On Thursday, August 18, 2022, the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, announced the outright ban of illegal mining of mineral resources in all parts of the State. He said that illegal mining poses security and environmental threats not only to the area where the mineral deposits are found but the entire state.
Consequently, he revoked the mining agreements some community people had hitherto entered into with some illegal miners and warned that anyone caught mining illegally would face the wrath of the law.
A few months before the ban on the operations of illegal mining, the Governor had announced the discovery of a large deposit of gold in the Kwande local government area as well as other minerals in some parts of the State.
The news of gold discovery was cheerful to Benue people because the mining of minerals, especially gold, attracts local and foreign investors, which means more revenue would be generated for the state directly or indirectly. By extension, it means it will create job opportunities in the value chain of the mining sector.
However, as much as the news of gold discovery in the state was pleasing to the imagination of wealth creation for the state and its people, the fears are great.
The fears that Benue State could face security issues as a result of illegal mining are just as valid as those that states like Zamfara, Kaduna and other North West States are going through at the moment. These States, especially Zamfara, which is arguably the epicenter of illegal mining, are faced with a plethora of security challenges ranging from banditry, kidnapping, and other forms of crime believed to have been caused by illegal mining activities in the State.
In the article, “How Illegal Mining is Driving Local Conflicts in Nigeria,” authored by Maurice Ogbonnaya, a Senior Research Consultant, posited that a large percent of mining in the North West region of Nigeria is done illegally and is largely the cause of insecurity.
“An estimated 80% of mining in the North West region is carried out illegally and on an artisanal basis by local populations. The mining of large untapped mineral deposits in the area, especially gold, which has strategic importance and economic value, is at the root of community violence.”
Maurice continued that there are two ways illegal mining leads to violent local conflicts and they are all sponsored.
“Illegal mining leads to violent local conflicts in two ways in the North West. First, those funding the mining fight over control of the mine fields..Second, those who sponsor illegal mining also fund banditry and cattle rustling in mining communities in order to incite violence among cattle breeders and rearers. ”
The Zamfara security situation, where bandits, a product of illegal mining, have almost overrun the State should bother every patriotic leader about the activities of illegal mining in the country. Beyond the insecurity that illegal mining creates, another danger is the soil degradation it causes. Illegal mining shortchanges the community as they benefit nothing from the mining activities as they should have if legal mining had taken place. Of course, with legal mining, the communities where mineral deposits are found benefit in terms of projects of various kinds.
Governor Ortom, certainly, has foreseen the dangers of illegal mining and how it will affect the state; and being a visionary leader, he has taken decisive measures to ensure the right things are done for the mutual benefits of the state, the community, and the miners.
The Governor has once again proven that he owes the Benue people security for their lives and properties. He has demonstrated this on several occasions. It must be noted that Governor Ortom is the ranching crusader in Nigeria, who has consistently fought for the ban on open grazing. He had warned that unless states implement ranching policies, the herdsmen attacks on Benue people would spread to other states. Today, his warning has come to pass: armed Fulani herdsmen are everywhere in the country attacking innocent Nigerians.
While there are growing calls by Nigerians for the delisting of mining from the Federal Government’s exclusive legislative list to a concurrent list to allow states to play a more prominent role in the sector, Governor Ortom must be commended for his foresight in the areas of security and other development policies for the State.