Osun and illegal mining: A cancerous tumour that must be tamed



By Waheed Adekunle

In Osun state, it amounts to stating the obvious saying that illegal mining has come to stay. This development has become a pain in the neck of citizens of the state particularly dwellers of the gold-rich rural communities.

The discovery of the huge deposits of mineral resources in Osun which ordinarily should be a blessing has turned into a curse given the challenges bedeviling the valued sector.

From the early 1950s, gold mining operations have remained a permanent feature in Osun state, although the bulk of the activities have been by illegal miners. This has contributed, in no small measure, to the socio-economic, security and environmental threats being experienced in the state.

The quest for gold continuously attracts commercial and artisanal miners, resulting in an influx of artisanal miners predominantly from Northern Nigeria.

The unending outcries of affected communities on the negative impact of activities of illegal miners who invaded large acreage of land, chasing away farmers, degrading the soil and depriving communities and the public treasury of the benefits of their natural resources largely remain unheard. They have been drawing attention of the concerned authorities in the state and beyond to the nightmare they are experiencing with the aim of nipping the situation in the bud.

It is unfortunate that today, illegal mining has indeed become a major problem posing a threat to other critical sectors of the economy and human existence. The unfortunate situation has led to considerable environmental degradation, economic losses and insecurity in the country.

Mining is the extraction of minerals from the earth’s crust that offers socio-economic benefits and infrastructure development. However, it also produces ecological and environmental effects which often negatively impact the environment.

Nigeria is rich in diverse solid mineral deposits, including precious metals, stones, and industrial minerals like coal, tin, gold, marble, and limestone but gold, which is one of these minerals, is found in various forms in the South-West and other parts of Nigeria.

Aside Itagunmodi, Igun, and Iperindo in Ife-Ijesa zone in Osun with rich-gold deposits, other areas where gold domicile in Nigeria include Okolom-Dogondaji, Luku; Gurma; Bin Yauri; Maru, Anka, Malele, Tsohon Birin Gwari-Kwaga respectively.

In Osun, Ijesha land is renowned for large gold deposits and other minerals in considerable quantity. Due to the heightened mining activity, waste, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and chemicals are washed into the river after the miners must have used the water pressure to separate gold from ore.

According to the former Deputy Chief of Staff to the immediate past Osun Governor, Abdullahi Binuyo, the inclusion of mining activities on the exclusive list of the Nigerian Constitution has rendered the States handicapped in exercising control over the mining sector.

Binuyo said the state government has no regulatory power over the activities of the miners saying, “I can say to you for certain that a lot of miners will come into the state without the knowledge of the government due to this constitutional provision. Just like the oil blocs, it’s not the state government that gives it out. That is why it is incumbent on the state government to partner with the federal government through NESREA to fish illegal miners out.”

Despite the fact that Nigeria has 44 types of untapped deposits of minerals, including gold, tin, and zinc, the convoluted federal structure that places mining on the exclusive legislative list hinders the States from taking full advantage of these resources. The states are not allowed to legislate on the sector and lack the powers to police or regulate mineral resources extraction in the country.

Experts revealed that Nigeria’s mining sector is diverse in mineral resources that make a significant contribution to the nation’s gross domestic product as the country is endowed with an estimated USD700 billion of commercially viable minerals with the capacity to diversify its revenue sources and boost foreign exchange earnings.

However, the mining sector is faced with multiple challenges and its current poor performance can be attributed to various factors including opaque extraction, insecurity and organised crime. No doubt, Nigeria’s natural resources have been exploited by foreign criminals for decades, and the extractive sector is the most targeted of late and several Chinese nationals have been arrested in Nigeria for their involvement in illegal mining.

Findings showed that Nigeria loses over USD 9 billion to illegal mining annually with the only money accruing to the sector being a paltry 3 percent royalty paid by the few licensed miners. It is unfortunate that despite the clamour to revamp the sector for the ultimate benefit of the nation, Nigeria is yet to maximise the abundant opportunities and potential enriched in the lucrative sector of the economy.

It is on record that illegal exploration of mineral resources is responsible for the formation of sinkholes, soil contamination, ground, and surface water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.

The continued perpetration of the illegality, according to experts, has been the bane of socio-economic advancement of the sector resulting in serious economic loss, as it causes poor soil fertility and limits access to land for agriculture.

According to a report of a mining agency – “Mining Growth Roadmap” in 2016, Nigeria has an untapped 200 million ounces of gold, scattered across 13 states including Osun state with great potential capable of fetching trillions of dollars over time, but unfortunately, the revenue from the sector has remained paltry.

Similarly, the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, [NEIT] recently submitted that, royalties received from 39 minerals was just N2.5 billion, with limestone contributing 37.68 percent, granite 31.31 percent and gold 0.26 percent, despite the high volume of mining activities by illegal miners.

The UN Comtrade reveals that between 2012 and 2018, about 97 tonnes of gold worth over USD3 billion was illegally smuggled out of Nigeria as this claim corroborated the reports of the NEITI which revealed that gold has potential to attract foreign exchange for Nigeria if the sector receives the attention it deserves.

In Osun State, gold mining is conducted at both industrial-scale and artisanal levels. Artisanal miners employ surface mining techniques, often without technology to mitigate environmental harm. Illegal miners, who are unknown to the government, make regulation and environmental management challenging.

The global rise in gold prices and the desire for improved livelihoods are fueling a growing demand for gold mineral resources worldwide. However, artisanal gold mining is having a significant negative impact on the environment. These miners prioritise mining primary and alluvial gold deposits without regard for the ecological consequences. As a result, heavy metals and toxic by-products associated with quartz are released into the environment and water sources like wells and rivers, leading to landscape degradation and harm to local ecosystems and biodiversity.

In Osun today, illegal mining has become a threat to livelihood as artisanal gold mining is considered an anthropogenic activity responsible for various environmental challenges, including deforestation and the disruption of ecosystem services.

According to experts, artisanal gold mining leads to environmental degradation, including deforestation, loss of aquatic life, water and air pollution, and social disruption. Health issues arise due to the release of toxic materials like lead, cyanide, and mercury, endangering miners, their families, and communities. Such mining also alters land cover, crucial for natural resource management and spatial planning.

Findings further revealed that artisanal gold mining is a threat to vegetal covers and green environment within the basin which endangers biodiversity and has the capacity to cause ecological dislocation. In spite of the danger the nefarious activities of these economic saboteurs constitutes to the lives of the people, they run their illegal business as a routine unabated.

According to mining experts, the need to urgently address artisanal mining is essential for achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations. These goals, according to them, targets alleviating poverty, improvement of lifestyles, combat climate change, and reduce environmental degradation.

Although there are certain complexities surrounding illegal mining in Nigeria, experts identified high poverty, hunger and unemployment as major factors contributing to illegal mining as the menace had successfully fueled the growth of illicit mining, highlighting basic social, institutional, and structural issues in Nigeria’s governance structure.

Recently, a British Newspaper “The Times” reported that some Chinese mining firms had funded Nigerian militant groups to get access to the country’s mineral reserves. This development raises the consciousness of the people to the prospect of China indirectly funding terror in the country, causing societal disruption for its own gain.

According to “The Times,” Chinese firms working in certain regions of Nigeria where crime incidents are common have been “striking security deals with insurgents.”

“It was reported that the law enforcement agencies’ low capability and resources limit their ability to tackle illegal mining activities effectively. Collaboration among multiple stakeholders, including government agencies, local communities, and civil society organisations, is required to address this issue,” the newspaper advised.

Recently, a Non-Governmental Organisation, Eco Defenders Network warned Osun residents of inherent dangers posed by harmful mining activities in the state. The Coordinator of the group, Shehu Akowe called on governments at all levels to urgently curb the activities of the artisanal miners and insist on standard global best practices in mining activities.

Akowe who spoke at the seminar organised to sensitise residents drawn from within Ijesa and Ife axis of the state on the consequences of harmful mining activities in the areas, lamented the environmental pollution and degradation caused by the miners just as he charged residents not to arbitrarily release their lands to miners without going into proper agreement that would prevent hazards involved in mining activities

He noted that activities of the miners have contaminated the Osun River which has direct link to other rivers in the country, adding that the chemical used in extracting minerals makes the water unsafe for usage.

”Cyanide toxicity affects human health and the environmental impact cannot be over-emphasised. Spills from hazardous chemicals have resulted in major fish kills, contaminated drinking water supplies and harm to agricultural lands.

“It is crucial to mention that both our underground and surface waters are unsafe in an environment where highly hazardous chemicals like cyanide are used in gold extraction. The polluted rivers including the Osun River are unsafe.

“It is our belief in ECODEN that this meeting will equip participants with rightful and helpful knowledge regarding adverse effects of negative gold extraction in short and long-term exposures. And that the knowledge gained will assist communities to review the environmental situation in our communities and identify areas that require action to preserve and safeguard our territory.

“I want to appeal to the governments to caution those destroying people’s lands for their selfish gains. We are not saying they shouldn’t mine but when mineral resources are valued at the expense of people’s lives and their livelihoods that should not be left unquestioned,” Akowe posited.

Today, illegal mining has emerged as a serious issue with significant implications for economic growth and development in the country as it hampers economic growth by undermining formal mining activities, reducing investor confidence, and limiting government revenue.

The sorry-state of many communities at the moment in Ife and Ijesaland where illegal mining is being carried out has become a source of concern not only to the victims but the entire residents of the state who are in one way or the other being affected by the polluted river Osun that serves as source of drinking water in the state.

The activities of illegal mining had in no measure contributed significantly to the environmental degradation, air and water pollution turning the popular river Osun to brown, the river which had hitherto served as source of drinking water for rural dwellers in the state as well as for irrigation farmers.

There are rural communities in the state whose major source of livelihood is attached to the polluted Osun river. One of these communities is Oora in Ijesaland, a town that is predominantly populated by peasant farmers but with their water now turned coloured, they are unable to irrigate their farms nor do they drink any longer from the river.

The leadership of the community, while venting their displeasure on the continued perpetration of illegal mining, noted that before the arrival of the miners and contamination of the Osun river, they usually relied on the water for consumption and other uses.

The question agitating the minds of the people remains the fact that in spite of the assurances given by successive governments to tackle the illegalities around the mining sector, the situation remains the same.

It would be recalled that the immediate past Osun Governor, Adegboyega Oyetola had in 2019 begun the incorporation of the artisanal miners through compulsory registration, an exercise conceived to avert incessant insecurity threat in the gold-rich communities and their environs.

The governor also said steps were being taken to prevent security lapses linked to some of the criminals operating as illegal miners in the state. Oyetola gave the hints during the Ife-Ijesa zonal security sensitisation meeting in Ilesa.

Oyetola said, “The activities of illegal mining vendors, if not checked, will shatter the safety, security and peace of our people as they are capable of engaging in untoward behaviour. We have recently been battling with kidnapping, harassment of our people and indiscriminate shootings on the highway, all traceable to the nefarious activities of some of these illegal miners.

“Should these high-level crimes continue, the government will be forced to take a drastic action, which will include but not limited to, a total ban on mining activities in this state. So, all miners operating in this state must be registered to enable the government to keep a record.

“Community leaders (the serikis) must play a key role in ensuring that this directive on registration is faithfully carried out. Thereafter, the serikis will be held accountable for acts of crime committed by miners in their area of operation,” he added.

The meeting which was attended by dignitaries including traditional rulers led by the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi and Owa Obokun of Ijesaland, Oba Adekunle Aromolaran; and heads of security agencies in the state reached a compromise to tackle the menace headlong.

It is quite unfortunate that till today the situation remains unabated as the activities of the illegal miners have increased considerably, thereby compounding the attendant hazards on the livelihood of the residents of the state.

In the same vein, the incumbent Governor, Senator Ademola Adeleke, in the buildup to the 2022 governorship election promised to end illegal mining in the state if elected. The gubernatorial candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) then vowed to reposition the mineral resources sector for the greatest benefits of the state and her citizens if given the chance to govern the state.

It is quite unfortunate that 15 months after, the residents of the state are still battling with the cancerous tumor that has eaten deep into the fabric of their economic and environmental lives without any solution in sight.

Despite the fact that both federal and state governments allude to the humongous amount of revenue being lost to illegal mining on a daily basis, yet nothing meaningful is being done to address the ugly situation.

In a report recently published by TheCable, an online newspaper, a sample of river Osun water was subjected to a test by UNILAG Consult, where it was found to contain 0.034 milligrams per litre (mg/L) of arsenic, 5.663 mg/L of aluminium, and 0.090 mg/L of lead.

Other heavy metals found, according to the test result, include Barium (2.326), Lithium (0.004), Nickel (2.006), and Iron (3.197). These heavy metals were found to be significantly above the limit prescribed by the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the test result, the presence of these metals makes the water unsafe for consumption, bathing, and farming activities.

It is the considered opinion of experts that a short to medium-term exposure to very high levels of arsenic in drinking water can lead to arsenic poisoning. And this is capable of causing stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and impaired nerve function. Long-term exposure to even relatively low amounts of arsenic in drinking water, over years or decades, is said to increase the risk of developing certain cancers, including skin, lung, kidney, bladder and liver.

Analysing the results of the test, medical experts submitted that lithium on the other hand may cause diseases of the stomach, intestinal tract, central nervous system, and kidneys.

“With the presence of lead, young children and infants consuming the water are more vulnerable than adults. A dose of lead that may have an insignificant effect on adults can be more deadly for children.

“In children, low levels of exposure have been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.

“In adults, over-exposure may cause high blood pressure and damage to the reproductive organs. Additional symptoms may include fever, headaches, fatigue, sluggishness (lethargy), vomiting, loss of appetite (anorexia), abdominal pain, constipation, joint pain, loss of recently acquired skills, incoordination, restlessness, difficulty sleeping (insomnia), irritability, altered consciousness, hallucinations, and/or seizures,” the experts affirmed.

A socio-economic and political group – The Save Osun River Advocacy recently embarked on a safety campaign to end incessant illegal mining and ensure safety on the river banks. The team sought the service of a Geographic Information Science (GIS) expert and was able to determine that gold mining was the cause of pollution.

“We brought the issue of the colour change of the Osun River to the public space in March 2021 through the hashtag #OsunRiverPollution on Twitter. The Osun state government reacted by constituting the mineral resources and environmental management committee (MIREMCO) to address the Osun river pollution and all other issues resulting from mining activities in Osun state. Unfortunately, nothing significant was seen to have been done concerning the pollution by the committee.

“The team also conducted physicochemical and microbial tests on samples collected from four different points on the water. In collaboration with senior researchers from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, the analysis shows that the water has been heavily contaminated with mercury, lead and cyanide,” the group lead, Anthony Adejuwon affirmed.

One would have expected a federal government agency in charge of environmental protection- National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency, NASREA to have nipped in the bud the protracted environmental pollution in the state.

It is discouraging that the assurance given by the Agency to unravel the situation hasn’t yielded any positive result as the contaminated water continues to stream in and out the state.

Recently, the state coordinator, NASREA, Mohammad Maike noted that the agency has been mandating the mining companies to comply with the proper waste water recycling process.

“When the alert was raised, we mobilised to the site to evaluate the level of damage. We swung into action and traced the source to Iponda. And we are monitoring the situation,” Maike said.

He said miners have been advised not to discharge their waste water without it being treated saying, “we are trying our best. We have been on them and trying to make sure they are doing the necessary things. This includes the non-discharge of wastewater without treating it. Some of them are complying, and some of them are beginning to engage consultants who will help them. That’s what we have been doing.”

But a non-governmental agency, Global Rights Nigeria recently advised the federal government to declare a state of emergency on water bodies in the country.

The Co-ordinator of the group, Abiodun Baiyewu, in a communique issued, said Nigeria needs to improve its access to water policy and carry out an audit of the water bodies to ascertain the level of pollution.

“The government needs to think of this as a national security issue,” she said. In Nigeria, 80 percent of mining is artisanal in nature and more than 90 percent of the law addressed large-scale mining, which means that we are not dealing with the environmental consequences of artisanal mining,” she noted

A concerned environmentalist in Osogbo, Babajide Israel expressed serious concern over the adverse effects of ‘unchecked illegal mining’ in the state.

Israel, who challenged the government for condoning and shielding illegal miners, said it is time to end the menace if truly the government was ready to champion the cause in the interest of national growth and development.

Meanwhile, it is high time for government agencies, mining commission and other relevant Environmental Protection Agency reinforced the need to regulate land concession and monitor artisanal mining activities within the state and beyond while reclamation and restoration projects should be intensified in order to manage degraded environments around the mining sites particularly in Ijesaland and Ife communities.

Going by the devastating impact of the menace in the affected regions, it is also imperative for the state government to intensify effort as to the need to raise people’s consciousness through different enlightenment and sensitization programmes on the impact and consequences of unregulated artisanal mining activities on the environment.

Unequivocally, the state government should as a matter of urgency set up a local monitoring team to monitor and report irregular activities of licensed miners for immediate and appropriate sanctions while the mining should be done within the confinement of the regulatory policy framework.

However, as part of effort to encourage genuine and responsible mining in the state, the state government should incorporate the artisanal miners into comparative through which they can pull funds together for modern tools and mining equipment and also to enable them leverage on improved and latest mining technologies with less harmful impact on the environment as being done in the civilised world.

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