Banning mining in Zamfara, Kano

Following the resurgence of banditry and killings in Zamfara State, the Federal Government, in obvious but inexplicable exasperation, decided to place a temporary ban on mining activities in the state last week. It also extended the same measure to Kano State. Curiously, the Defence Minister, Mr. Munir Dan-Alli, had talked tough earlier, claiming that some top traditional rulers in the communities in the state were helping bandits to perpetrate criminal activities and warning that the armed forces would go after “any person or group of persons who choose to connive or sympathise with bandits to perpetrate crimes against law-abiding citizens.”

Unable to curb banditry, the Federal Government asked the miners to pack their luggage and leave even though mining is a critical sector of the economy earning sizable foreign exchange. With its poor record in enforcement though, it remains to be seen how the Federal Government hopes to enforce the ban. Instructively, the Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Abubakar Bwari, had recently observed that two years ago, licensed miners doing their legitimate businesses in Zamfara State suspended mining activities and left due to banditry and other criminal activities that posed serious threats to their lives and investments. Although what is left in the affected states is artisanal mining, it has at least offered a livelihood to people. The ban on mining activities in Kano and Zamfara states may force the miners to relocate to places that can accommodate them. After all, they cannot starve.

According to Bwari, intelligence reports found a nexus between mining and banditry and other criminal activities in the affected states and this forced the government to pronounce a ban on mining. But if the minister expected this to suffice as a justification for the ban, he was grossly mistaken. The statement merely confirmed the Federal Government’s ineptitude. Over a million Nigerians are currently making a living from artisanal mining and suspending their livelihood, even temporarily, is bound to have deleterious effects on the socioeconomic landscape. Surely, the country is not prepared for another round of discontent and upsurge in crime that would worsen an already awful situation. It is easy to see that while exporting banditry and allied crimes to other areas may not be part of the government’s plans, this could be the result of the government’s action.

The ban actually revealed a government that was momentarily out of its depths taking a hurried decision on a critical matter. Already, curbing illegal mining is apparently beyond the capacity of the government. Thus, only the bandits threatening illegal miners pose a threat to them, not the government and its security agencies. This is a sad commentary on the disposition of the government to its mandate. If the licensed miners abandoned their equipment on the mining sites due to security lapses and in order to avoid being kidnapped, killed or made to lose their investments, why then does the government keep making a fuss about Foreign Direct Investment? Is the government admitting that the bandits are invincible and beyond state power?

Shutting down a critical sector of the economy due to banditry is clearly not acceptable. Such a response undermines the sovereignty of the country. It was a show of exasperation that is bound to resonate poorly with investors and further worsen the country’s economy which is already haemorrhaging from inept management.