For those familiar with the inanities of bandits and terrorists, the recent revelation that what is fuelling their operations in parts of the North, especially in Zamfara State, is the proceeds from the activities of illegal miners should not have come as a surprise.
For years, that state has been in the news for the wrong reasons. It got so bad that it became an example of a failed state declared so by one of its former governors. Banditry and its manifestations in cattle rustling, kidnapping, rape and mass abductions were and still are so rampant that the government of the state is literarily doing nothing but pamper these criminals who are getting emboldened by the day. This sad situation arose when the government decided, against international best practices, to negotiate with the enemies of society. We appreciate the fact that the government may be acting out of desperation. But it has ended up playing into the hands of the bandits who are, to all intents, mere fronts for the real rogues.
In this whole scenario, what this newspaper has not been able to decipher is the ease at which these criminals get away with their nefarious acts. It is either there is an absence of intelligence or it is poor. Whichever is the case, we are gratified at the seeming reawakening within the nation’s intelligence community following the recent directive by President Muhammadu Buhari banning illegal mining. It is possible that they were waiting for a presidential directive to investigate the root cause of the flourishing business criminality has turned out to be in parts of the country. Or for that matter, such highest level intervention was an essential requirement to put the perpetrators under surveillance. Nigerians, in our opinion, are expectant as they await the outcome of this renewed effort to put the real bandits and illegal miners behind bars for good.
As it is gold for arms in Zamfara state today, so was it also oil for arms in the Niger Delta in the heydays of militancy, diamond for arms in Sierra Leone and elsewhere. The endless crisis in the Congo Republic is as a result of thieves who fly in to evacuate the stolen minerals and handover weapons that ensure that the criminals not only sustain the onslaught on the economic resources of the country but also ensure that the state of crisis and confusion continued unabated. Because, by their perception, it is only under such condition of instability can the roguery thrive.
Meanwhile, we are persuaded to argue that what is happening in Zamfara presently and, indeed, other parts of the North, is that the bandits use kidnapping and cattle rustling to draw attention away from the real source of the money they need to source their arms from the black market – illegal mining- which has a massive foreign interest. The militants did the same in the Niger Delta. While the security agencies were worrying about kidnapping of oil workers, the militants were exchanging oil for arms with pirates and jeopardising the nation’s economy.
The President was spot on when he also declared Zamfara state a no- fly- zone. Still, we think that it is not enough to either check the activities of illegal mining or those of the criminals. But it is, without doubt, a positive way forward. If the security operatives intensify and sustain the ongoing push, surely the ensuing heat will be enough to melt the core of the illicit trade.
While the government and the security agencies are on that, it is important to suggest to the authorities to follow the logical next step which is to take the battle to the foreign scene by engaging constructively with the international community – the United Nations and Interpol for example. Speculations are rife that the gold illegally mined in Nigeria is already available in gold markets in places like Dubai. The Nigerian government must feel repulsed enough to let the world know what is going on especially the aspect that concerns the use of solid minerals mined in the country to source for arms and ammunition by these rogue elements. Part of the reason why normalcy returned to the war-turned West African countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia was when the international community moved in and declared diamond mined and sold by warlords as rogue. Which means decent society was not to buy them as that will entail encouraging the instability and blood bath in those countries. That declaration and the persistent diplomatic moves restored peace in those countries. Nigeria was in the forefront of both measures.
We are, therefore, urging the Buhari administration to apply the same pressure on foreign nations and get them to declare gold and other solid minerals mined in those troubled spots rogue so as to asphyxiate the terrorists and their sponsors.