To understand Ibadan explosion, we asked an expert 11 mining questions
We asked a geologist for an evaluation of mining operations in Nigeria.
The explosion caused ruinous destruction, injuring at least 77 people and five people officially confirmed dead so far.
The government has pointed accusing fingers at illegal miners who improperly stored explosives in a residential area now considered ground zero of the tragedy.
Predictably, the incident has resurfaced necessary conversations about the menace of illegal mining across Nigeria.
Abdulhakeem Sulaiman, a geologist, knows all too well about the subject, especially in his line of work as a field officer at the Kebbi State Ministry of Mines and Solid Minerals. His role involves inspecting mining activities, so he has a lot to say.
How do you start a mining operation in Nigeria?
You have to first survey the site to determine whether the mineral you want to exploit is available in commercial quantity. Then you contact the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development to send officers to the site to take coordinates of the location.
The ministry will send the information to the Mining Cadastre Office to check the system and see if the site is available for mining or has already been allocated to someone else.
If the site is free, the miner has to go to the community and ask for the consent of the district head who will sign a consent letter and grant permission in liaison with the landowner(s).
When that is done, the miner has to go back to the ministry with the consent letter and the ministry will send an application to the mining cadastre to grant any of four titles: exploration license, small-scale mining lease, quarry lease, or mining lease.
What happens after a title is granted?
The ministry’s role is to make sure the miners don’t just start mining without safety and all the necessary materials. The safety of your workers and the community you’re mining is also important. On the form you sign terms and conditions, it’s stated there you’re expected to reform the damage to the site you’ve mined up to 70% or 80%. This is to make sure it remains habitable for the community and its residents.
At what point is the state government involved?
Whether you’re a foreigner or indigene, the state government must have your details because you’ll be granted an ID card that limits you to the particular location(s) you’re allowed to mine. The state government also collects ecological funds for the damage the mining is causing to the community. However, the Federal Government has the most power in the mining industry.
Who do you consider an illegal miner?
This is someone who starts mining without proper government and community permission or without following all the due processes I’ve mentioned. In the constitution of Nigeria, all the natural minerals belong to the Federal Government. This means mining anything attracts charges, and you have to go through a process to start.
Even if you find minerals inside your home, you must alert the Federal Government, and undergo all the legal processes before you obtain it. Some illegal miners try to bypass the government and bribe the community leaders so they can start mining in peace. This can cause a lot of crisis because the miners won’t have any safety oversight from the government.
What tools do you need to mine safely?
You typically require things like trailers, excavators, safety gloves and boots, jackets, sunshades or rainboots depending on the weather, and so on.
At what point do you need explosives?
You don’t always need explosives, it depends on the materials you’re mining. For gold, lithium or quarry mining, you need explosives, and it’s very dangerous if you’ve ever witnessed it.
Considering the danger you just mentioned, how do miners acquire explosives?
You need to first set up a store with CCTV, security, and thermometer to check the temperature. You can then contact a government mining official to confirm the store is suitable. The official will contact the headquarters in Abuja to look at your application and send an approval letter to the company you’re to buy the explosives from. The explosives are to be moved to your store with a security escort to ensure they’re not stolen.
Even at the store, only approved and responsible persons who are registered at the ministry can have access to the explosives. The explosives are readymade and imported, but there are locally-made explosives that some illegal miners tend to acquire. This is something the government frowns upon because you shouldn’t be able to acquire them anyhow.
The security agencies have to know all about the transactions because those materials are very harmful and the government doesn’t play with them, especially with the insecurity crisis.
Does government oversight end when the explosives reach the store?
Whenever you want to use the explosives, you’re to alert the state ministry to witness it so they can take stock of how much explosives you’ve used and have left.
I’m trying to understand the motivations behind illegal mining in Nigeria, how lucrative is the trade?
There’s a lot to earn, but many people don’t go through the normal process because of greed. The government doesn’t even tax much — depending on the rating of the material, you typically pay as low as ₦300 or as high as ₦1,500 per tonne of the mined material, and you can sell it around ₦60,000 per tonne in the international market. Most miners sell hundreds or thousands of tonnes depending on capability, but they still want to cheat the process anyway.
What should the government be doing to curb illegal mining activities?
The government is trying a lot to curb illegal mining but the land is so vast and the materials so diverse. A place where you don’t think anything would occur can suddenly have something to mine, but before the government is even aware, miners have already caused a lot of damage. What’s left for the government to do is improve advocacy, awareness and orientation in many rural locations where these mining activities happen.
What would you like to say to illegal miners?
Mining is not an anyhow job. You have to follow all the guidelines outlined by the government for your safety and the safety of the community. Going the illegal route is harmful to everyone, as we just witnessed in Ibadan.