resources at our disposal are meager, we feel it is of utmost significance to invest in the future of our people.”
The governor further explained that the recent collapse of the oil market had further shown the need to diversify the state’s economy as a safeguard from the uncertainties of the market. Implication of this was that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) will pay Zamfara State government N5 billion to supply gold to it, and specifically, the governor said “we have purchased 31 kilograms of gold, wholly mined and refined by our artisanal miners”, to achieve the purpose.
Both the governor and his commissioner couldn’t have made mistakes in saying that the state government was patronizing, and will still patronize, artisanal miners in the state. In fact, the governor referred to them as “our local miners”. He also said the decision was part of strategic actions to “prop up the economy of the state and guarantee the economic and social wellbeing of our (Zamfara) people”.
According to the Nigerian Mining Cadastre Office (MCO), Nigeria has about 5,276 valid mineral mining licences as at August 14, 2020. Of this number, more than 120 are licensed to mine gold in Zamfara state alone. And, Director-General of MCO, Engr. Simon Obadiah Nkom, said recently that “…whatever mineral you mine whether gold or sand, you must come to the MCO to obtain a license”. If this be the situation, how come it is so easy for the governor and his commissioner in charge of minerals to so conveniently make reference to “artisanal miners”? Why is the Zamfara state government patronizing artisanal miners? This suggests that the Zamfara state government supports activities of illegal miners. It further suggests that the CBN is complicit in this cycle of patronage of illegal miners. In other words, this logically suggests that the federal government is, through CBN, financing illegal gold mining by buying off proceeds of illegal gold mining through the Zamfara state government.
For ease of reference, no artisanal miners are licensed by the MCO. In fact, artisanal miners are subsistence miners who are not employed by any mining company or the state, but work independently, mining minerals using their own resources, usually by hand (Wikipedia). In other words, they are illegal miners.
To give credence to the suggestion that the federal government approves of illegal gold mining in Zamfara state, the government, in June 2020, launched a Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative (PAGMI) with the aim of integrating artisanal (illegal) gold miners “into Nigeria’s legal, economic, and institutional framework.” Under this programme, the CBN will buy “gold that has been mined, processed and refined under the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative for use as part of Nigeria’s external reserves.”
So, the issue here is this: why support artisanal gold miners in Zamfara state and not do the same to artisanal crude oil miners in the Niger Delta states? By discreetly funding illegal gold mining operations in Zamfara state, government makes nonsense of its efforts to contain insecurity and banditry in the northwest region, which had severally been linked to activities of armed illegal gold miners fighting to control illegal goldfields. For instance, the Commissioner for Rural Development in Katsina state, Alhaji Kanti Bello, stated on November 6, 2020 at a press briefing that illegal (artisanal) gold mining was responsible for the increase in banditry in the northwest region, for which the state was paying a huge prize.
“The states have a lot of mineral resources that the bandits have been mining without permission. The bandits have been involved in illegal mining of resources like gold and other mineral items in Rugu, Kamuku and Dansadau forests. The presence of large mineral deposits is the main reason that the bandits had been operating. The bandits use their illegally acquired weapons to disperse the innocent rural people to have access to the mineral resources,” the Commissioner had said.
Also, Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS), a non-profit project of a consortium of three Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) said on its website that “the discovery of gold mines and the activities of illegal miners competing for the control of gold reserves have served to further intensify the existence and activities of armed groups in the northwest.” By his admission, President Muhammadu Buhari said in May 2020, that illegal gold mining cost Nigeria some $3billion between 2012 and 2018.
If the position of the DG of MCO, Engr. Nkom, to the effect that “whatever mineral you mine whether gold or sand, you must come to the MCO to obtain a license”, is of any integrity, why would the federal government and the government of Zamfara state continue in this complicit game of supporting (artisanal) illegal mining of gold by buying off their gold stock and selling same to the CBN while unleashing the military to destroy refineries used by artisanal crude oil miners in the Nigeria Delta? The Nigeria Navy attests to this when it said in May 2020 at a press conference to mark its 64th anniversary that it “destroyed a total number of 2,287 illegal refineries in the Niger Delta region between 2015 -2019.”
Unfortunately, the government, federal and Zamfara, do not seem to see the connection between dealing with artisanal gold miners in Zamfara state with kid gloves and the insecurity in the northwest. Buying gold from artisanal (illegal) miners arms them with funds to purchase weapons. Government is blind to this reality because of its dichotomy of rules – a set for the north and another set for the southern part of the country. Sadly, it is not paying off.