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Illegal mining in Akwa Ibom State

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CEM OPINNION, MINING | The first hint that illegal mining of mineral resources has been going on in Akwa Ibom State was given last August by the Commissioner for Environment and Mineral Resources, Mr. Uno Uno, in a press conference. He announced that the state government had clamped down on the Chinese firm, Ruitai Mining Limited, for failing to produce a mining license authorizing it to operate in the State an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report. The commissioner announced that the company had been mining titanium ore in Ibeno community, a major oil and marine community, before it was intercepted.

Said the Commissioner: ‘’A joint ministerial inspection team that included the Permanent Secretary, Mrs Iquo Abia, on arrival at the Ibeno community, was conducted around the mining site by the Chairman of Ibeno LGA, Mr. William Mkpa. The team discovered black clay-like minerals contained in sacks of 50 kg, which was identified as titanium ore. The Managing Director of the company, Mr. Zeng Zhonghuan and a director, Huang Ying, were not available at the site. The available staff members could not provide any information or documents’’. The commissioner concluded that the company’s records show that the board of directors is composed of only Chinese nationals, which is a violation of the Nigerian law, and that the state government had asked the company to close down its operations.

I was quite alarmed when I heard this revelation from the commissioner, who incidentally, is my neighbour in Uyo. But I was relieved that the government had taken action against the Chinese. However, I made a mental note of the fact that the Chinese could not have crawled into the state and engaged in illegal mining activities without the knowledge of the state government. ‘’Our former governor has questions to answer on how these illegal activities could have happened without his knowledge’’, I wrote in a WhatsApp chat group then.

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That was in August, and I had forgotten about the matter until last week when a sociocultural association, Ekid Peoples Union, issued a press statement announcing that the illegal mining activities are still going on despite the government’s order. The group announced that ‘’a Chinese company, Ruitai Mining Limited, has been illegally mining Ilmenite on our land; located within the Stubbs Creek Forest Reserve (Akoiyak Ekid), property of the Ekid people, without the necessary authorization or consent of the community in breach of our extant laws’’. The statement, released on October 11, was signed by Dr. Samuel Udonsak, President General and a former member of the House of Representatives, Barr. Bassey Dan-Abia, the National Secretary.

This illegal mining, the statement noted, is usually carried out in the night and its product transported out of the state in trucks clandestinely. The illegal activities are aided and abetted by certain elements in government, according to the group, and ‘’as at today, neither the Chinese Company nor their agents in government, has informed the community of this ongoing illegal activity.   This action is in complete breach of extant laws. This action is clearly against the letter and spirit of our current Mining Act that encourages mining to be carried out in an environmentally friendly and socially responsible manner’’.

ilegal Chinese mining

It is quite unsettling that the Chinese miners are doubling down on their illegal and patently destructive activities despite government’s intervention. The negative implications of this on the environment, security and economy of the state and the wellbeing of our people are enormous and should be clear to the government. Ilmenite has many functions and applications in the manufacture of many commodities. It is the main source of titanium dioxide which is used in the manufacture of paints, printing inks, fabrics, plastics, paper, sunscreen, food and cosmetics. Ilmenite ore is used as a flux by steel makers to line blast furnace.

It is widely known that Chinese exploiters and illegal miners have been all over Nigeria engaging in illegal mining of mineral resources and exploitation, and at the same time, destroying the environment and instigating criminal and terrorist activities to cover up their tracks. Whether in Plateau, Zamfara and recently in Enugu State, illegal Chinese miners are ravaging Nigeria’s farmlands, forest reserves and uncultivated areas in search of precious minerals. In many cases, the Chinese instigate violent attacks against the local communities and law enforcement agencies in order to create opportunity for their illegal and obnoxious activities. This is why the Ekid Peoples Union, whose lands have long been exploited by one of the IOCs for crude oil, is crying out against the Chinese illegal activities.  Having experienced the harmful impacts of oil pollution, the people are sufficiently sensitized to appreciate the depth of depravity, destruction and despoliation that are caused by illegal mining. The loss of revenue to the country and indeed, to the affected states due to this massive and unregulated illegal mining is huge. Besides, illegal mineral mining by foreigners has led to wars in Africa in countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, DRC and CAR.

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Why then is Gov. Umo Eno treating this matter with kid gloves? Is he or his predecessor benefiting from this unlawful business?

It is important for the Akwa Ibom State government to speak up on the issues raised by the Ekid People Union. Is it true that the Chinese company which is engaged in this illegal mining was registered only on the 13th of September, 2022 and the illegal activity is supported by the office of the Commissioner of Lands? Is it true that the illegal mining therefore has the backing of the former and current governor?

The Stubbs Creek Forest where the illegal mining is taking place is a forest reserve which is protected by the Reserve Ordinance. Its main function is to preserve its flora and fauna, which has almost been completely devastated by the mining activities. How then could the Federal Ministry of Solid Minerals Development have granted a mining license to the Chinese Company without the knowledge, consent and approval of the original landowners or the community? Did the Chinese conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (E.I.A) on their mining activity?

I commend the EPU for speaking up against the criminal Chinese enterprise. Akwa Ibom State government should learn from the bitter experiences of Zamfara and other states where illegal miners are willing to set the state on fire just to protect their criminal activities. The Chinese should be driven out of the Akwa Ibom state right now.

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