OSUN GOLD FIELDS: Suffering In The Midst Of Abundant Precious Deposits
OSUN State, like many others in the country, has potentials to be great, sadly, every successive administration has failed to harness the God-given resources, particularly, large deposit of gold scattered in various communities of Atakumosa west and East council areas.
Osun State, which is currently bogged down by heavy debt burden, and inability to settle workers’ salaries, regularly, is,perhaps, one of the ‘wealthiest’ states in Nigeria, but whose potentials are stemmed by the skewed federalism, which takes the initiatives
away from state government in terms of investment and revenue generation.
An expert told The Guardian that availability of the precious metal buried in the jungle of Atakumosa is not only capable of transforming the impoverished state, but also lift the state from abject poverty and underdevelopment.
A tour of some of the communities to have a taste of the activities of illegal miners, who are scavenging for the precious metal from the bowels of Atakumosa rich soil, was not only challenging, but also, tortuous due to the difficult terrain.
Trips to some of the gold-rich communities revealed high level of degradation to the environment, due to the activities of miners who have seen opportunity in exploitation of gold to make an income on daily basis.
At Igun, a community of about 600 residents, Haliru Mohammed, a miner from Niger Republic, told The Guardian he was encouraged to come to Osun by a friend, who wanted him to continue where he stopped in Niger State.
He said mining is dangerous, because of the risks associated with it. Though, he confessed that on a good week, he and his partner, Adamu Hammed, could make up to N10,000, but sometimes, they would be unlucky, and only hit enough quantity of raw gold to cater for their feeding and buying necessary drugs for sustenance.
“Oga (master), this job no get certainty o. Sometimes, we fit make plenty money from mining and some other times, we will work and dig far into the ground without recording much success.’’
According to Mohammed, landowners, who often chase them away from site at the slightest provocation, sometimes, compound their plight, especially, when they disagree with “our master, who employed us to do the mining and in situations when there is no money to tip them in order to curry their favour.”
Poverty and deprivation are common features in the neighbourhood due to the absence of social amenities, including potable water, motorable roads, and functioning health facilities.
A community leader, Adeyemi Olaore, informed The Guardian that they have no choice than to allow illegal and uncoordinated mining activities to continue in the area, because they have to survive.
He said, “we are mainly farmers and some of us struggle to send our children to school, but they cannot find jobs. We have begged government to come here to develop the gold mining business, so that better things can come to us, but we are yet to see action. He said the only road leading to the community has remained in poor condition for years, while our children have to travel far to attend school and our wives go to hospitals in Ilesa to receive medical treatment.”
In Owu-Epe, another community where there is large deposit of gold, residents are always in frantic search for water in distant locations, because the only water project in the town no longer serves any useful purpose.
“Help us to tell Governor Rauf Aregbesola that we are still waiting for the promise he made to help us,’’ one of the residents said.
“They have totally destroyed our land and our livelihood,” said Oludare Sangodele, who claimed to be a senior chief in the town. He said residents still suffer from destruction done to their farmlands, water sources and even roads.
“They have reduced us to nothing because of this crazy mining activities. Is it not ridiculous to see that what we inherited from our forefathers have been damaged by strangers and marauders, who came here in the name of business to steal all our fortune while we remain in poverty day in day out?’’ he queried.
“Our roads are not only in bad condition, we also do not enjoy anything in form of social amenities in our town. The government has abandoned us after we have voted for them. Out of their carefree attitude and neglect, illegal miners have destroyed our land, our heritage and pride. As a result of their activities, our sources of water have been contaminated, including the wells from where we fetch water to meet domestic needs. The situation is more disturbing, especially, in dry season,” he said
On enquiry why they don’t go through their elected representatives to lodge their complaints, he said they have sent representation and pleaded with the government to come to their aid, “but all we get are empty promises, nothing concrete has been done.”
According to him, each time they report the illegal mining activities to the police and even got some of the miners arrested, what they find is that more of the miners usually return to the area to do more damage to the environment. “It is like the police authorities are helpless or they are dancing to the tune of the merchants behind the mining business and we are fed up with this disturbing development,’’ he said.
Yussuf Tanko, a native of Bauchi State, told The Guardian that he had worked in mining fields in Oyo State where they exploited other precious stones before he transferred his services to the gold fields in Osun.
He said, though he is not a rich person, he has made considerable money from mining inspite the challenges and harzards associated with it.
“I can only talk to you, but I will not allow you to take our pictures. No experienced miner will allow that for security reason,’’ he said.
On how he and his colleagues working in the area have succeeded in the job, he retorted, “you don’t know say ground gets eye? I told you I have been in the mining job for a long time and I have equipped myself with the needful (charms), which give me karufi (strength) that makes digging into the ground so easy.’’
Sunday Faturoti, a prominent face in Ijana, another community where gold prospecting is going on in Atakumosa area, complained that illegal mining activities have left the village impoverished, especially, as a result of degradation of the environment.
He said, “God gave us good and rich land here to do farming and take care of our families, but the coming of miners to this community has defeated that objective. ‘’The merchants, who employ those who scavenge for gold on our land in return, cannot compare what we are pay to the magnitude of destruction done to our land. Gold deposit found in our town is expected to bring positive changes, but what we have in return is lamentable,’’ he said.
According to Faturoti, these miners have taken the people for a ride for too long, and more often than not; show disrespect to their hosts’ traditions and customs as a community. He observed that the area is so much blessed with gold “but we have not benefited from this fortune. Why must owners of the land suffer while unknown people come here to steal our property giving to us by God?”
He expressed concern that the promises made by politicians during electioneering campaigns have not manifested and wonder when their hope would be realised and fears assuaged.
In Osu, headquarters of Atakumose East Local Council, large quantities of gold deposit is also reported to be present. The Guardian was shown hectares of land, which harbour the natural resources. Unfortunately, the farmland is under a firm hold of illegal miners, who use crude implements, including diggers and shovels, to scavenge for gold, thereby, causing serious damage to the environment.
Signs of deep cut into the land were visible all over the place. Worse still, the gullies created due to the activities of unskilled miners have exposed residents to avoidable dangers and great risk to their health.
Surprisingly, many residents of Osu, which is noted for bean cake (akara) making, know very little about the presence of abundant gold hidden in their land.
Community leaders in Igun, including Oba Sunday Ajilore, reflected on the past expectation of the people in the area, saying they had great hope of transformation of the community when some government officials came calling, giving promises to develop the area.
The monarch said: “People of my age in this community grew up finding out that we were blessed with large deposit of gold. This realisation raised our hope that in no distant future, we will reap the reward of availability of gold in our land. That time they promised to provide us electricity, potable water, good roads but all these turned out to be empty promises.
“It’s been over 25 years and our people are still waiting to see those promises. Our land was invaded and destroyed by the mining companies and now the illegal gold diggers won’t allow us to have rest and have peace. They have contaminated our water sources and we can no longer drink from them, because they have become poison.
“About 14 years ago, the mining company, which worked in this area, embezzled the money the Federal Government gave them to develop the community, they wanted to carry their equipment from site but we prevented them from doing this. They told us that they would return to develop the area but we have not seen any of them till today. They made away with our wealth and ran away,” the monarch said.
He said 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.
Ajilore heaped the blame of failure to develop the area on government, due to its lackadaisical attitude. “They are the ones, who encourage and aided these illegal miners, by selling tickets to them on daily basis. That’s why they can’t do anything about the inhuman activities which have taken over our land,” he said.
He said people in communities where gold is found are struggling for survival, while many find it difficult to access good healthcare and send their children to school.
According to him, residents lack basic social amenities that can make life worth living despite the presence of abundant gold in their area. He added that high level of poverty is a source of discouragement to youths in the area many of whom travel to Ilesa, Osogbo, Ibadan and Lagos in search of job.
A community leader in Iperindo was bitter that government has left people in the area to their fate. He noted many people thought availability of gold in any community is seen as an opportunity to enhance development, but this has ended up been a dream.
He explained the presence of gold there have become a sort of burden instead of bringing positive changes to the people.
‘’Yes we have gold deposit in commercial quantities, but what we have discovered is that this has not translated to wealth. We have watched helplessly the exploitation of precious stones in our land with reckless abandon by strangers and those who cannot match us in terms of education. But successive administrations at every level of governance have done nothing to address our problems.
“If government is sincere, our community would have been very beautiful going by all the promises they have made to us. We have benefitted nothing from the government over the years despite all the wealth that has been taken from our land.
A miner, Farouk Abacha, 30, who claimed to have come from Kano, narrated his experience to The Guardian. “I was introduced to this business, when I was 13 by my brothers, three of them were seriously injured and later died in Niger State when the pit they were inside fell on them.
“I was so scared by the development that I wanted to abandon mining, but where do I go since I don’t have better alternative? It was a bad experience for me as teenager that time, but it did not make me stop the job, because I have to survive.
“Recently, I experienced a similar thing, when a pit I was inside, caved in and covered me up. I was badly injured. I still feel pains all over my body, but I have to continue with the job, because it has provided me money for basic existence.’’
Abacha, who was located in one of the Osu communities, where he was scavenging for gold, said he might have gone the fate of his three other brothers, but for quick intervention by his colleagues.
“This is part of what we go through every day on this job,’’ he said. “Many of us did not go to school, and so, this is the only job we know, which we use to take care of ourselves. But I hope to quit very soon.”
For Mubarak Dogoyaro, 25, a native of Minna, Niger State, he has come to Osun gold field to hit fortune at Owu- Epe, but his adventure seems to have turned to frustration. He said mining is no longer attractive as before due to falling prices of gold.
“On several days, we dig for hours without finding a trace of gold. But sometimes, when we are lucky, we could leave the field worth N4, 000 each. But for several weeks now, all we get after digging for so long is not more than N1, 200 when sold. The situation becomes more pathetic by the time the group shares the money, the share for each person can be as low as N200,” Dogoyaro said.
To prospect for gold on any land, miners, working in collaboration with middlemen, who buy from them, and later sell the product in the black market in Ejigbo, Saki, Ilesa, Ife, Jos, and neighbouring countries, including Ghana, Benin Republic and Niger Republic.
A member of the state House of Assembly representing Atakumosa West and East constituency, Babatunde Festus Komolafe, blamed landowners in the area for poor negotiational capacity, before gold merchants are allowed to prospect for gold in the area.
He disclosed that a Bill has reached second stage reading at the Assembly that would place serious regulation on the activities of illegal miners and their principals.
The former Special Adviser to the Governor on Mineral and Natural Resources, Mr. Babatunde Ajilore, explained the effort by the government not only to curb the activities of unauthorised miners, but also enhance development of the sector for the overall wellbeing of the citizens.
He noted, “these illegal miners have done lots of havoc on the mining titles that belong to the state without taking permission or paying anything. On these titles, the state government pays royalty of about N50 million to the Federal Government yearly and we will not fold our arms to allow the illegal miners destroy our collective heritage.”
He 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].
He said apart from being rich in gold and agricultural products, Osun is also endowed with a number of vast other mineral resources such as clay, tantalite, talc, feldspar, kaolin among others.
“This is why the government created the ‘Omoluabi’ Mineral Promotion Company Limited. Ajilore explained how 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.
Experts who spoke on the issue said wherever illegal mining activities take place; the land will become useless meaning that farmers can no longer grow crops, thereby depriving them of their means of livelihood. It can also lead to erosion and even bigger environmental problems.
“The best way to fight this problem is for the government to embark on enlightenment and environmental education of the people who live in such communities who most times give out their land for such purposes for a token. If these people understand the dangers for them and the environment, they would resist unauthorised mining in their communities.”
A geologist, Clement Oyawole, told The Guardian that indiscriminate digging of the environment without proper survey could lead to more than just contamination of water but other mineral resources not initially detected in such places. It could lead to flooding too, he said.
A sociologist, Michael Abodunrin, is of opinion that the plight of communities where gold is found in Osun is reflective of the Nigerian situation. He blamed poor administration of resources by government at all levels as the biggest challenge in the matter
He said, “the situation of the people you are talking about is not different from what Nigeria is passing through as a nation. It is a society blessed with so much resources yet living in lack and squalor due to management. Except there is the will to do things right by the government and its many agencies, many communities blessed with resources might continue to wallow in poverty.”