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Edo communities where illegal miners hold all the aces

Instead of enjoying the bliss associated with natural resources, many Edo State communities are harvesting sorrows, Mudiaga Affe writes
For many rural communities in Akoko-Edo Local Government Area of Edo State, peace has become an expensive commodity.

These hitherto rural communities have not only lost their virginity but also their serenity. For their inhabitants, peace of mind has taken flight, even as their natural habitats have witnessed some devastations. Instead of growth and development,  the huge deposits of natural resources in the communities have become a harbinger of misery and sorrow.

Reason:
Illegal gold miners have turned their communities upside down, exposing both the inhabitants and the environment to exploitation. Communities such as Ososo, Ojah, Dagbala, Ojirami, Ewan, Igarra, Ikpeshi, Okpe, and Uneme-Erhurun where gold abound, our correspondent gathered, have lately been taken over by illegal miners and scores of herdsmen, bringing with them all manner of criminal activities.

Indeed, many communities leaders attest to this ugly scenarios. For one of the neighbourhood leaders in Akoko-Edo LGA, Pedro Asishana, their communities have been left in ruins following the activities of the illegal gold miners.

He said, “What is happening in these communities is a sorry situation for this nation. We have illegal miners that have been coming to mine gold in these communities for a long time now. It only recently escalated because some persons suspected to be Fulani herdsmen have also joined in the business.

“The area is now flooded with people who claim they are from the northern part of the country, but we know they are foreigners. We have been able to identify some of them to have come from Senegal, Niger and Kenya, all claiming to be Hausa.”

Asishana also lamented that officials of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and the Directorate of State Service (DSS) in the council area have been overworked because of the activities of these illegal miners.

He continued, “The Dagbala matter has become an eye-opener to everyone. We held a meeting on Wednesday where some of the traditional rulers in the area disclosed that illegal mining is spread across several communities in Akoko-Edo. The communities listed include Ososo, Ojah, Dagbala, Ojirami, Ewan, Igarra, Ikpeshi, Okpe, Uneme-Erhurun, and other areas.”

Concerns
Worried over the development, Asishana noted that some council officials have met with stakeholders to strategise on how to fish out the illegal miners that are causing atrocities in the communities. He revealed that the majority of residents in the local communities have been dislodged by the foreigners who offered to pay money for apartments in the communities According to Asishana, only six companies were given licence to mine in the LGA, but several illegal miners have taken over activities in the communities.

“The LG council authority met with some stakeholders on Wednesday. The concern is the influx of these foreign elements to the communities. These people are just coming to mine our mineral, especially the highly-priced gold without our knowledge.

“As I speak with you, everywhere in Akoko-Edo is full of miners. The bulk of them, from our understanding, are illegal miners. They have rented all the vacant houses in these communities. The LG authority has embargoed work in all these communities with a warning on the miners to go and accredit their workers and make the list of workers available to the authorities.

“The idea is to fish out the illegal from the legal miners. We need to know who is who. We understand that it is only about six companies that have licence from the Federal Government to mine limestone in the area and in the course of mining limestone they uncovered deposits of gold in these communities. At the moment, there are over 200 different mining companies in these communities,” he added.

Asishana also stated that they have met with the Director in charge South-South in the Federal Ministry of Mines, Abdulkadir Usman, to iron out the teething issues, adding the discussion is ongoing.

We have lost our houses and women
A resident of Uneme-Erhurun, Mrs.Iyabo Akpata, regretted that poverty has forced many of them to arbitrary rent out their house to the foreigners. Akpata, who could not confirm if the residents gave up their houses out of compulsion, added that women and girls have become prostitutes occasioned by the activities of these illegal miners.

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She said, “We share a boundary with Okpella. So, the area is flooded with herdsmen as well. The number of illegal miners is now more than the natives of the communities. They have lured the poor people in the communities to give up their houses for rent and some of the indigenes have become homeless.

“Some of the miners are already enticing the girls and some married women to sleep with them. The women have become prostitutes in their community. That is the scenario we are facing at the moment. I do not blame the foreigners. It is poverty that is causing all these. Again, even the sale of hard drugs such as marijuana has increased in our communities.”

LGA intervention
Rising from a recent stakeholders’ meeting, Chairman of Akoko-Edo LGA, Don Umoru, said it was resolved that all mining activities in the community should be suspended while the meetings with miners will continue. Umoru added, “We have just risen from a security council meeting now with the Dagbala community, traditional rulers and security chiefs. We have put a stop to all the activities going on in Dagbala. We have issued an ultimatum that they should stop all their activities.

“We are inviting the miners and the owners of the land for a meeting where we will look at the issues. Meanwhile, we have put a stop to all their activities. Though their activities are between them, the state and the federal government, the local government is their first point of contact with the government”.

Way forward
But the Executive Director, Justice Research Centre (JRC), Benin, Donald Inwalomhe, has urged the state government to do more in order to alter the situation. According to Inwalomhe, despite being on the exclusive legislative list, the state government through the House of Assembly can regulate some aspects of the Act.

Inwalomhe said, “Even though the mining activities fall within the exclusive list of the federal government, it does not mean that the state government cannot regulate the mining activities in that area.

“First, it is for the state House of Assembly to regulate a law in that direction. They need to look at the 2007 Solid Mineral Act and the amended Solid Mineral Act of 2011. When they look at it, they will know how to regulate whatever is happening in these communities.”

He further tasks the state governor, Godwin Obaseki, to consider building a gold refinery that will prepare the mineral extractions by miners for exportation.

“The governor of Edo State should consider building a gold refinery. Despite being on the exclusive list, once you know you have a gold reserve in your state, you can have a company that will help prepare whatever they are producing for export. This will create job opportunities for the indigenes of the areas.

“In Nigeria, there is no laboratory to test whatever solid mineral that is taken out of the country. Most of the solid minerals that are mined from the country are taken outside for tests and verifications. They are the ones that now tell us the quality of the material they have taken out.

“The Solid Mineral Act is clear, it is rather unfortunate that many of the state governments have not sat down to look at the Act and see how they can come in. Coincidentally, now that we have security lapses, states are already coming in to address their local problems.

“In the same vein, now that we have lapses in the mining activities of companies, the state government should look in that direction.

“In the case of Dagbala, Uneme-Erhurun, and other communities in Akoko-Edo LGA, the leaders of the communities are involved in this. There are a lot of quarry activities in the area, so, the state government should closely monitor what is happening in those communities. The idea is that we do not have a repeat of what is happening in Zamfara State in Edo. This is of security concern.

“The state should know the number of mining companies that have been granted licence by the federal government and know the number of workers these companies have for the workers to remit their taxes to the state government”.

Meanwhile, stakeholders, on Saturday, agreed to put a hold on mining operations in the communities until there is compliance with its operations by the legitimate miners.  A Zonal Director in the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel, Mr. Usman Adamu, who drew the attention of the stakeholders that mining was strictly controlled by the federal government, however, blamed monarchs in the troubled communities for not carrying farmers whose lands were used for mining before approvals were given to the operators.

Usman, an engineer, said, “All mineral resources belong to the federal government, while the land belongs to the communities. Where we got it wrong in the Dagbala community was because the traditional council in the community didn’t properly involve the farm owners before approval.

“In all, we will try as much to regularise the irregularities, but the farmers should know that they don’t have the right to solely mine gold in their various farms without licences.

Money from mining sector is small because… – FGRecall that the exploitation of solid minerals is in the exclusive legislative list, which makes it a preserve of the Federal Government.

In Edo, there are about 200 solid mineral deposits, which include; marble, gold, granite, limestone, kaolin, gypsum, feldspar dolomite, Salena, tantalite, gemstones, quartz, bitumen, bentonite, laterite, and sharp sand.

They are scattered across several villages and communities in Akoko-Edo, Owan East, Owan West, Ovia South West, Etsako West, and Etsako East local government councils of the state.

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