The state of Igbeti marble, in Oke Ogun area of Oyo State, is giving those who trade in the business, as well as the residents, a cause for concern bearing in mind its booming nature in years past. TUNDE OGUNESAN who was at the once employment-driven site, reports his findings.
Before now, marble, which appears to be the hallmark of Igbeti, was a project site that catered for thousands of Nigerians as far as employment opportunity was concerned.
Today, the story has taken a different dimension as what used to be a source of revenue generation for both the government and individuals is now in a sorry state.
The ancient town of Igbeti, in Olorunsogo Local Government Council of Oyo State, derives its Marble city catch-phrase from the large deposit of the precious stone found beneath its land surface.
Nigerian Tribune gathered that the marble deposit in Igbeti is responsible for the all-year-round winter- like weather condition, which distinguishes it from other Yoruba people of the South-western Nigeria.
It was also gathered that natural resource was discovered in the town in 1976 after which an industrialist, the late Emmanuel Ashamu expressed interest in its exploration with a view to producing it in commercial quantity.
With the backing of the then Governor of Oyo State, the late Chief Bola Ige, who commissioned the marble’s project first site, Ashamu’s name became a distinct synonym of Igbeti marble for obvious reasons.
Consequently, the investment opened up Igbeti to the outsiders and also opened door of employment opportunities to its sons and daughters.
To say the site was hub of activities is to say the obvious as indigenes of some neighbouring communities freely gravitated to Igbeti for casual works.
“Over 2000 people were working at the site during the time of Ashamu’s company. Everybody was happy. The town was living on hope of becoming a rich city with the way important people were coming from Ibadan and Lagos,” an indigene, who did not want his name in print, reminisced.
Another indigene also corroborated the above account with a submission that Ashamu era marked the turning point in the history of modern Igbeti town.
The source recalled some community services the Ashamu’s presence undertook, services which impacted positively on the life of the indigenes.
“Scholarships were given to students who are indigenes while many were sponsored to holy pilgrimage by Ashamu,” he said.
The cheering story continued until a disagreement ensued between some families and Chief Ashamu over the marble site. The development resulted in a legal matter, which slowed down activities at the site and eventually swept Ashamu’s feet of the land.
While some people, sympathetic to the industrialist’s interest were brimming with hope of a redress, Ashamu died in 1992 and the project entered a downturn from which it never recovered.
Buildings, vehicles and other tools of operations, including machines, are in hopeless state of disrepair and indeed now materials best for the museum.
It was learnt that after Ashamu, another investor, a ship magnate, made some efforts to revive the prospect.
But the Lagos-based man was said to have also retreated owing to an undisclosed reasons.
However, today, the two active marble sites in Igbeti; Alaguntan and Ogun road (along Igboho road) are under new operators.
These mining companies, according to sources, also engage some sub-operators working under their licence.
Surprisingly, mining exploration works are being done manually with workers daily sweating it out under scorching sun.
There is no prize for guessing that the workers are not happy. Even though none of them offered to speak, their body language spoke louder than their voice, regretting their choice of work.
“Few of our children left at the sites are just there because they don’t have another job to do. Their condition is poor and there is nothing we can do because they must not take into crime.
“It is very sad to see them working so hard and returning home with peanut. Yet we see trucks carrying marble out of town to make good money,” another source also said.
It was also learnt that the sorry state of Igbeti marble project has made the town too vulnerable to illegal miners, who allegedly conspired with insiders to feed fat on the resource.
Going by the indifference to the full exploration of the marble, the first three spots, where mineral was struck have turned to a large river servicing the entire community during the dry season.
Further investigation revealed that the site, located few meters away from the second gate along Igboho road, now serves as ‘natural water reservoir’ for the entire Igbeti town to source for water.
“The ‘marble source river’, has become three full blown rivers where tankers fetch water, commuters come to fetch water during dry seasons. But the natural endowment still fray around the riverside to testify that Igbeti sits on marble rocks,” the source said.
Regardless of the despondency the Onigbeti of Igbeti, Oba Emmanuel Oyekan Oyebisi, Afasegbejo III is optimistic of a bright future. In an interview with the Nigerian Tribune, Oba Oyebisi said the town is working to ensure that the marble site brings more job employment, development and bear positive impact on Igbeti.
The monarch confirmed that the palace is aware of government effort and proposed plan to ensure that both the town, local government and the state get adequate revenue from their operation.
Though the Onigbeti lamented that past operations did not yield much positive result on the native of the community, he said his dream for the town would come to a reality in the long run.
He said, “If government can encourage the modern trend of operation, there will be more job creation for my people. In addition, many modern structures will spring up as a result of boom in operation and turn Igbeti to a better city.
“To this effect, I am calling on the state Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi and the federal government, headed by President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene and let’s explore the opportunity of this solid mineral, especially during this time of diversification to develop Igbeti, Oyo State and Nigeria.
“If we jointly do this, Igbeti will be more known in world map than as we’re currently on the world stage.”
The Caretaker Chairman Olorunsogo Local Government, Honourable Evangelist Ogunrimi Gbenjo Williams confirmed that the operators were licensed by the government, stating that they are not illegal miners.
He said the current operators were licensed and are paying royalty in terms of tax to both the state and the Federal Government.
According to him, “government is aware of the miners operations. They are working under a licence, that means they are not illegal miners. And they pay tax to both the two arms of governments.
“At the local government level, we don’t collect anything but we issue ticket to the trucks that come to load the products. That is what we get at the local government level as income as at today.”
Commenting, the Special Adviser to the Oyo State governor on Solid Mineral, Honourable Matthew Oyedokun said the state government has been working to ensure maximum benefit and operation on the mining sites in a Public Private Partnership Initiative.
Oyedokun said when government’s arrangement is finalised, it will bring commensurate opportunity to the state government, the partners and the community.
He, however, cast aspersions on some “illegal miners” who he alleged to be operating there currently.
“Every miner working within the axis of Ashamu mining area is an illegal operator because there exists an agreement between the government and Morlap Mining Limited. The site along Igboho road is currently on the licence of Morlap Mining Limited.
“Government is working to make the place better managed on a Public Private Partnership. By the time it manifests, everyone will see and appreciate the effort of the state government.”