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Zamfara gold mining: Niger Delta seeks amendment of petroleum, mining acts

By Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt), Kehinde Olatunji (Lagos), Julius Osahon (Yenagoa), Agosi Todo (Calabar) and Isah Ibrahim (Gusau)
12 December 2020   |   4:30 am
Irked by the alleged double standard displayed by the Federal Government in the Zamfara gold mining saga, individuals and interest groups in the Niger Delta are, among other things, calling for an amendment to the Petroleum Act and the Mining Act.

• Insists On Restructuring

Irked by the alleged double standard displayed by the Federal Government in the Zamfara gold mining saga, individuals and interest groups in the Niger Delta are, among other things, calling for an amendment to the Petroleum Act and the Mining Act.

They also want in place, an equilibrating mechanism, where oil-bearing states in the region are allowed to own and explore resources in their domain and pay taxes to the central government (as done in true federalism), and in line with the tacit granting of resource ownership to northern states including Katsina, Zamfara, and Kaduna by the government.

While they deplore in strong terms, the continuous attack on artisanal refiners in the region by the military for engaging in artisanal crude refining, they argued it was such discriminatory and vexatious actions that in the past elicited violent protestations by youths in the region, hence the need for governors in the region to leverage on the controversy and make a case for artisanal refining.

On a visit to RUTAM House, the corporate office of The Guardian, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, while baring his mind on what the ministry was doing to ensure true federalism in exploration of mineral resources said: “The first thing I ask a state government is, ‘as a state, do you benefit from the oil and gas money?’ Oil and gas are also mining, because you dig into the ground and look for resources to mine. One is solid, while the other is liquid.

“We have all partaken in the lunch of our brothers in the Niger Delta, now that our own mother has cooked our meal, we now say everybody should go to their tent. It’s unfair; federalism cannot come in like that.

“Even if we are to turn off the tap today from the Niger Delta, some states will not survive, because it will take time for them to develop their mining sector. Most states in Nigeria wait for federal allocation and the bulk of the money is from oil and gas. When we find minerals in our own place, it has to go to the joint purse where we will share it. This is what I tell states.

“Further, states can participate in mining, not as sub-national, but as corporate, and they are beginning to yield to that. All the states in Nigeria today have a mining company. If you have a mining company, you can also mine whatever that is on your floor.

“You can approach the ministry as a corporate body and we will treat you like any other investor or company that is coming. The governors have been reassured that they can participate in mining, but they have to do it as a corporate, not as a sub-national body.”

A former zonal chairman of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) and now spokesman of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Tare Porri; Niger Delta activist, Wisdom Ikuli; spokesman of the IYC, Ebilade Ekerefe and Chairman of the Central Zone of the IYC, Clever Inodu, all agreed that it was time the oil-bearing states in the Niger Delta be allowed to own their and explore resources in their domain and pay taxes to the central as done in true federalism.

They said rather than condemn the Zamfara State Government for getting involved in the mining of gold deposits in its territory and pay token to the Federal Government, they should be applauded for the bold step taken to usher in true federalism, which is part of the restructuring many Nigerians are yearning for.

They, however, lamented alleged Federal Government’s lopsided disposition that seemingly encourages states to have undue advantage over others.
According to Ikuli: “The issue of insecurity and other prevalent challenges in the Nigerian State is directly associated with the lopsided federal system of government we are operating, which encourages inequitable distribution and allocation of resources, as opposed to the tenets, letter and spirit of true federalism.

“This takes us direct to the subject matter, which tend to query the ongoing gold mining activities, involvement of the Zamfara State Government and prohibition of the people of Niger Delta from mining their crude oil and gas. For this country to move forward, states should be allowed to control the natural resources domiciled in their respective states.

“While we frown against the tribal and sectional biases of the Federal Government, especially against the people of the Niger Delta, we urge the governors of the six geographic Niger Delta states and critical stakeholders to close ranks and work in synergy and unison to project the collective interest of the region. Let them strengthen the BRACED Commission to promote, project and protect the economy of the region.

“In summary, I am not totally against the ongoing mining in Zamfara, rather let the people of Niger Delta leverage on the precedence that they have set in the north to encourage modular refineries and well-coordinated and guided local refining of crude oil and gas.

Porri added: “Zamfara is calling for the legalisation of gold mining, so we are also calling for the legalisation of modular refineries. Once it is legalised, we have access to our oil and we would manage our oil the way we want, but this will not stop the call for egalitarian government and true federalism. Let us have control over our resources and give portion to the Federal Government.

“Whatever the situation or position, it cannot change the original call for resource control. We should be allowed to manage our resources and give something to the centre, because the centre is not adding value to the sub-national regions.

“I believe the Niger Delta or South-South governors should sit down and look inward. Let us commence the process of getting modular refineries, because if a state government owns a refinery, that is the end of scarcity of fuel and financial challenges. If a state government owns a refinery, what else do we want?”

On his part, Ebilade said the position of the IYC was clear on the Zamfara issue, which is that the state has the right to mine its own gold as enshrined in the constitution, adding that it is what true federalism is all about: “Our agitation has been true federal system of government where every region or states can control their resources and pay taxes to the federal government. But it is double standard if Zamfara State is allowed to mine its gold and Niger Delta local miners are not allowed to mine their oil and gas resources and pay taxes to the federal government.”

Inodu reechoed calls for restructuring and decentralisation of economic powers from the centre, adding: “We believed that when Nigeria is restructured and powers are decentralised, where each region controls, explores or mines its resources and send taxes to the centre, Nigeria will be a better place.”

He stated that the Zamfara gold mining activities were not against the laws, but shows that the agitation for resources control and restructuring by the Niger Delta people is apt.

The Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), said it is regrettable that those who contribute little or nothing get plenty, while those who contribute so much get so little: “We are in a country where the rules differ when it comes to certain sections of the country.”

Its National Publicity Secretary, Ken Robinson, said: “Whereas the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative (PAGMDI) guarantees persons from some sections of the country the right to mine, refine and sell their gold, with the tacit support of the Federal Government, through the deployment of efficient mining and processing technologies to the artisanal miners and access to markets through a National Gold Purchase Programme, Niger Delta people cannot extract, refine or sell their crude oil or its by-products.

“This is an injustice against the Niger Delta people and it is most provocative. The question is whether gold and crude oil are both not natural resources? If they are, why the inconsistency?”

PANDEF said the claim that Zamfara gold does not belong to Zamfara people were only “damage control,” insisting the stated objectives of the PAGMDI are unambiguous.

He noted: “It is rather unfortunate that while for close to two decades, the country has been unable to enact the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which supposedly would improve the management of the petroleum industry and buffer the suffering of the oil and gas host communities, all it took to ensure gold miners’ benefit maximally from the mineral resources in their land is a presidential fiat; no legislative action of any kind was needed.

“It is this kind of discriminatory and vexatious actions that in the past, elicited violent protestations by youths in the Niger Delta region.”

He said the situation further bolsters the clamour for the restructuring of the country, querying: “How do we explain the situation whereby the zone that produces the bulk resources of this nation benefits little, whereas zones that do not contribute anything significant to the national treasury appropriate and monopolise favourable benefits to themselves?

“How can anyone fathom the fact that the region that produces the wealth of the nation has some of the highest levels of youth unemployment in Nigeria?”

He regretted that the latest unemployment figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that the South-South zone is the most affected, with 37.0 per cent unemployment rate.

On the way forward, PANDEF said government needs to demonstrate consistency in its policies and regulations, adding: “If they are to support illegal miners, who they have chosen to call ‘artisanal gold miners,’ with mining technology and access to market, why won’t the same government support Niger Delta youths involved in artisanal refining of crude, with technology and access to market? This is not about supporting illegality; what is good for the goose is good for the gander and vice versa?

“Government needs to be broad-minded and truly progressive in the conduct of the affairs of state. Nigeria is a plural society.”Niger Delta activist, Annkio Briggs, wondered why the Niger Delta region don’t control their oil, gas and all other resources, just as Zamfara is in control of its gold.

She said the agitation before now, from Adako Boro to Ken Saro Wiwa, has been about the injustice of not allowing the people to own, control and manage their resources, describing the situation as unfair, unjust and unacceptable and vowing that the region would continue to agitate for their rights.

Briggs insisted on restructuring of Nigeria, saying it would take care of obnoxious laws, including Land Use Act, Mineral and Mining Act 2007 (ownership and control of minerals): “We will continue to demand for justice, ownership of our resources and devolution of power to give us same rights and privileges Zamfara enjoys.”

National Coordinator of South-South Elders Forum, Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe, said restructuring and true federalism remain the only solution to the numerous conflicts and problems in the country, noting: “As of today, some people feel they are holding sway and whatever they say is final, but nothing is final or permanent; the only thing that is permanent is change.

“So, we are calling for a balanced and restructured federation where each region will control whatever it has and pay taxes to the federal government.”

He said that it is necessary for the Federal Government to declare those mining gold in the north as illegal miners, since they are not paying any royalty to it.

The activist said: “There are two sets of laws- the Petroleum Act and the Mining Act. While one set of law allows those who are doing mining to go there, mine and take the money all for themselves, the other law restricts the people from mining the oil found in their land and they cannot even go near it, as soldiers are deployed to go after those asking or agitating for benefits and the people suffer the pollution.

“All kinds of mineral resources are being mined up north and they can declare them as illegal miners, but nobody has ever been jailed for mining. Whereas in the south, those involved in petroleum have been accused, jailed or killed.

“Those doing mining up north are not authorised by government and are not paying any royalty to the government, as the royalty goes to the villagers around them and their states. That is why today, Zamfara can come and say it has gold that it wants to sell to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for $5billion.”

He maintained that the Niger Delta should be allowed to explore the crude oil in its domain and pay tax to the federal government, saying the region would agitate more for resource control if federal government gives preferential treatment to the north.

An Associate professor in the Department of Economics, University of Calabar, Dr. Okey Ovat, said resource control agitation from the Niger Delta would be intensive if the Federal Government decides to give preferential treatment to Zamfara in the exploration of gold.

Ovat argued that what the Federal Government is doing is not right, noting that if the control of mineral resources would not be its exclusive reserve, it should be applied to all states in question.

He said if the Federal Government cannot licence the mineral resources in the Niger Delta to anyone, then the same should also be applied to the north, adding: “If it is true, then it is not correct, because there is no smoke without fire. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander.

“In the south, crude oil from the Niger Delta is being controlled by the Federal Government and no other person is licenced to do exploration; then the same thing should be applied to gold in Zamfara State. Gold mining should not be reserved for the state government, because they are all minerals. Everybody should be on the same page.”

He advised the Federal Government to take control of the gold in Zamfara to prevent the state government from having monopoly over it, as it has done in the Niger Delta, noting: “If it allows the state government to continue the exploration of gold there, then they should also allow Niger Delta state governments to do same.”

The agitation for resource control, particularly from the South-South, was muted until August this year, when Zamfara State Governor Bello Matawalle visited President Muhammad Buhari, where he presented some gold bars and other precious stones mined in the state in commercial quantity.

Matawalle told State House Correspondents that he was at the Presidential Villa “to show him (Buhari) how the states can profit from illegal miners, especially in the bush.

“He is very happy with the system we have initiated and said whatever support the state government needs, the federal government is ready to assist us,” the governor said after the meeting

The governor added that the state would established the first of its kind gold reserve in Nigeria, starting with 31kg of processed gold that would be deposited in a bank, saying the gold was entirely mined and refined by local artisanal miners in the state.

“My administration will subsequently continue to buy gold from our local miners, so as to gradually improve the reserve,” he said. Though Zamfara doesn’t have any registered mining company, it intends to serve as a third-party between illegal miners and the Federal Government.

He said: “It is very important to us as a government, particularly the issue of insecurity, to know the root cause of insecurity. Zamfara State is blessed with many mineral resources and some people outside the country come to buy gold and other precious stones and sometimes, instead of paying people, they pay back with arms; I did some investigations.

“So, the state government will be buying some of these minerals, so that we can block that chain. The state government is engaging the miners. We will be buying some of this gold from them with the limited resources we have.”

He canvassed the creation of a platform for the state government by the CBN, and Federal Government to be buying mined resources from small-scale miners in the state.