Apparently, worried over the nation’s loss of over $9 billion to illegal mining, the federal government last week proposed capital punishment for private jet owners who aid and abet gold smuggling in Nigeria. This, certainly, is the panacea for the criminal act.
Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development Dr. Uche Ogah, made this known at an investigative hearing on $9 billion annual loss to illegal gold mining and smuggling organised by the Senate Committee on Solid Minerals, Mines, Steel Development and Metallurgy.
“Gold smuggling in Nigeria is often done using private jets, the very reason why private jets ownership and operations need to be streamlined in the country,” he said.
The minister said illegal mining in Nigeria started far back in the early 1980s following the indigenisation policy of the military regime in the late 1970s. The menace, he explained, was prompted by the inability of indigenous workers to obtain mineral titles and required technology for mining used by the British miners before the indigenisation policy.
He further said gold smuggling and illegal mining robbing the country of billions of dollars on yearly basis, thrived due to series of factors like connivance of security agencies with the offenders , host communities’ collaboration, low level of application of technology and negative mindsets of Nigerians to Nigeria.
“For these crimes to be fought decisively, potent punitive measure like capital punishment need to be legally provided for,” he said.
Uche, however, added that the menace can be tackled proactively through establishment of mines police, special court or tribunals to try offenders, adequate funding for the ministry and positive mindsets of Nigerians to Nigeria.
“The crux of the matter is for us to be Nigerian by seeing ourselves as Nigerians in all circumstances. Doing this will make us see mineral resources in our communities as collective wealth of all Nigerians that must not be illegally explored by anybody within or from outside the country,” he stressed.
Speaking in the same vein, a member of the committee, Senator Francis Fadaunsi (PDP, Osun East) alleged that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) made smuggling so easy in Nigeria.
The apex bank, he explained, facilitates the menace through its lopsided and exclusive policy on forex availability to Nigerians.
“Gold smuggling and illegal mining are carried out by political elite and not just the poor masses at the illegal mining sites.
Categories of Nigerians at the top from political office holders, politicians, traditional rulers, top security officers, etc, are involved in gold smuggling and illegal mining in one way or the other. Poor ones did it on behalf of the big ones,” he said.
In his closing remarks, the committee chairman, Senator Tanko Al-Makura (APC, Nasarawa South) said for thorough investigation of the menace and required way out, heads of relevant government agencies would be summoned for more critical interface.
He listed the agencies to include; the CBN, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Nigeria Police, Department of State Services (DSS), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
The federal government had in July last year disclosed of moves to tackle and reduce the high rate of illegal gold mining and smuggling in the mining sector following the invasion of local and international illegal miners.
The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Arc Olamilekan Adegbite, made the disclosure in a keynote address at the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, NESG, Webinar On Unlocking Nigeria’s Economic Potential, amid and after Coronavirus.
Adegbite stated that the webinar conference focusing on opportunities and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Nigerian mining industry was timely and that government’s immediate focus is really to manage the health, safety, and economic risks of the pandemic as we ease the lockdown and reopen the economy.
He maintained that mining offers the robust economic potential to diversify the economy, create jobs and increase government revenue which is the core mandate of his ministry in actualising it based on the over 44 different mineral types occurring in over 500 locations across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
He said seven of these minerals have been designated strategic to unlock the enormous potential in the sector which includes coal, iron ore, bitumen, gold, limestone, lead-zinc, and barite.
He also said alongside the seven strategic minerals, the ministry is also looking into key minerals to fuel the future, and these are titanium, tungsten, lithium, and cobalt, which have various applications in futuristic industries such as aerospace, telecoms, and electric vehicle manufacturing.
It is quite unfortunate that while Nigeria is borrowing funds to close its huge infrastructure gap, estimated to cost $3 trillion, some miscreants and their foreign conspirators, are carting away her invaluable mineral resources with reckless abandon and impunity.
This massive sabotage against an already ailing economy must not be condoned by a government desirous of economic diversification away from crude oil dependence. We are, therefore, in sync with the Muhammadu Buhari government’s move to deal decisively with the illegal miners by way of a death penalty, which will serve as deterrence to other like minds as well as buoy up the nation’s economy.