Blamed on the delay by the federal government and relevant stakeholders to ensure that legitimate gold licence holders commence gold mining at Dangbala in Akoko-Edo Local Government Area of Edo State, the activities of illegal gold mining have continued to threaten the peace and harmony once enjoyed in the community.
In early December 2021, a peasant resident of Dangbala community Mr Peter Adelabu Kokumouffered a deep machete cut on his head at Oketegbe gold mining site of Dangbala in Akoko-Edo Local Government Area of Edo State.
Kokumo was lucky to have survived the deadly attacks from illegal gold miners who invaded the quiet and sleepy but mineral-rich Dangbala community.
His offense and others attacked was their boldness and attempt to confront the armed illegal miners when the news of their return filtered in the community after the site was shut down last year by the Edo state government.
Apparently worried by increased attacks and the need to allow legitimate licence holders to operate as part of the efforts to ensure enduring peace in the community, residents of the Dangbala community have expressed worry over the upsurge of attacks in the community. They also stressed the need to halt the activities of illegal miners in the area.
The return of hundreds of these illegal miners was said to have been allegedly backed by some officials of the Zonal Mining office and (NSCDC) officials in the criminal exploitation while genuine license owners and the host community watched helplessly as they blundered their resource.
However, the two government agencies allegedly fingered had on several occasions denied any involvement.
More worrisome is the worsening security situation where kidnapping, banditry, rape, and armed robbery in the local government area has become the order of the day, prompting the need for increased surveillance by members of the local vigilante in the troubled community.
The heightened insecurity around Akoko-Edo and Dangbala community LEADERSHIP Weekend gathered was blamed on alleged ineptitude of the Zonal Mining Office, the Ministry of Mines, Steel and Power, and the delay by relevant authorities in ensuring licensed owners return to the site.
At the moment, the Akoko Edo Security Network, a concerned group under the leadership of Comrade Victor Onofa Aseriabo and Aimanerimi Arogunyo has raised urgent concerns over threats to security in the locality. They also noted that the act had given impetus to the seemingly organised illegal gold mining in the community.
The group lamented heightened kidnapping in Lampese Okpameri and the boundary town of Magongo, in Kogi State occurred almost on a daily basis. Recently, some women were kidnapped from the tourist town of Ososo while traveling from Abuja, while the children who were deliberately freed, were asked to take the message home.
Also, Reverend Father Aloysious Oregbemeh of Lampese Catholic Church was attacked around the same spot where an Ososo woman and her driver were adopted. The Priest was lucky that only his windshield was broken.
Also, a farmer and hunter of Agbokodo quarters, One Omoloja on 21 December, 2021 beaten and macheted by herders on his way back from his hunting adventure. He is currently receiving treatments in an undisclosed hospital in Akoko Edo.
The concerned group, however, called for aggressive raiding of the forest which should be carried out by the military, police, armed Civil Defense, and local vigilantes.
The genesis of the unrest
In March 2021, following the discovery of a large deposit of gold by core investors in solid minerals in Dangbala opened the community to the invasion that has so far halted the operations of genuine holders of the mining license.
The investors had also expressed reservations that much had not been done amid its petitions and calls to the Ministry through the Zonal Mines Offices in the state. It was also gathered that some of the licensed miners have been forced to abandon their site because of the activities of illegal miners to avert physical clashes and assaults.
The licensed miners noted that the illegal miners had graduated from working without certified documents, while some with documents work in an area where they do not have jurisdiction or license to mine gold or any mineral resources. They do this by parading fake licenses to wood-wink security men when they are confronted. The heightened tension and threat to peace in the community had compelled the state government to shut the site.
Brazen return of illegal miners
In an apparent defiance to the directive of the state government ban of mining activities in the Dangbala community, some illegal miners in December 2021 under the cover of the night staged a brazen return to Oketegbe site to continue their criminal activities.
The return created tension in the community, just as their activities have become an issue of security threat in the area.
The residents said they now sleep and wake with the fear of not knowing what to expect in the community.
A resident of the community, Emmanuel Akugbe stressed that besides security threats to the area and by extension the state, both the community, state, and the federal government are losing a lot of revenue through the illegal activities of the miners.
Akugbe noted that the ‘’once peaceful community has been turned into something and may snowball into what will become a problem to the community and state as a whole.’’
However, the Concern Indigenes of Dangbala (CID) said the illegal miners move in with their equipment at ungodly hours and carry on with their activities with impunity.
The convener of the group, Philip Adelabu said with the way they go about their activities, one is forced to believe that they have outside forces backing them.
According to him, “As I speak with you, the leadership of the community is divided on the matter, while some pretend not to know what is happening, others who are speaking against it are being shut down.
“This is the reason why few of us came together and decided to come out publicly to call for urgent action to be taken by the authorities to stop this madness that has become a security threat if not handled with dispatch.”
When contacted, the zonal mining officer, Mr Abdulkadiri Adamu, said he was not aware of the return of illegal miners to the area since it was shut down by the Edo Government.
“Edo State government placed an embargo on the activities of miners in the area and am not aware that they (miners) are back there,” he added.
But the spokesman of the community, Collins Nicholas while speaking with newsmen in Benin demanded the prosecution of those arrested in connection with illegal mining in the community.
Amid the return of illegal miners, he said those behind the illegal mining in the community had also resorted to frivolous petition writing against those opposed to their criminal activities to mislead the public. He also called on the Police authority to unmask them.
According to Nicholas, “Presently, illegal mining still strives in my community day and night. Those benefiting boasted that they are untouchable.
“Even when local security (vigilante) came, they prevented them from gaining access to the site. Secondly, they are using the name of our traditional head to write petitions against those who opposed them.
Also, the special adviser to the governor of Edo State on Security Matters, Haruna Yusuf, when contacted also confirmed the arrest of four miners, and noted that the matter is being handled by the police Command in Benin.
Also, a group under the aegis of Concern Indigenes of Dangbala (CID) in Akoko-Edo Local Government Area of Edo, said the delay by the Federal Government and relevant stakeholders to allow legitimate license holders to commence mining at Dangbala site was fuelling illegal mining activities in the locality.
The group stressed the need to allow legitimate license holders to operate became necessary as part of efforts to ensure enduring peace in the community and also to curb the activities of illegal miners in the area.
“We want the government to allow those that have certified license and have been duly cleared to be allowed to take over their respective space in the Oketegbe mining site.
“Once they are allowed to go back and occupy their space, it will check the insecurity and ward off unscrupulous people from having a field day like they did when nothing was happening there.
“We do not know who to trust again because a security agency involved and saddled with the responsibility has come out to deny this against what we (residents) know to be happening,’’ the group said.
It would be recalled that the spokesman of the community, Mr Collins Nicholas, had recently raised the alarm of the return of illegal miners to the community months after the place was shut down by the State government over security issues.
Nicholas had alleged that officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) were providing cover for the illegal miners.
Nicholas said the miners who work both during the day and night, carry out their illegal activities because they have the full protection of security agencies.
However, the allegation was promptly denied by the spokesman of the NSCDC Command in the State, Mr Efosa Ugbebor, who said that the place had been guided by its officers since its closure.
The recent arrest
The Commandant of Edo Command of NSCDC, Mr Aniekan Udoeyop had in the face of the allegation arrested four illegal gold miners.
The arrest came after weeks of denial by the NSCDC operatives that no illegal miners are operating in Dagbala gold mines.
The NSCDC Commandant in Edo, Mr Aniekan Udoeyop, stated this when he briefed newsmen in his office in Benin last weekend.
Udoeyop stated that the suspects, who hailed from Kogi, Kebbi, Taraba States and the Federal Capital Territory were arrested in December and added that the suspects were caught by NSCDC operatives in conjunction with local vigilante groups at Damgbala community in the Akoko-Edo Local Government Area of the state.
The commandant said that the suspects had contravened the Edo Government law banning mining and noted that the suspects will face the full wrath of the law, to serve as a deterrent to others, who may want to engage in similar ventures.
“It was gathered that those arrested by security operatives are stooges working for some powerful individuals benefiting from the illegal activities which call for proper Investigation to unmask those in the cartel,” he said.