By Amos Aar
THE BENUE State Task Force on Illegal Mining has given all miners operating in the state up to the end of November, 2023 to register their membership with recognised groups and cooperatives in the sector to regularise their activities and be recognized by the government.
The chairman of the taskforce, Dr Comfort Akwanya Adadu, announced this on Saturday in Makurdi during a press conference she addressed in collaboration with the secretary of the Taskforce, Mr Andrew Kputu.
Although Adadu did not mention the exact date when the ultimatum started counting, she made the decision known to newsmen on October 7, 2023 which could be summed up the whole of November to be 54 days.
“If you are not under any umbrella that is registered by the government and all the appropriate bodies, then you are actually acting illegally in the site. We have given them up to November before they resume operation, that anyone not registered or does not belong to any of the cooperative societies that we have encouraged, we will sanction them”, she warned.
The chairman who threatened appropriate sanctions by the Task Force against all forms of illegal mining in the state also cautioned against the use of children of school age to carryout mining activities.
“Children of school age should not be engaged during school hours as much as possible. Of course, you cannot say a child picks salt from the ground, the child has not mined. The child has mined salt. But again, the child should not do that during school hours, if that must be done.”
Adadu who expressed concern that abandoned mining pits were posing environmental degradation and other grave dangers to both humans and animal warned against the development, stressing that the taskforce was ensuring that miners must comply with the Environmental Impacts Assessments (EIA) as set down by the State Ministry of Lands, Survey and Solid Minerals
She also advised that some Internally Displaced Persons who were into mining activities in their communities before their displacement should avoid illegal Mining when they are resettled in their communities.
Fielding questions from journalists on the successes recorded by the Taskforce so far in curbing illegal Mining in Benue State and what punitive measures they impose on perpetrators, Dadu said they were liaising with the Federal Ministry of Solid Minerals Development to end illegal mining activities in the state and to arrest offenders.
On what minerals are present in Benue, what the state stands to benefit from the solid minerals, Adadu said, if all the actors in the state are participating within the legal framework, Benue has a lot of mineral that can be tapped for the development of the state.
Some of those minerals according to the secretary, Andrew Kputu, include Barite and zinc obtained from Ushongo local government, limestone in Gboko, coal in Ogbadibo and Okpokwu, fluoride found in Ayilamo, Logo local government, platinum iron ore, columbite, monoxide and gold, all from Kwande local government among others.
Kputu, the former Special Adviser on Solid Minerals under the past administration, who displayed samples of some minerals got from some local government areas visited in the state corroborated Dadu that every local government area in Benue State has one or two minerals that could be harnessed for economic benefits of the state.
Asked who are the illegal miners, Kputu revealed that “from our observation during the tour, we discovered that majority of those carrying out mining right now even though a lot of sites have shut down especially for gold and lead in Logo and Kwande, most of them are indigenous community people.
“We decided to adopt the stick and carrot approach. The carrot is what we are doing now, trying to form them into cooperatives and give them opportunity to also participate in this industry legally when they are in mining cooperatives. We are going to use the stick approach as the last resort because we don’t want to use force against anyone at this point. That will come when the mining activities will be at its peak and those who refuse to take advantage of these opportunities presented to them are the ones we are now going to enforce arrest and prosecute them”.
He also urged people from mining communities who have been collecting revenues from miners to always differentiate among mineral deposits to avoid demanding payments meant for different minerals, the issue he said was causing serious confusion.
“When our people see anything that is black, they assume it is tojir (lead ore) while sometimes the company may be mining a different mineral and when they notice it, they will go and demand that they should pay revenue that is meant for another” mineral or they accuse them that this is not platinum oxide that they mined.
The secretary said such issues have been reported to them on several occasions and they have been trying to clear that disparity because people who are doing that are not legally competent to differentiate mineral and as a result, they have been causing a lot of confusion in the sector.
Answering further questions on the environmental hazards allegedly caused by Dangote around his mining sites, said Taskforce chairman said they have written to the company to comply and they have copies of the agreement signed by Dangote with the communities.
“We have also given him an ultimatum to comply or he will face sanctions,” Adadu said.