Reported criminal activities of bandits in some states in the North West geopolitical zone, especially Zamfara, Sokoto, and Katsina states, where scores had been killed and several kidnapped for ransom came to public glare with attendant public apprehension and concern.
Banditry, a new pronounced phenomenon in the security architecture of Nigeria in the recent time became a source of worry for discerning Nigerians and herculean task for security agencies.
The threatening degree of insurgency in the North East of the region to a very large extent heightened the level of phobia elicited by Northwest banditry. Many believe what is being described as banditry could be a prelude to another dimension of bloody insurgency.
However, torrents of emerging revelations, which linked the menace of banditry in the North West to illegal mining in Zamfara and other affected states gave another narratives to the whole drama.
It was alleged that some powerful Northern elite, mostly traditional rulers, were behind series of illegal mining business going on in those states, which brought about bloody rivalry amongst ‘powerful merchants’, who employed services of hoodlums in the fight for dicey economic struggle.
Consequently, this group of hoodlums around illegal mining sites constitute scary armed bandit gangs, which continued to unleash terror on innocent residents rather unabatedly.
Perhaps, the proceeds from illegal exploration of National resource became insufficient to meet their illicit lifestyle, or desperation to get more money must have pushed these criminal elements to diversify and ventured into robbery and kidnapping, and made lives terribly miserable for people of the states.
Regrettably, despite coordinated security arrangement and increased deployment of security operatives to those areas, the tempo of criminality went on perpetually and became an embarrassing National security burden to the Federal government.
At the peak of this menace, therefore, the Federal government, acting on the advice of the Ministry of Defence gave an order to suspend all mining activities in Zamfara and all other states in the North West where illegal mining activities were going on, following intelligence report that suggest close collaboration between the activities of the bandits and illegal miners.
Also, the Nigerian Army established 8 Division with headquarters in Sokoto to cover Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina and Zamfara states while the Headquarters of 1 Brigade was relocated from Sokoto to Gusau.
In addition to that, the tactical headquarters of 8 Division has since located to Gusau. Similarly, the Nigerian Air Force also established Quick Response Force in Gusau and landing areas in Gusau and Birnin Magaji respectively.
Meanwhile, as laudable and plausible as those interventions appear, which have continued to yield positive results in those places, there is a damning consequence of that action in some parts of Nigeria, especially Osun State.
Investigation by our Correspondent revealed that, as soon as illegal miners started feeling the heat of security operations in the North West, their attention began to shift to other areas where those nefarious activities are going on, and Ijesha land, in the Osun East senatorial district of the state became considered alternative.
It was gathered that there are large deposit of 99.5 per cent pure gold in Ilesha, an ancient town occupied by a distinct Yoruba race known as Ijesha, and adjoining towns and villages.
A community leader in one of the towns with gold deposit, Chief Bisi Alabi said there are more than 100 illegal mining sites around Ilesha and it’s environs, making the areas seriously volatile.
“We are handicapped my brother, this illegal mining business has been going on here for more than a decade. We couldn’t challenge these people (Northerners) who are working on the sites because the thing belongs to Federal government.
“Also, many of them were just working for their big boss in the North, who we heard got license from the Federal Government to operate freely”.
Also speaking, the State Coordinator of Advocacy for Advancement of Peace and Harmony in Africa Initiative (ADAPHAI) in Osun State, Comrade Sola Lanrewaju decried the impunity in which illegal mining was being carried out in the areas, and attendants criminal activities around Ijesha Land.
Lanrewaju stressed that the economy and security of people in the areas are in serious jeopardy, as mining activities continue to drive farmers from the farms and threaten the ecology of the area.
He also expressed concern on the recent influx of illegal miners of Northern extractions into the areas, following stoppage of illegal mining in the North West recently.
” There is dangerous danger looming in Osun State, the suspension of illegal mining in Zamfara and other states in the North West is having a multiplier effect here in Osun State, as we observed serious influx of illegal Northern miners into the state.
“This is indeed a signal of impeding serious security breach in the state. Before now, we have raised serious concern about the volatility of Ijesha land, where there are illegal mining sites, this recent development would definitely worsen the situation”, Lanrewaju lamented.
Investigation further revealed that there are over 5000 illegal miners from the North, in over 10 villages and towns in the state, including: Ijana Wasare in Atakumosa LGA, Igun- Ijesa, Gona, Ajewanwa, Atepe-Akire, Igbadare among others.
It was also discovered that over 6000 illegal miners from Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina and some parts of Kaduna States have moved into the areas between Sunday, March 31 and Tuesday, April 16.
A community teacher in one of the affected villages, who preferred anonymity said, ” Our communities are presently in danger, nobody could predict what will be the security situation of these areas in days to come, with heavy influx of illegal miners into our villages and towns without check.
“We hope the security situations in the North West, which was reportedly linked to illegal mining would not be our portion here”.
Asking whether the police authority in the state is aware of this development through ‘its intelligence mechanism’, the Police Public Relations Officer for Osun command, SP Folashade Odoro reacted this way” I don’t know where you heard that information.
“Are you a DSS, it is only DSS operatives that can talk about intelligence report now. The people of the affected areas should go to the nearest police station and report “.