What Nasarawa must do not to have Zamfara experience in mining

Nasarawa state is still a baby in the mining industry as the new N15 billion explorations by the federal government has identified gold deposit in the state.

In this piece, AYONI M. AGBABIAKA explores ways the state government may reap the bountiful harvest in mining without going the Zamfara way.

Illegal mining

The issue of illegal mining has continued to be on the front burner for stakeholders in mining industry and its international partners across board, especially in Africa and Nigeria where there is little or no structural plans to curtail this menace.

In Nigeria, the story of economic loss, insecurity, deaths and illnesses associated with mining is echoed in mining spaces of Anambra, Zamfara, Niger and Nasarawa states

Nigeria’s economic history shows that the solid minerals sector was a major player in the country’s economy before the discovery of oil, contributing about 12 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The exploitation of different solid minerals deposits in commercial quantities in every state of the federation guaranteed jobs and enormous revenue in taxes and royalties.

One of the world most precious stones or minerals have been discovered along the Abuja, Nasarawa axis through the National Integrated Mineral Exploration Project (NIMEP) programme undertaken by the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development. This phenomenon ordinarily should be one received with hearty cheers, but observers in the mining sector worry if Nasarawa state will excel socially and economically above all odds.

Indiscriminate use of mercury

Gold mining in Nigeria is synonymous to indiscriminate use of mercury for washing and processing gold, especially by Artisanal Small Scale Miners (ASMs). Mercury, however have strong negative impact on the society where illegal mining thrives.

Both in Niger and Zamfara states where gold mining booms illegally no fewer than 400 children and women were killed in Nigeria, following the outbreak of lead poisoning in these states between 2010 and 2015.

Lead poisoning

Lead poisoning is said to be among the deadliest chemical poisons as it affects mainly people living in mining communities and especially children as it destroys their vital organs leading to permanent disability and lack of mental capability and in most cases death. Victims are affected through contaminated air, water and food.

Lead is a toxic chemical that poses a vast range of dangers to human health and the environment if not properly managed. Children and adult in virtually every region of the world are being exposed to unsafe levels of lead in the environment not only from artisanal gold mining but from different sources, such as paint, gasoline, batteries, toys and solder, and through different pathways such as air, food, water, dust and soil.

According to stakeholders’ reports at the second International Conference on Lead Poisoning Associated with Artisanal Gold Mining with special focus on prevention, lead poisoning is the oldest and one of the most well-known of the industrial (chemical) diseases. “Nigeria is at the threshold of industrialization and one of the known prices of industrialization is chemical poisoning.

Unfortunately, the diagnosis of chemical is poorly understood and often ignored in the developing countries in favour of the perceived more important infectious diseases.”

The Zamfara lead poisoning episode in Nigeria was a very severe case of lead toxicity in two local government areas -Ania and Bukkuyum.

The occurrence unleashed one of the most unprecedented outbreaks of lead poisoning in human history. 

That lead poisoning associated with artisanal gold mining was first formally reported in Yargalma village in Bukkuyum Local Government Area (LGA) of Zamfara in 2010 and within six months, more than 400 were killed in the outbreak.

Five years later, despite the massive environmental remediation work that was done in eight villages in Zamfara between 2010 and 2013; despite the use of cutting edge treatments for 5000 children in Zamfara state; and despite hosting the first international conference on lead poisoning in Nigeria in May 2012, another severe lead poisoning outbreak killed 30 children in 2 villages in Rafi local government area of Niger state.

The critical lesson is that no matter the scope of remediation and treatment, there will always be some recontamination, there will always be children who do not respond to treatment, and there will always be people willing to defy the dangers of mining gold using unsafe practices.

Behavioural change

Clearly, the only effective long -term solution in ending further lead exposure is through behavioural change, and the use of appropriate and economically technologies.

The cause 

Artisanal miners currently use rudimentary tools for excavating gold bearing gravels and for dry crushing and grinding them, sometimes in their homes.

The ground gold is thereafter washed in ponds shared by both humans and animals to recover the gold, resulting in the pollution of the water with lead bearing waste material which animals and humans later use.

Investigation on the Zamfara and Niger lead poisoning incidences showed they were caused by widespread lead contamination of residential areas, with the lead poisoning highest amongst children.

Following the discovery of gold in the state the Nasarawa state Governor, Engineer Abdullahi Sule expressed concerns over threat of illegal mining and its associated vices.

The governor who expressed his concerns when he visited Minister of Mines and Steel Development Arc Olamilekan Adegbite added that the state was prepared to work with the ministry to prevent the escalation of illegal mining in the state.

He however noted that despite experiencing some form of illegal mining of gold in an area called Uke, some respectable companies are mining legally in the state.

Illegal mining, state government as culprit

However, at a different  forum, the Minister of Mines and Solid Mineral Development (MSMD), Arc Olamilekan Adegbite and the Chairman, Senate committee on Solid Minerals, Mines, Steel Development and Metallurgy, Senator Tanko Almakura about two years ago accused governors of supporting theft of national resources through illegal mining.

Adegbite in an interactive session with the committee said the challenge of illegal mining was being supported by some state governors through provision of police escort while they are out on the field to illegally mine solid minerals in their domain.

The minister who was not specific said, “You will find foreign nationals encouraged by our people without naming them, we have some state government that are encouraging these nationals that we are talking about and that is why you see them with security.

“When they send them to go and do this yes they needed police. What do you expect a mining officer to do when the state government is backing this illegal mining?” Adegbite asked.

What Nasarawa must do

The state must forestall illegal mining; encourage payments of dues, royalties and taxes to government, encourage participation in mining through registered association, organize workshops and enlightenment programmes in order to educate the people on the economic potentials of the sector.

The state government must also ensure environmental impact assessment of the host communities before any mining activity to reduce environmental hazards.

The use of safety devices such as safety glasses, helmets, ear muff and safety boots should be encouraged to protect those on mining fields.

The state also should key in to the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative (PAGMI) programme of the federal government.

The gold mined under the PAGMI is expected to become part of the country’s external reserve after being purchased by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). 

Under the scheme, artisanal and small scale gold miners will earn more from higher productivity, better recovery rates through mechanization of operations, and better access to reliable geological information.

Nigeria had earlier mined, processed, and refined gold under the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative. 

The first batch of PAGMI gold was unveiled at a presentation ceremony to the president on July 16, 2020.

“PAGMI will result in the creation of thousands of new mining and formalized jobs, leading to poverty alleviation for many households,” Adegbite said.

Not doing these may not only cause losses to the miners but to government and the society it thrives because Illegal mining makes it difficult for people to harvest the gains of mining for sustainable economic growth.

Australia, South Africa, Canada among other countries, had explored such endowment to meet their economic needs and Nasarawa and the country at large should not be different. 

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