Nigeria: The U.S.$9 Billion Loss to Illegal Mining

The authorities must do more to curb the costly menace

In what has become a familiar recourse to lamentation when concrete action was needed, Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Uche Ogah, recently accused private jet owners of aiding and abetting gold smuggling in the country. “Gold smuggling in Nigeria is often done using private jets. That is the very reason private jet ownership and operations need to be streamlined in the country,” he said without providing any evidence about those responsible and how they would be bought to account. Yet, according to him, over $9 billion is lost annually to illegal mining in the country.

Nigeria’s solid minerals sector is private sector driven. Through a cadastre-like system, the government allocates mineral titles to investors and subsequently provides oversight functions through policy direction and regulations. The country’s law in the sector also specifies who could be in possession of or purchase minerals and establishes Minerals Buying Centre (MBC) which according to the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) are currently 103 across the country. But from Osun to Zamfara and elsewhere, illegal mining is now the name of the game, though this has a long Pan-African background and Nigeria must learn lessons from other countries.

In the mid-1960s, Senegalese and Malian small-scale miners were arrested on the Congo-Uganda border with coffins accompanied by wailing women. The coffins were said to be carrying dead bodies for burial among relatives. These ‘dead bodies’ crossing the border were however wraps containing diamond and other precious metals. In the Central African Republic, Seleka militants were reportedly receiving AK47 guns from Indian traders in exchange for diamonds and uranium dug from locations in which village communities had been slaughtered and dispersed. Similar accusations were made against Rwandan and Ugandan military officers landing helicopters in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) following their defeat by Zimbabwean, Angolan and Namibian troops defending the independence of post-Laurent Kabila’s DRC.

Clearly, illegal miners do not only steal from Nigeria and deny her revenue from the excavation and sale of her solid mineral deposits, but equally set off occurrences of insecurity through banditry and rival wars. This thriving trade has left many to wonder whether some state governments are not encouraging illegal mining of solid minerals within their jurisdictions; it equally raises questions about their longevity and patrons of the illicit trade.

Even with the available information on the mineral resources’ sites, government at all levels have found it extremely difficult to curb illegal mining of these resources. In most places, illegal mining activities are being carried out by the locals in connivance with the affluent in the society who perpetrate these crimes by involving foreign nationals. Government would need to beef up security in all the mining sites by involving the military as well as other security agencies in adequately securing the mining sites.

To the extent that illegal miners remain potent dangers to our economy and national security, the relevant authorities must move quickly to halt their illicit acts. More disturbing is that except for Botswana perhaps, African political and business groups have shown little interests in adding local value to raw materials or minerals excavated from the continent’s earth for domestic and export consumers. Nigeria which is huge in solid mineral deposits has equally seen an influx of questionable interests. The spate of illegal mining activities in Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina, and even in Kogi, and Niger have already thrown up security challenges, with reported cases of banditry and widespread community unrest in these states. No reasonable country should allow such brazen challenge of its territorial authorities.


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Author : This Day

Publish date : 2021-10-04 14:16:46

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