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Securing Nigeria’s mining sites beyond convictions

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Nigeria’s mining and mineral extraction industries, especially in states like Zamfara, Niger, Kwara and Osun, have attracted millions of dollars from China, one of Asia’s biggest participants. The vast reserves of gold, lithium, copper, and other minerals essential to modern technology production have attracted investment and operations in several African countries as well.

But recently, Nigeria and China have reportedly experienced tensions in the mining industry. China has been accused of operating illegal mining activities and funding militant groups, disrupting the otherwise stable bond built on mining investment.

Not quite long ago, a British newspaper reported that some Chinese mining firms had funded Nigerian militant groups to get access to the country’s mineral reserves. This raises the prospect of China indirectly funding terror in Nigeria, causing societal disruption for its own gain.

According to The Times, Chinese firms working in certain regions of Nigeria where crime incidents are common have been “striking security deals with insurgents”. Attacks against Chinese citizens, estimated to number between 100,000 and 200,000 in Nigeria, have been widespread as a result of this.

Although the Chinese embassy in Abuja, Nigeria denied the reports by the British newspaper calling it “unverified, unclear and unproven information”, it still did not prove beyond any reasonable doubt that its miners operating in Nigeria were not mostly illegal.

Arrests for illegal mining activities in Nigeria

Sequel to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s visit to India for the last G-20 summit, where the Nigerian government resolved to clamp down on illegal Chinese miners operating in the country, Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested thirteen (13) Chinese workers.

Authorities alleged that the miners from W Mining Global Service were involved in illegal mining activities in Kwara state, in the north central part of the country. The suspects were arrested for illegal mining and non-payment of royalties to the Federal Government as required by law, according to the EFCC.

The EFCC discovered that the firm had utilised illegally mined granite to manufacture marble for local sale in Nigeria. The findings also showed that several suspects in the company did not have a work permit and entered Nigeria on a visitor’s visa.

Not too long after that arrest, the Federal High Court sitting in Ilorin, Kwara State Capital subsequently convicted and sentenced two other miners; Duan Ya Hong and Xiao Yi to one year imprisonment for offences bordering on illegal mining and possession of solid minerals without requisite licences.

The duo were arraigned on Monday, April 22, 2024 by the EFCC alongside their company, Ebuy Concept Limited on one-count charge bordering on illegal mining

“That you, Ebuy Trading Worldwide Nig. LTD, Duan Ya Hong, Xiao Yi sometime in the Month of February 2024 at Banni, in Kaiama Local Government Area of Kwara State, within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, without lawful authority, purchased minerals to wit; 30 tons of minerals conveyed in a Truck, with Registration Number JJJ 386 XT and thereby committed an offence, contrary to and punishable under Section 1(8)(b) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act 1984”, the count reads.

At that trial, the miners pleaded not guilty to the charges when they were read to them, consequently, they were granted bail in the sum of N5million with two sureties each in like sum, and in addition, the court ordered that they be remanded in the custody of the anti-crimes’ agency pending the perfection of their bail conditions.

Subsequently, the defendants who were yet to perfect their bail, when the case came up at a later date opted to plead guilty to count one of the amended 11-count charge and entered a plea of not guilty to the remaining counts, prompting the court to adjourn for a review of facts and possible conviction.

At a resumed sitting, counsel to the commission, Innocent Mbachie, reviewed the facts of the case and tendered in evidence the extra-judicial statements of the defendants, photographs of the defendants, samples of the minerals, photographs of the truck and the forensic report received from the Nigeria Geological Survey Agency on the analysis of the minerals.

The defendants, represented by I.A Ahmed, raised no objection to the admissibility of the exhibits tendered by the prosecution; hence, they were admitted in evidence by the court.

Justice Evelyn Anyadike delivering judgment held that the prosecution had proved its case beyond reasonable doubt and pronounced them guilty as charged.

The judge consequently, sentenced Hong to one year imprisonment with an option of fine of N2million, while Yi on the other hand was sentenced to one year imprisonment with an option of N1.5million, and in addition, the court ordered the interim forfeiture of the 30 tons of minerals and the truck conveying same.

Huge Crimes, Mild Convictions

An Independent Corrupt Practices Commission senior official said the problem was driven by ‘endemic corruption, opaque mining regulations, poverty among the residents of the host communities of mining sites and the readiness of Chinese actors irrespective of where they operate to corrupt the system with foreign funds to fuel illegal mining activities and its attendant security breaches. They are always ready to compromise the mining regulatory agencies and the local citizens.’

The situation is exacerbated by an inadequate visa approval process, driven by incompetence and corruption. Nigerian immigration authorities continue to issue tourist visas to Chinese workers, despite this group of people regularly staying to work in Nigeria beyond the visa expiration date.

Security and law enforcement agents must prioritise putting the extractive sector on their security radar. It must be closely monitored by security operatives, including the military, police and Nigeria’s Security and Civil Defence Corps.

A senior Abuja-based police officer, recently opined that inter-agency collaboration was needed to identify, arrest and prosecute foreign criminals in the extractive sector. Here collaboration with immigration authorities is crucial to stop this criminality at its source. Foreign miners must be properly documented and either granted legal status or deported, depending on their circumstances.

Illegal foreign miners may be part of larger criminal networks. Thus, cooperation with China to address transnational illegal mining operations and mineral trading is essential. In some cases, the federal government could enact or amend laws and regulations to address illegal mining and strengthen penalties.

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