By my estimation the three mining sites in Yauri Emirate in Kebbi state alone provide jobs for close to 20,000 people. Zuru has also several gold mining sites. There are also mines in other emirates of the state. When all these are tallied, it is probable that close to 100,000 people are living off mining activities in the state. Apart from the revenue to the state, this is thus one of its largest employment sectors.
Sadly, by the fiat of the inspector general of police, sitting cozily in Abuja, on a dreary day in May, just about ten days to Sallah, over 100,000 mine workers were rendered jobless as the police authorities closed all mines in the state. The excuse was that mining has been the cause of the violence in Zamfara state and that government did not want it repeated in Kebbi state. The state government was not even consulted when this order was given. It was only when a delegation of the Artisanal Miners Association complained to the Ministry of Environment that they were led to the state police commissioner who explained the order to them and a perplexed permanent secretary of Ministry of Environment, under whose ministry, mining is regulated.
It should be noted that there was never any mining related violence or indeed any form of violence in Kebbi state. This is confirmed even by police accounts (as indeed I interviewed police officers in the mining areas). But the closure of the mines was not just the problem. In Mararrabar Yauri, the police destroyed shelters, reservoirs, wash tanks, equipment and other facilities at the washing, crushing and processing site. These were huge investments by the artisanal miners for which no government had assisted them to acquire.
That day I listened to mine workers in these places lament about their fate, community leaders complain about the problem, restless voices of young people who have felt let down by the government. The day after, as I was reflecting on what do with my notes, 17 of the miners who were caught with implements going home appeared in a Kebbi Federal High Court, charged with mining when an order had been given against any mining activity. Nothing was found on them, but they have been languishing in detention for over 30 days.
I went around these mines, engaging several mine labourers who have lost out. Elders in Mararraba Yauri complained that the theft of goats and chickens, which was never an issue in their communities, was becoming daily occurrences since the closure of the mines. Even mine sponsors said they were afraid to come out as they have no money to give to the people they had been sponsoring and have no money to repay their creditors.
In all these, neither the elected representatives of the people (whether in Abuja or in Birnin Kebbi) nor the governor are talking about this dangerous development. About hundred thousand people out of job in the context of an already existing high youth unemployment is a serious problem. And not a word from the political leadership of the state!
Today, the youth could steal goats and chickens to survive. Already many children have been withdrawn from schools because parents can no longer afford to pay for fees. Even the headmaster at Mararrabar Yauri Primary School complained that the support they were getting from the community had drained and now they are facing serious challenges running the school. Farms have been left fallow because it was mine proceeds that had been financing farming.
Government and police are creating a similar situation that snowballed into the violence that we see in Zamfara state today. There is peace today in Kebbi state but when the goats and chickens are exhausted, many of those youth, if they do not get back their jobs, will begin to look for other things to steal. They may begin to break into houses and from there block roads (as indeed has started to happen along the Mararrabar Yauwi-Zuru Road) and before you know it, there will be generalised violence and then we will have harvested another Zamfara.
I was told of a story: the convoy of the governor ran into a track full of granite (it is probably some precious stones) that had been mined illegally by a Chinese company. The governor ordered the track and its load to be arrested and detained in Kebbi. After some negotiation, the vehicle was released but the content had been dumped at the Ministry of Environment. That is the much the governor knows about mining in his state, a state richly endowed with minerals that it can do away with revenue from oil. Sad!
I admit there is sadness in this story, but government seems to know nothing about it or is not interested in addressing it or it is waiting for the violence to occur and then the war economy will peak and profiteers of violence will then live off such dangerous adventure. Let all who have conscience shout to the ears of government, that we will not accept the making of Zamfara in Kebbi!
Ya’u is the executive director, Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD)Prince Kayode writes from Abuja