Sounds of gunfire shattered the joy of the season in Barkin Ladi, near Jos in Plateau State on Christmas eve in 2013. The tragedy the sounds heralded also changed the life of Simi Adams as some masked gunmen killed her husband, marking the beginning of a life of hardship for the artisanal miner.
Her husband, Benjamin Adams, had gone to a nearby clinic to get antibiotics for their two kids (aged two and four years). He was accompanied by two friends. He was barely out of the store when the sporadic gunshots began. Mr Adams and his two friends were caught in the crossfire.
Mr Adams was the breadwinner of his family. His occupation was tin mining, which supports many households in the Jos area. His widow had no prior experience of mining until his death when she was pushed into it by her circumstance and the need to take care of her children. She has since experienced something worse than the tedium of the occupation – sexual violence.
On a hot October afternoon in 2021, Ms Adams (now 28) and her friend, Katmua (29), were on their lunch break at a mining site in Kafi-Abu community when this reporter spoke with her on her experience as a rape victim.
“Katmua will tell you,” she said in Berom, her indigenous language. Katmua, a graduate of Community Health at the College of Education, Pankshin, said her friend had been raped twice at the mining site.
“The first one happened in September. We were going home at night when Simi said she was hearing footsteps behind us. We started running and didn’t notice that she had fallen down. When we traced her back, we found her lying on the ground, wounded. Maybe they used their hands to block her mouth from screaming because we did not hear any sound from her,” Katmua said.
The Kafi-Abu mining site attracts miners from different communities in the area like Rakwok, Razat, Gindin Akwati, Ganarwok, Barkin Ladi and Ruga. In such large gatherings around mining sites, sexual atrocities are common. Yet, no case of sexual offence has been recorded by the Gender Unit of Nigeria’s Ministry of Mines and Steel since it was established in 2013.
“Another one happened on October 29,” Katmua continued. “She came to me where I was washing ‘kuza’ (tin) and took me to a corner. I noticed she was crying and then she told me what happened.”
Ms Adams had gone to a corner of the bush to ease herself when she was raped. Her story is one of many female artisanal miners’ in Nigeria who are raped at mining sites. But the stories are never told and the victims never get justice.
Sex for ‘kuza’
Unlike Ms Adams and her friend Katmua who spoke about their horrific experiences with sexual predators at the mining site, many young women and girls at Kafi Abu, some as young as 12 years, seemed to have accepted rape and sexual harassment as the norm. The reporter observed men and women, young and old, flirting at the site. “You have it both front and back and you still don’t want to give me,” a male miner teased Katmua. “Dam buruba,” she cursed him lightly in Hausa, the language commonly used in the area.
“The other day, a man touched my breast as I was wheeling. I screamed at him but an older man sitting nearby only said ‘mai nene a wurin?’ (‘what is there?’)”
Noro Samuel, 21, said advances from men are a constant thing for younger girls.
“Some of them will ask you and if you accept, they may keep sand or ‘kuza’ for you,” she said.
Ms Samuel has been working at the site for four years to support her aged mother.
“I agree sometimes and we just go and play around in the bush,” she said. By ‘play around’, she explained, she permits him to fondle or kiss her.
“If you don’t agree, they will not give you ‘kuza’.”
Ms Samuel said she was working at the site to save money to go back to school. “(What I make) is not encouraging, but at least, it is better than nothing.”
The reporter observed women, mostly indigenes and Fulani young girls, hanging around the site.
“They hang around until the day’s activities are over and then they go to a corner. Sometimes they follow the diggers to the hole to have sex and when they come out, they share the ‘kuza’ with the diggers,” Katmua said.
A report by PREMIUM TIMES showed that even though women are in the majority at many artisanal mines, they are mostly relegated to the menial and lower-paid sectors of mining such as rollers, pan carriers, washers and food providers. They make between N1,000 and N5,000 daily, but sometimes N10,000, depending on the quantity of tin mined from a well. The meagre earnings have pushed many women into trading their bodies for ‘kuza’.
Sexual harassment such as rape, request for sexual favours, unwanted physical contact and unwelcome sexual advances are common at mining sites, this reporter found.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UCHA), an estimated one in three women worldwide will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime. Men and boys are often targeted as well. These abuses come from both married and unmarried men and women. Some of these encounters lead to unplanned pregnancies and forced marriages, like the case of Phoebe.
Phoebe, in her early 30s, started living with her husband when she got pregnant for him at a mining site at Foron in 2010. They now have five children together; yet, he has failed to perform the cultural obligations of marriage involving payment of bride price. And she gets very little financial support from him.
“Sometimes he gives me just N3,000 a week and that is why I go out to look for money. Mining gives me quick money,” she said.
“Sometimes we would be on his own side of the bush where he operates and I would want to go to another bush. But he would object, thinking that what happened between us would also happen with another person. So that is how we would pick up fights,” she said.
From the way her husband interacts with other girls at the mining site, Phoebe suspected he was having extramarital affairs. But she cares little about that. Her only concern is to fend for her children, she said.
“Sex at site, an abomination here”
A new mining site has just commenced operations at Rakwok. Unlike Kafi-Abu, which has miners from different ethnic groups, Rakwok is predominantly occupied by the indigenes. As a result, occurrences of sexual abuse are rare.
PREMIUM TIMES met John Pam, who has been a miner for close to 30 years. He had just finished taking ‘kunu’ (millet drink) and was preparing to get into the hole to commence the day’s activity when he spoke with this reporter. He spoke in Pidgin English.
“We come to work here to earn a living. We never think of sexually abusing women. But there are people who do things like that. However, here in Rakwok, there is no sexual harassment, unlike at Kafi-Abu where I formerly worked,” he said.
According to Mr Pam, who was joined by Aloy Pam, another miner who specialises in pulling the turners out of the well, the miners at Rakwok appointed a young chairman who settles disputes among miners on the basis of laws set by them.
“We once caught a boy who raped a girl. We beat him and sent him away,” Mr Pam recalled.
Mr Aloy said even consensual sex is not allowed at the site because it pollutes the land and drives the spirits of luck away. “That kind of thing makes all the tin in the land disappear, it is an abomination,” he said.
Asked if any sexual offender had been reported to the police, he replied in the negative. “You may go and report and then they may settle the police officers and then come back and fight you for taking them to the police station.”
No case has been reported to us – MMSD
The Mining Act (2007), which regulates the exploration and exploitation of solid minerals in Nigeria, has no provision on issues relating to sexual harassment and all forms of SGBV at a mining site.
“Gender-based violence in the mining field, is that a regular thing?”, quizzed Patrick Ojeka, the director of Artisanal and Small Scale Mining at the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development. He said since the Gender Unit was created in 2013, no case of sexual violence had been reported.
However, he said: “If it is not reported, it does not mean that promiscuity does not take place.”
Also, Mr Ojeka said it would be unfair to say that sexual violence happens at mining sites because the artisanal mining sector is not regulated, He said his unit was created specifically to coordinate and regulate the activities of artisanal miners.
“We are taking that step to form them into cooperatives for the purpose of mainstreaming them and that is a globally acceptable step in the right direction,” he said.
According to him, the unit has carried out a series of workshops and sensitisation campaigns on the creation of cooperatives. Through these formations, incentives and enlightenment materials are distributed to women, with financial support as well.
“The ministry currently has a lending window with the Bank of Industry. They have created opportunities to access funding of up to two million naira (about $4,000), but only those belonging to the cooperatives stand to benefit,” he said.
According to him, this formalisation process started in 2010.
“I am only interested in those who obey the call of the government to formalise, if those ones are complaining, that is an issue I step in but those who have refused to formalise, why should I go after them?”
Speaking on this issue, Blair Rutherford of the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, said the authorities need to prioritise the rights of women, even if they are engaged in work that is viewed as breaking the law. He said it would be wrong to think regulation of artisanal mining would end sexual violence in mining sites.
“I say this as potentially even if ASM (artisanal mining) is regulated, there may already be reticence among police for taking SGBV seriously, perhaps especially of women in rural areas regardless of what economic activity they are doing, and I would be a bit hesitant in assuming formalisation of ASM will somehow ensure police taking GBV against women seriously.”
According to him, formalising the sector privileges the powerful, which means many women are squeezed out of this economic livelihood.
“So there is a big risk when governments or donors or NGOs start carrying out regulating/formalising activities unless they have a real strong sense of how ASM is currently gendered in terms of the various economic activities open for women or how any enforced requirements of regulation will play out in terms of this gendered economic field.”
He suggested substantive community involvement in such formalisation processes, by an NGO that prioritises women’s rights.
“The danger is often that such ‘participatory’ discussions are dominated by local mining elites (mainly men and often a few women) who will try to make sure the regulations benefit them and not the majority. So having a switched-on feminist NGO or researcher involved in such a process can help,” he said.
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