In February 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari's administration published its Economic Recovery Growth plan (ERGP) 2017-2020. One of the plans is to create an enabling environment for private investment in mining, especially of energy minerals, iron and steel, gold and gemstones and to decrease value leaks by formalising mining activities.
Uthman Samad visited Ibodi in Ife-Wara, Ilesha, Osun State and Agbabu in Ondo State and saw how billions of Naira are lost to illegal, informal mining and economic resources left untapped.
It was drizzling that Wednesday morning in Ibodi with heavy clouds overhead foreboding a heavy downpour. But this did not stop the illegal and informal miners from their work. The value of the gold they could mine in the area can sustain the host state without allocation from the federation account.
Nearby, Sunday Aina, a farmer, lamented the impact of the artisanal mining on his work. He said the illegal miners, mainly from Northern Nigeria, chased and threatened they would kill him if he disturbed their activities on his farmland.
"I am going to the police station to report the Hausa guys on my farmland. They said their boss has bought the land and anyone disturbing them should be dealt with. If I don't see the police, I will go to the Baale (village head) Asun's palace to report them." Mr Aina.
He described how acres of cocoa trees were destroyed by the invaders who were searching for gold.
Another villager, Mr Adeloba, a septuagenarian who lives in Baale, a village some kilometres to the Ibodi mining sites, said all his farms were destroyed by the invaders searching for gold. His house is the only one standing in the area after the others had allegedly been smashed by the gold diggers.
Ayeda'de, a sister village to Baale, is no more due to the illegal search for gold in the area. All the villagers fled after their farms were destroyed.
Mr Adeloba said the village produced the bulk of the cocoa from the area. He told this reporter that the displaced villagers were directed to go to the palace of the Ooni of Ife, Enitan Ogunwusi, for compensation. He said they were paid for only their economic trees and not the land, as the Yoruba believe "the land belongs to the king."
This reporter reached out to the palace of the Ooni on November 10 but the press secretary, Moses Olafare, replied a request through the Whatsapp that he was in the United States and would reach out by November 13. He did not return several other calls and messages to his phone after November 13.
Alluvial gold was first discovered in 1940 around Ife and Ilesha. Gold was first reported in September 1940 from the Owena River north of the Ife-Ondo road. Later in December 1941, mining began south of Temogun. Between 1941 and 1952, over 50 ounces of gold were recovered from stream sediments.
Ibodi-Ife Wara and Illegal daylight Mining.
In July, the Osun State Governor, Gboyega Oyetola, visited Ife-wara mining sites. He decried the horrible state of exploited land and promised to regulate the activities of the miners.
Despite his statement, this reporter on his visit to the sites saw no evidence of regulation. Instead, new roads were just being graded for heavy trucks to transport raw gold from the illegal sites.
At the Ibodi mining sites, the reporter counted over 110 men mining with local instruments. Metres away were wooden houses built by the miners.
A stranger needs to walk carefully in Ibodi and Ifewara as the artisanal miners have dug out farmlands and and covered the footpaths with wastes. This reporter slipped into one of the half-filled holes before being helped out by a farmer.
Rabiu, a 26 years old artisanal miner from Katsina State, welcomed this reporter who had disguised as a labourer. He handed the reporter a pack of cigarettes and a wrap of Indian hemp. He gifted this as a welcome package.
"When you smoke this, you go get energy to work well, oga will like you like me," he told the newcomer.
He said he has been mining in Ife since 2017.
"I leave Sabo (a Hausa settlement in Ife town) as early as 5 a.m. By 6 a.m, I will be here and that's when I start work daily.
"If I don't mine gold in a day, I may fall sick. My Oga like me very well for my hard work. That's why he pays me N4,500 daily. Others collect less," Rabiu said as he lit the Indian hemp for the reporter and himself. He confirmed that other artisanal miners on the site collect between N1,500 and N3,000 daily, based on how deep they dig and the quantity gold found.
According to Rabiu, the miners on the same site with him are from Zamfara, Katsina and Niger states, and foreigners from Niger Republic, and Mali.
"Mining in Ifewara is a lucrative business. That's why you see us coming here," Rabiu told the reporter.
On the other side is another set of miners who are over 30 in number. These ones have one interpreter among them who speaks passable Yoruba and Pidgin English. These miners are from Kogi, Niger and Zamfara, each having lived in Ile-Ife communities for about four years.
Aliu, popularly known as 'Boss,' and Abubakar welcomed this reporter to their midst. Offering him a shovel and a digger, they asked the reporter of his mission to their site.
"I am here to work as a labourer. I want to be mining too," this reporter told them through the interpreter.
Aliu urged the reporter to feel at home, lamenting how Nigeria is divided by language and politics.
"The Chinese on this land always claim to be our bosses, whereas we Yoruba and Hausa are one. We are here on Yoruba land mining for them, and making money together," he said.
Aliu said he had spent more than four years at the Ife-wara mining sites. He has previously worked for about 10 different unlicensed companies as a labourer, he said. He is currently with his 11th employers on the site.
A couple of months ago, he said their present mining site was a flourishing cocoa farm. "It was just earlier this year that the Chinese brought heavy machines to this site and cleared off all the cocoa trees on the land. I saw the farmers coming here afterwards crying one afternoon, but we have been here working. Money dey here o", he said, smoking and laughing.
Aliu left this reporter to take his digger and jumped into a waterlogged section of the site to source for gold.
Welcome to "Store" where gold is a street business.
Hearing "store" as the name of a community for the first time will leave one confused. Is it "a particular building for cocoa storage and trading?" Exactly, that is the grand idea behind the naming a long time ago. But now, the building stores gold!
Densely populated with Yoruba and Hausa artisanal miners, Store is a small community in Atakumosa East Local Government Area, near Igila village in Ilesha.
Informal and illegal mining is seen as normal in Store to the extent that gold mining and trading are the only businesses there.
For a piece of land to be bought for mining, it has to be tested for which the intending buyer pays N10,000. The size of the land determines the price after the land has been confirmed positive.
This reporter disguised as a part two student of Geology in Obafemi Awolowo University who was on a class assignment. The reporter ran into a popular gold miner and black-market gold dealer called "Single 2."
Single 2 left Ifewara in 2014 for Ilesa. Since then, he has moved from one gold rich community to another. It was at Store that this reporter met him. He owns a kiosk-like shop close to the express road that leads to the mining farms.
"As you are seeing this place like this, it is N3,000 naira per month. It's even cheap, some people rent their shops for N4,000, N5,000. We are all making our sales, especially during the raining season."
"If you can wait more minutes, you will see my clients bringing market for me. You will see how we dry it and sieve the sand away. They are just late today. Maybe they are still in the farm mining."
The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) 2016 report shows that the informal sector dominates mining activities in Nigeria. The report also listed 1,200 registered mining cooperatives across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria, mainly represented by the artisanal or small mining (ASM) actors.
This reporter was planning to call it a day when two teenagers, Musa and Adnan, entered Single 2's shop for business. The shop owner is a middle-aged man.
Musa, 16, worked on a mining site where he stole a bit of raw gold into a water sachet to sell to Single 2. He does this only when they are not paid hugely for the work done for the day, he said. The money made from this kind of trading provides dinner for him and his friend, Adnan. Both left Zamfara in 2018 when mining activities in the state waned.
They both followed Zubair, a suya (barbecue meat) seller, to Osun State to learn the business and serve as apprentices before they discovered artisanal mining instruments are sold in every shop in "Store". The two abandoned their original trade plans and moved into mining.
Adnan, 17, lamented how they were poorly paid by the owner of the site they worked on because they are young.
At a side of the shop is a 2kg gas cylinder and spoons of different sizes. Musa brought out the stolen gold particles from his trouser, tied to his right thigh. He put the particles, like a pinch of salt, into a sizeable spoon and placed it on a lit gas burner. This process enables quick separation of sand from the gold particles.
Musa was given a new N1000 note to place the remaining particles which will give a better separation as he blew away other sand particles.
The gold particles were placed on the scaling machine and valued at N2,000.
Single 2 said gold particles of "this size", pointing to the upper part of his thumb, "is worth around five million naira."
Like Ibodi, Like Ilesa.
Just like Ibodi in Ife-Iwara, land degradation activities on the visited mining sites in Ilesa were huge and posed environmental hazards. For a stranger like this reporter, it is always best to follow foot traces on the ground to avoid steps that can lead to a fatal accident. This is because of how the land has been dug.
"Just walk on the same path with me. The ground has been dug from one side to another, if you step on it, you are gone ooo," Single 2 said while taking this reporter on a visit to a mining site inside the army barracks in the community. The land was allegedly sold by the barracks authorities following a forensic survey confirmed gold deposits.
"We are already planning to leave"
Students of the Osun State College of Education, Ilesa, complained about artisanal miners mining close to their hostel. They alleged several attempts by the miners to dig across their hostel.
Agangila hostel is a building metres from the Osu-Ilesa road in Atakumosa East. The mining site beside this building has made the about 40 students searching for new accommodation for fear of their hostel sinking overnight.
According to a resident of the hostel, the land was inherited by the sons of a late chief in the community. They said mining activities on the land started earlier last year. The house was willed to a son of the chief's first wife, while the land is for the second wife's eldest son.
"We have complained to them that we used to hear digging close to our rooms. But our caretaker seems not to take it seriously. The other son sold the land to a rich man earlier last year. Can you see them? That's how they will dig till evening. We are already planning to leave; we are leaving after this semester."
Can Gold Exploration sustain Osun State?
Gold is used for many purposes including for making jewellery and as a coating on aircraft engine.
A research paper published in 2014 in European Journal of Business and Management, titled "Mineral Prospecting Potentials Of Osun State" written by Ajeigbe O.M, Adeniran O.J and Babalola O.A of the Department of Banking and Finance, Osun State Polytechnic, Iree, states that 20 million ounces of gold occur in Atakunmosa East; Atakunmosa West and Ife East of Osun State. The quantity available was discovered to be exploitable over a period of 50 years at an economic rate of about 850 ounces supply per day.
The research showed that 15,300,000 ounces is the minimum gold deposit in Osun State. This amounts to over N263 billion.
According to a professor of geology, Olugbenga Okunlola of the University of Ibadan, in 2017, also in his research finding entitled "Riches Beneath Our Feet: Mineral Endowment and Sustainable Development of Nigeria", the gold deposit in Osun is worth $5 billion, which is N1.5trillion (at current CBN rate).
He said Iperindo in Ilesha, Osun State, has a proven reserve of one million ounces "in a 1km2 area up to a shallow 100m depth, comprising a series of gold bearing (Gold-quartz-carbonate) veins localised by subsidiary faults, hosted within biotite gneiss and mica schist. Grade ranges between 1-23.6g/ton. Currently, this deposit is worth over $1 billion.
"The worth of the Ilesha gold belt occurrences could be in the range of $3.1 to $5 billion at current price regime... Nigeria might well be the new frontier in the coming years for gold exploration in West Africa," he said.
"If it is mined and Osun takes 13% derivation, that is some N200 billion revenue over the lifespan of gold mining."
The professor said the federal government does not mine as its main function is to regulate mining activities.
"The federal government does not own any mining company, what the federal government does is to regulate mining activities. So, if anybody can collect a license, once you fulfill all the rules and requirements"
Mr Okunlola also explained why state governments will benefit more from mining.
"In fact, state governments have more advantage because they know where the resources are. The state themselves have every opportunity to even get licenses for choice areas. So, what the law says is that its not for bureaucracy, form a company like Osun State Livingspring Company or Omoluabi Company, get licenses like they have, which I am aware of. Osun State has about six to seven licenses on gold alone and they form joint ventures. Whatever comes out of that joint ventures, if they have formed a joint venture, for example, with Segilola and they co-fund, they will be part of the over N2billion asset of Segilola. And do you know it is projected that by 2030 that gold will be selling for $2000 per ounce?"
In the whole of 2016, Osun State collected N5.9 billion as federation allocation and internally generated N8.89 billion; while in 2017 and 2018, the state received N10.4 billion and N22.8 billion and generated N13.49 billion and N20.2 billion respectively.
By ending illegal and informal mining in the state, Osun can become one of the financially independent states in Nigeria. This also will lift the state out of drowning domestic and international debts which stand at over N169.9 billion.
Aside from gold, Nigeria is also endowed with large deposits of other minerals now lying untouched. Agbabu's bitumen in Ondo State is an instance.
Nigeria is ranked as one of the five countries in the world most endowed with natural bitumen. However, research activities on the vast deposit of Agbabu natural bitumen have largely been concentrated on the physicochemical and engineering characterisation.
Bitumen reserves are found in Lagos, Ogun, Ondo and Edo states. Agbabu in Ondo is known for its high deposit of natural bitumen.
Nigeria is one of the largest producers of crude oil. However, the midstream sector of the oil and gas sector has made her heavily dependent on importing refined petroleum products and these include bitumen. Currently, Nigeria's annual consumption of bitumen is a little over 500,000 metric tonnes. The market has been increasing due to the epileptic performance of the Kaduna Refinery which is the only refinery in the country that produces bitumen at the moment.
This reporter visited two observatory wells built by the defunct Nigerian Bitumen Corporation (NBC) located opposite Saint Stephen's Primary School, Agbabu and the other close to the house of the community head.
As observed, the bitumen deposit is so heavy in the ground to the extent that it is forced out to the surface. This has made the marshy area where these wells are to be firm as if tarred.
Mr Abraham, a member of the community, told this reporter that "We know we have bitumen which has been a point of attraction. We have no problem with it, this can make this state richer if tapped".
Mr Abraham, a septuagenarian, has been living and farming in the village for over 45 years.
He said the only time they feel happy about having bitumen in their land is when the representatives of the federal government visit to check yearly.
"Don't go there, no one dares to," Mr Abraham answered when this reporter asked if he had ever heard of illegal tapping of the resources. "We can never take that here. No one can even try it without being led here by the government.
"We have it in abundance, we want the government to tap it and give our people employment. You can also see it flowing out already. Our children are jobless. We are just tired here but hopeful," he said.
According to an academic paper, Nigeria has a proven reserve of about 42.47 billion tonnes of bitumen - almost twice the existing reserves of crude petroleum. But the mineral is yet to be explored for economic purposes.
Geologists, economists blame state governments
A professional geologist and former Ogun State permanent secretary, Ipinniwa Steve, said the political will to diversify from oil is the only constraint bewildering Nigeria from attaining the desired economic status.
"We have potentials in every mineral sector. We are very blessed in this country. Our problem is that we have been paying less attention to solid minerals. Some of us believe that if our attention as a nation is tilted to the sector, it can bring us the economic status we have been clamouring for. If we are to talk of sustainability and other things, let's ask for political will with it. Do you know when bitumen was first discovered in the country? And we continue to import. The buck for this lies on the state governments. But we cannot blame them too when the Mining Act gives less power to the state."
Atiku Samuel, an economist and BudgIT research lead, also shared the view of Mr Ipinniwa. He condemned the structural issues surrounding the extractive sector generally and called for revamping of the whole system.
"You begin to wonder why the states which are endowed with this mineral resources still suffer for economic survival. The FAAC is there to tell you that there is little significance these resources hold to their economy, virtually less connection. The structural problem is that all mineral resources in the ground is being "owned" by the federal government of the federation and that is by design.
"As such, states like Kogi, Zamfara, Osun cannot independently bring in investors and invest in these solid minerals, that's one thing. Limestone also is a solid mineral. Kogi produces limestone, likewise Ogun State, but we need to look at their IGR and revenue distribution and you ask yourself some difficult questions that how much is the federal government of Nigeria earning from these things? It is totally non-existent. If you look at FAAC and what government earns from solid mineral, then look at how much Kogi, Osun, Ogun, are getting individually in terms of 13 per cent derivation, you will be shocked that it is nearly zero. That shows that less attention is paid to solid minerals. Another thing that will shock you is that there is no incentive whatsoever for these states with solid minerals.
"I don't think the principle around fiscal governance around solid minerals in Nigeria is actually favourable to the people. The general assumption there is that the solid mineral sector in Nigeria is designed to fuel what we call private accumulation.
"Absolutely, I can tell you if these states are independent in thinking and have the will to turn the sector, they will be able to stand on their own. My general assumption is yes, you can use the solid mineral in your state to build a basis for you to have a vibrant economy."
Hope on the Way
In the last three-day economic summit held in Osun State, the State Governor, Mr Oyetola, said the state has received N100 million from Badger Mines, a Canada-based mining company, as a sign-on fee for exploration and development of one of the state's mining titles.
The governor disclosed that the government had earlier executed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the mining company as part of the necessary preparation for the commencement of mining operations in the state.
"Our mining sector, like agriculture, is an old industry yet to be fully harnessed. The State of Osun has ample reserves of a variety of minerals, notably gold, lead/zinc, quartz, feldspar and several precious metals.
"We occupy a unique place in the mining sector in Nigeria. We are a mining state that hosts solid minerals. We are also a state that has invested in acquiring the licences for solid minerals under our land from the Federal Government.
"No other state in Nigeria can offer the unique combination of both regulatory and commercial fusion. We are a risk-ready state with an appetite for enterprise and reward for winnings.
"The state acquired 17 mining licenses for Gold - 10; Quarry - 4; Lead/Zinc - 2; and Quartz and Feldspar -1, from the Nigeria Mining Corporation, and we are willing to partner with interested local and foreign investors to develop these mineral resources.
"Our policy for the mining sector is implemented and overseen by the Osun Solid Mineral Development Programme. This programme commenced in June 2019, and has already achieved some encouraging milestones in its First Quarterly Report in 5 of the 7 intervention project areas of the programme.
"The intervention areas are Osun/Omoluabi Mining Business Restructuring Scheme (OMBRS) to commercialise the state-owned mining company. Osun Revenue Diversification and Maximisation Scheme (ORDMS) is a scheme to register all miners, mines and mining equipment and report on all mining activities in the State in partnership with private sector technology partners.
"We are happy to report that 9,000 artisanal miners have registered their biometric data on RFID-enabled tags with our technology partners. I am also happy to inform you that Osun recently executed an MOU with the renowned international mining firm - The Badger Mines - for the exploration and development of one of our mining titles with a signature bonus of a Hundred Million Naira (N100m) already paid," the governor said.