Jumoke Olawoyin is the Consultant to the State Government of Osun on Mining. In this interview with ISMAEEL UTHMAN and SOLOMON ODENIYI, she speaks on the thrust of Governor Adegboyega Oyetola’s administration in mining, the challenges of developing the sector and the need for every able-bodied Nigerian, most especially the Yorubas to be involved in this lucrative extractive activity. Excerpts:
With the spate of insecurity and environmental degradation being witnessed at mining sites across the country, can we say the large deposits of gold in the State of Osun is a blessing or a curse?
Mining could be a blessing as well as a curse. I think the challenges and difficulties being witnessed in Osun have been in the area of communication – the Hausas working on these mining sites who don’t speak Yoruba, and the Yorubas who don’t speak Hausa. So, there is communication gap. But what should have solved the problem is the willingness of our youths who should have long time ago been involved in mining activities. We should stop the blame game and our youths should take possession by forming partnership with other people that can assist them in mining activities.
What do you think is responsible for the Yoruba youths’ apathy towards mining?
I will blame it on our system. A lot of us believe that hard work belongs to the northerners. Our value as Yorubas has dropped drastically. In those days, we cherish our dignity but these days, we honour money and celebrate people in possession of sudden wealth without asking questions about where and how the owner made the money. We are the guilty ones in the case of Hushpupi, not him. This is because we created those monsters by valuing what is valueless. There is dignity in labour, but we have stopped respecting those who work hard for what they have. The value of hard work and service to humanity must be revived. Our people must be ready to work; they must show serious interest in mining.
Of what quality is the gold mined in Osun?
Osun gold is the best in the country. Our gold is about 23.4 to 23.6 carats, almost pure. The purest is 24 carats which is quite unattainable. In some areas in Zamfara, we have 22 carats, Kebbi has some too but most of what they have in the North ranges from 14 to 22 carat gold.
Of the entire mining sites in Ijesaland, how many of them are legalised?
When we talk about legal miners, it means the person has a licence. I am not even sure if there are 50 licences in the state. Having said that, the Federal Government understands that the best way to provide jobs for the youths these days is through mining, and they are trying to legalise the concept of illegal mining, transforming them to become informal miners so that they can earn a living. The biggest job any state government can provide is in farming and mining. Mining can accommodate all the jobless youths in Osun. The government could mechanise it because a lot of us are afraid of digging, I am too. We can tow the path of Ethiopia that has mechanised mining. The country provides excavators at a subsided rate and they even pay the artisanal miners and buy from them at international prices, and sometimes pay higher, just to encourage them. When you buy from them, you are exchanging cash for cash and yet they are employed. I have experimented this in all the states I had consulted for. You will find out that most of these miners will go home with at least N5, 000 daily. Civil servants do not earn that kind of money. You will find people who will come on weekends to do the work on part-time basis, particularly when the excavators have dug and what is left is to wash the sands away. That is why I think the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative launched by the Federal Government is a fantastic way out, although it took seven years to get it out.
What role do you think host communities should play to curb illegal mining activities?
Let me say this, there is a misconception about ‘this land belongs to us’. Most of the communities believed they own those parcels of land, making some of them to get aggressive about it. I use to tell them if we must take that stance, it means we must not go to Abuja for Federal Allocation again, because the Niger Deltans too can say the same thing that they own the land that produces oil. After all, we are selling their oil and sharing the money. But when the people from the Niger Delta came up with that argument, I always told them that they are wrong, because we the southerners also sell our cocoa, rubber, cashew, etc and the northerners also sell their groundnut pyramids, cotton among others to invest in the exploration of the mining fields before it became oil. That is why I don’t see Nigeria as North, South or East. We have come a long way together. What we must now do is to join hands and continue investing in others, because nobody will do that for us. We deceive ourselves when we say we are bringing foreign investments, the foreigners are not coming to invest in anything but to take away from us. For instance, if they say they want to invest in gold mining operations, it is the gold that they will use as collateral and they will be the one to decide at what price.
What is the process of getting licence for mining operations in the State of Osun?
Luckily for State of Osun, the former governor of the state, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola bought about five licences for the state. In fact, Osun has mining licences all over Nigeria. The state doesn’t have a problem of licences. But private citizens that want to apply for licences can visit the Ibadan Zone of the Mining Licensing Office of the Federal Ministry of Mines to apply. If you see an area that has gold, you will take the coordinate to Ibadan and if it is still available, you will be allowed to apply for it.
How would you assess the environmental hazard of mining activities in the affected areas?
First of all, State of Osun gold has no lead. There is no way we can have lead poisoning here. The basic cause of damages on the environment is from the locals themselves. They sell their land to miners to mine without following due process. There’s a Ministry of Mines and a department dealing with mineral resources in the state. If the rural communities go through the normal procedure, the damages on their lands will not happen. The authorities will help them to do it right so that if the artisanal miners are mining, they will be filling back. In all areas I have supervised, I make sure they do backward filling: you have to fill one hole before you move to the next site. It is safer for you as a miner and also the communities. As at the moment, I am talking with the Federal Ministry of Mines to come with a programme called ‘Safer Mining Methods’, we have done it in all the states I have consulted for. We will work with the artisanal miners and teach them the safe ways to mine. The greatest challenge the State of Osun has is the issue of Chinese illegal miners. The story I heard is that they were Timber operators in Ogun state before the state shut its forest, then they migrated here. They know there is gold here but they lack the expertise. They do the same thing the northerners do – dig and wash and move to the next place, leaving the damages behind. If they want to do the mining the way they ought to, they should first of all do the soil test, geophysics and exploration before mining. That is not to say there are no Chinese nationals involved in legal mining activities. It is our job to check the miners, to be sure whether they are legitimate miners or not. Luckily, the state governor has been on top of that and quite a number of them have been arrested.
What are the successes recorded by the current administration in mining?
The Governor has invited professors from the first university in the country to offer a course in mining, the Federal University of Technology, Akure. They have been to the sites and have come up with a policy statement which the Governor has been following. Also, we now have students from the University coming to work with the artisanal miners. This is a win-win situation, while the students are learning, the miners are also learning. In fact, one of the students has been so successful that one of his publications was published in the International Geological Magazine.
Is the state considering having a mining refinery soon?
It is very easy to have. In South Africa, they have refineries in every mining community, and then they sell to Central Bank. That is what the PAGDMI is about and I think is the best thing for Nigeria. With this, the state will collect and sell to the Central Bank of Nigeria.
The State of Osun is among the pilot states chosen by the Federal Government for the launch of PAGDMI, what does the state stand to gain in this?
It means our artisanal miners will now be more inspired. When I came to the state, I found it very difficult to persuade the Yoruba boys and girls to engage in artisanal mining, but now there is nothing like that. Before, everybody was waiting for government to give them money. It means Oyetola is trying.
In terms of revenue, how much can the state generate annually from mining?
I always decline giving response to this question anytime I am asked, because what you put into the mining sector is what you will get. Also, it is only God that knows what He puts there. But if we are able to encourage our youths to get involved in mining; the more they do, the more revenue we will get, that’s certain. Ethiopia developed the Ethiopian Airways through mining and other things they have in that country came from mining.
What is the process of gold mining?
There is no serious process than digging and washing, and then you sell. We are also setting up buying center. That is what the PAGDMI is about. I believe the State of Osun will be a state to beat in mining if we continue the way we are going. By next year, more Yoruba boys and girls will get enlisted.
Mining has been linked with insecurity in many parts of the country where gold is deposited, how can this be addressed in Osun?
People who are involved in mining all over the world are nomadic in nature. If they are mining here and somebody tells them they will find gold deposits elsewhere, they will move there. It is only an idiot that will see a place he can make money and destroy the place. Sometimes, the clashes between the Yorubas and Hausas are as a result of some misunderstandings. The reason for this is the communication gap we earlier talked about.
A hungry man who is penniless is also a dangerous man. We need to create job for them. At Ijoka, where a political office holder has been encouraging the youths, they are engaged in mining and are making a living from it. They are friends with the Hausas there because they are making money together. They have no cause to fight. Generally, insecurity exists all over Nigeria, it is not peculiar to Osun and the cause of it is hunger and joblessness. The Western countries have no natural resources, they are turning to Africa and if we don’t utilise our resources well, we are done. This is the only time we have to liberate ourselves. The State of Osun has the ability to be successful in mining.