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From Clement Adeyi, Osogbo
There is palpable tension in some Ilesa communities in Osun State, following what residents described as total invasion of their farmlands by Hausa gold miners constituting serious menace to the indigenes.
A visit to Ijana Wasare near Ilesa in Atakumosa Local Government Area will give any first time visitor an impression that he is in Sabo area of any typical Hausa community. As you approach the entrances to the communities, which are predominantly farm settlements tucked in rustic hinterlands, the first things to welcome are an avalanche of motorcycles popularly known as okada, suya and tea spots, sugar canes, puff-puff, water melons, cucumbers and lots more.
Then, Hausa men, wives and children in their numbers, mill around the various mini markets where “businesses” boom every moment of the day. They move about doing their businesses, while others gather in groups chatting and playing different kinds of games. Many of them are farmers and labourers.
You begin to wonder whether they have houses where they sleep. Reason? The houses in the communities could be counted on your fingertips because they are farm settlements. Within 20 minutes, you can go round the makeshifts, which are not far from one another. They even have their leader called Seriki Hausawa.
Daily Sun gathered that the major attraction is gold, a major mineral deposit in the area. Ilesa is rich with several kinds of mineral deposits, especially gold.
Since they discovered that the lands predominantly used for cocoa farming are endowed with mineral resources, especially gold, they decided to settle there for mining business. Apart from them, there are also artisanal miners digging for gold for years and addicted to the trade.
They do not bother about the risks involved in the indiscriminate digging of pits from which they occasionally get gold. Several of them died when such pits collapsed.
In Igun-Ijesa in particular, over 2,000 pits were dug with tools such as tractors, shovels, diggers, cutlasses, pumping machines, generators, spades and pans.
While the quantity of the precious treasure beneath the ground has not been accurately determined, the local miners who lack the necessary skills have been selling the quantities they can extract at prices below the standard global prices.
They pay a paltry sum of N50.00 daily to obtain ticket that allows them to dig for gold. They feel that they are not running at a loss if they sell an ounce of it to middle men for between N5,000 and N7,000, which is a mere fraction of over $1,000 global price. Thousands of the pits abound in the farmlands where they carry out the operations.
They are usually contracted by middlemen to dig for gold. They pay them based on the quantity of the stuff they are able to deliver. The dealers then take the products to the major gold merchants on wholesale basis. By this, they rake in millions of naira through the mining activities.
This prompted the Osun State Government to declare the activities as illegal since the miners do not have licence to operate. It lamented that the miners have been significantly defrauding the state of huge sums of money.
Daily Sun gathered that government already declared war against the culprits, warning them to desist from the act or be ready to face the wrath of the law. It warned that only those with valid licence should not entertain any fear.
But despite these warnings, the culprits have not given up. They sneak to the farms early in the morning to carry out their illegal activities. They also go to the farms in the dead of the night in search of the product. They invade the farmlands digging for gold with impunity.
A visit to some farms and forests confirmed that many farms have been devastated and are in ruins, following deep pits and gullies dug by the miners. Authorities have complained that the practice constituted a huge menace to the farmlands, forest reserves, cocoa plantations and vegetations.
Often times, the illegal miners claim they are not aware of the existing Nigerian Mineral and Mining Act 2007, Section 94, which stipulates that the purchase of minerals without an official licence is prohibited. The middlemen too don’t bother about the illegality of their operations.
The host communities whose lands and farms are facing serious devastation are helpless because they believe that the activities of the miners are legitimate since they (the miners) claim that the tickets that guarantee them the right to dig for gold are purchased from officials allegedly attached to the Ministry of Mineral Resources. The pits and channels dug by the miners also expose the host communities to various risks.
In Gona, Ajewanwa, Ijana Wasare, Atepe-Akire and Igbadae communities, the miners dig pits as deep as 20 meters. They also create channels under the ground. The activities seriously affect the major access roads, which are on the verge of caving in. They therefore put their lives and the lives of the dwellers in host communities at risk.
Recently, the Special Adviser to Governor Rauf Aregbesola on Forestry, Natural and Mineral Resources, Tunde Ajilore, recently led officers of security agencies, including soldiers, police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), to raid the illegal miners in the farms. He lamented that Osun State had been losing millions of naira to the illegal mining and exploration in Ilesa.
During the operations, over 200 miners scampered to safety when they got a hint of the raid. They left behind work tools such as pumping machines, pans, shovels, cutlasses and diggers behind. Culprits arrested were handed over to the police for further investigation and prosecution.
Ajilore disclosed that government placed a ban on mining activities in the state till further notice. He insisted that for any miner to be allowed to operate, he must have fulfilled all the constitutional requirements by obtaining mining licence from the Federal Government as well as operational permit from the state.
He said the entourage also visited the traditional and community leaders of the three communities which have been the operational bases of the mining activities to register government’s grievances. He charged them to call the illegal miners to order and ensure immediate relocation of the Hausa who are the major culprits.
Farmers complained bitterly that the miners fell thousands of cocoa trees, timbers and several other cash crops like colanuts, oranges cashews to be able to access enough portions of land to dig for gold.
They warned that if the activities were left uncontrolled, then the state’s rich forest reserves and vegetation already under threat would soon cave in. Some community leaders cried blue murder that the miners had almost taken over their lands and farms in carrying out their illicit business.
One of the traditional rulers in Igbadae community, Oba Olaosebikan Olanrewaju lamented: “They have ruined most of our farms, looking for gold. But despite the huge sums of money being raked in from the mineral resources business, government has failed to bring development to our community. There is no good road, no clinic, no school, no potable water. We are suffering here.”
He alleged that government agencies were collecting Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) tickets from the miners and their contractors: “That is what gives them boldness to engage in the act.”
Eleje of Epe, Oba Sina Samuel, lamented: “We are helpless. Government has been holding meetings with us on how to find a lasting solution. Our farmers and landowners are parts of the problem. They encourage them a lot because they hire their lands to operate and collect money from them. Now that they pose as land owners, it is difficult to chase them away.”
A cocoa farmer, Moses Adeyeye: “When they came to this community newly, we thought they were sent by government which used to give them tickets for operations. But when they settled down, they started claiming that they have the right to live in any part of the country because we are all Nigerians. Now, they are giving us problems. They have almost taken over our farmlands with their mining activities.
We don’t know what to do now. Even if they are chased away in the daytime, they sneak to the farms in the night and continue their operations.
They are ready to fight with dangerous weapons if you insist on chasing them away. They steal our farm produce such as kolanuts, oranges, plantains and banana.”
Another farmer, Yekini Olayinka said: “I have spent 23 years in this community. Some of us acquired our farmlands with money for cocoa and other cash crop farming. But after some years, Hausa people started sneaking to our farms to dig for gold through connection with farmers that own the Ijesa lands. They attack us in the farms and kill some of our Yoruba farmers in the process. They have ruined our farms.”
Yoruba women are not left out in the complaints against the gold miners’ escapades. Amudatu Aduke: “They have taken over markets from us. They are many in number. In fact, they are more than we Yoruba. They buy market from themselves. They don’t always buy things from us. They know themselves and cooperate with themselves. They steal our firewood from our farms. They defecate everywhere in the farms and if we complain, they attempt to fight us.
Bosede Ayeni: “They don’t toast our daughters nor rape them. There is no case like that so far. They only carry cutlasses against us when they steal from our farms and we complain.”
The Seriki Hausa of Epe-Akire community, Rabiu Ibrahim, promised to caution his subjects to discontinue the illegal practice. He also agreed with Ajilore to ensure the relocation of his people:
“I will talk to them to stop the gold mining business since government has declared it illegal. I will also encourage them to relocate from the farm settlements to Ilesa to find something doing as Oga has instructed. I am sure they will cooperate and there will be no problem.”