Mr. Youssouf Sawane is the President, Oyo State chapter of the ECOWAS members, Nigeria Miners Association (NMA). In this interview by NURUDEEN ALIMI, he denies allegations that foreigners are exporting precious stones from Nigeria without paying royalty. He also states that members of the association have registered companies licensed to operate by the Nigerian government, and are remmiting due taxes to government coffers accordingly.
COULD you please share with us information about yourself?
I am from Mali but I have been here in Nigeria for quite some time. I gave birth to all my children here in Nigeria. Nigerian government, my country’s president, and my ambassador in Nigeria are all aware we are doing our legitimate business here in Nigeria.
For how long have you been working as a miner in Nigeria?
I have been dealing with precious stones in Nigeria for over 30 years. I was elected president in the year 2016. I started this business as a messenger and gradually became a master. I have traversed all the areas of the business. With my experience in this business over the years, it has contributed to the economy of Nigeria directly and indirectly.
You and your members were accused of not paying royalty to the Nigerian government, that you are just making money and taking same to develop your country. How true is this?
It is not true. All our transactions are legitimate. We have companies dealing with precious stones in Nigeria and they are doing fine. Let me start with our annual renewal of our companies’ license. If you don’t have your tax clearance, they won’t renew it for you. That is number one, secondly, does it make sense for you to export resources of that magnitude in a country without the support of the government? Having said that, you should realise that we are doing our legitimate business in Nigeria.
Aside this allegation, do you know that we have more than 10,000 Nigerians working on our site and offices? We have renovated palaces and schools in some areas of Oyo State as our Corporate Social Responsibility in areas where our mining sites are located?. Without being immodest, I can tell you that without us, the mining business in Oyo State and Nigeria cannot thrive.
Is it also true that you are smuggling money through land border?
Is that possible in this terrible world we are living today? What if you are attacked? I said and I want to repeat for record purpose that we are doing everything legitimately. If you check our bank transactions, you will see clear cut transactions. We don’t hide anything from government. It is unthinkable that someone is carrying huge amount around in this global village. The allegation is enough for you to discard as mere conspiracy. Not only that the allegations are baseless but also mischievous.
Is this business open for Nigerians to be a major partaker?
I said it earlier that we have more than 10,000 Nigerians working on our sites and offices. Many of these people are learning the business and some have even graduated to become international traders themselves. So, it is an open business for everyone. There is nothing hidden in the business. Nigerians are also involved.
But do you pay dues to Oyo state government as the host community?
Natural resources deposited in states are owned by the Federal Government as 13 per cent derivation goes to the Federal Government. We are paying to the Federal Government annually. Had it been that the Oyo State government had a site where we can refine our precious stones, we could have been mandated to pay taxes to the state government. Former governor Lam Adeshina, made attempt but the successive government did not follow up. Lam Adeshina invested a lot in the mining business, but later failed because of the nature of the business.
What about the houses you are using in Ojoo, do you pay rent?
Yes, all our members are paying rents. The host community in Ojoo area of Ibadan is very accommodating. Before now, that Strabag street was no go area in the evening because miscreants have taken over the street. But since we have started working in the area, we have been keeping the area safe.
But why was the allegations levelled against you by some of your members?
In every sector, you cannot overlook some negative influencers. Those people who claimed to be Nigerians, ask them what they are contributing to Nigeria economy. They do not have anything positive they are contributing. They are lazy and always idle. They can’t go to site and they cannot work in office. They rely on little money our people are given them. Whenever we stopped given them money, they find a way of destroying our image. They always dwell on the fact that we are not Nigerians forgetting that you can work and live in any part of the world since it is legitimate. I think it is time for us to grow in Africa. Do you know how many Nigerians contested parliamentary elections and won in United States of America? Even in United Kingdom where they are pure white, other countries are members of their parliament. But in Africa, if you are Senegalese working in Nigeria, it is a problem.
How do you give back to the Federal Government?
With our registration, government knows how much we are expect to pay annually. For instance, I operate LTD and I know how much I pay annually. It is unfortunate that those given false information are not educated. Some of our members who don’t even have license to operate were given identify card to operate under our registered companies. The Nigerian Immigration Services are aware of our living and working in Oyo State, because all of us have our resident permit. We are all members of ECOWAS and we have many Nigerians residing and working in our various countries.
We don’t have any problem with the Nigerian government since we have arrived, and we are for the development of this country. We are all law-abiding immigrants in Nigeria.
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