By Ifeanyichukwu Nwannah
Local miners operating in Zamfara State, who were accused recently by the state Governor, Hon. Bello Muhammad Matawalle, of exchanging gold products for firearms with foreigners have reacted swiftly denying the allegations of exchanging gold with foreigners for weapons.
The miners insisted that nothing of such has ever been done to the best of their knowledge, saying that the people who fed the governor with such information were only political jobbers.
Our correspondent gathered, that the miners have however raised a fresh twist to the allegations made by Matawalle, saying that the state government was not only losing huge resources in form of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) and Revenues but was also at the mercy of bandits, kidnappers and other terrorist groups, as the situation was contributing to the security challenges bedevilling the state.
However, the Operation Sahel Sanity a component of the Nigerian Army dismissed the miners’ claim, pointing out that the troops in a well-coordinated intelligence-based operation resulted in the raid of an illegal mining site located along Gadan Zaima – Zuru Road in Bukuyyum Local Government Area of Zamfara State.
“The illegal site also serves as bandits’ hideout, resulted in the troops arresting 150 suspects and recovering 20 locally fabricated Dane guns” the army lamented.
But an investigation by our correspondent revealed that the local miners who mostly spoke on anonymity argued that the governor’s allegations were “mere figment of his imagination”, as they have never sold their gold to foreigners in exchange for firearms.
According to them, “we make legal transactions with the Zamfara State chapter of the Nigeria Association of Buyers and Sellers of Gold (NABSG)”
It could be recalled that Matawalle had during an interview with State House correspondents, after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, claimed that some foreigners exchange arms for gold and other precious stones in his state.
“It is very important to us as a government, particularly on the issue of insecurity, to know the cause of insecurity. Zamfara State is blessed with many mineral resources and some people outside the country come in to buy gold and other precious stones and sometimes, instead of paying people, they pay with arms.
“I did some investigations. So, the state government will be buying some of these minerals so that we can block that chain. The state government is engaging the miners”
“We are much more ready to be buying some of these gold from them with the limited resources”
Our correspondent went to town to get the pulse of the local miners as regards the allegation, saying that most of them denied the claim by the governor.
However, a miner who claimed to have duly obtained his license for rights of mining from the Mining Cadastre Office and preferred anonymous, claimed that he usually travels to some Arabian countries, where he has lucrative but legitimate trade contacts to sell off his mined products.
“Sometimes, we are contacted by large scale buyers from within and outside the country even before arriving at getting our gold and other related mined products processed, and we finally negotiated for the legitimate methods of payments through our banks’ accounts”
“Let the State government and or the security agencies go and investigate my records of financial transactions across banks through which I receive payments, my transactions with constitutionally accepted companies, states and or individuals could easily be traced.”
Another miner also dismissed the claim by the governor, stressing that there was no firearm- for-gold business taking place at the mining sites, saying that he has never known about such exchange of weapons for the precious stones.
He stated that the use of AK-47 rifles was predominantly in control of security personnel until when armed banditry became a lucrative business in state.
“There are about one thousand four hundred mining sites across bushes of Zamfara State managed by both legal and illegal miners. I cannot say that I know the mission behind establishing other sites, but for those that I make contact with, they’re mining for money.”
But most of the miners and residents close to the mining sites from the three senatorial zones of the state, also commented their on the ongoing feud between the state government and local miners, insisting that, a number of mining sites were owned and managed by either armed bandits, kidnappers or cattle rustlers.
According to a resident, who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity for safety reasons, said even a helicopter used to land at some mining sites, especially along the Dansadau axis, where some consignments suspected to have contained weapons were loaded, and later the labourers load them in some bags before it lifts away.
However, some residents living across the bushes along the Anka-Bukkuyum- Gummi tacitly admitted that foreigners including Koreans and Chinese were trooping either by air or by land to meet with miners, although, it was gathered that some mining sites were 100 per cent managed by foreigners.
“I witnessed many times as possible when bike riding by Kanuri people in large numbers came to the mining sites with loads of unidentified stocks in bags, and later they returned with what I strongly believe were the packages of gold and other related valuables.”