Every day, dozens of trucks roar through a dirt road into Angwan Kade, a village in Kokona Local Government Area of Nasarawa State in North-Central Nigeria. Then they speed off, laden with tonnes of precious stones, leaving in their wake acres of dredged pits in farmlands.
Years of uncontrolled mining of solid minerals and precious stones have turned many farmlands into pits in Angwan Kade. A 200ft deep pit gapes from where a giant rock stood about five years ago. A field where peasant farmers used to plant rice and fruits is now an industrial site from where cracking noise from bulldozers and dynamites steals the sleep of residents.
A PREMIUM TIMES reporter also noticed the burrowing of land near buildings.
One of the affected residents, Umaru Mai, said he feared his house would cave in because a pit was drilled so close to it. He said the earth shakes so violently during drilling that his family always feared the house would collapse.
Nigerian artisans who work by proxy with and for some Chinese nationals are behind the mining activities in unauthorised sites in the area, a week-long investigation by PREMIUM TIMES found. The activities have led to complaints by residents of exploitation, land grabbing and fear of flooding and contamination of water sources.
A check on the list of active mining quarries in Nassarawa state showed that the Mining Cadastre Office licensed no company to mine in Angwan Kade.
Section 44 (3) of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining law of 1999 vests the ownership and control of all minerals in Nigeria in the federal government, which is mandated to manage such natural resources in a manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.
The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development is responsible for granting licences to operators through the Mining Cadastre Office. Any operator without a licence from this ministry is deemed to be carrying out illegal activities. Such a person may be arrested and tried in the Federal High Court.
But the permanent secretary of the Nasarawa Ministry of Environment, Abdullahi Agwai, said the authorities are aware of the activities of illegal miners in Angwan Kade. The official, however, said similar activities in several other sites exist.
“Even the representative of the federal government in the state, Federal Mines Office, will tell you the state government is aware that unknown mining companies exist in the state. Many unknown miners are being discovered through the state government touring of mining communities and mining sites,” he said.
Mr Agwai said it is the federal government that gives permission to mining companies to operate through mineral titles. “Some companies pay taxes to both the state and federal government but most don’t.”
Inside Angwa Kade mining community
The discovery of Coltan (short for columbite-tantalite and known industrially as tantalite) among other solid minerals in Angwan Kade about a decade ago was welcomed by the locals with hearty cheers.
A remote agrarian community, Angwan Kade lies in the north of Nasarawa, close to the commercial city of Keffi. It takes about 40 minutes on a motorbike to reach the community from Kokona junction. Commercial motorbike operators charge between N500 and N700 from Kokona. The road is untarred; only a few vehicles, mostly used for agricultural purposes, ply it.
So, when several locations in the village were marked as mining sites, residents thought it marked the beginning of development in the community.
However, 10 years down the line, they have seen only the downside as mining activities destroy farmlands and jeopardise the livelihoods of small-scale farmers. Stephen Ali, a farmer who now farms one acre of land, said he lost four acres after miners encroached on his land and left it barren.
The community still lacks basic amenities such as electricity, pipe-borne water, healthcare facilities, primary school, and modern means of communication. The houses are mostly made of mud. There is no sign of government presence even though the people also vote during elections.
With no schools to attend in the community, children join in working on the mining sites while their mothers sell food to the workers. A few other women also participate in mining.
The locals said Chinese companies acquire land by proxy to mine precious stones in the area.
Dahiru Mallam, the spokesperson of the village head, said the miners do not make any form of payment to the community.
“The Chinese people and others mining in this place have never given us one naira,” Mr Dahiru said. “Whenever a company gets raw materials from here, we should also be paid some royalties. We only see them taking the minerals away, but they don’t give us anything.”
Mr Dahiru said community leaders negotiated with more than 15 prospectors, who all agreed to pay some royalties to them before commencing mining operations. But nothing concrete came out after they began their operations.
Mr Agwai, the official from the state ministry of environment, did not respond when asked if the mining company in Angwan Kade pays any form of fees or taxes to the state government or if they have any form of local registration.
He, however, blamed mining communities such as Angwan Kade for not promptly reporting to the government when mining companies enter their area.
“Mining communities are largely underdeveloped because they undertake community development agreement with mining companies in a manner that are disadvantageous to the communities. Mining communities hardly consult the government for advice, despite sensitisation in that regard,” he said.
Mr Dahiru mentioned one Alhaji Mundasa as the frontman used by foreign companies to acquire lands in the village for mining activities.
“In fact, the land they are mining from belongs to the community. It was Alhaji Mundasa who came and said he wanted to use the land for some personal use for a period of one year and we allowed him. Now, we cannot even count the number of years he has spent there.
“He came back after some time and told us he has purchased the land and it no longer belongs to the community. We cannot question him because he is more powerful than us. We still do not know whom he bought the land from, but he said the land now belongs to him.
“We have no school in this place, some of our children go to school in another community far away from here. Some of the children you saw at the mining site don’t even go to school because there is no school.
“The only time we see any government officials is when they bring electoral materials during elections,” he said.
The phone numbers of Mr Mundasa made available to this reporter were always switched off, as the reporter tried to reach him for his comments.
The cold, dry and dusty northeasterly trade wind synonymous with the harmattan season was gradually yielding dominance to heat after sunrise when Aliyu Umaru took a spot in front of a huge rock.
Armed with a chisel and a mini sledgehammer, Mr Umaru was about to start his daily routine of breaking smaller particles of precious stones commonly called Kas (columbite) by locals.
Looking uninspired for the day’s job, Mr Umaru said he works for a Chinese company.
“The company we work for belongs to some Chinese nationals but one Alhaji Mundasa fronts for the Chinese people,” he said. “When the minerals are extracted from the ground, they give Alhaji his share while they take some to government officials.
“My daily wages are between N6,000 and N8,000 depending on my output. I have a wife and two children living here with me in Angwan Kade,” he said. “The Chinese people use the kas they get from here to produce car batteries. Aside from kas, we also have tantalite.”
Mr Umaru works with about 16 other workers at the site. The site manager, John Bashiru, refused to name the company and the owners.
Most of the equipment and industrial houses on the site have Chinese inscriptions while on some pillars of tents is written “PROPERTY OF S.B OLATUNJI GLOBAL NIGERIA LIMITED”.
Shehu Adam, one of the workers, said they were trained by the Chinese to till the stones into particles. “They come here often to inspect the sites and what we are doing. They pay me N1,500 for each bag of consonite that I bring out,” he said.
At another site, a bulldozer was taking heavy tantalite rocks to locals working on the site for further tilling. Children and young women were either bagging the stones after they are tilled or hawking food and snacks within the site.
‘Columbite and Tantalite’
The mineral group tantalite is the primary source of the chemical element tantalum. It is chemically similar to columbite, and the two are often grouped together as a semi-singular mineral called coltan or “columbite-tantalite” in many mineral guides. Tantalite is black to brown in both colour and streak.
Tantalum, a dull black metallic ore from which is extracted the coltan, is used to manufacture tantalum capacitors which are used for mobile phones, personal computers, automotive electronics, and cameras.
Tantalum metal is used in dental and surgical instruments and implants, as it causes no immune response. It is used for many industrial purposes, including making bulletproof materials.
Our reporter visited a semi-industrial plant along the Keffi-Akwanga expressway where most of the lorries from Angwan Kade take Coltan stones for refining.
Workers at the plant were at first hostile to this reporter who posed as a post-graduate student of geology from Nasarawa State University.
“Why are you taking pictures of what we are doing here,” a woman who appeared to be one of those in charge of the site, demanded.
After a brief introduction, the reporter was finally directed to one Adam Ade for any inquiries. Mr Ade confirmed that truckloads of tantalites are brought from Angwan Kade to the plant.
“We buy in tonnes from the sites (Angwa Kade). A ton is about N3,000 and when they bring it here, we further break it down into smaller particles with our machines and then sell to Chinese companies and dealers who export them,” he said.
Mr Ade said that although Chinese dealers operate many sites in Angwa Kade by proxy, they also buy from the plant because its products are more refined than the ones at the sites.
He, however, refused to name the companies they sell products to.
Illegal mining in Nigeria
This is not the first time Chinese companies and their associates would be fingered in unlicensed mining activities in Nigeria and many parts of Africa.
Last year, the Nigerian government said it would clamp down on illegal activities of Chinese and other artisanal miners across the country.
Dozens of Chinese nationals were arrested in several raids, mostly in the southwestern states of Osun and Ondo and Zamfara in the northwest. In addition to curtailing illegal mining activities, the federal government is also going after Chinese companies that violate environmental regulations.
Authorities acted against the Hongao Mining Company that ran a gold mine near Abuja for polluting the local water table. Officials were tipped off to Hongao’s misdeeds from an investigative report published by The Cable.
Two other reports by PREMIUM TIMES revealed how artisanal illegal mining activities from Osun to Ondo undermine Nigeria’s economy, and how a large number of illegal miners pursued from Zamfara now carry out their unauthorised business in Osun
Despite these measures, however, illegal mining activities continue in several parts of the country. Environmental experts attributed this to the connivance of security operatives and traditional rulers with foreigners.
By law, only Nigerians are allowed to get mining licences and work in small-scale operations. But some local miners accept Chinese partners because they provide capital and technical services and equipment, experts said.
What government is doing
Mr Angwai, the official from the Nasarawa State ministry of environment said that the state government would soon sign the State Mineral Policy which will help to develop host mining communities and the state at large.
On allegations that the government colludes with some of the companies, the official said, “Miners don’t give mineral products to the state government. Even ordinary samples, the state used to purchase from the miners to showcase during mining events, etc. This allegation is baseless and irrational.”
On what the government was doing to curb illegal mining, he said, “in some cases, the state government chased away illegal miners. However, it is the responsibility of Federal Mines Office in the state through Mines Surveillance & Special Task Force to arrest illegal mining operators. Meanwhile, small mining operators are allowed to operate across the country as artisanal miners. The group is informal in nature.”
In accordance with the Nigeria Minerals and Mining Act of 2007, the Nasarawa State Governor, Abdullahi Sule, earlier this year announced plans to tackle illegal mining in the state.
This is especially due to rising concerns over the discovery of gold in the state. Early this year, large deposits of gold were found in the Abuja-Nasarawa axis, through the National Integrated Mineral Exploration Project (NIMEP), a programme undertaken by the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development.
The Federal Government then announced collaborations with the Nasarawa State Government to ensure security around areas known to have gold deposits and other solid minerals in the state.
Although Angwan Kade axis is around Agwada, the home to a former governor of Nasarawa State and new National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Abdullahi Adamu, there is no security agency in the area amid the mining activities.
“When we protest against the actvities of these illegal miners, Alhaji Mundasa will use his personal security operatives to disperse us,” Mr Dahiru, the spokesperson of the village head, said.
“Sometimes back, our youth protested and prevented the miners from going into the site but Alhaji brought in policemen who dispersed them.”
The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in two separate solid minerals audit reports revealed that the Nigerian government may have lost about N4 billion in three years, owing to illegal and corrupt activities of companies operating in the mining sector in the country.
The many schemes through which these companies have defrauded the Nigerian government include non-remittance of revenues, unlicensed mining and evasion of taxes, illegal practices, and incessant smuggling of solid minerals out of the country, the reports found.
The NEITI reports state that activities of unlicensed miners are prevalent in the industry, leading to even more loss of government revenue. An analysis of the NEITI solid minerals audit reports was done by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism early last year.
According to Abubakar Bwari, the then Minister of State, Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, more than two million people in Nigeria profit off illegal mining in the country.
Although the Mining Police and the Mines Inspectorate were established to monitor and enforce compliance by all industry operators, illegal miners, including Asian and African immigrants, currently populate the industry with unapproved mining sites in different locations across the country.
The former Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Kayode Fayemi, warned that the continuous presence of foreign nationals, who are the major patrons of mined products from artisanal and small miners, has led to reduced value addition, revenue leakages, and inaccurate transaction records.
According to a report, the natural resources sector of Nigeria loses N50 trillion annually to untapped resources.
Estimates suggest that Nigeria’s mining sector has the potential to generate N8 trillion naira annually if properly coordinated.
But from the observation of mining activities in Agwan Kade, achieving that potential will take years of coordinated hard work on the part of the Nigerian authorities.
Support for this story was provided by the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD)