Beneath the surface of Nigeria's rich land lies a dangerous and thriving industry that poses a significant threat to the host communities. Illegal mining, driven by profit seekers operating outside the bounds of regulations, has become a rampant issue in the country.
As the environmental, health, and socio-economic dangers escalate, experts and governments believe there is the need for stringent regulations and effective enforcement to protect these communities and ensure sustainable mining practices.
Uncovering the depths of illegal mining
Illegal mining, often referred to as "artisanal mining," has spread like wildfire in Nigeria, exploiting the nation's abundant mineral resources with little regard for designated regulations. Small-scale miners, seeking a quick profit, bypass legal procedures and environmental safeguards to extract resources such as gold, limestone, and coal. This unchecked mining activity ravages the land and disrupts the delicate balance of nature.
Rampant deforestation and indiscriminate mining methods, like open-pit mining, contribute to severe environmental degradation.
Environmentalists believe that loss of vegetation leads to soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, and vulnerability results in natural disasters. These, according to them puts the host communities at significant risk.
Condemning the use of toxic chemicals in mining operations, such as mercury and cyanide, an environmentalist, Joseph Idama believes such pollute the air, soil, and water sources in the vicinity.
According to him, the resulting contamination poses a grave risk to the health of both miners and nearby residents.
He said , "Respiratory problems, skin diseases, and long-term health complications, including cancer, have become an alarming reality for those exposed to these hazardous substances," he said.
The mining industry presents a significant catalyst to propel the achievement of economic growth and human development. However, despite this potential, allnews.ng observes that the industry is marred by numerous adverse impacts on the environment, social, and economic aspects of life for host communities in Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau Zamfara, Ogun and many other states.
Expert laments situation
Recall that at the 2023 West Africa Mining Host Communities’ Indaba Conference attended by stakeholders from major countries in West Africa, organised by the Global Rights, African Coalition for Corporate Accountability, and the Ford Foundation in Abuja, the National President, Miners Association of Nigeria, Dele Ayanleke said, the legal and regulatory frameworks of Nigeria’s solid minerals sector are presently in a state of confusion.
This is as the state governments and other lower levels of governance contend with the exclusive rights of the federal government on the administration and control of mineral resources as provided for in the 1999 Constitution as amended.
Ayanleke said aside from the fact that creating parallel multiple structures and frameworks will kill all initiatives geared towards attracting investments needed to catalyze the growth of the sector, there is a connection between divided houses and insecurity.
According to him, “It is often said that a house that is divided against itself cannot stand and that if there are no cracks in the wall, lizards cannot make their abode inside the wall.
“The cracks in the wall of the regulatory frameworks of Nigeria’s solid minerals sector are widening and capable of providing abodes for reptiles more dangerous than lizards,” he said.
Communities hanging in the air
In most of the communities visited in Benue State by our correspondent, it was observed that illegal mining had dealt blow to the people, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and socio-economic instability within host communities.
The absence of regulations hampered the development of Owukpa community in Benue State and had prevented the generation of legal revenue streams. The lack of employment opportunities and the displacement of indigenous livelihoods exacerbate the vulnerability of the community. This could not be doubted when our correspondent visited Ibagba in Ipole Owukpa where a large quantum of coal were mined. Despite the mining activities, the community remains a ghost of itself. The roads were bad, water contaminated and farmlands taken over by the miners.
In the community, the unregulated influx of miners had created conflicts over land rights and resources, pitting community members against each other.
But the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Ogbonnaya Orji said although Nigeria is blessed with abundant mineral resources, ranging from gold and diamonds to oil and gas, these resources hold the promise of transformation, the potential to elevate the lives of the people, and to power the development of the nations.
Unfortunately, Orji said the communities where these resources are gotten from are often left vulnerable as they continue to face several security challenges, land degradation, health hazard and neglect.
Crux of the matter
When allnews.ng interacted with a resident from Zamfara State at the Indaba 2023 conference, Adamu Abubakar said the issue lies with the manner consent is been generated for extractive companies to run.
According to Abubakar, most of the issues the mining communities have is because when the extracting companies approach a community, they only seek the consent of the traditional head of the community but he is only an individual who cannot speak for a whole community.
"All the land in that community does not belong to the traditional ruler, therefore for him to give consent and also receive compensation on that land at the same time is not transparent and violates the rights of the rightful owners."
He further disclosed that, "another major issue is that all these licenses are issued in Abuja and they are approved without consultation. The direct owners of the land without prior notice see companies coming to carry out mining activities on their land without any form of notice, consent or compensation. How do you, therefore, ask them to fold their hands and allow someone else to take their land. For example in Zamfara where 85% of people are farmers, you can only imagine the impact of mining on the environment.
"The issue of compensation is supposed to be a collective responsibility considering the situation on ground which are challenges that have created insecurity in the host community to have a lasting solutions to these issues; there is need for the government and other relevant stakeholders to be directly involved in negotiation and compensation.
"But in a situation where people are displaced in their own community when they have large scale of mineral resources and do not benefit from it, definitely they will be conflict."
Urgent need for comprehensive regulations
Experts believe that tackling the challenges posed by illegal mining in Nigeria necessitates immediate and comprehensive regulatory measures. They believe that strengthening existing mining laws, enhancing monitoring mechanisms, and imposing strict penalties on offenders are crucial steps towards curbing these illicit industrial activities. According to them, an effective regulatory framework should focus on environmental preservation, health protection, and sustainable mining practices.
But NEITI Executive Secretary noted that, to tackle this issue, there must first commitment to transparency in the governance of these precious assets.
“Transparency means being clear and honest about how we find, use, and earn money from these resources. It means making information available to everyone so they can see how things are being done,” he said.
He explained that transparency is not just a word but a fundamental principle that should guide every action.
He maintained that, the extraction of mineral resources in some parts of the country continues to generate security, and health concerns, explaining that the mining of largely untapped mineral deposits in some parts of the country, especially gold, which has strategic importance and economic value, is at the root of violence in several communities.
“This has also been linked to the ongoing kidnapping in that region. Aside from security problems, people also die on these mine sites from health hazards and because the sites are not properly monitored and regulated, these cases are not properly reported,” he said.
He added that the challenges faced by these mining host communities need urgent resolutions, because the activities of miners are not monitored or regulated by relevant authorities, they tend to operate without guidelines leading to environmental hazards,” he said.
Executive Director, Global Rights, Abiodun Baiyewu, said that, due to faulty governance systems, the extraction and trade of the resources found in mining communities often fuel conflicts, corruption and violence, hence the need to find solutions to the menace.
Baiyewu said, "as the environment continues to be ravaged, insecurity has become rife, unemployment and poverty are the hallmark of most extractive rich communities. To further complicate our already dire straits, climate change is upon us.
“The Nigerian Constitution in Section 17 (2) (d) states that the “exploitation of human or natural resources in any form whatsoever for reasons, other than the good of the community, shall be prevented
“The constitutions of almost all of our states in West Africa repeat the spirit of this subsection, as does the ECOWAS Mining Code and the African Mining Vision. Yet we again stand bewildered as we did 200 years ago asking how do we get out of these straits?
“The failure to adopt climate smart of these resources have also exacerbated these challenges. We will review our climate resilience as communities particularly vulnerable to climate change."
Minister promises better days
The Minister of Solid Minerals, Dele Alake has promised Nigerians and host communities of better days, maintaining that for the country to attained its specified goals in the mining sector, firstly, miners must be sincere and patriotic to ensure they get it right for the host communities to be a better place.
He also maintained that the President has placed the solid minerals sector as his priority, hence his (Alake) deployment to the solid minerals sector as Minister, which shocked Nigerians.
He said: “We were constructing the structure of government and the very critical areas, not just to be energized, but to create enduring structures, economic structures for our nation such that at the end of our tenure, these structures would have been entrenched so deeply and the society would have become used to a certain level of socio-economic activities and standard of living, such that whichever government or leader comes after would be unable to reverse the trend.
"Even if you have the worst specie of human being to take over as leader because of the enduring structures, very fundamental structures that would have been put in place, nobody will be able to reverse the progress, the upward trend that we are going to pull this country with the cooperation of every one of you because when I say we are going to put it is every one of us.
"Whatever we do in terms of enhancing the situation in our host communities, strengthening the relationship between operating companies and our host communities and enunciating policies that would advance the progress of our communities, we are advancing the progress of our nation, and we are advancing the progress of us as individuals and collectively."
He further stated that, "It is the responsibility of government to ensure that the wealth derived from minerals is utilised for the common good, that the benefits are equitably shared among the people, the environment is protected for generations to come and that the human rights of the people are well protected. In essence, it is the responsibility to govern these resources with transparency and accountability.
“During the unveiling of the ‘agenda for the transformation of the solid minerals for international competitiveness and domestic prosperity’ the federal government has said it will be introducing a mine's police and security tax force to help combat illegal mining and smuggling.
“Just like a special agency, NDLEA was created to combat drug trafficking, I believe that a unique tax force for the mining sector is equally important. In April, the federal government approved the national action plan for promoting and protecting human rights in Nigeria.
“In this action plan, there are provisions on how the government and businesses are to protect and respect human rights, including what mechanisms are put in place to reduce, mitigate and redress business related violations.
“The approval of the national action plan is a step in the right direction as Nigeria seeks to attract foreign investments and increase economic growth while ensuring that human rights are not violated."