Lawal Mayere is a retired permanent secretary in Kaduna State.He served in the ministries of land, works, solid minerals , environment and natural resources. He is currently, the chairman of Kaduna State chapter of Miners Association of Nigeria (MAN). In this interview with RAHILA ABDULLAHI, he talked about the challenges of illegal mining and efforts to stop it.
What is your take on mining activities in Kaduna State?
There is prospect of mining in Kaduna State because a lot of mineral deposits are left untapped.
How has the association been able to handle the challenges associated with mining activities in the state?
The challenges are so numerous, the first being the security issue. We have the efforts of he state government to handle the issue, but issue is connected to politics, that is why regardless of the efforts being made by the government, insecurity still persists. The other issue is the problem of lack of organisation of the mining sector itself, based on the fact that mining activity is not organised. If you look at the mining generally, it has been provided for in the various rules and regulations to make it organised, but these rules and regulations are not known by so many, talk more of following them. I noticed throughout my activities that laws are made but not implemented, even the security agencies are not conversant with the mining laws. The miners themselves are not conversant with the provisions of the mining Act not even to talk about the general public, this is because in my opinion, the government has neglected the artisan miners, these miners are the main operators in the mining sector but the government has neglected them while addressing them as illegal, but they are there doing the business. What is obtained in other countries is that they first identify these people, organise them so that they operate within the law, so that when other investors come, they will feel comfortable, but these people are rejected and this makes them wander like the Fulanis, and the major problem of the Fulanis begins with land ownership, so the government should be in control of these artisans so that whatever they get will not be smuggled out as it is being done now.Whenever one goes to the bush, you meet people of other nationalities giving them full support with the condition that if they got anything while digging, they will sell it to them.
The mineral sector is not also contributing to the GDP, I have written several papers on that since the inception of this government from December 2015, but nothing has been done and they are the main artisans, even in the case of Zamfara State where you keep hearing that the crisis of the state was caused due to gold which is not true, they are going behind these people to operate because these bandits you see will not be patient enough to dig beneath the soil to get gold because gold is not like mango that you see and just pluck, it takes a longer time to get gold, whatever the social media has been showing to the world is not true, it was just an idea to confuse the mindset of Nigerians.
Following persistent killing in Zamfara, the federal government has banned mining activities in the state, do you think it is a step in the right direction?
It is not a wrong step per say, what I understand is that the federal government just wants to embark on massive security operation, the security situation dictates that for any serious action to be taken, then everybody must evacuate the place because these bombings and killings will not identify who is a legal miner and who is not, so to me it is the right step towards calming the security situation there.
Birnin Gwari also has peculiar security challenges, what is the true situation in that axis where mining activities also take place?
These artisans are the ones who still undertake the activities there. When people are mining and then a company comes to mine another thing in the same area, this is what causes the clash. Organise them first and carve out a place for them and ask them to work there, it will give them a sense of organisation, but most of these artisan miners dig with very poor equipment, the bandits, armed robbers and other criminals are all in the bush, more so, these illegal criminals keep telling the artisan miners to join them in doing the illegal business because they feel they are a threat to them. The insecurity is connected with illegal mining because the bandits are siding with them to operate. Information reaching us is that when these illegal miners were dislodged from Zamfara State, they moved to a town in Kano State called Sumaila where they are also mining gold. The bandits are using the illegal miners as cover up for their activities.
What do you think is the way forward?
We saw it as a wisdom to set up another association called Small Scale and Artisan Miners Association of Nigeria which is different from the Miners Association of Nigeria, this is because, the small scale and artisan miners are more critical in this sector presently, and they are the ones that need to be organised and with this, it will assist the government in organising the mining sector, this is because without organising this sector in Nigeria, the nation will not benefit from the huge solid mineral deposits because no matter government’s effort, this people will continue doing their job and they cannot be stopped, they should be organised into cooperative societies as well.
What role is the committee set up by the federal government through ministry of mines and steel development which you also chair in Kaduna, playing?
It has a role to play because it is a committee that every state of Nigeria must have. It will intervene in the mining sector, this implies we must ensure smooth mining operations where we operate, we must liaise with the state government, the local government, communities, the miners themselves, we also settle disputes among communities and we also ensure that miners operate within the law and that they remit the necessary taxes, we take care of the degradation of land because of its importance, for instance when you go to the bushes and find abandoned ditches and people end up falling into such ditch and because of its depth you cannot bring them out. All these are security issues. Government must reclaim such sites for economic activities such as fish pond, source of water supply or farming.
Can we say mining in Kaduna State is successful?
With all the security challenges, if I say mining operation in Kaduna State is successful, then I will be challenged. We are trying to identify serious companies just as we did in Kagarko local government area of the state where a company came to mine iron ore and they promised to set up the industry there which will in turn create employment in that particular region and also other opportunities. There is also one for granite industry which is located in same area and is mining legally. We on our part, are trying to locate other industries doing legal mining so that they will be provided with the necessary security for a smooth operation, if communities know the benefit of legal mining, then they will stop all illegal mining activities in their environment and they will be at the benefiting end because once a legal miner comes to operate on their lands, they will be paid compensation for using their farms, they will sign community development agreement and also the farmers will get ground rent annually. But illegal miners kill the farm owners and claim the lands.
So how best can government handle mining activities?
The federal government should use the resources available to organise the mining sector properly by organising the artisanal miners. The state government should create a company that will participate in the mining activities and will also create job opportunities for the people of the state.
In one of my articles, I said solid minerals development are balancing factors, balancing in the sense that once each state is seen to be contributing to the economy, then some section of the country will not be called parasites. I urge the federal government to take three major minerals from each state, say one from each senatorial district, develop and do the exploration, do the feasibility studies, build the record before even allocation, and am sure from the geological survey, they have the data which will guide them. I am aware that the Federal Ministry of Mines has started this exploration but not with the kind of mindset I proposed. Doing so will allow some states to have something to hold on to for survival, and this is my idea.
Your call to illegal miners?
I have only good news for them which is that we have come to their aid by setting up this association for them, they should come out and embrace the association because it is for them.It is aimed at organising them, promoting their rights and protecting their interests, they should show the association a good understanding.We are here with all sincerity to assist the artisan miners in the state.
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