The people of Ariyelepe, Oke-Owena, Dairo and Itagunmodi in Atakumosa West Local Government Area of Osun State do not have any official record of when mining activities started in their communities. But they said that for a long time, miners had been destroying their farmlands in search of gold and precious stones.
According to villagers, the artisanal miners, who are mostly from the northern part of the country, search for precious stones manually as they dig dip into the earth. They only speak Hausa language since they cannot communicate in English.
There are also Chinese nationals who use heavy-duty equipment for mining. They also do not understand English language. It was observed that armed mobile policemen were attached to them. Asked why they were with the Chinese, the policemen said they were deployed to provide security for them; and could not speak further to our correspondent.
When Daily Trust on Sunday visited one of the mining sites, the value of the gold being mined could not be ascertained, but the facilities used by the Chinese, in terms of investment, indicated that there was a large deposit in the area and the miners were doing serious business.
Some locals said the Chinese nationals disregarded the lockdown order imposed by the state government to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They also said the Chinese miners caused environmental disaster by polluting and poisoning the Osun River. They expressed concern that this may create a major public health problem. The villagers alleged that government abandoned them and the miners complicated their ordeal. They lamented that the miners had destroyed their cocoa and other economic trees, even as they steal their yams in various farms.
Speaking to our correspondent, a farmer in the area, Abel Oladipupo said, “You can see that there is no sign of electricity here. We are not getting anything from government. In fact, our problem has been complicated. We used to drink water from that river over there, but since the Chinese miners started drilling with heavy equipment, the water became polluted and we cannot drink it again. The Chinese people promised that they would give us borehole, but they didn’t. The miners are destroying our farms. They dig anywhere they find gold once they do their survey. They also harvest and eat yam and maize from our farms anyhow they like. We want government to help us. They should give us road, electricity, borehole and toilets.”
Another farmer, Kamoru Adekunle said the Chinese miners had caused more pain for them since they came to the village. He said, “The equipment brought in by the Chinese for mining has polluted the river, which is our only source of drinking water. We are really suffering here. No electricity, no road, no water, nothing. We want government to help us.”
It seems the miners did not obtain the necessary authorisation; hence the Osun State Government is descending heavily on them. Recently, the Osun State Joint Task Force (JTF) on Illegal Mining, during a coordinated operation at mining sites in Ilesa and Ife, arrested 27 suspected miners, including 17 Chinese nationals and 10 locals, as well as a local traditional chief. Few days later, another set of illegal miners were arrested.
The Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation in the state, Mrs. Funke Egbemode, confirmed the arrest of another eight Chinese nationals involved in illegal mining in the state. “In spite of the previous arrests, the joint task force of the state arrested another eight Chinese who thought they could outmaneuver the state’s regulations. They are currently being interrogated, and necessary actions will be taken within legal limits,’’ she said.
Egbemode said the state government would continue to comb its mining sites to rid them of illegal miners.
Governor Adegboyega Oyetola said that as part of the economic reforms of the Osun State Government, solid mineral is seen as a major sector. “For these reforms to work, it has become imperative to stop illegal mining and step up enforcement activities,’’ he said.
He said the Chinese nationals did not have genuine mining licences nor did they register with the state government. He said they would be prosecuted and made to pay damages.
The governor said no responsible government would fold its arms and watch its land being degraded by unauthorised persons. He said that apart from economic damages the illegal miners inflict on the state, they polluted the Osun River with poisonous metals, thereby making it unsafe for human consumption and irrigation.
One of the arrested miners, Miss May Zam, who was the only one who could speak a little English language among the Chinese, said she was not aware that they engaged in illegal mining. She said she had worked for different companies and believed they had mining licences. She added that the current company she works for, which she failed to name, has a Nigerian sponsor.
During the fifth virtual State Executive Council meeting of Monday, May 18, 2020, the state government resolved to diversify its economy into agriculture and mining as part of its post COVID-19 economic revival strategies. The Council also agreed to empower 5,764 farmers to grow cassava, cotton and engage in fish farming, with the help of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Governor Oyetola further said 12 local government areas had earmarked about 2,000 hectares of agricultural land, in addition to the existing farm settlements across the state.
“Mining is the new frontier of Osun’s economy. We are planning to maximise the sector and reap maximum benefits from it,’’ the governor said.