- How bandits sent Zamfara gold miners packing
In Zamfara State, the once bubbling gold mines have now become shadows of their former selves following series of deadly assaults on the sites by armed bandits
Recently, armed gun men stormed Kawaye village in Zamfara. By the time they left, 13 people had been shot dead. Such raids have become common in Zamfara, except this one was slightly different.
The genesis of this massacre lies somewhere in one of the numerous gold mines scattered across the state. These mines have been targeted by armed bandits who have turned Zamfara into a killing field, leaving hundreds dead and thousands displaced. Often when they attack the miners on site, they seize money and gold, sometimes even the miners are taken for ransom.
Bandits’ frequent raids on the Gonar Hajiya mines infuriated local miners and one day, the attack did not go according to the script.
“One afternoon, when the armed men struck, the local vigilantes ganged up against them. One of the bandits was caught, lynched and his rifle and motorbike recovered,” a vigilante leader, Sani Hussaini, said.
According to Hussaini, this action angered the bandits who, concluding that most of the miners are from Kawaye, decided to target the village for retaliation.
This is not the worst violence targeted at miners in Zamfara. In November 2016, 42 miners were shot dead at Bindin gold mine in Maru Local Government Area. There have been raids and abductions at other mining sites, including a recent one at the gold mines in Duza village in Anka Local Government Area.
A survivors of one of these attacks was Sani Ado, a local miner.
“I was dozing after I worked the whole day digging for gold in an underground tunnel,” he said. “Somebody stepped on my leg, perhaps the person was trying to escape the invasion of the night marauders (armed bandits).
“I woke up and saw gun-wielding men, mostly dressed in black, creeping into the large mining site. I sensed trouble. I also woke my friend, a co-miner, Ilyasu, who was sleeping beside me on a large mat. I whispered into his ears that gunmen had invaded the mining site.”
Sani watched the bandits alight from their motorcycles and creep into the mines. They woke up a man and asked him to identify the gold dealers.
“As they moved from one mining pit or gold dealer to anotaher collecting cash and grams of gold, a man screamed for help and they did not waste any time in spraying him with bullets. He died instantly,” Sani said.
After that, the bandits started shooting in the air sending both gold dealers and miners scampering for safety, abandoning their belongings.
“It was dark. Most people who ran into the forest didn’t even know the direction they were running to. Some of us were stumbling over stones and other dangerous objects. Many of those who managed to escape the attack sustained various degrees of injury,” Sani said.
Another witness, Saminu Ali, a miner, said the bandits made away with gold, cash, as well as motorbikes left behind by their owners.
But according to witnesses, not all the attacks have led to deaths.
“Sometimes the gunmen would come to the mining sites and leave without harming anyone. They would come to look for Indian hemp and other narcotics. They would also send their errand boys to buy packets of cigarette and deliver to them in the forest,” Ali said.
He said the mining fields started attracting the attention of the gunmen when they realised that miners were making money, and dealers, some of who are from neighbouring countries, often visited the sites in droves to buy gold from miners on site.
The bandits have been known to be reasoned with. During an attack at Tungar Daji, the bandits were talked into an agreement by the miners who made a payment to them so they could leave them in peace.
A resident of the mining site, Bala Haruna told our reporter that the bandits returned and collected a certain percentage of every gram of gold from each miner, threatening to kill anyone who resisted their action.
The sites are illegal and operated by individuals mostly so they can’t appeal to government for security. But the situation is so bad in the state that villages that have appealed for help after receiving threats from bandits have often been ignored by authorities, resulting in huge losses of lives.
“Most of the miners have fled the sites for their lives. But some who are brave enough have refused to leave,” Haruna said.
There is a great deal of economic activities going on at the sites. Makeshift markets have sprung up and traders, including shop, kiosk owners, and even food vendors, are found there. According to Haruna, the transactions are often monitored by the bandits.
According to a resident, Murtala Kawaye, more than 10 illegal mining sites had flourished in some villages in the local government, namely, Kawaye, Mai Galma, Bagega, Dadin Kowa, Duhuwa, Duza and Tungar Daji.
“Among all the mining fields, the biggest and busiest are those in Kawaye, Duza and Mai Galma. And they are mostly the main target of the armed bandits,” he said.
The sites have been profitable for the miners. A good number of them have made significant fortunes from their illegal trade.
“I know many artisanal miners who paid for Hajj and bought cars with proceeds from the mining business,” he said.
The risks of the mines caving in or the fear of lead poisoning, which has claimed the lives of about 500 children in the last ten years, have not been strong enough to deter the miners.
But the bandits’ raids have made a lot of them abandon the sites. Only a handful have continued to prospect for gold in the blood fields of Zamfara.