By Ozioruva Aliu
THE sleepy community known as Dagbala in Akoko-Edo local government area of Edo State has been in the news for the wrong reasons for over a year as activities of alleged illegal gold miners deepened and created security breach in the area, forcing the state government to ban all forms of mining there.
There have been claims and counter-claims before government slammed the ban.
Even though the decision has brought relative peace to the community, it has also
denied miners with licenses access to their sites to carry out legitimate businesses.
There have been attacks targeting locals and this has led to residents raising concerns in an
area grappling with kidnapping and other crimes.
Investigation by Sunday Vanguard shows that the issue, which has emboldened illegal miners to flood the area, is the dispute over the ownership of the mining site at Oketegbe
in the community by different families and those who are also positing that, irrespective
of the ownership of the land, the entire community should be the beneficiary since
the environmental impact the mining the sites would bring would be borne by the entire community.
Some of the contending families are already in court while some stakeholders in Dagbala are trying to adopt alternative dispute resolution mechanisms where all parties are expected to make sacrifices for the good of all.
Some illegal miners were recently arrested at the site and they confessed that they were from different parts of the country, including Kogi, Taraba and the Federal Capital territory
and that they had waiting buyers to take the raw gold from them for processing.
In the face of all these, there is the allegation of cover-up by security agencies and officials
of the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development.
In February 2021, there was tension in the area over influx of persons mostly suspected
to be of northern Nigeria extraction who were into mining of gold and most of them believed to be without licenses.
The small community was overrun by these ‘foreigners’ who were also accused of luring their women into amorous relationships.
Loads of sophisticated arms and dynamites were purportedly imported into the community at night by the miners without any community member knowing about it.
Some of the vehicles used to ferry these items into the community allegedly had government plate numbers which made their movements easy.
This situation then led to an emergency security meeting by the local government area administration while a ban was placed on mining in the area and this was backed by the state government.
There was an alarm late last year of the return of suspected illegal miners backed by
some people in Dagbala and this has also been linked to upsurge in criminal activities in the
area during the yuletide even as the families continue to feud over ownership of the mining site.
In early December 2021, one Peter Adelabu Kokumo, a resident of the community, suffered a deep machete cut on his head at Oketegbe gold mining site from suspected illegal miners.
His offense was that he, in company of others, attempted to confront the armed illegal miners when they heard of their return.
The illegal miners were allegedly backed by some officials of the Zonal Mining Office and officials of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), an allegation the
two government agencies have denied.
The insecurity in Dagbala had a spillover effect in other communities around the locality like Lampese, a boundary town between Edo and Kogi states, and Ososo, a tourist town where a woman was kidnapped while traveling from Abuja.
She was reportedly taken away while her children were asked to take the message home.
Also, Reverend Father Aloysious Oregbemeh of Lampese Catholic Church was attacked around the same spot where the Ososo woman and her driver were abducted.
The priest was lucky that only his windscreen was broken One Omoloja, a farmer and hunter of Agbokodo quarters, Ojah, was (on December 21, 2021) beaten and cut severally with a machete by suspected herders on his way back from his hunting adventure and he is still receiving treatment in hospital.
Some investors in the area expressed reservation that not much is being done on several petitions and cry from them to government just as they claimed that the illegal miners had graduated from working without papers while some with papers work in an area where
they do not have jurisdiction or license to mine gold or any mineral by parading fake license
to hoodwink security men when they are confronted.
A group, Concerned Indigenes of Dagbala (CID), through Philip Adelabu, said the inaction of the Federal Government against illegal miners was not only emboldening them but also
denying those with licenses from going about their legitimate businesses.
According to Adelabu, illegal miners move in with their equipment at ungodly hours and carry on with their activities with impunity.
“With the way they go about their activities, one is forced to believe that they have outside forces backing them”, he said.
“As I speak with you, the leadership of the community is divided on the matter.
“While some pretend not to know what is happening, others who are speaking against it are being shouted down.
“This is the reason why few of us came together and decided to come out publicly to call for urgent action to be taken by the authorities to stop this madness that has become a security threat if not handled with dispatch”.
When contacted, the Zonal Mining Officer (ZMO), Mr Abdulkadiri Adamu, said he was unaware of the return of illegal miners to the area since it was shut down by the Edo Government.
“Edo State Government placed an embargo on the activities of miners in the area and I
am not aware that they (miners) are back there,” he added.
Few days ago, the Commandant, Edo State Command of NSCDC, Mr Aniekan Udoeyop,
said four illegal gold miners had been arrested at the site.
Udoeyop stated that the suspects, who hailed from Kogi, Kebbi, Taraba and the Federal Capital Territory, were arrested in December and added that the suspects were caught by NSCDC operatives in conjunction with local vigilance groups in Damgbala.
The commandant said that the suspects had contravened the Edo Government law banning mining and noted that they will face the full weight of the law and serve as deterrent
to others who may want to engage in similar ventures.
He said the state government banned mining in Dagbala community following influx of foreigners and insecurity in the community.
It is believed in many quarters that the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development should come out with strong terms of operations of miners and free itself of any possibility of trying to support any miner who doesn’t have license while the Mining Cadastral Office should do more than they are doing and set up committees that will go into this area.
Also, security agencies should be taught how to identify fake mining licenses because
investigation indicate that most licenses display latitude and longitude of areas of
operations but the illegal miners just show security agencies approvals for mining without details.
Meanwhile, traditional rulers need to understand that minerals belong to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and they should respect the Mining Cadastral Office and not just work with anybody.