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Illegal mining as threat to national security

On Nov. 25, 2021, the Federal Government inaugurated a 14-member National Taskforce Committee to draft a framework that would guide mining activities in the country. The committee is chaired by the National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno.

Part of the committee’s terms of reference is the development of a framework for vetting of prospective miners who would undertake mining activities in states where mining activities are taking place.

It is also charged with the conduct of background checks and selection of the prospective companies forwarded by the Federal Ministry of Mines and Solid Mineral Development for mining in Zamfara and other states.

At the inauguration of the committee, Monguno was optimistic that some of the security challenges which informed the decision to ban mining activities in Zamfara, Plateau and other states would be curtailed once the committee comes up with a framework.

Recall that in Nov. 2019, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, informed the National Economic Council that the federal government had resuscitated the Presidential Mines Surveillance Task Force to curb illegal mining and environmental degradation.

The Task Force operates in all states of the federation and is responsible for plugging revenue leakages and institutionalising of the National Council of Mining, and Mineral Resources Development.

As far back as Aug. 2017, along with Dr Kayode Fayemi (then Minister of Mines and Steel Development) Monguno also directed an immediate closure of illegal mining sites in Plateau.

The decision was taken when they visited mining sites at Campania Zurak in Wase Local Government Area of Plateau.

These policies and decisions in the mining industry point to the relationship between illegal mining and threat to national security.

This connection was further emphasised when, in March this year, the NSA announced the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari to declare Zamfara State a ‘no-fly zone’ and ban mining activities with immediate effect.

Such is the threat posed by illegal mining that a statement from the Presidency once put the number of illegal miners across the country at 20,000, stressing that the menace had become a national security threat.

“Beyond the problems of bandits and cattle rustlers, the scale of lawlessness has been aggravated by illegal miners who are harvesting resources they have no legal rights to exploit.

“Official statistics suggest that there are more than 20,000 such miners undermining this important part of the economy, operating in a manner that is extraordinarily harmful and destructive. The result is chaos,” the statement read.

Under Environmental Security, the National Security Strategy (NSS, 2019), a policy document designed by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) to coordinate national security, illegal mining and other environmental activities were captured.

“Our mission is to protect and conserve the environment by preventing and mitigating natural and anthropogenic threats to environmental security and sustainability.

“This we will seek to achieve by exploiting environmental resources through international best practices in a sustainable manner and protecting Nigeria’s unique biodiversity,” the NSS states.

Illegal mining does not only threaten the lives and livelihood of rural dwellers, it also provides illicit financial flows which are increasingly linked to terrorism and banditry.

Security experts believe and available analysis of media contents show that some of those who sponsor illegal mining also fund banditry and cattle rustling in mining communities in order to incite violence among cattle breeders and rearers.

According to Maurice Ogbonnaya of the Institute for Security Studies, “Conflicts displace people and create opportunities for illegal miners to operate.

“Many media reports blame the conflicts in the region on rural banditry, without addressing its links to illegal mining…illegal gold mining drives rural banditry and violent local conflicts in some parts of Nigeria.

“This includes the North West, North Central and to some extent South West regions,” he said.

It is estimated that about 80 per cent of mining in the North-West region is carried out illegally and in a non-mechanised way by the local population.

In addition, the indiscriminate and uncertified use of explosives at those illegal mining sites constitutes a violation of Nigeria’s law on arms and explosives control.

In September, President Buhari transmitted an executive bill to the National Assembly seeking to control proliferation of arms and to regulate the importation of explosives into the country.

The bill seeks to repel the 1964 Explosive Act and enact a new law which will regulate the manufacture, storage, possession, use, distribution, purchase, sale, transportation, importation and exportation of explosives and other related matters.

The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development is responsible for issuing licenses for explosives meant for mining and construction uses, with additional security checks carried out by ONSA through End User Certification.

Minister of State for Mines and Steel, Uche Ogah, recently said Nigeria loses 9 billion dollars annually to illegal mining and smuggling of gold.

He also identified inadequate manpower and low level of technology as some of the major challenges faced in the fight against illegal mining.

These are the kind of problems that are expected to inform the outcome of the Task Force Committee’s work.

It is also imperative for the Task Force Committee to embed applicable provisions of the various policy documents designed by ONSA, such as the NSS, into the legal framework it is expected to come up with.

Any internal or external action which threatens the security and defence of a nation, including its citizens, economy, resources, institutions and critical infrastructure, constitutes a threat to national security.

It is, therefore, heartwarming to observe that the federal government has prioritised illegal mining as a national security threat.

Also, with the establishment of the Task Force Committee, it is believed that existing laws for the protection of the solid mineral deposits of the country will be strengthened.

Hopefully, new guidelines that will complement existing laws will also be created to provide adequate security coverage necessary to prevent illegal mining

(NAN)

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