Buhari tries to soothe mounting security concerns among Nigerian miners

Nigerian geologists and mining engineers added their voice to the deteriorating state of security in the country at the just concluded 56th annual International conference of the Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society (NMGS), in Ibadan where President Muhammadu Buhari, while declaring the conference open, agreed with them that “as a nation, we are currently battling various forms of security challenges and working relentlessly in providing innovative solutions to the myriads of challenges that are confronting the citizens.”

Trying to douse the restive mood of the mining community, President Buhari spoke on the security problems that miners say have kept them from exploration sites and have harmed government’s revenue efforts. “A few of our people had resulted in breaking the law and outright criminality by engaging in banditry in all sorts of illegal activities. This nefarious activity has serious implications for the various reform agenda this administration embarked upon in the mineral, energy, and agricultural sectors,” the president said.

Accepting that “The reality of this truth is most obvious in the minerals sector given the fact that mining activities take place in remote localities,” the president remarked that “Our intelligence gathering efforts have confirmed that most of these criminal elements have infiltrated the mining industry and are using it as means of funding their despicable activities. It is with this understanding that we recently took the painful but necessary decision of banning all forms of mining activities in Zamfara State where armed banditry has persisted.”

President Buhari, therefore, canvassed for collaboration between the solid minerals sector, state governments, and relevant security agencies “to ensure the security and safety of all mining areas,” because, as he put it, “any environment plagued with security challenges will find it difficult to achieve any meaningful development.”

The Director-General of the Mining Cadastre Office (MCO), Simon Nkom, who doubles as the president of the Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society (NMGS), laid the ground for the president’s remarks saying the NMGS lost some of its members and colleagues in the Northeast to insurgents while discharging their professional mandate.

“Our members work mainly in remote areas to explore, prospect, and produce these mineral and energy resources. As a major stakeholder in the Nigerian Enterprise, we will devote this Conference to identifying and proffering solutions to the security challenges being encountered in the country. We are apolitical and our deliberations will be so centered. We are not here to point fingers and trade blames but to dispassionately discuss and proffer the way forward” said Mr Nkom.

He remarked that “the need for security cannot be over-emphasized. All the policies can only bring the desired optimum results when there is a secured national space. Private and multilateral investments needed to undertake these initiatives and programmes can only be obtained when the security of such investments is guaranteed not only in terms of returns on investments but in the physical environments where the investment is operating.”

Security and political analysts speaking on the theme of “Responsible Exploration and Exploitation of Mineral Resources in a Secured Environment” at the pre-panel discussions of the conference took a different view of the issue, pointing accusing fingers, and hauling blames at the government.

“Foreigners are stealing gold illegally, and the government has proven itself as incapable of dealing incisively with these foreigners,” said Babajide Otitoju, a television journalist, who argued that the infringement of foreigners on Nigerian soil is an indication of the government’s lackadaisical attitude towards the sector.

“The Chinese have come to take what belongs to us and the government ought to be fully in charge of the exploration of gold in the Ilesha area. They are literally invading and digging up people’s farms to look for gold. It is the responsibility of the government to put an end to this and protect the Nigerian resources.

“Same in Zamfara which is one of the poorest states in the country but paradoxically has gold deposits in many of its local government,” Mr. Otitoju said, adding, “no Nigerian can go to any foreign land to cart away mineral resources and get away with it.” He called on the Nigerian government to arrest illegal miners at the mining sites to serve as a deterrent for others and “provide good and responsible leadership in such a manner that mining sites are secured and free of undesirable elements.

“No one, including the foreigners should freely come to our land and explore our natural resources”, he said to the cheer and acceptance of many of the conference attendees and industry stakeholders, some who called on the government’s support to beef up security around the mining sites.

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Kidnappers Den

Narrating his ordeal in the hands of the kidnappers, a lecturer at the Geology Department, University of Benin, who went to Igala, Kogi State on a field trip with his students, said “it is a memory nobody wants to recount.

“This time last year we were on the field around Igala. We were around that place when about six people obviously herdsmen emerged from nowhere, and for us, as geologists when you see anything on the field that is so exciting, you are completely consumed. We were so focused on the details we got from the rock, so we were not worried about people moving around as it was not an unusual thing.

ALSO READ: Insecurity: Buhari declares Zamfara ‘no fly zone’, restates ban on mining activities

“But this time around it became so unusual, before we could think of anything, we were surrounded, and it became my responsibility to avoid casualty by protecting the children. These people were willing to waste anybody and everybody.

“They came and selected those of us they wanted, and the journey started thereafter. On an estimate, we were wandering in the bush for about three to four hours. There was no specific direction initially until we got to a point and they decided to break us into two.

“It was already getting late, then God in His infinite mercy intervened. Apparently, they were not so familiar with the terrain. In the process of moving us around, they took us back to the village, and apparently, some chiefs in the bush saw what was happening and went to report to the community people, the vigilante and the National Security Civil Defence Corp who all combed the forest.

“God so good, they rescued and brought everybody back to the village. The last student was found around 9 pm the same night.

Kidnapping has become rampant in Nigeria with abductors taking citizens hostage and demanding huge amounts of money as ransom for their release. PREMIUM TIMES, in a 3-year analysis of the mineral royalties’ contribution by states/regions reported that the Northwest and Northeast regions recorded the least in the years under review due to insurgency.

The activities of bandits and kidnappers are also having a negative toll on the education system in the country especially in the Northwest and Northeast regions where the government is shutting the schools as a measure to curb the danger of exposing school children/students to the acts of these bandits.

The Consequence

A field trip is a major component of geology and geosciences without which the course of study is not complete. For a responsible exploration and exploitation of minerals in a secured environment, experts believe the insecurity in the country must be urgently addressed.

Mr. Salami while speaking on the consequence of insecurity on the sector, said “without fieldwork, there is no geology and geosciences. And a situation where you go to the field and you are not sure of coming back calls for a lot of thinking, reasoning, and planning because whatever it takes for us to do fieldwork, we just have to do that.

“The aborted fieldwork is being planned again. We are not afraid of going back but we are requesting that security should be provided. That is where the question comes in, security is expensive. We don’t even have enough. What is the future of geosciences under this circumstance? It’s a question that we must ask ourselves,” he concluded.

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