Gold mining is supposedly a destructive venture, but when carried out with respect to the environment and with the benefits of the people in mind, it becomes a lucrative one. Francis Ezediuno in this piece, examines how illegal gold mining is affecting the domestic income of Osun State, the welfare of its citizens and the nation at large
It has been said that Osun, amongst all the states Nigeria has the potential to be great. But sadly this hasn’t been so because every successive administration has failed in one way or the other to harness the God-given rich mineral resources particularly, the large deposit of gold that are buried deep in the earth in various communities in Ijesha land most in Atakunmosa East and West Local Government Areas.
With the quantity of reserve embedded in the ground, the government could create jobs, transform Osun from its impoverished state and underdevelopment, releasing many of its people from the shackles of abject poverty.
According to a research by a Professor of Geology at the University of Ibadan, Olugbenga Akindeji Okunola, the gold deposit in Osun State is worth about $5 billion in today’s price.
At the current CBN rate, $5 billion is equal to N1.5 trillion. Findings revealed that for the whole of 2016, Osun state collected N62 billion in federation allocation and recorded an Internally Generated Revenue of N8.88 billion.
Okunlola, who is a former president of the Geological Society of Africa (GSAF) during one of his lectures entitled, “Riches Beneath Our Feet: Mineral Endowment and Sustainable Development of Nigeria”, said Iperindo in Ilesha, Osun state, has a proven reserve of one million ounces “in a 1km2 area up to a shallow 100m depth, comprising a series of gold bearing (Gold-quartz-carbonate) veins localised by subsidiary faults, hosted within biotite gneiss and mica schist. Grade ranges between 1–23.6g/ton. Currently, this deposit is worth over $1 billion.”
“The worth of the Ilesha gold belt occurrences could be in the range of $3.1 billion to $5 billion at current price regime. Nigeria might well be the new frontier in the coming years for gold exploration in West Africa”.
It might interest to note that Iperindo being the headquarters of Atakunmosa East local Government Area of Osun State is one of the clusters of seven gold deposits around Ilesha.
In communities in these areas where gold is found, the people are struggling for survival, while many find it difficult to access good healthcare and send their children to school.
Residents lack basic social amenities that can make life worth living despite the presence of abundant gold in their area and poverty is a source of discouragement to youths in the area many of whom travel to Ilesa, Osogbo, Ibadan and Lagos in search of greener pastures.
Many even accused the government of neglecting them to their fate. Many of the communities people thought availability of gold in their domain was an opportunity to enhance development, but this has ended up been a dream.
The presence of gold there has become a sort of burden instead of bringing positive changes to the people.
Despite the potentials for development and the income that can be accrued to the state from commercial gold prospecting, the exploitation of this important mineral resources has been left totally in the hands of illegal miners who not only steal this resources but desecrate the landscape thereby constituting a danger to the environment.
Illegal miners have flooded the state and making the rural areas where these illegal mining activities are carried out their abode.
Some of the miners make around N10,000 weekly while on a bad outing, they barely make enough to get necessary drugs and feed themselves.
Added to this, the communities where these mines are found lack the necessary basic amenities including potable water, motorable roads, and functioning health facilities to make life tolerable not to talk of enjoying, a condition which has driven many farmer/land owners to lease their land out to these prospectors who pay them next to nothing while they profit from the proceeds of their illegal trade.
Osu, the headquarters of Atakunmosa West Local Governmenrt Area of the state, is rather famously known for its bean cake (akara) making and many have little knowledge of the presence of abundant gold hidden deep beneath their land.
The Nigerian Gold Mining Company, a subsidiary of Nigerian Mining Corporation and Livingspring Mineral Promotion Company Limited are some of prospecting firms that had explored gold in Atakunmosa West in recent past.
When gold is mined, miners, working in collaboration with middlemen, buy from them, and later sell to the black market in Ejigbo, Saki, Ilesa, Ife, Jos, and neighbouring countries, including Ghana, Benin Republic and Niger Republic.
A former Special Adviser to the Governor on Mineral and Natural Resources, Mr. Babatunde Ajilore, said the government not only tried to curb the activities of unauthorised miners, but also enhance development of the sector for the overall wellbeing of the citizens.
He said illegal mining has done lots of havoc on the mining titles that belong to the state without taking permission or paying anything.
Ajilore said the current financial challenges facing the state have made it more imperative for government to look inwards by giving serious attention to the development of solid mineral deposit in the state in order to raise the level of its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
According to him, this was why the government created the ‘Omoluabi’ Mineral Promotion Company Limited and the government has moved far in the exploration investment strategy of gold by entering into an MoU with Andalusian Mining Property of Australia, Consumet Nigeria Limited of South Africa, Preston Technologies Nigeria Limited, Rotimi Obeisun Nigeria Limited among others in order to facilitate the vast exploration and exploitation of the state mineral resources.
“Of all the MoUs, it is the one with the Australian company that holds the highest promises for now as the company has assured of moving to site to give the state its first batch of mined gold. The state is making serious move in stopping the activities of illegal miners who had turned the state to their haven, “Ajilore said.
Despite all these illegal mining, the state has not been totally blind to it and on many occasions, it had taken several steps to assert its authority.
On coming to power, Governor Adegboyega Oyetola struck a partnership with the federal government to develop the gold mining sector in Osun State and the pilot scheme of the Presidential Initiative to streamline the gold mining sector for the benefit of the people, artisans and government will soon be launched. The ultimate aim is to diversify the nation’s economy from its reliance on oil.
This initiative in Osun is based on the volume of gold available in large deposits in the Eastern part of Osun of which Atakunmosa West (Osu) and Atakunmosa East (Iperindo) Local Government Areas of the State and to prevent its haphazard mining with no control from the government.
The initiative involves miners organised and trained to facilitate better output and the enjoyment of the benefit of their resource and after will be able to access micro-credit and be exposed to further capacity building.
On the part of the federal government, it is intended to grow the solid minerals’ Growth Domestic Product (GDP) by eight percent before 2020 under the Economic Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP).
It is expected to grow the number of artisanal miners with better exposure to do their jobs while the governments will get higher royalties and taxes to boost their IGR, preserve their safety and keep the environment safe.
The government has shown excitement about it because the people of the state will get the opportunity to boost its IGR.
Oyetola stated that he looked forward to the effects that it will have on the people with the job opportunities and the chance for a better life for the people who are ready to take advantage of the natural resources that are abound in the state.
He also stated that the state government will improve on its revenue generation and therefore will have the resources to be able to cater for the needs of Osun people.
He added that streamlining of activities at the mining sites to standard and ensuring all the stakeholders- the community, people and government -get the benefit was good.