This piece by NIYI OLASINDE takes a closer look at the rich mining resources with which the State of Osun is blessed. It raises such probing questions as how to make the best of them; and how to overcome numerous ecological challenges emanating from their unskilled, indiscriminate exploration / exploitation.
NIGERIA is richly blessed. Likewise, the State of Osun is a land of rich blessings. The country and this vibrant subset of it are lands of bright opportunities: where people sit on treasures but are unfortunately not better for it. The mining of minerals in Nigeria accounts for only 0.3% of its GDP, due to the influence of its vast oil resources. The domestic mining industry is underdeveloped, leading to Nigeria having to import minerals that it could produce domestically, such as salt or iron ore. This is the same situation with the country in practically all fronts and sectors of life: A land of plenty and want!
The State of Osun is easily likened to a treasure island. The earth’s crust of the state is richly endowed with vast resource in minerals. On account of this revealing truth, the state should be a rich source of blessings and prosperity. However, this is not realistically so, as activities in the mining sub-sector has virtually turned the supposed blessing into curse. In recent times, there are increasing concerns and worries over trends of events in the mining sector in the State of Osun. These concerns and worries stem from the mining and mineral exploration activities in themselves; as well as the myriads of crowds the activities attract into the state, as operators traverse distances far and wide to tap from the riches that lay within the earth’s bowels of the state. This thronging of humans, though should be, in the ordinary sense a source of joy and hope of wealth to the minds of residents, save for the fact that the predisposing conditions are neither too cheering nor heart-warming, premised on many grounds.
Observations made earlier in the year revealed that the water flowing through the courses of River Osun, which criss-crosses a great part of the state and which give the state its name has turned from its glistening lime colour into mud-brown. This trend would have generated less tension and apprehension; were it to be now, during the Rainy Season, when torrents of heavy rains are expected to increase the volume of water flowing through the river bed. Even now, the colour of the water flow is not so muddy. This development, coming up during the Dry Season (February and thereabouts) indicated that something was amiss. We are renewing our call for a thorough investigation and intervention steps to make things right through consummate regulation of activities in the mining sector of the state.
It was reported in the said earlier edition that amidst these concerns and worries, experts waded into the matter and found out that the flow of particles and substances that were washed off from mined minerals through the handiwork and operations of some amateur miners operating as illegal miners in some parts of the state must have been the root cause of the palaver. These washed-off particles, by-products of mined stones are mostly lead particles which could poison a great number of inhabitants of the state, rural dwellers along the courses of the river in particular, who rely on water from it for their drinking and other consumption need.
It is imperative to clarify that there are many other rivers within the state, aside the Osun River. However, all these rivers are interconnected and all of them empty their contents into this main river at different points along its ample courses as it flows along. This reddening of the Osun River and its attendant poisoning, which could lead to pollution through the killing of water creatures and contamination of water (through pollution) for residents is one of the numerous risks which the state runs through playing host to these amateurish miners, simply known to all as illegal miners.
There are other risks and dangers associated with these indiscriminate and unauthorized operations of these ground diggers whose search into lengthy depth below the sea level is focused mainly on finding gold minerals and other treasured stones available within the precincts of the state. The areas of their operation within the state are located mainly in the Ijesa axis of the State of the Virtuous.
Available records and facts of history everywhere have it that any area where such unprofessional exploration and exploitation of the earth’s crust occurs is susceptible to human-induced natural disasters like earthquake, landslide, gully erosion, substantial loss of economic trees, loss of farm lands, imminent destruction of flora and fauna and diverse ecological concerns. The bottom line of this entire range of catastrophe is that the situation spells untold hardship for the people and the end-results are squalor, poverty, penury and lacklustre despondency.
Emerging situations within Nigeria and across other lands and climes have added a greater line-up of challenges which are of very grave and highly dastardly proportions. These are problems associated with invasion, incursion, armed banditry and insecurity, which gives rise to kidnap, insurgency, abduction and other absurd social vices resulting eventually in massive loss of lives and property. These marauders are consisted mainly of those who had earlier been outlawed and banned from other parts of the country and who now sought refuge in other parts of the country. Earlier, incidents of reported criminal activities of bandits in some states in the North-West geo-political zone, especially Zamfara, Sokoto, and Katsina states, where scores had been killed and several kidnapped for ransom came to public glare with attendant public apprehension and concerns.
Even though illegal mining operations are not just coming up as new trend in Nigeria, it is troubling how other vices are coming up in conjunction with it. These vices, which include armed banditry, insurgency, cattle rustling and myriads of others, are so mind-boggling and terribly alarming. As a new phenomenon, they are associated with displaced insurgents in the North-East; though emerging revelations, which linked the menace of banditry in the North-West to illegal mining in Zamfara and other affected states gave other narratives to the whole drama. Part of the narratives is that these nefarious activities called illegal mining are bankrolled by the privileged elites of Northern extraction; hence the stiff resistance to its elimination and its fighting back and resurgence in other parts of the country. This ugly situation continued to play out, in spite coordinated security arrangement and increased deployment of security operatives to those areas, the tempo of criminality went on perpetually and became an embarrassing National security burden to the Federal Government.
Most recent of the vices associated with indiscriminate drift of these illegal miners is the susceptibility of the areas of incursion and its residents to infections by diseases as deadly and debilitating as the novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
In a subtler approach that took the form of suasion, it will be recalled that the Buhari administration sometime in 2015 / 2016 attempted to reorganize these illegal mining activities through the conversion of their operators into a more socially acceptable and legally amenable operation called “modular mining”. That measure, like all similar measures embraced before it and thereafter is failing to yield desired results.
Tackling the menace head-on, the Federal Government, acting on the advice of the Ministry of Defence gave an order to suspend all mining activities in Zamfara and all other states in the North-West where illegal mining activities were the order of the day, following intelligence report that suggested close collaboration between the activities of the bandits and illegal miners. Similarly, the Nigerian Army established 8 Division with headquarters in Sokoto to cover Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina and Zamfara states while the Headquarters of 1 Brigade was relocated from Sokoto to Gusau. In addition to that, the tactical headquarters of 8 Division has since located to Gusau. Similarly, the Nigerian Air Force also established Quick Response Force in Gusau and landing areas in Gusau and Birnin Magaji respectively.
The measures, though adjudged to be effective for the places they were meant, caused an infiltration for some other areas of the country, among which the State of Osun occupied a topmost position. It has been reliably established that as soon as illegal miners started feeling the heat of security operations in the North-West, their attention began to shift to other areas where those nefarious activities had been going on; and as such, Ijesaland, in the Osun East Senatorial District of the State of Osun became considered alternative.
Historically, the Ijesa axis of the present-day State of Osun had been long reputed to have a great deposit of gold and other related minerals. As a matter of fact, there are large deposits of natural stones, 99.5 per cent of which are pure gold in Ilesa, an ancient town occupied by a distinct Yoruba race known as Ijesa, and adjoining towns and villages.
Unfortunately, the huge presence of these mineral deposits in the area has not translated into wealth and prosperity for the indigenes and residents as many of them are living in wanton squalor. As if to add salt to injury, their sources of wealth, their land and farms and their rivers are being destroyed through the nefarious activities of these marauders called illegal miners. The nailing of the coffin is that their health is about to be jeopardized, except frantic and decisive measures are fashioned out to nip the problem in the bud.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria codifies the rights and power of exploration of solid minerals and other precious mineral deposits on the exclusive legislative list; implying that only the Federal Government can explore and exploit them. Attempts by governments at the state level, the State of Osun in particular, to have the powers ceded to them and / or to get concessions for legal mining, have not fruitioned well. Unfortunately, these minerals are being mined and pilfered away in the most unprofessional ways; poising grave, unquantifiable environmental, health and ecological challenges to inhabitants and threatening their good life and continued existence.
Frantic efforts by the immediate past administration in the state to square things up with the Federal Government on this issue proved abortive. This is not to talk of earlier efforts by successive administrations in the past. Even in the old era of military administration, military administrators in the old Oyo State, of which the present-day State of Osun was a subset, tried their best. Sometime ago, the incumbent Oyetola administration signed a pact with some expatriates to begin professional exploration and partner with governments at the state and federal levels on this very lucrative aspect of the economy. The self-same threats of abduction, banditry and other vices traced above are casting shadows of inertia on the laudable pacts.
Why then, should a state so richly blessed be languishing in lack and want? Should the people of the state, those of Ijesaland extraction in particular be subjected to the kind of hardship, hazards and tragedies recorded in the Niger Delta region of the country before necessary steps are taken to ensure their welfare? Should Osun and its people be left to their own fate until their area become disaster grounds owing to these ever-increasing activities on unprofessional illegal miners?
The Federal Government is urged to rise to the occasion promptly so that the wealth of the people could be realistically utilized, engaged and brought to bear on their welfare and living conditions. More so, as the State Government of Osun is showing greater interest in expanding its means of revenue generation and ensuring greater degree of welfare for its citizens, citizens are called upon, as individuals and groups to rally round government and see to it that all forms of illegal mining operations are ridded of. It is only through this that brighter future prospects can be assured for this and incoming generations.