Despite consistently blaming foreign illegal miners for sponsoring banditry and terrorism in the country, the Federal Government yesterday made a U-turn when it accused some unnamed powerful Nigerians for sponsoring terrorism in areas where the nation’s minerals abound.

It, however, disclosed that the powerful individuals were being monitored, noting that both kinetic and non-kinetic methods are being activated to arrest the menace.

This disclosure came from the Minister of Solid Minerals, Dele Alake, when he appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Solid Minerals for the 2024 budget defence in Abuja.

The Guardian observed that this latest revelation by the minister was in contrast to what he had earlier told Nigerians on two previous occasions.

In October, the minister told state house correspondents shortly after a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting that foreign illegal miners were sponsoring banditry in Nigeria.

Also, while receiving a delegation of the Nigeria-China Chamber of Mines led by its National President, Dr Olugbenga Ajala, in his office in October, Alake used the opportunity to warn foreign operators, who sponsor banditry to execute illegal mining in the country, to desist from the act.

But in his meeting with lawmakers on Tuesday, the minister did a volte-face when he said a lot of banditry and terrorism activities were sponsored by illegal miners, who are not people who pick gold on the ground, but powerful individuals in the country.

He said most of the illegal miners were not foreigners, adding that foreigners could be seen as symptoms. He further added that the most disturbing aspect was that most of the foreigners engaged in illegal mining in the country had no proper immigration documents.

He said: “One pernicious discovery that we made, Mr Chairman, is that a lot of these banditry, terrorisms, insecurities that we identified in this sector are actually sponsored by illegal miners. These illegal miners are not artisanal miners or people who pick gold rusts on the ground.

“These are heavy and powerful individuals in our country, and they are Nigerians, not foreigners. Yes, you can see foreigners as symptoms and not diseases. Nigerians are the powers behind those foreigners that you see. We are identifying them, and we are employing various strategies, both kinetic and non-kinetic with the artisanal, who are at the lower ladder of illegal mining”.

He said his ministry is liaising with the Nigerian armed forces and other security agencies in the country, with inclusion of the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to boost security in areas where solid minerals abound in the country.

“We have to use this mechanism so that we don’t just deploy men and materials into a wide expanse of land or bush. But now with the introduction of artificial intelligence, we’ll be able to pinpoint flash points, and then deploy men and materials more efficiently and effectively to combat insecurities and insurrections,” he stated.

Disclosing that Nigeria has solid minerals estimated at $700 billion, the minister pleaded with the committee to consider the amount budgeted for the ministry in the 2024 budget proposal.

He said: “We did make a very appreciable budgetary proposal. But when the envelope came, you understand these things more than us. What we saw in the envelope was quite discouraging. In fact, the figure we were given cannot even engage in one single item on our agenda. And the most important is exploration.

“Without generating geo-scientific data, which we will use in convincing foreign investors, we will just not be doing ourselves justice. We need a lot of funding in exploration and as you have rightly mentioned, it is the business of the government to embark on exploration.

“We cannot leave exploration in the hands of the private sector, because when we do that, they will generate the data and keep half of it to themselves for pecuniary purposes and give us only half and that will not be in our overall economic and security interest in this country. So, it is proper for the government to devote a substantial amount of funding into exploration. And we are asking for a conservative figure of N250 billion for exploration.

“This is because as I said earlier, we have identified 44 minerals but those are the ones identified as of now. And a foreign agency that we signed an MoU with recently did tell us that the conservative estimate of the minerals that we have underground in Nigeria is over $700 billion and they are basing their estimation on the identified minerals alone. Nigeria is such a vast land.

“We have not even explored a quarter of the potential of what we have. Therefore, the entire budget of N24 billion is a non-starter if we are to achieve the stated objectives of the sector. We need nothing less than N250 billion for exploration if we are to achieve the mandate of this sector. The sector should contribute not less than 50 per cent to the nation’s GDP. That N24 billion is a non-starter.”

He added that the committee has taken proactive steps to put up motions and bills that would strengthen and reorganize the sector.

“To start with, exploration has never been the business of the investor but the government who carries out the exploration and based on values obtained, engages or attracts the necessary investments. It will shock you to note that the petroleum sector, which is more or less mining and an extractive industry, has earmarked $400 million for frontier exploration as captured by provisions of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), being a percentage of the operating profit of the NNPC.

“When you calculate or convert $400 million, it will give you an idea of what the NNPC is spending on just frontier exploration, which is not its major exploration activity.

“Let me use this medium to call on the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to rethink and reconsider the paltry sums that were allocated to this sector. We must be careful not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.
“We are in a phase of energy transition and solid minerals are the next frontier for industrialization and world development. The House of Representatives will not rest on its ores to form strategic partnerships with the executives, the Minister, and all agencies to make sure we make good on the oath of office we swore to at our respective inaugurations.

“To this end, we have taken proactive steps to put up motions and bills that will strengthen and bring about some reorganization or restructuring in line with the seven-point agenda of the Minister”.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has been urged to urgently investigate insinuations that a few power brokers are benefiting from the ongoing banditry and kidnappings, particularly in the Northwest sub-region of the country. The call was made by a civil society organization based in Bauchi State known as Arewa Mu Farka Youth Coalition Group, while briefing journalists on the state of insecurity during its State of the Nation address yesterday.

The group leader, Haruna Aliyu Ningi, called for an investigation into the over N1 trillion spent on fighting insecurity in the country, alleging that there is nothing on ground to show that significant action has been taken.

The group emphasized “We are at a loss as to why insecurity continues to increase despite the substantial amount of money spent to procure sophisticated weapons to fight against insecurity. The circumstances surrounding it must be investigated by the National Assembly for a remedy.”

Ningi further expressed dismay at the rampant storming of higher institutions by bandits to abduct innocent students without any resistance from security agencies.
The group is irked that several months have passed without efforts to rescue the abducted students, stating, “their parents have been left in limbo, unaware of the situation of their children, whether alive or dead.”

The group also wondered why known and identified kidnap/bandit leaders are still alive and going around bragging about their criminal activities unhindered, at the detriment of innocent people.

Ningi mentioned that the group is confused about the various ‘mistaken’ bombings of innocent people across the country, with the latest being the Tudun Biri massacre in Kaduna state by the Nigerian Army.

The group stressed that such strikes cannot be considered mistakes anymore, considering that they have happened several times in the past, and called on the Federal Government to urgently investigate the circumstances leading to the ‘mistaken’ killing of villagers celebrating Maulud.

According to the group, “The Nigerian Armed Forces are always quick to respond to any strike against their personnel, as seen in Odi, Zaki-Biam, Adamawa, and Zaria massacre in Kaduna but have been unable to rescue innocent people in the hands of bandits.

“Our initial plan was to have a peaceful protest, but we were advised against it due to security issues. Therefore, we are using this medium to make our voices heard loud and clear. Enough is enough; the Nigerian Armed Forces and other security agencies must protect Nigerians as stipulated in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended.”