Article written

  • on 07.10.2010
  • at 11:11 AM
  • by Staff

The tragic gold mining affair in Zamfara State 1

ZAMFARA (Nigeria) – The tragedy in Zamfara State is not only a resource curse but a wakeup call,’ writes Uche Igwe. Illegal minerals mining in Nigeria’s Zamfara State sheds light on the problems posed by extractive industries in developing countries.

While the revenue potential is huge, federal oversight has been weak and international support is ambiguous. More transparency is urgently needed so that the mistakes made in the Niger Delta are not repeated in Zamfara.

The discovery of natural resources worldwide ought to be a blessing. This is because when such natural resources are exploited, it is expected to bring in revenue to contribute to the development of local communities. However, in these communities in developing countries, the reverse is usually the case.

No single event illustrates this more than the recent tragic events in Zamfara State in northwestern Nigeria. It was supposed to be the World Environmental Day celebration on 5 June 2010 but the inhabitants of gold-bearing communities Anka and Bukkuyum and local governments in Zamfara State had a different fate in stock for them.

About 335 suspected cases of strange ailments were reported in several hospitals in the locality. It turned out that 163 lives were lost out of which 111 of them were children between the ages of five to ten years old.

Further investigations conducted by Doctors Without Borders, a French aid agency, led to the discovery of an epidemic due to lead poisoning. The epidemic wrought havoc among the communities involved in small-scale mining. Several questions remain unanswered as one examines what appears to have been an avoidable tragedy.

llegal mining: a multi-million dollar business in Nigeria

Nigeria is blessed with many commercial deposits of solid minerals, from tantalite to barite, limestone, bitumen and kaoline, to gold, and topaz. The quantity of the deposits in more than 500 locations across nine states in Nigeria suggests that the solid mineral sector, if well harnessed, will compete with the oil and gas sector in Nigeria.

However, most of the mining in Nigeria up until the present is carried out illegally. Illegal mining is a great menace in many of our communities. Indeed the gold deposits in Zamfara State and the tantalite deposits in Kogi State have all been mined illegally. It is usually done by a ‘cartel’ that just shows up in these communities and begins to cart away the minerals in collaboration with ignorant and vulnerable community members.

Some of the illegal mine traders are from South Asian countries, especially China, but they do not perpetrate these criminal actions without the collaboration of some locals. Beyond Zamfara, active illegal mining is going on in Oyo, Kogi, Jigawa, Plateau, Nassarawa and Kwara states today. If you visit the sites, they appear surreal and unconnected to Nigeria due to the beehive of activities occurring in these communities.

Environmental and health implicatios

The environmental implications of illegal mining are quite diverse. The first is that it destroys farmland and distorts the livelihood of agrarian communities. The trenches dug for these mining activities are abandoned after the mining is over. They therefore become death traps and easy entry points for devastating gully erosions.

As was in the case of the communities in Zamfara State, many of these mines are contaminated with impurities. In this case, gold ash was intermingled with deposits of lead. In a few cases, some of the impurities are even radioactive in nature. Ignorant community members therefore go to these mines and come in contact with contaminants.

An eyewitness account stated that reports of vomiting and stomach pain among children in Zamfara State began to come in a year ago. As is usual in most communities, deaths are attributed to one spirit or another. The death toll continued to rise until the blood samples of patients were taken abroad for adequate tests.

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