How Illegal Sand Miners Make Fortunes In Sokoto Communities

Between October and November 2021, Daily Trust embarked on an undercover reporting in two communities in Sokoto State—Righiza and Satawa, where mining officers are allegedly earning monthly bribes from illicit sand miners.

“Don’t take our pictures. If you try it you may be buried here,’’ one of the operators warned.

It took a lot of time to convince the middle-aged miner who had a fearsome weapon in his hand to agree that our correspondent was a researcher and needed access to the site.

“You can come inside the hole and check the types of sand here. But if any of you try nonsense, you will smell yourself. What we are doing here doesn’t concern you. I don’t even know why they would recommend you to come here and examine our work for your research. No problem shaa,’’ he muttered as he led our correspondent downward, watching if he would attempt to take pictures.

Some hours later, he was still not feeling comfortable with the situation, even as sweat uncontrollably covered his face.

When he encountered one of the sand miners with a weapon, he immediately dragged out our correspondent from the spot and ordered the hired motorcyclist to immediately take him out of the place.

Despite the fact that the sun was biting very hard, the men were seen lighting cigarettes, laughing and discussing in their local language. As a truck approached, a man took his pen and book and instructed the illegal miners to go to work.

“After you are done talking to me, I want you to enter the spot and interview the miners as well,’’ Adamu Umar, 32, said after checking the number of the labourers serving the available trucks.

“The miners come from different villages; and some are from Niger Republic. They serve as labourers here. The money individuals earn each day from this mining is between N5,000 and N3,000, depending on workflow. Each truck is filled by 20 people. While buyers pay N5,000, the land owner receives N5,000 per truck,” he said.

Illegal mining occurs when there is no authorisation by the government—no land rights, mining licences or exploration and mineral transportation permits.

According to report from various surveys, unregulated human activities in Nigeria, such as illicit sand mining, contribute significantly to environmental devastation, leading to numerous ecological distortions that affect the lives of at least 80 million Nigerians.

Environmental deterioration caused by unlawful sand mining is mostly attributed to lack of enforcement of environmental laws, as well as inefficient development control.

Speaking on illegal mining in Nigeria, Ogundokun Doyinmola, a legal practitioner, said, “The sand mining industry is generally governed by Nigerian Mineral and Mining Regulations, 2011 and the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act, 2007. The mining act states that whoever operates without getting a licence or lease from the government is illegal.

“Now, looking at it from the environmental aspect, they should not be allowed to mine sand because of climate change, flooding and other damages it can cause to the community. “

Mining causes environmental degradation

In Satawa community, it was observed that illegal miners have burrowed most of their lands, which in the rainy season results in flooding. They have excavated most of the boulevards that lead to Righiza district. This gives rise to gully erosion, landslide, deforestation and land degradation; making the environment highly endangered.

The environmental consequences of mining in Nigeria are numerous, including exacerbated soil erosion, flood, salinisation or alkalisation, and desertification due to its effects on the soil, as well as poor road and irrigation system.

According to experts, unregulated sand mining activities violate sustainable global environmental practices, potentially causing climate change effects, such as carbon monoxide emissions from the movement of heavy-duty trucks, as well as loss of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity due to human interference.

Illegal miners feed on broken law

According to Section 44 (3) of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Law of 1999, the federal government owns and controls all minerals in Nigeria and is responsible for managing them in accordance with the National Assembly’s directives. Any operator without a license is, therefore, considered to engage in criminal activities and may be arrested and tried in a court.

It was further observed that the illegal sand miners in Satawa and Righiza communities have excavated almost all their lands, including those earmarked for farming.

Bello Muhammad, 33, said he had depended on illegal sand mining to feed his family for 10 years.

“I have no other source of income. We sell a truck between N5,000 and N3,500 and also pay the landowner N5,000 per trip.

“The police or government authorities haven’t for once stopped our work. And whenever the mining officers come, they go directly to the landowner to collect their settlement,” he said.

‘Mining officers take N10,000 bribe monthly’

In September 2021, the Minister of State for Mines and Steel, Uche Ogah, lamented the challenges facing the federal government in the fight against illegal mining. He spoke at a two-day public hearing organised by the Senate Committee on Solid Minerals and Mining, Steel Development and Metallurgy.

“One of the challenges facing the federal government in the fight against illegal mining is that miners connive with security officers to carry out their activities,’’ he had said.

“Illegal mining officers shouldn’t be your business. Or must you know about them before you make research on sand mining?’’ A 23-year-old miner, Aliyu Kazeemu asked.

He later confessed that the illegal mining officers usually visit all communities where miners operate every month to collect their N10,000 bribe.

“They are dangerous. That’s why you can never be allowed to enter here with cars or bikes whenever they are around. They were even at the site two weeks ago.

“I am working here as a representative of the landowner/secretary. I am in charge of two sites here. We make at least N40,000 every day.

“The mining officers deal with my boss whenever they come. I can’t specifically say the exact amount they usually collect because it is not static. But they usually collect N10,000 or N20,000 sometimes,” he added.

Musa Umaru, 32, a sand miner at Satawa community, confirmed that whenever the mining officers come to collect their monthly ‘stipend’, they go directly to the landowner without disturbing their work.

“The mining officers don’t stop us from working. When they come, they go directly to the landowner for settlement.

“When they come, I feel less apprehensive since our work is quite different. I don’t want to know their mission here. My own is to see a truck drive in and I collect my money,’’ he said.

Residents lament mining effect

The head of Righiza community, Sani Sheu, 33, recounted how their graveyard was affected by illegal sand mining activities. He, however, became angry when Daily Trust on Sunday moved close to him and asked about illegal mining operations in the community.

“Those illegal miners are evil. Most of our farmlands are affected.

“It is so bad that they have destroyed our cemetery. We are pleading with the government to implement the law that would stop the sale of lands for illegal sand miners in our communities,’’ he said.

Basiru Umaru, a resident of Righiza community, disclosed how unknown people come to the community to buy lands, on the pretence that they want to build houses, but would later mine the sand on such lands for sale.

“Their trench is at the back of my room. The distance between the mining spot and my room is just five steps away. Each time the buyers drive in their trucks, my building vibrates and cracks as if it would collapse. These activities have destroyed our farms and homes. They have even excavated sand close to the cemetery and destroyed our roads,’’ the 38-year-old Basiru added.

Also, Bello Ibrahimu, a 24-year-old resident of Righiza, told our correspondent that his family’s farmland had been destroyed by illegal miners.

He said, “My family’s means of survival is farming, but our farmland has been destroyed by illegal sand miners. Despite the fact that our farmland is close to the cemetery, they have dug it to the demarcation. We can no longer farm there. We plead with the government to help us.”

Furthermore, Daudu Usama, a resident of Satawa, said efforts had been made by the head of the community to stop the activities of illegal sand miners, but to no avail.

“We have made efforts to stop them for a long time, but their work continues. The head of this community even reported them to local government officials, but nothing changed,’’ the 35-year-old man lamented.

Who are the illegal mining officers?

Section 16 of the minerals and mining act, 2017 permits the establishment of mines inspectorate department across all the states in Nigeria. They are operating under the Geological Survey Agency.

According to the act, the department’s key role is to supervise and enforce compliance by mineral titleholders, with all mining health and safety regulations prescribed.

Other roles of the department include preparing and rendering records, preparing reports and returns as required by the minister or as prescribed by regulations, taking custody of mineral resources as required by any court to be forfeited to the government. Also, with the prior approval of the minister, dispose of any mineral resources forfeited to the government.

In Sokoto State, the mining directorate officers are known by the illegal miners.

Two hours at the mining officers’ bureau

When Daily Trust on Sunday visited the Federal Ministry of Mines And Steel Development, the environment was quiet. On seeing our correspondent, an assistant director who simply gave his name as Idris shouted, “What is the problem? What are you looking for here?”

When our correspondent introduced himself as a researcher, he said, “As is written boldly on the billboard outside, this is the Mines Inspectorate Department under the Nigeria Geological Survey Agency, Sokoto, North-West branch. Our main role, according to the mineral and mining act, 2017, is to investigate anywhere mining is taking place in the state and make sure they have licences.”

Asked about their monthly visitation to illegal mining sites, his eyes turned red.

“We are the ones those miners call illegal mining officers,” Idris said. Pointing at two cars behind him, he added, “These are the cars we usually use whenever we are going for operation, especially the one labeled ‘Special Task Force on Illegal Mining.”

He argued that the mining act permitted them to collect money known as ‘royalty’ from anybody that mines illegally.

“Before any intending miner can operate, he must get a licence. And it is not from our office in Sokoto, but the Cadastre head office in Abuja. We are doing it informally here. Willing miners would come to our office and pay ‘royalty’,” he said, but stopped immediately his boss came.

He further said, “See, this is Nigeria. Those illegal miners are more dangerous than burglars. If you stop them, they can kill you. We would just carry our car to their places and even play with them. The mining act states that we should stop them from mining illegally, but we are only doing our best. My brother, this is Nigeria.

“Sokoto Cement has got approval from Abuja. Also, Kolkolawa, the tipper association, is mining sand legally there as well.

“But other places like Righiza, Satawa and other communities are mining sand illegally. Since they can’t bear the amount of getting a licence from Abuja, we bend the law for them, collect money and allow them to operate.

“Actually, we can’t stop them from working because of licence; we are human beings. It is not easy to get a licence. Even if we arrest them, the police will collect money from them.”

Source:- Daily Trust

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