In February 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration published its Economic Recovery Growth plan (ERGP) 2017-2020. One of the plans was to create an enabling environment to enhance private investment targeting energy minerals, iron/steel and gold/ gemstones and decrease value leaks/loss by formalizing informal mine activities. It also planned to increase local refining capacity to meet domestic demand and become a net exporter of petroleum( including Bitumen) products by 2019. But in contrast, the Kaduna refinery which can only refine bitumen has been epileptic.
Many Nigerians have over the years been clamoring for the diversification of the nation’s economy away from oil. But if Nigeria is to diversify today, can the exploited and illegally mined solid mineral resources sustain the country?
Uthman Samad visited Ibodi in Ife-Wara, Ilesha, in Osun state and Agbabu in Ondo state investigated how billions of Naira is lost to illegal, informal mining and how economic resources are left untapped.
Sunday Aina has always thought he will reap the fruit of his labour, not until the artisanal illegal miners, majorly from the Northern parts of the country, chased and threatened him of death if he tries to disturb their activities on his farmland.
The sun could not help Sunday as his face was full of thought and preamble to tears while he was angrily matching to a nearby police station to arrest the invaders of his farmland.
“I am going to the police station to arrest the Hausa guys on my farm land. They even have the effrontery to threaten that they will kill me. They told me their boss said he has bought the land from the owner, anyone disturbing them should be laid off. If I don’t see the police, I am heading straight to the Baale Asun’s palace to report them.” Sunday said with a shaky voice.
Sunday, who could not control tears welling up in his eyes, lamented how plots of land full of grown cocoa was destroyed by the invaders to source for gold.
Mr Adeloba, a septuagenarian who live in a village called Baale, some kilometers to the Ibodi mining sites, is left with nothing after his farms were destroyed by the invaders searching for golds. His house is the only remaining building in the area after others have been smashed.
Ayeda’de village, a sister village to “Baale” is no more in existence due to the artisanal and illegal search for gold as the members fled after farm lands were destroyed and dug which turned less habitable nor for farming.
Adeloba bemoaned how the now dredged lands were basically for farming and constitutes a high percentage of the community’s domain of cocoa annually.
He told this reporter that whoever wishes to be paid by the king after the land has been taken from them, will go to the Oba Enitan Ogunwusi’s (Oni of Ife) palace. They will only be paid for the farm proceeds and not the land as the Yoruba believes “the land belongs to the king”. This reporter reached out to the palace of the king through the press secretary. On November 10, Moses Olafare, the King’s press secretary replied a comment request on whatsapp that he is in United States and will reach out by November 13. Till the last minutes of filing this investigation, Moses Olafare did not reply whatsapp messages nor pick several calls from this reporter.
Alluvial gold was first discovered in 1940 around Ife and Ilesha. Gold was first reported in September 1940 from the Owena River North of Ife-Ondo road. Later in December 1941, mining began South of Temogun. Between 1941 and 1952 over 50 ounces of gold were recovered from the stream sediments. According to research, Osun State’s gold is second to the best in the whole world.
Ibodi-Ife Wara and Illegal daylight Mining
In July this year, the Osun state governor, Gboyega Oyetola, visited Ife-wara mining sites. He decried the horrible state of exploited land and promised to regulate the activities of the miners.
Despite, on this reporter’s visit to the sites, there was no sign of regulation nor future impact on the sites. However, new roads were just being graded for heavy trucks to transport the raw gold.
On the ibodi mining sites, over 110 men were seen in the dug area using local instruments to mine. Meters away to the site were wooden houses built by these same men to keep their heads.
For a stranger walking on any farm land in Ibodi and ifewara needs to be careful as these artisanal miners had either dug the ground from a far distance to the extremes of walking path or had dug the walking way, covered it later with wastes. This reporter dipped into one of the half-filled dug grounds before being helped and briefed by a farmer around the area.
Rabiu, a 26 years old artisanal miner from katsina welcomed this reporter who disguised as a labourer into their midst by handing handling a pack of cigarette and a wrap of Indian hemp to this reporter. He gifted this a welcome package.
“When you smoke this, you go get energy to work well, oga will like you like me”
He has been mining in ife since 2017.
“I leave sabo as early as 5am, by 6am, I will be here and that’s when I start work daily.
“If I don’t mine gold in a day, I may fall sick. My Oga like me very well for my hard-work. That’s why he pays me N4,500 daily. Others collect less”, Rabiu was divulging this as he was lighting the Indian hemp for this reporter and himself. He confirmed that other artisanal miners on the site collects at the range of N1,500 and N3,000 daily, based on how they are able to dig and come out with gold.
According to Rabiu, miners on the same site with him are from Zamfara, Niger state, Niger Republic, Mali and Katsina state.
“Mining in ifewara is a lucrative business. That’s why you see us coming here”
On the other side of the site is another set of miners who are over 30 in number. These ones have one interpreter among them who understands Yoruba and Pidgin on an intermediate level. They were later realized to be from Kogi, Niger and Zamfara, each of them having been living in Ile-Ife communities for the past 4 years.
Aliu popularly known as ‘Boss’ and Abubakr welcomed this reporter to their midst with a brandishing shovel and a digger asking different questions, enquiring to know the reporter’s mission in their circle.
“I am here to work as a labourer. I want to be mining too” this reporter said with a pleading voice to the interpreter.
Aliu told this reporter to feel at home. He shared his opinion about Nigeria being divided by language and politics.
“the Chinese on this land have always form to be our boss, whereas we Yoruba and Hausa are one. We are here on Yoruba land mining for them, and making money together”
Aliu has spent more than 4 years in Ife-wara mining sites. He has worked for over 10 different unlicensed companies as labourer as he later confirmed. He is currently with the 11th and still hoping to make more living from the gold farming lands.
He divulged that couple of months ago, the present mining site was a very fruitful cocoa farm. “it was just earlier this year that the Chinese brought heavy machines to this site and crushed away all the cocoa tree on the land. I can’t really say the farmers were really paid but I saw them coming here afterwards crying one afternoon and till now we have been here working, money dey here ooo”, he said smoking and laughing to show his excitement.
Aliu left this reporter to take his digger and jumped into the heavy water logged section of the site to source.
Welcome to “Store” where gold is a street business
For someone hearing “store” as a name of a community for the first time may have varieties of interpretation and inferences. The close thought will be “a particular building for cocoa storage and trading”. Exactly, that’s the grand idea behind the naming a long time ago, but now, it’s for gold!
For a minor in store- a densely populated area with a hybrid of Yoruba and Hausa artisanal miners- mining is the first exposition. Store is a small community in Atakumosa east beside Igila village in Ilesha.
Informal and illegal mining here in “store” have been seen as a norm to the extent that bargaining of farmland is done without formal agreement nor signing of any paper thereby making gold mining and trading the only doable business here.
For a land to be bought for mining, it has to be tested which the intending buyer pays N10,000. The expanse of the land dictates the amount to pay for it after the land has been confirmed positive. The positivity then dictates how expensive the land will be sold.
This reporter disguised as a part two student of geology in Obafemi Awolowo University who’s on the verge of getting an assignment done-which worth 30 marks, ran into a popular gold miner and gold black marketer ‘legendary’ “single 2”.
Single 2 left Ifewara in 2014 for Ilesa. Since then, he has moved from one gold rich community of ilesa to another till “Store” where this reporter met him. He owns a kiosk-like shop close to the express road that leads to the mining farms.
“as you are seeing this place like this, it’s N3,000 naira per month, it’s even less, some people rented theirs for N4,000, 5,00. We are all making our sales, especially during raining season”
“if you can wait for more minutes, you will see as my clients will be bringing market for me. You will see how we dry it and sieve the sand away, they are just being late today maybe they are still in farm mining.”
In a Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) 2016 report shows that presently, the informal mining sector dominates the mining activities in Nigeria. The report also contains the details of 1,200 registered mining cooperatives across the six geo-political zones of the country, mainly represented by the Artisanal or Small Mining (ASM) actors.
Video of Mining make
Not long after this reporter was planning to call it a day when two teenagers, Musa and Adnan entered single 2’s shop for business. The shop owner is a middle man popularly addressed as ‘single two’.
Musa, 16, had worked on a mining site where he stole a bit of raw gold into an emptied sachet of water to sell for single 2. He does this not frequently, only when they aren’t paid hugely for the work done for the day. The money made from this kind of trading makes dinner for him and his friend Adnan. Both left Zamfara in 2018 when mining activities in the state turned grey.
They both followed Zubair, a Suya seller to Osun state to learn from the business and serve as an apprentice to him before they noticed digger and other artisanal mining instruments are sold in every shop in “Store”. This gave a pointer to the duo which they now continue mining instead of their earlier intention.
“Single 2”, Musa and Adnan chorused with an amused face which was met with a grin from Single 2’s too as he understands they were there with “market”
Adnan, 17, lamented how they were unduly paid by the owner of the site they worked on due to the fact that they were seen to be young while not considering their level of professionalism.
At a side of the shop is a 2KG gas cylinder and spoons of different sizes. Musa brought out the stolen gold particles from his trouser, tied to his right thigh. He put the particles which is thrice of a pinch of salt into a sizeable spoon and placed it on lit gas burner. This process enables quick separation of sands from the gold particles.
Musa was given a new N1000 note to place the remaining particles which will give a better separation as he blew away other sand particles.
The got gold particles were placed on the scaling machine which was weighed to worth N2,000 in values
Single 2 divulged to this reporter, that gold particles of “this size- using the upper part of his thumb as a perfect example- is around 5million naira”.
Like Ibodi, Like Ilesa
Just like Ibodi in Ife-Iwara, the land degradation activities on the visited mining sites is huge and posing environmental hazards. For a stranger like this reporter, it is always best for the person to follow the foot traces on the ground, if not, any miscalculation of steps can lead to the death of the person. This is based on how the lands have been dug.
“Just walk on the same path with me. If you like, do otherwise. Those grounds you are seeing bare having been connectedly dug from one side to another, if you step on it, you are gone ooo”
Single 2 said this while taking this reporter on a visit to a mining site situated inside an army barrack in the community. The land was said to be sold by the authority of the barrack following a forensic survey of the land and was confirmed to be positive.
“We are already planning to leave”
Students of the Osun state college of Education Ilesa residing in Ajangila hostel have lamented the desperate attempts of artisanal miners mining centimeters to their resident, alledged of several attempts to dig pass their hostel.
Agangila hostel is a storey building located meters away from Osu-Ilesa road in Atakumosa east. The mining site beside this building has made students who are more than 40 in number searching for new hostel due to the fear of the building sinking overnight.
According to a resident of the hostel, the hostel and the land were inherited by the sons of a late chief in the community. The mining activities on the land started earlier last year. The house was willed to a son of the chief’s first wife, while the land is for the second wife’s eldest son.
“we have complained to them that we use to hear them digging close to our rooms. But our caretaker seems not to take it seriously. The other son sold the land to a rich man earlier last year, and can you see, see them, that’s how they will dig till evening. We are already planning to leave; we are leaving after this semester. Imagine we sinking overnight”
Can Gold Exploration sustain Osun state?
Gold is used for stability of paper currencies, jewelries in alloys with platinum – it is used in dentistry and it is used as a coating on aircraft engine.
A research paper published in 2014 in European Journal of Business and Management, titled “Mineral Prospecting Potentials Of Osun State” written by Ajeigbe O.M, Adeniran O.J and Babalola O.A of department of banking and finance, Osun State Polytechnic Iree, proves that 20 million ounces of Gold occur in Atakunmosa East; Atakunmosa West and Ife East of Osun State as the quantity available was discovered to be exploitable over a period of 50 years at an economic rate of about 850 ounces supply per day.
The research exposed that a total of 15, 300,000 ounces is the minimum available Gold in Osun State which amounts to over N263 billion: this is justified on the premise that the supply of Gold at an economic rate of 850 ounces per day is the only rate that can last Osun State for a period of 50 years and more without diminishing in quantity. With more discovery of Gold in the state, it can only increase 850 ounces supply per day but it never reduces it.
According to a professor of geology, Olugbenga Akindeji Okunlola of the University of Ibadan, in 2017, also in his research finding entitled “Riches Beneath Our Feet: Mineral Endowment and Sustainable Development of Nigeria” postulated that the gold deposit in Osun state is worth $5 billion, which equals N1.5trillion (at current CBN rate).
He said Iperindo in Ilesha, Osun state, has a proven reserve of one million ounces “in a 1km2 area up to a shallow 100m depth, comprising a series of gold bearing (Gold-quartz-carbonate) veins localised by subsidiary faults, hosted within biotite gneiss and mica schist. Grade ranges between 1–23.6g/ton. Currently, this deposit is worth over $1 billion”.
“The worth of the Ilesha gold belt occurrences could be in the range of $3.1 to $5 billion at current price regime… Nigeria might well be the new frontier in the coming years for gold exploration in West Africa,” he said.
He added that “If it is mined and Osun takes 13% derivation, that is some N200 billion revenue over the lifespan of gold mining.
The professor explained that the federal government does not mine any deposit as her main function is to regulate mining activities.
“Federal government does not own any mining company, what federal government does is to regulate the mining activities. So, if anybody can collect a license, once you fulfill all the rules and requirements”
Professor Okunlola also expatiated why state governments are at the receiving end of the gains from the mining.
“in fact state governments have more advantage because they know where the resources are. The state themselves have every opportunity to even get licenses for choice areas. So, what the law says is that its not for bureaucracy, form a company like osun state livingspring company or Omoluabi company, get licenses. Like they have which I am aware of, osun state has about six to seven licenses on gold alone and they form joint ventures. Whatever comes out of that joint ventures, if they have formed a joint venture, for example, with segilola and they co-fund, they will be part of the over 2billion naira asset of segilola. And do you know it is projected that by 2030 that gold will be selling for $2000 per ounce.
In contrast, for the whole of 2016, Osun state collected N5.9 billion as federation allocation and internally generated N8.89 billion while in 2017 and 2018, the state received N10.4b, N22.8b and generated N13.49b, N20.2bn respectively
Through management, diligent exploration and sincere dedication to end illegal and informal mining in the state, Osun state can be one of the financially independent states in Nigeria. This also will lift Osun out of her drowning domestic and international debt which at present sums up to over N169.9 billion
Agbabu: where Economic Resources are left Untapped
Aside gold, Nigeria is also greatly endowed with large deposit of other mineral resources that are left bare, naked and untouched. Agbabu’s bitumen in Ondo state is an instance.
Nigeria is ranked as one of the first five countries in the world endowed with largest deposit of natural bitumen, however, research activities on the vast deposit of Agbabu natural bitumen in Nigeria have largely been concentrated on the physico-chemical and engineering characterization.
The Nigeria bitumen reserves are found in Lagos, ogun, Ondo and Edo states. Agbabu in Ondo state, is known for her high deposit of natural bitumen which rakes huge amount of Nigerian bitumen deposit.
Nigeria being one of the largest producers of crude oil however, the mid-stream sector of the oil and gas sector has made her heavily dependent on importing refined petroleum products and this includes bitumen. Currently, Nigeria’s annual consumption of bitumen is a little over 500,000 metric tonnes and the market has been quite stable and increasing due to the epileptic performance of the Kaduna refinery which is the only refinery in the country that produces bitumen at the moment.
This reporter visited two observatory wells built by the defunct Nigerian Bitumen Corporation (NBC) located opposite Saint Stephen’s Primary School, Agbabu and the other close to the community head’s house.
As observed, the bitumen deposit is so much in the ground to the extent it is forced out to the surface. This has made the marshy area where these wells are to be firm and seeming as if it is tarred.
According to Mr Abraham, a member of the community told this reporter that they “know quite well that we have bitumen which has been a point of attraction. We have no problem with it but, I am not educated, but I know this can make this state richer if tapped”. Mr Abraham, the septuagenarian has been living and farming in the village for over 45 years.
He expressed that the only moment they feel happy having bitumen on their land is when the representative from the federal government comes to check yearly.
“don’t go there, no one dares to” Mr Abraham answered with full strength while this reporter quizzed if he has ever heard of illegal tapping of the resources. “ we can never take that here. No one can even try it without being led here by the government”
“We have it in abundance, we want make government tap it and make our people employed, you can also see it flowing out already. Our children are jobless. We are just tired here but hopeful”
According to an academic paper, Nigeria has been reported to have a proven reserve of about 42.47 billion tons of bitumen- almost twice the amount of existing reserves of crude petroleum- but yet to be explored for economic purposes.
Geologists, Economists Blame state Government
A professional geologist and former Ogun State permanent secretary, Ipinniwa Steve commented that the political will to diversify from oil is the only contraint bewildering Nigeria from attaining the desired economic status.
“We have potentials in every mineral sector. We have very blessed in this country. Our problem is that we have been paying less attention to solid minerals. Some of believes that if our attention as nation is tilted to the sector, it can bring us the economic status we have been clamouring for. If we are to talk of sustainability and other things, let’s ask for political with it. Do you know when bitumen was first discovered in the country? And we continue to import. The bulk of this lies on the state government. but we can still blame them too when the Mining act gives less power to the state”.
Atiku Samuel, and economist and BudgIT research lead also shared similar view with the Ipinniwa. The condemned the structural issues surrounding the extractive sector generally and called for revamping of the whole system, which he opined that this can cure the sickening economy.
“you begin to wonder why the state which are endowed with this mineral resources still suffer for economic survival. The FAAC is there to tell you that there is little significance these resources hold to their economy, virtually less connection. The structural problem is all mineral resources in the ground is being “owned” by the federal government of the federation and that is by design.
“As such states like Kogi, Zamfara, Osun can not independently bring in investors and invest in these solid minerals, that’s one thing. Limestone also is a solid mineral, Kogi produces limestone, likewise Ogun state, but we need to look at their IGR and revenue distribution and you to ask yourself some difficult questions that how much is the federal government of Nigeria earning from these things, it is totally non-existing. If you look at FAAC and what government earns from solid mineral, then look at how much Kogi, Osun, Ogun, are getting individually in terms of 13% derivative, you will be shocked that it is nearly zero, that shows that less attention is paid to solid mineral. Another thing that will shock you is that there is no incentive whatsoever for these states with solid minerals.
“I don’t think the principle around the fiscal governance around solid minerals in Nigeria is actually favourable to the people. The general assumption there is that the solid mineral sector in Nigeria by design to fuel what we call private accumulation.
Absolutely, I can tell you if these states are independent in thinking and have the will to turn the sector, they will be able to stand on their own. My general assumption is yes, you can use the solid mineral in your state to build a basics for you to have a vibrant economy”
Hope on the Way
In the last economic summit held in Osun state which lasted for 3 days, 19th-21st of November 2019, the State Governor, Gboyega Oyetola, disclosed that the state has received a sum of N100 million from Badger Mines, a Canada-based mining company, as sign-on fee for exploration and development of one of the state’s mining titles.
The governor disclosed that the government had earlier executed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the mining company as part of necessary preparation for the commencement of mining operations in the state.
He said, “Our mining sector, like agriculture, is an old industry yet to be fully harnessed. The State of Osun has ample reserves of a variety of minerals, notably gold, lead/zinc, quartz, feldspar and several precious metals.
“We occupy a unique place in the mining sector in Nigeria. We are a mining State that hosts solid minerals. We are also a State that has invested in acquiring the licences for solid minerals under our land from the Federal Government.
“No other state in Nigeria can offer the unique combination of both regulatory and commercial fusion. We are a risk-ready State with an appetite for enterprise and reward for winnings.
“The State acquired 17 mining licenses for Gold – 10; Quarry – 4; Lead/Zinc – 2; and Quartz and Feldspar -1, from the Nigeria Mining Corporation, and we are willing to partner with interested local and foreign investors to develop these mineral resources.
“Our policy for the mining sector is implemented and overseen by the Osun Solid Mineral Development Programme. This programme commenced in June 2019, and has already achieved some encouraging milestones in its First Quarterly Report in 5 of the 7 intervention project areas of the programme.
“The intervention areas are Osun/Omoluabi Mining Business Restructuring Scheme (OMBRS) to commercialise the state-owned mining company. Osun Revenue Diversification and Maximisation Scheme (ORDMS) is a scheme to register all miners, mines and mining equipment and report on all mining activities in the State in partnership with private sector technology partners.
“We are happy to report that 9,000 artisanal miners have registered their biometric data on RFID-enabled tags with our technology partners. I am also happy to inform you that Osun recently executed an MOU with the renowned international mining firm – The Badger Mines – for the exploration and development of one of our mining titles with a signature bonus of a Hundred Million Naira (N100m) already paid.