Illegal mining: Jitters in Zamfara, Matawalle under fire as plot against FG exposed


• Chinese miners fingered in unapproved chopper flights

• The inside story

An organised plot being led by Zamfara State Governor Bello Muhammad Matawalle to compromise or bypass top presidential aides including the National Security Adviser (NSA), Rtd Major-General Babagana Monguno, and the Minister for Mines and Steel Development Arc. Olamilekan Adegbite over the recent “no-flight-zone” declared in the state by President Muhammadu Buhari, has been unearthed.

Aso Villa sources disclosed last night that what irked the President the most was that some of the foreign illegal miners are linked to acts of banditry with suspicion that the Zamfara State Government simply ignored the destruction and desolation of some villages where the mining takes place and tolerates the use of chopper flights in and out to facilitate illegal mining.

Also worrying to the President, it was learnt was the fact that the State Government had attempted to facilitate the granting of federal licenses to some long time illegal miners without questioning their acts violating the rights of Zamfara villagers whose land and community like in Bagega witnessed untold sufferings because of the activities of the miners.

According to a Villa source “it is unconscionable that the Government will ignore the protection of its people just because some of its top officials have monetary benefits from the mining.”

The National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, had, on March 2, in his post-National Security Council media briefing, disclosed that the President has declared Zamfara’s air space a no-fly-zone, after a decision was reached at the Council meeting held in the Presidential Villa.

He said President issued the order in a bid to put an end to banditry that has ravaged some parts of the North-West and North-Central states, especially in Zamfara State, hence, the need for the declaration of a no-fly-zone. In essence, what this means is, Zamfara has now become an air exclusion zone (AEZ), and as a result, aircrafts are not permitted to fly within or across the state’s air space.

Coupled with the no-fly-zone decision, the NSA made it known that the President had equally banned all mining activities in the state, just as he earlier did in 2019, saying the ban was to curb the rising insecurity in the state.

As Monguno said, the intelligence and security communities ”have been mandated to go after all non-state actors, whose activities have been fueling chaos, for prosecution,” quoting the President as saying, he ”has charged the new service chiefs to reclaim all areas under the control of bandits, insurgents and kidnappers, and all others involved in criminal activities across the country.”

The Police in Zamfara, paraded two Chinese nationals said to have been arrested over alleged illegal mining at Kwali village in Bukkuyum Local Government Area of the state. (File photo)

“We are not going to be blackmailed. The government has the responsibility to assert its will. Citizens can reside wherever they want to reside. Anybody who is a criminal should be brought to book,” Monguno had said.

What many did not know at the time of that press briefing was that the Zamfara governor having seen the handwriting on the wall, made desperate attempts to avert the decisive steps of the President by offering some ministers and close aides around the President some form of inducements including sharing returns from mining proceeds. A move that blew on his face as the offers were roundly rejected days before the Council meeting.

Irked by this decision, however, Matawalle, who faulted the President on his declaration, was quick to label Munguno, as the brain behind the “no-fly-zone, ” declaration. The Governor spared the Minister Adegbite as he had attempted to sidestep him in his bid to license illegal miners ignoring passing the application through him but went straight to the President.

According to informed sources, the Governor then instructed that a formal Government statement by the Zamfara State Assembly be made passing a vote of no confidence on the NSA. Observers wonder how an arm of a State government can make such resolutions regarding a FG official who is not in anyway under the purview of the State Government. An Aso Villa source said “that is only a proof of Matawalle’s desperation.”

In the press statement two days after the NSA announced the Presidential “no fly zone” order, the Zamfara Assembly said “in an apparent rejection to the federal government no fly zone order imposed on the state and total ban on mining activities, coupled with nonchalant attitude and poor handling of protracted security challenges in the state by the national security- sic- Adviser to the present retired major (sic) General Babagana Mungonu, the state House of Assembly yesterday at its plenary passed vote of no confidence on him.”

The Governor is not stopping at that as findings have also revealed that he had perfected a campaign of calumny against the person of the NSA, and had recruited certain elements from political divides in the country, especially from his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), including a former aviation minister from the South-West to carry out the hatchet job.

Villa insiders, however, explained that it became necessary for a further proactive measure to be taken from the Presidency, because Zamfara is the state worst hit by the uptick of violence that has killed scores of people since the start of the year. The surge began three years ago, rising to a point it prompted the deployment of the air force and 1,000 security personnel to the state. Earlier this week the President approved further deployment of additional 6,000 troops to the affected areas in the State.

Commenting on the situation a Vanguard newspaper editorial on March 10 had noted that “Private jets and helicopters” are alleged to supply arms to outlaws and illegally evacuate the gold mined in the state to some Middle Eastern countries. Many analysts see this measure, including the “shoot on sight” order against carriers of AK-47 assault rifles in the forests, as a positive sign that the Buhari government is finally going all-out against armed hoodlums wreaking havoc on innocent citizens from their forest hideouts.”

Just of late, 300 female students of Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara were abducted amidst the worsening security situation in the state and across the country. The schoolgirls abduction in Zamfara had occurred about two weeks after dozens of students and staff members were abducted by armed bandits from a school in Kagara, Niger State. However, students of both schools have been released by the bandits and have since reunited with their parents.

Before now between 2010 and 2013, over 700 children died in Zamfara State due to lead poisoning associated with Artisanal Gold Mining activities, which also contaminates surrounding land, water, and air with other toxic chemicals such as mercury.

Why Matawalle became jittery

As reliably gathered, a security source said the military security reports had indicted Matawalle, who has been fingered in the rising insurgency and banditry in his state, consequent upon the empowerment he gave to illegal miners in Zamfara, especially the foreigners, most of whom were said to be Chinese nationals.

The security report had it that, the state government is a major collaborator of the Chinese illegal miners, who, it was reliably gathered are suspected to be linked with activities of banditry going on alongside these illegal mining sites in Zamfara State.

As reliably gathered from security sources, before these illegal miners and their local recruits, who had been cleared by the state government arrive the gold mining sites of their choice, the traitorous bandits, would have stormed the communities where the operations will take place to render the areas desolate for the illegal miners to have a field day.

Having secured the sites for them, the Chinese move around these illegal mining sites in Zamfara, flying in with helicopters to bypass immigration checkpoints, and this, it was said account for the persistence of the banditry and insurgency, as the military activities are undermined by criminals who profiteer from the sector at the expense of vulnerable populations.

As further gathered from security sources, it was the collaboration between the state government, other politically connected Nigerians and the Chinese who engage in illegal gold mining, that ignites rural banditry and violent local conflicts in Zamfara, and in other parts of the North-West and North-Central and to some extent South-West regions, who has recently witnessed a surge in kidnapping across its region.

It was reliably gathered that well over 80% of mining of gold in Zamfara and other areas of the North-West region is carried out illegally by Chinese supported by locals already engaged to join in the illicit business.

The Aso Rock source, however, explained that what the FG aimed to achieve with its decision of declaring Zamfara a no-flight-zone, was to curtail the Chinese illegal miners, who fly in helicopters illegally while they also work with the insurgents, and thereby undermining governments efforts at ending insurgency war.

The mining of large untapped mineral deposits in the area, especially gold which has strategic importance and economic value, is at the root of community violence.

Meanwhile, Matawalle, had accused his fellow People’s Democratic Party (PDP) governors of betrayal and blackmail over the said illegal gold mining in Zamfara State.

The Governor, reacting on the matter last November, said that the extent of bad blood in the present PDP was partly responsible for Governor David Umahi’s decision to dump the party for its rival APC late last year.

The governor said: “If this trend of generating bad blood amongst us continues unabated, our great party will increasingly be on the receiving end as we move towards the year 2023. I am having a very bad experience of recent from some of my PDP governor colleagues, which I still find very puzzling.

“For instance, the South-South governors accusing me in the media are PDP governors and they are the same people who brewed controversy over the so-called Zamfara gold, premised on deliberate misinformation and outright lies.

“Surprisingly, it is the APC Federal government which has all the correct records on the gold mining issue that came out to defend me in this saga. As PDP colleagues, I expected the governors to contact me first and find out my own side of the story before unleashing their venom in the media.

“As the brouhaha lasted, I commend President Muhammadu Buhari for being supportive of our efforts to organise the economic sector in the state to avoid using the mineral deposits to promote insecurity in our dear state

“Today, the Federal government is issuing licences to deserving companies to operate in the mining sector in the state. A Nigerian from Anambra State owns the biggest company with an investment of billions of naira. And I wonder where the idea of Zamfara State owning the gold mines emanated from. As at now, the state government does not have a hand in any of the mining activities in the state because the constitution does not empower us to do so.

“I call on the South-South governors to eschew intellectual idleness and support its people to operate modular refineries as provided by the law and lift their people out of fear rather than sit behind and start chasing shadows rather than substance,” Matawalle stated.