Just like the oil conundrum, which has raised the pertinent question of it being a curse or blessing, the presence of huge mineral deposits in Zamfara state, though not formally recognized and exploited, is threatening the peace and security of the state. Mineral resource deposits have contributed to the transformation of nation states, but in Nigeria, the host communities wallow in abject poverty, in want of basic social amenities.
For communities in Zamfara state which host largely unexplored huge deposits of gold and other minerals, the absence of structured governance system for mineral exploitation in these communities and unregulated exploration have combined to engender high level of insecurity including banditry, armed robbery, cattle rustling and kidnapping.
Mines, mineral resources including oil fields, oil mining, and natural gas which form part of the economic and revenue interests of Nigeria is still in the exclusive legislative list, Part 1, Schedule II, Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, although I understand Governor Matawalle has come up with new legislations and guidelines for the regulation and operation of mining activities in the state.
So until the Federal Government gets serious with the diversification of the economy to include other resources, artisanal exploration and political rivalry will continue to impact communities (as in the case of Zamfara) negatively, while politicians fight over control of these micro economic activities. As this scenario continues to play out in Zamfara state, it manifests or made to look like it is a PDP versus APC usual brickbats, which sadly blew out of proportion a few weeks ago.
Therefore, when two associates of the former government of Abdulazeez Yari and APC chieftains were recently arrested for having a “secret meeting with recalcitrant bandits (as allegedly captured on CCTV) and “connivance to disrupt peace” and were ordered released from Abuja, the PDP government of Bello Matawalle had reasons to cry foul and rightly so.
Early in September, Habu Mohammed Dantabawa and 17 others were arrested by the Zamfara Police Command. In a press statement signed by SP Mohammed Shehu, the Police Public Relations Officer, on behalf of the state’s Commissioner of Police, he said the arrest was not politically motivated. “The arrest was carried out in the overall interest of public peace, public security and public safety”. In the same vein, Abdulmalik Bungudu popularly known as Zannan Bungudu was also picked up in Kaduna by men of the Zamfara police command for breach of Sharia penal code and “accused of mobilising thugs and armed men to terrorise residents”. Without being freaked by the Zamfara police command or being prosecuted and charged to court, all of them were set free based on “Abuja Police headquarters’ order” or “interest of the Villa”, without consideration for the fragile peace in Zamfara state.
Between March and June 2010 and up to 2011 Zamfara state experienced the largest outbreak of lead poisoning in history. 355 cases were discovered out of which at least 163 people including 111 children died. Between 2011 and May 2019, 4,983 women were widowed, while 25,050 children were orphaned, and more than 190,000 people displaced according to a committee set up to investigate the menace of banditry headed by Mohammed Abubakar, former Inspector General of Police. As if this is not tragic enough, the thaw in banditry which residents had enjoyed since the government of Governor Matawalle came up with new strategies for peace, is being threatened.
By December 2019, after Governor Bello Matawalle started his peace initiative, a lot of weapons were surrendered to the government.
The Yansakai vigilante group alone surrendered more than 500 guns to the government. As part of the peace process, the governor initiated a multi-billion naira Ruga project to stem the tide of the incessant clashes between the farmers and herdsmen and possibly eliminate banditry involving kidnapping and with the potential of securing lives and property, restore trust and confidence and reduce poverty.
The Ruga project is a Fulani settlement planned to accommodate about 210 settlers, in addition to the provision of 13 kilometre access road, public health centre, schools, veterinary clinic, market, police station, mosque and Islamiyya, irrigation facilities, water canal, solar street lights etc.
Initially, the peace initiative was working as it engendered lull in banditry. Just when the people of Zamfara began to heave a sigh of relief, the peace of the state was shattered again, throwing the state into another round of conflicts.
In August this year, Governor Matawalle presented some gold bars and precious stones to President Muhammadu Buhari and sought his (the president’s) support. This was seen as a huge political gain on the part of the governor, hence the renewed violence.
It is said that armed banditry in the North-western states of Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Sokoto and partly Niger state in the North-central, revolves around illegal mining operations in Zamfara itself. Although, Nkasi Wodu, a lawyer, peace builder and development expert averred that the “attacks are driven by many overlapping factors, including cattle rustling, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, illicit artisanal mining, youth unemployment, poverty and inequality” compounded by “weakened, stretched and demoralised security services”, the underlining motif in all these, is access and control of the gold deposits in the state. Apparently, the conflict is a combination of political elite battle, the ‘gold cartel’ and interregional terrorist activities camouflaged and orchestrated as banditry to divert attention.
While exposure to mining activities especially lead can damage children’s brain, kidney, bones and the nervous system or cause developmental problem in children such as lower IQ, it does seem that the political actors are only concerned about the control of the levers of power, only as a means to an end; and conversely, use the access to cause disharmony and violence; take advantage of same to do their illegal mining business without hindrance. The likelihood of this postulation is high considering that 2019 is long over and 2023 is still far away, yet PDP and APC supporters continuously spat over phony issues? It is therefore becoming obvious that banditry and kidnapping long associated with Zamfara state and which has led to loss of lives and property of mainly the poor is beyond partisan politics. Politics is just a smokescreen in an elite struggle for economic advantage through unregulated mining of gold and other mineral resources.
To avoid health hazards associated with illegal mining, the siege and a repeat of incessant banditry of previous years, a new form of standardization is required. It is just as well that the state government is already working towards that. This is a wake-up call for the federal and state governments to work together to exploit, process and commercialize legally, the mineral deposits in Zamfara state and curb associated insecurity, instead of allowing economic vandals masquerading as politicians to once again turn the state into a killing field.