By: Musa Isa PhD
It’s apparent that many have wondered how Northwest Nigeria’s avalanches of bandits who were recently proscribed by a Nigerian court came about, particularly where they got access to the huge sums of monies spent on procuring dangerous arms and ammunition.
Many Nigerians may have concluded, albeit erroneously that monies made from kidnap for ransom, cattle rustling or other criminal activities have been the sole funding line for bandits. But, whereas monies from kidnap for ransom and cattle rustling may have lined the purse of bandits in recent years, investigation has shown that banditry was made lucrative through the activities of gold prospectors who in many instances employ the services of youths, arm them only to use them to scare rival prospectors from the juicy gold mines or deploy them as vanguards to defend their mining interests.
Before bandits came under organised prospectors however, gold mining sites were controlled by steely-eyed, heavily armed rogues who command them with martial law – like uncompromising dictates. Mining, mostly done by peasants – artisanal scavenger was heavily taxed by non-state actors. And as more and more young men discovered that those with guns tend to get the lion share of gold, they also opted to arm themselves thus making the jungles more dangerous. And with danger now lurking everywhere, most artisanal gold scavengers had to abandon the bushes as many were been murdered and their gold loads carted away by bandits.
To survive, the artisanal miners resorted to going to the rich mines during the day with tippers to collect loads of sand under the protection of armed bandits. These loads are then washed in homes around Malele, Dansadau, Bukuyum etc. where many prospectors, nay bandit commanders and their sponsors had sunk boreholes for that sole purpose. Needless to say, they also had all the workshops, complete with every chemical needed to refine the gold.
During the 2020 Nigerian Mining week, Nigeria’s Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Arc. Olamilekan Adegbite disclosed that “Artisanal miners who need money to take care of their families are selling to bandits who are buying from them very cheaply, and they will now go and resell for higher profits across the borders. What they do is that they exchange gold for guns, bullets and other weapons”. Perhaps what he failed to mention was that these bandits and their sponsors were in fact the ones sponsoring the entire gig, from the tippers, to the digging and the eventual processing. Therefore, the miners who had been reduced to labourers for hire had little or no choice but to sell, or more correctly, get paid for their mining services.
But why did the Federal government allow this illegal activity to fester? You will have to go back to 2010 where, in a bid to forestall illegal mining which even at that time has left a trail of corpses in its wake, the federal government in collaboration with Zamfara state moved to establish firm control of mining activities by floating the “Zamfara Minerals Processing Factory near Gusau, Zamfara State, but construction was halted in late 2010 after an outbreak of lead poisoning (which was attributed to the processing of lead-rich gold ore) in the Anka and the Bukkuym local government areas, which were located in Zamfara State about 80 kilometres (km) west of Gusau and 130 km west of Gusau, respectively. in 2011, the site of the former Mafara Brick Factory was proposed as the new site for the Zamfara Minerals Processing Factory. Brightway Minerals & Mining Ltd. proposed to build a 400-metric-ton-per-day-capacity copper smelter at the new Zamfara Minerals Processing Factory (Abubakar, 2011) as cited in USGS 2011 Minerals Year Book.
Australian Mines Ltd. of Australia continued with its acquisition of Nigeria gold Proprietary Ltd. and its exploration of the Kagara, the Kasele, and the Yargama gold prospects. The joint venture of Erin Mineral resources, which was a subsidiary of Erin resources Proprietary Ltd. of Australia and Nafoka resources Ltd., was exploring the Malele-Gobirawa project. The joint venture of Erin and Sasco Ltd. of Nigeria was prospecting on the Bukuyum-Dogondaji and the Mahuta gold projects in December, the joint venture of Segilola gold Ltd., which was a subsidiary of Ratel group Ltd. of the British Virgin Islands, and Tropical Mines Ltd. of Nigeria, completed a 36-hole 3,704-meter (m) drill program on the Segilola gold project (ratel group Ltd., 2012, p. 3). cited in USGS 2011 Minerals Year Book.
Strangely, it was around this time that operations of bandits and Yan Bindiga terrorists began their speedy climb to notoriety. It gets even more interesting because, Nakofa Resource Limited, Global Gems Ltd and Ohio Global Ltd which covered gold exploration activities in Malele, Dansadau to Bukuyum in Zamfara; Mahuta in Kebbi state and Kagara in Niger state including other areas in Sokoto, and is alleged to have completed the wholesale acquisition of all the gold in the area, belongs to retired General Aliyu Gusau, a decorated Nigerian Army retired General.
The question begging for answers then is, is it possible that the so-called mining companies are fronts simply working with bandits to intimidate artisanal miners into slaving for them and other bandit overlords in their employ? The answer may probably be found in a certain arrest of Chinese Nationals in April of 2020 by the Nigerian Police Anti-illegal mining squad. According to the police, “On 25th April, 2020 information had it that Chinese and Bulkinabe nationals were taking shelter somewhere in Nasarawa Burkullu. And on 26th April, 2020 the Commissioner of Police led another team to the same village where two Chinese nationals were seen with all the chemicals necessary for making gold,”. Well, it has now emerged that the arrested Chinese Nationals as well as many others arrested for defying the federal governments ban on gold mining were bailed by Mardi Aliyu, the embattled deputy governor of the Zamfara state. Mr Mahdi is the son of retired Army General, Aliyu Gusau whose companies are said to control over 70% Northwest Nigeria’s mining interests. Is the picture getting clearer now? The Matawalle’s government has raised questions with no answers.
Another question that remains unanswered, is of course how bandits diversified into the more nefarious activities of kidnapping and wholesome taxation of villages. The answer may just lie in the shrinking gold mining space that is said to have been suffocated by Companies of Gusau and the rest.
This makes a lot of sense if one considers what Nigeria’s minister of Mines and Steel Development said about bandits exchanging gold for dangerous weapons. With more and more bandits now cradling dangerous guns and the mining sites expectedly becoming too dangerous for miners or more correctly, with no miners to till the land for them, this coupled with the reality of swathes of ungoverned spaces, human beings became easy targets in their desperation for new sources of income, hence, the rise and rise of kidnapping for ransom and illegal taxation.
What more, over the course of 5 years, mining companies belonging to Gen. Gusau are said to have resorted to employing expatriates who are protected by all sorts of armed elements, some of which are suspected to be foreign nationals. Could this be the reason why none of his mining workers was ever kidnapped? Whatever the answer to this burgeoning question is, the elder stateman’s nonchalant attitude to the insecurity problems in Zamfara state, considering he is the largest land owner raises lots of questions; questions that the people of Zamfara, Northwest, and indeed all of Nigeria need urgent answers to.
Without sweating it, it is either Aliyu Gusau’s mining interests in the specific areas where banditry has been thriving for close to a decade somehow just coincided with the escalation of bloody carnage by non-state actors, or he could in fact know something about the operations of this rogue militia. It becomes overly shocking that the man and his known associates have never even been hauled in for as little as a questioning. Is Nigeria selling to the world the disturbing notion that marauding outlaws can be above the law?