Nigeria: Illegal Mining and the New 'Marshals'

11 April 2024

The marshals should restore order in place of chaos

The recent disclosure by the Speaker of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Parliament, Mohamed Tunis, that Nigeria loses 91 per cent of its revenue from the mining sector to illegal operators came as no surprise. But it is nonetheless still disturbing. "The mining sector has the potential to contribute 7.5 per cent to Ghana's GDP, 10.2 per cent to the GDP of Burkina Faso, 4 per cent to the GDP of Cote d'Ivoire while Nigeria receives only 9% from the sector with 80 per cent of the mining in the country's Northwest region carried out illegally," said Tunis who argued that the development not only robs the region of much-needed revenue but has also resulted "in instances of insecurity through banditry, kidnapping, thuggery and in some cases insurgency."

·· Tunis is correct. The spate of illegal mining activities in several states, especially in the north, besides undermining the economy, has long thrown up security challenges, with widespread cases of banditry, kidnapping and community unrest. Indeed, the bid to exploit mineral deposits by criminal networks has for more than a decade been fuelling violence particularly in Zamfara with the attendant economic and security implications. According to a former Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, over $500 million was being generated annually, with no single naira going into the state's coffers. No reasonable country should allow such brazen economic haemorrhage.

··· In his bid to tackle the menace, the Minister for Solid Minerals Development, Dele Alake, has reached an agreement with the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) to deploy a special security outfit called 'Mining Marshals' across the country. The 37 commands of this structure will exist in every state and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The overall policy command of the operation is domiciled in the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development. While questions remain about the legality of this arrangement and its opaque operational guidelines, we acknowledge that the challenge of the moment is how to significantly reduce the incidence of illegal mining in the country.


· The immediate past administration initiated some reforms in the sector. These include improving mobility for field officers and organising artisanal miners into cooperatives. Focus should now be on how to properly organise the sector to attract local and foreign investors. A recent report commissioned by Global Rights is instructive. While artisanal mining makes up about 80 per cent of all mining activities in Nigeria, that aspect of the sector is not properly defined, according to the report which listed factors promoting illegal mining activities in the country to include poverty, high cost and cumbersome criteria required for formalising operation, and the lucrative nature of the illicit business.



· Nigeria's solid minerals sector is private sector driven. Through a cadastre like system, the government allocates mineral titles to investors and subsequently provides oversight functions through policy direction and regulations. The country's law in the sector also specifies who could be in possession of or purchase minerals in Nigeria and establishes Minerals Buying Centre (MBC) which according to the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) are more than 100 across the country. But from Oyo to Katsina and elsewhere, illegal mining is done in the open.


· What the foregoing suggests is that there is urgent need to confront the menace in a serious manner if we must fight both the insecurity and economic crimes associated with it. Alake intends to do that with the establishment of 'mining marshal' unit of NSCDC under his command. We hope this arrangement does not create another problem of its own.

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