The scorching sun and strong cold wind have formed marks on the miners’ skin; their faces plastered with red sand blowing in the harmattan air. Despite being exposed to the dry air and cold, as most tin mining sites are located around mountain tops, the dauntless miners gather in groups without footwear to look for their daily bread.
Despite the harmattan, which had already set in by October, Mama Ladi and her grandchildren are undeterred. Ladi Pam, popularly called Mama Ladi, is over 60. An indigene of Barkin Ladi, she resides in Sabon Layi, with her five children and 21 grandchildren.
Although a tin mining site was only discovered in this community a few years ago, Mama Ladi has, for over 35 years, mined tin ore with other women at different locations in the area. She has depended on the sales of this solid mineral for her daily upkeep for years, as her husband is old and weak and her sons out of jobs.
When she met this reporter in October 2020 at Sabon Layi Tin mining site, she and her grandchildren had already gathered a small portion of washed tin ore with the hope of moving them to the tin shade for sale. She uses the proceeds to purchase items such as school books, soap, cream and clothes for the family.
“This is my purpose here on earth and God will judge me faithful. One day when all my strength goes away, my sons will take care of me as I did them,” she said happily with an aura on contentment.
Sabon Layi, in Barkin Ladi, Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State, has over five tin shades spread across different communities for miners to sell their extracts.
While Mama Ladi and tens of others operate at Sabon Layi, a large number of artisanal miners fend in other areas such as Kuwait, Bagin bingiga, Zat and Maiyanga. Of these areas, Sabon Layi has more miners on-site as tin deposits were recently discovered in the location and like a wave, the miners usually migrate to the new one.
The process of mining is majorly done with local appliances and involves many hands. Once the miners have successfully charted a ring for themselves after moving to a new site, they go and settle the landowners with the sum of N50,000.
Charting a ring or hole in mining means acquiring a space to mine.
In such a situation, the viability of a site determines the number of rings found, as one is likely to find about 10 rings in a plot of land. The amount paid is to seek permission from the landowner to mine the land, the government plays little or no role here.
Sometimes, the money is contributed by between two to eight persons, depending on their financial strength; other times, only one does. When multiple people come together to do this, the gains are shared among the sponsors once the extraction process is over.
Although women function prominently in this process – identifying viable sites, paying off landowners, mining, washing etc. – they are seen mostly in the menial, less capital intensive parts of the process. They are mostly involved as rollers, pan carriers, washers and food providers.
Tin is widely used for plating plating steel cans used as food containers, in metals used for bearings, and in solder. Tin-plating of iron protects it from corrosion.
Ruth Ezekiel, one of the artisanal miners in Sabon Layi, said it is very hard to find women who sponsor men to mine. Ruth has been an artisanal miner since 2015 and joins other women in mining on site.
“Some women are also afraid to sponsor because, at the end of the day, the men cheat them by taking higher portions,” Ms Ezekiel noted.
On a typical tin mining site, the currency used for purchase is tin. For the women that wind the wheel, they are rewarded based on the number of turners pulled out. For instance, if they mill out 10 turners, they share one turner. If they mill out 30 turners, 10 of them will share three turners.
If the holes mined in a week contain enough tin deposits, a woman can make between N30,000 and N50,000, an average of N5,000 to N10,000 per day. Most female miners who spoke to this reporter said they use these funds, which is not always that much some times, to meet domestic needs, making it difficult for them to save enough to sponsor mining holes.
Glory, an indigene of Ebonyi State, who recently joined the miners due to economic hardship, is one of those that would never dream of sponsoring a mining hole no matter how much she wishes to. She has been earning N1,000, or less per week in recent time.
In 2018, her husband’s provision shop was burgled, leaving them with nothing. So she decided to combine mining with other menial jobs like tending to pigs and harvesting farm produce during harvest seasons for local farmers.
“It has not been easy for me as a woman, sometimes the other women pity me and give me small portions of their tin, then I go and sell for N300 or N400, in a week I make between N800 and N1,000.”
Tedious mining done by women
Every stage of the tin mining process is as strenuous as the digging itself. After charting a hole and settling the landowner, the diggers begin their journey into the thick, dirty and muddy sands, ignoring the possibility of a ‘hole crash’. They dig to almost 60 feet until they locate tin deposits. This process could last up to two weeks.
As they dig wide enough for only one man, they put the sand in the turner, the women mill the turner out and drop it back into the hole. These women identify themselves as members of that mining group.
Another group of women bring food for the labourers to quench their thirst and hunger. They also attach themselves to that group until the process is over when they can receive their shares. After digging is over, the heaps of yellowish sands are stored for the next day when washing commences, using a long pipe connected to the stream and pumped by a generator.
They use the shovel to wash by turning the yellowish sands over and over. During this process, the tin ore, which is heavier than sand, separates itself at the bottom. The washers are in three levels; the first at the top washing and separating the tin from sand, there is a higher concentration of tin here; then the remaining flows down to the second and the third washers; after which you get to the bottom, where you find the women who had served meals or helped in transporting the sands scurrying for leftovers, like Mama Ladi, her grandchildren, and Glory.
“If God blesses your hole, one day you can carry N1 million to your house”, noted Emmanuel Chung, one of the sponsors who had come to supervise the work. He added that since women earn very little money on-site, they cannot afford the amount needed to pay for sponsoring a rig; men do that instead.
A sponsor in the tin mining vocabulary in Sabon Layi is one who invests capital to employ other miners to extract tin. He or she bears the burden of feeding the miners, renting mining tools, and facilitates the entire process from start to finish, including transportation.
Being a sponsor, Mr Chung is not involved in any of the ‘dirty jobs’, he only supervises, retrieves the end product once done and pays. Most people who do this at the mining sites visited are males. On the other hand, females constitute the majority of the workers on the ground.
For instance, at Sabon Layi mining site, out of 109 miners, 53 of them were women, 47 men, and nine children.
Mr Chung said it takes a lot to become a sponsor. “After you get a pass as a sponsor, you need to hire able-bodied people who can dig and wash. You need to provide all the equipment they need, and food of course and make sure you settle them well after everything.”
Although they wish they could, most females involved in mining do not have the financial wherewithal to become sponsors.
Some men helping women miners
PREMIUM TIMES visited two tin shades in Barkin Ladi where tin mining transactions take place. A typical tin shade in Sabon Layi has machines, such as separators, which filter tin from columbite, iron and sand, and measuring scales for weighing the quantity of tin. Buyers and sellers of tin assemble here to transact business.
After the women arrive from the mining site, they dry the mined tin on a cemented floor and take it to the separator. This consists of about five nozzles where the solid minerals extracted alongside tin are filtered out into different pans.
Once the separation is over, they take the tin to the scale for measurement. Half a scale of tin costs N1,000, one scale (1 pound) costs N2,000 and a bag (70 pounds) costs N140,000.
The manager of FKJ Mineral Resources tin shade, who simply gave his name as Samson, said his clients are mostly men.
“Sometimes the women bring between 1 – 10 pounds and earn between N5,000 to N10,000 while the men bring like a half or one bag and earn between N70,000 and N140,000.”
From what was earlier gathered, what women bring to the shade most times are proceeds from their labour as they are usually paid in the mineral rather than money.
The situation is the same at Hamdan Kasiran tin shade. Iliya Kasiran, the manager said, “our major clients are men, we only support women.”
Mr Kasiran noted that the only support his company gives to women is by providing interest-free loans for them to be able to sponsor tin holes so that the goods can be brought to their tin sheds.
“But this support is not much because women are yet to be fully integrated into the sector, most of them are unskilled labourers,” he said.
Mr Samson at FJK reinforced Iliya’s submission. He said that his company gives women money to go to the mining sites and buy tin where it is less expensive.
“When they buy from there, they bring it back to us, we take out our cut and pay them for whatever is left, that is how they make their gain.”
He, however, noted that this category of women is different from the rollers, pan carriers and washers on site; saying they are more advanced.
Favourable tin business for ‘advanced’ women
This reporter observed that while a large number of women profit less from doing labour, especially the unskilled ones, others on the top side of the chain benefit from the business. The category of women that provide auxiliary services earn less, they are mainly ‘illiterate’ and are employed as labourers, ore carriers, washers, panniers, and they help crush fragmented big boulders into smaller aggregates or provide goods and services.
Whereas women with means and knowledge about the business, although only a few, sponsor different holes and make profits from buying and selling.
One of them is Esther Yakubu. Ms Yakubu has been sponsoring, buying and selling tin over the last two years when she first ventured into the business. When she first started in 2018, she had only N10,000 and had to get a loan from FJK company where she works. Ever since then, she has been able to carry out enough businesses. Through this, she has been able to buy a piece of land and train herself through school.
Ms Yakubu said there are other women who collect loans from FJK company and sponsor sites like her, but their numbers cannot be compared to that of men. She was quick to say that the business is profitable and favourable to all, irrespective of gender.
“Yes, it is a profitable business, whether as a woman or as a man, for me it has been profitable. I was able to buy a piece of land and trained myself through school from the buying and selling tin. I have a lot of customers who call me every time.”
Although there is no association of sponsors in Barkin Ladi, Ms Yakubu said there is likely to be only eight women out of every 20 sponsors, even as she insisted that the profession has no respect for gender.
“It is favourable for both men and women, there is no discrimination, strictly business. If you know the business as a woman, you will make money. All you have to do is to be diplomatic with people. In fact, sometimes the labourers prefer working with women, because when things get tough, if it’s man-to-man, it may lead to fighting, but with a woman that is less likely to happen,” she added.
Just like Emmanuel Chung, Ms Yakubu does not have a license but works as a staff of FJK company, a tin shade.
“As long as the job keeps coming, I am not planning to leave this business anytime soon. I am having plans of growing big, eventually have my own tin shade where I can process my material. I don’t have to go to someone company and process. I have an uncle who wants to open a tin shade for me to manage.”
Ms Yakubu said the risks involved in the business discourages other women from growing big.
“I lost about N400,000 recently because there were not enough tin deposits in the hole the miners dug, for some other women, this will be too much to bear,” she said.
“I have plans to help other women. Just like when I started, someone was there to lift me up, so when I find myself in that position I will definitely have to help, especially for those women who are interested in learning.”
A mining sector catering for women possible
Although there is a critical lack of data, women are believed to account for up to 30 per cent of the global artisanal mining workforce and up to 50 per cent in Africa. For instance, at Sabon Layi mining site in Barkin Ladi Plateau State, during a random headcount by this reporter, the number of women seen were 57, children nine and men, 43. In Benue State where baryte is mined, all 25 miners belonging to the Benue state Miners Association are males, no female.
According to a study conducted by the International Journal of Engineering and Advanced Technology Studies (2020), the risks and hazards involved in artisanal mining have a chance of dissuading females from active participation in the job.
Female participants largely work in the washing of the ore and transportation. This may imply that male miners in the study area are more available to effectively take crucial decisions, especially on mining activities.
“Mining is supposed to be an activity done by everybody but if you understand it is a very physical activity, so that is why you find men more into it than women,” noted Kabiru Mohammed.
Mr Mohammed is the president of Nigeria Miners Association. He noted that lack of technology, awareness, education and finance prevents many people, including women, from participating and even registering with the association.
“Mining is capital intensive, you don’t just go there and say let me go and bring money, you have to use the money to bring out the money. It is capital intensive, if you put in your money, you make money,” he said.
“For instance, a single excavator costs about N100 million, we are not talking about other machines such as bulldozer, caterpillar, tipper, and the rest. Before you become a full-scale miner, you can imagine how much money you need to invest. Mining is not just by getting a hole and a digger and you say you are mining, it takes a lot”.
He said over 80 per cent of those in mining are small scale and artisanal miners who are looking for their daily earnings to handle domestic problems, not those who are really into real mining.
This view is shared with Emmanuel Azaka, the Chairperson of Benue State chapter of the miners association.
“The 25 mines in Benue are owned by men. We had two women among us before, but one of them is dead and another left, but she was a pioneer.
“Women do not have an interest in mining and you can’t force them to. Some of them are well-to-do but have no interest in mining,” he said.
Emily Achor-Offodile, Secretary of Women in Mining in Nigeria, shares the opinion that mining is a capital intensive venture and involves lots of technicalities which require external support. These supports do not come in handy for women, bearing in mind the African tradition that limits women from taking up tedious jobs such as mining.
“We have women in Osun State who took a loan but with COVID-19, they have not been able to work and pay off the loan. They have used the capital to feed their families during the lockdown, so when they will eventually resume, how do they raise the capital back?” she asked.
The Women in Mining in Nigeria (WIMIN) was established in 2006 to protect the rights of all groups of women affected by mining operations and progress the employment, retention and professional development of women who are often left out in all negotiations relating to mining.
According to Mrs Achor-Offodile, access to data continues to be a limitation to tackling the representation of women in mining.
“There is no data relating to women in mining as a federation currently available due to lack of access to funding. The government only identifies with them when they form cooperatives,” she said.
Support for this report was provided by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)’ and is made possible through funding support from Ford Foundation.
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