From Grace Obike, Abuja
The Federal Government has promised to prosecute the 17 Chinese illegal miners recently apprehended in Osun State.
The two caught in Zamfara State sometime ago and others apprehended for illegal mining will also be prosecuted.
The government said although the Chinese are the most culpable illegal miners stealing the country’s gold, it is aware that other nationals like the Senegalese, Burkinabes, etc are also mining the country’s gold illegally and will be dealt with when caught.
Minister of Mines and Steel Development Olamilekan Adegbite broke the news in Abuja at the weekend at a press briefing.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the price of other industrial minerals to crash, save for gold, which happens to be the safest currency in the world at the moment.
Adegbite said an ounce of gold is currently being sold for about $1768 at the International stock market, increasing the importance of gold and the mad rush of illegal mining.
The minister said that he had met the Chief Justice of the Federation on the matter, who advised that he should work with the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and the Attorney General to designate some particular courts to accelerate hearing and do justice to the people.
He said: “In the last few days, social media have been flooded with apprehending of illegal miners. It was first in Zamfara State, then more recently Osun. If you notice, the two states are along the gold vein. We know for sure that in Osun State for example, a foreign company is already working on the mine there and we have potentials in so many other areas in Osun and Zamfara states for gold.
“Because of the ongoing pandemic all over the world, other industrial minerals are not selling so much now because industries that will use them are shut down. Also because of the economic problems associated with this pandemic, currencies are losing their value. So naturally everybody is seeking gold. Right now gold is the safest currency in the world. If you look at the International stock market, the price of gold keeps rising, I think the last time I checked it was $1768 to an ounce of gold. This increasing importance of gold and the demand for it has brought about an increase in Illegal activities of mining. I dare say, no foreigner can come into Nigeria to get involved in illegal mining without conniving with our people.
“A lot of our people invite these people. As we have said several times, we are trying not to criminalise artisanal miners in the country, who mine so that they can feed, but bring them into the fold and it is the activities of artisanal miners that these illegal miners hide under to perpetrate their act. Despite that the Federal Government placed a ban on mining activities in Zamfara State early last year some sort of illegality was still going on, especially with foreign nationals. The foreign nationals that have been identified are Chinese, Burkinabes, Senegalese, etc, but particularly the Chinese.
“What we have found out is that these people attract artisanal miners with small funds, who allow them to work. But what we see in recent days is that because of the dwindling price of oil, which is having an adverse effect on the federal income and subsequently the sub-nationals who rely on the Federal Government accounts will be affected as such. So every state is now waking up to its duties to support us in guarding the minerals in their states.
“We have never been able to successfully prosecute any illegal miner in Nigeria, so we have written appreciation letters to the governments of the two states who have apprehended these people and urged them to allow us as the body empowered to prosecute these people under the mining act for what they have done. States may take them for some misdemeanour such as environment, but the crux of their crime is illegal mining and only the Federal Government has the mandate in Federal High Court.
“Early this year, I met the Chief Justice of the Federation on this and he advised that we should work with the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and the Attorney General to designate some particular courts so that we will have accelerated hearing and do justice to these people. So these people that have been caught now, we have asked the states to let us prosecute them to the maximum extent of the law. There has been pressure, especially in Osun State, to release these people because most of them are working for Nigerians in authority, but thank God the Osun State Government has so far resisted this pressure. In Osun we have about 17 foreigners that have been apprehended and two in Zamfara.
“We are taking them to the Federal High Court. The case is being compiled. In the past they had assumed that we could only bark but not bite, we have caught some people and the case often gets lost after a few years and it is not heard again. But now, if we are able to prosecute these people successfully, which we intend to do, it will send the right signals to others who are doing this. We found out that most of these foreigners involved in this are in the country illegally, so some of the measures we want to take are with the Ministry of Interior to ensure we checkmate this. We will also be going diplomatic on this, dealing with their embassies, especially interacting with the Chinese embassy in Nigeria so that it will not seem like we are unfairly targeting their people. So they can also keep these people in check.
“As an effort to curb this, we are also looking at registering all miners in Nigeria, local and foreign, to know who is working legally and illegally. Maybe after this lockdown is all over, we will work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to work with the Dubai authorities to ascertain that any gold that is coming from Nigeria must have export certificate from Nigeria, so that when we issue export licences, we also send it to UAE just like we send to the Customs in Nigeria. To ensure that Nigerian gold exported illegally will be repatriated where the government keeps 70 per cent of the price of the gold and UAE keeps 30 per cent. Nigerians need to know that gold, which we have in abundance in Nigeria, is selling very well and if we guide our gold reserves and make sure that we exploit it properly, the revenue derived from it will be comparable to what oil and gas fetch for us.”