April 17, 2019

Zamfara gold: Threat to development and national stability

Multiple taxations, Mining sector

By Inwalomhe Donald

ZAMFARA gold miners war of ex-generals and politicians is a threat to stability and development. More than 5,000 people have been killed in five years. Then the Federal Government suddenly woke up to ban illegal mining in the North, a crime ignored for several decades because of the privileged persons involved.

Although Zamfara gold should provide development opportunities, but renewed gold interest in the state represents a real threat to stability in a still vulnerable North-West ravaged by conflicts. Mining has begun, but the gold is nurturing old resentments among local communities and contributing to border tensions with neighbouring tribes. Now that gold reserves are confirmed in the North-West, this would exacerbate deep-rooted conflict dynamics there. An upsurge in fighting since the start of 2010, including the emergence of bandits and the resumption of armed groups’ mining of gold, has further complicated stability in the North-West, which is the new focus for gold exploration. New gold reserves are also creating new centres of power and question the North-West’s traditional economic hub and political influence. Preventive action is needed to turn a real threat to stability and to a genuine development opportunity.

The Zamfara gold remains a major obstacle to peace and a driver of the black market economy in the state. It provides a significant source of income to armed actors, from the North-West who kill and sexually abuse civilians with impunity; and several of these armed groups trade gold for weapons and ammunition. While progress has been made on reducing armed groups’ profits from conflict minerals in the North-West,  gold continues to finance armed groups in the region.

Trade in gold and other minerals from Zamfara State has helped fund years of fighting between bandits and government forces in the country’s North-West zone. Politicians and retired military generals are fuelling Zamfara free for all gold mines wars; same mineral wars that almost destroyed Liberia, Sierra Leone, and many other African countries. The bandits raze markets and homes and kill villagers indiscriminately. Zamfara is rich in gold. Unfortunately, mining gold in Zamfara is unstructured, largely informal and illegal. Artisans, most of whom are unskilled, are in charge of the extraction, purification and commercialisation of the gold on a small scale.

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For the traditional rulers to accuse the Airforce of missing the actual culprits and hitting “many innocent villagers” in ‘misdirected airstrikes,’calls for more stakeholders engagement. “Reports from Mutu in Gusau and Tsafe local government areas, Tangaram in Anka local government and Dumburum in Zurmi local area, among others, are that the areas shelled were not the actual hideouts of the bandits and the victims were innocent civilians. We call on the Federal Government to come to the aid of the state, especially the people in our rural communities who are in very dire need of life supporting materials. Thousands have left their homes, and farming and all economic activities have been put to standstill in most rural areas,” the emirs were quoted as saying.

“The bandits also rustle livestock across villages and communities in Zamfara. Hundreds of cows, goats and birds have been forcefully taken from homes by rampaging bandits. From Ajia and Wonaka in Birnin Magaji local government, to Kayayi village in Shinkafi local government, from Yan Taskuwa to Kucheri, from Tungar Kolo to all the Kara markets in Zamfara, the bandits have left sorrow, tears and blood in their wake.

“The spate of killings in Zamfara has also prevented farmers from going about their business. As a consequence, food is becoming scarce in Zamfara. The Zamfara gold mines wars have spread to Kaduna linking Abuja, the federal capital. This prompted, for the first time, President Muhammadu Buhari to cut short his foreign jamboree on April 10 as the military appears to have no control over the widespread war in which cattle rustlers, armed robbers, kidnappers, bandits are hired in the supremacy warfare.

“The mass lead poisoning from mining activities in Zamfara State, which was discovered in March 2010, continues to affect villagers in three local government areas of Anka, Bukkuyum and Maru. Incidentally, the mining communities are also not immune from activities of these bandits. On November 8, 2016, no fewer than 45 illegal gold miners were killed in Bindim Village, in Maru Local Government Area of the state.

“According to a survivor of the afternoon attack, the bandits, numbering about 50, cordoned off the entire area before ransacking the mines, demanding for gold and other precious stones from the miners. There is nothing to suggest that the culprits were ever arrested despite the pledge made by the police. Gold in Zamfara is found in the Maru, Anka, Malele, Tsohon Birnin Gwari-Kwaga, Gurmana, Bin Yaurin Okolom-Dogon Daji and Iperindo areas, all associated with the schist belts of northwest and southwest of   the country. There are also a number of smaller occurrences beyond these major areas.”

Among the old or earliest is Zamfara State which leads in gold occurrences in the country. In Zamfara State there are gold occurrences in Maru which houses two old gold mines. These gold mines are the Duki mine, hosted by a shear zone traversing a quartzite-schist series, often exploiting the S1 schistosity planes. The second old gold mine is in Mararaba, which is a two sub-parallel quartz veins system.

Apart from these two most important mines in Maru, in Anka there are also minor ones such as Kwali, Jameson, Zuzzurfa and Kuba, hosted by schist, phyllites and quartzites of the schist belts. Zamfara also has gold occurrence in Malele, which is the extreme southern part of the Maru schist belt. The mineral in this area was discovered in 1934 with the most prominent of the veins being 1.5m thick, 370m long and a grade of about 30ppm Au.

A major outbreak of lead poisoning in children has been occurring in Zamfara State since at least March 2010, and is linked to the processing of lead-rich ore for the extraction of gold. Since 2010, Zamfara State Ministry of Health was informed by Medecins Sans Frontires, MSF, of an increasing number of childhood deaths and illness in villages in the two local government areas of Bukkuyum and Anka. At the request of the Federal Ministry of Health, the United States Centres for Disease Control, US CDC, deployed a response team to assist in investigating this outbreak.

At the same time, the Blacksmith Institute sent a team from TerraGraphics Environmental Engineering Inc to conduct an environmental assessment. These teams worked with national and state authorities, MSF, and the country office of the World Health Organisation, WHO. The investigations confirmed severe lead poisoning in more than 100 children in the villages of Dareta and Yargalma, with a mean blood lead concentration of 119 g/dL (levels as low as 10 g/dL are associated with impaired neurological development in young children). Moreover, lead concentrations in soil of >100,000 ppm were found in and around habitations in the villages (the limit for residential areas applied in the USA and France is 400 ppm).

The team, working with staff from the State Ministry of Health, confirmed a high degree of environmental lead contamination from the same cause in 5 additional villages (Tungar-dadj, Abare, Duza and Sunke (Anka LGA), and Tungar-guru (Bukuyum LGA)).

Donald, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Sokoto.