Sand miners at the Bariga coastline of Lagos have been rendered jobless by a stop work order issued by the state government, Chineme Okafor reports

The first sign of trouble was a reported quarrel in the Oshinfolarin area of Bariga in Lagos, next was a stop work order and equipment evacuation demand made on about 65 sand miners operating on Bariga’s shoreline by the state government, then followed a quick response to the state’s action as well as a disagreement on its rights to enforce such order, by the federal authority, from then on, what reportedly started as a modest issue, became a tension that has defied good resolutions for over six months now.

It was in January 2016 that about 65 sand miners on the Bariga Lagos shoreline got the eviction notice from the state government. The order was swift and reportedly inconsiderate.
When it came, the state reportedly cited to a prior criminal incident in the community which threatened its security but which the Bariga community allegedly accommodated its perpetrators and provided them escape routes, as its reason for taking such action.

As claimed, it also premised the evacuation order on the perceived degradation of the ecosystem of the state through the activities of the dredging companies, it said it wanted them to stop and leave the shoreline and their means of livelihood.

But the miners responded to the allegations through their associations and the community – the United Sand Dealers Association; Best Sand Nigeria Limited and Ebute Ilaje Community. They denied the charges against them by the state, saying they were ‘victims of circumstances’ and that the government with its orders was foisting on them an economic hardship they will find very difficult to accept.

“Criminality and violence is a world problem, the United Sand Dealers Association, Best Sand Nigeria Limited and Ebute Ilaje Community Development Associates are all law abiding citizens, and none has ever had a criminal record,” they said in their letter to the state government pleading that the embargo on their mining activities be lifted by it, and a solution to the reported criminalities be collectively formulated.

While requesting that the state governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode considers reversing the embargo on their operations, the miners said, “the directive to stop work has greatly affected us and our dependants.” They noted that six months with no means to earn a livelihood was harsh on them.

Similarly, their plea was followed by an April 15, 2016 memo of the federal Ministry of Mines and Solid Minerals Development to the governor in which he was reminded that the current constitution of the country does not confer on the state controlling rights over minerals mining in states of the country, and as such, its ban on sand mining on the Bariga shoreline was unlawful.

The federal memo stated that the country’s 1999 Constitution has in its exclusive legislative list reserved controls of minerals and mining activities within the country for the federal government as item 39 of its second schedule and as such it was wrong for the state to close down the operations of the miners. This has however not made the kind of impact the sand miners looked for.

And so, when their petition got to THISDAY, it quickly reminded the state of a recent revelation by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) that sand and not gold or any of the celebrated precious stones buried underneath Nigeria’s earth was bringing more money into the pockets of governments in the country.

NEITI’s unexpected disclosure was contained in the audit report it prepared and published to show the extent of activities in Nigeria’s solid minerals sector in 2013. The report traced how much money was paid to Nigeria as royalty for the mining of her solid mineral within that year.

In the report, NEITI said 5.8 per cent of Nigeria’s solid mineral production came from sand dredging, while just about 0.4 per cent came from gold. It noted that going by the value of royalties paid by people who mined sand, Nigeria got more money from it than it got from gold.

It also said this was possible because more people were involved in mining of sand than they were in gold. These people perhaps included the Bariga shoreline sand miners who Lagos has kept away from their work for about six months now.

However, by latching on to the reported incident that occurred around Oshinfolarin Street in Bariga to close down their operations, the sand miners said it was an overkill by the government and that this had continued even after they set up strategies to curb criminal activities in and around Ebute Ilaje.

They also reminded the state that its embargo on their operation was not entirely in its interest considering the temptations associated with the idleness the order has with it.
According to them, closing down their operations also meant that men who have operated their sand mining businesses for years now, are faced with the prospects of not returning back to their means of livelihood if the embargo remains without a resolution.

To further buttress their claims of being victims of circumstances, the sand miners also noted in another correspondence with the secret service that they had nothing to do with the allegations of criminal acts against them by the state, adding that the site of the incident which got them the ban was far away from the waterside where they operated from.

They equally made a pledge to observe and report criminal acts within the community to the secret service, in their effort to come clean from the state’s allegation.

But even with their pledges to community vigilance and request to be reinstated to their mining operation, a June 2014 official correspondence from another federal authority relevant to their operations – the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) which THISDAY obtained, seemed to have questioned the action of the government.

The NIWA memo to the Dredgers Association of Nigeria said a judgement of a Lagos Federal High Court delivered by Justice J. T. Tsoho and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) the proper and lawful agencies to control their commercial activities and not the agencies of Lagos.

NIWA also asked the miners in the 2014 memo not to engage in any commercial dealings with either the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) or its Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development who Tsoho’s judgement reportedly restrained from engaging directly with them.
Now caught in between a very delicate web of legalese and rights of regulation, as well as Lagos’s desire to clampdown on criminality within its terrain, Bariga’s sand miners said the actions of the state has excluded them from economic opportunities for more than six months. They thus want a quick resolution and return to work.