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How illegal mining is driving local conflicts in Nigeria;

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Criminal networks fuel community violence in a bid to exploit untapped mineral deposits in the North West.

Collaboration between politically connected Nigerians and Chinese corporations in illegal gold mining drives rural banditry and violent local conflicts in some parts of Nigeria. This includes the North West, North Central and to some extent South West regions.

An estimated 80% of mining in the North West region is carried out illegally and on an artisanal basis by local populations. The mining of large untapped mineral deposits in the area, especially gold which has strategic importance and economic value, is at the root of community violence.

The government’s ban of artisanal gold mining in Zamfara State and across the region, and the deployment of soldiers to enforce the ban since April 2019, have yielded few results. Illegal mining and its associated conflicts continue regardless.

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The conflict has been on the increase since 2014, spreading across Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Plateau and Zamfara states. Over 5 000 people have been killed in Zamfara State in the past five years. In February 2020, soldiers killed 13 bandits during clashes in Zamfara and Kebbi states. In April, four soldiers were killed by robbers in Zamfara State, and police arrested two Chinese nationals for illegal mining.

Illegal mining leads to violent local conflicts in two ways in the North West. First, those funding the mining fight over control of the mine fields. These ‘sponsors’ are protected by some state governments, and act as if they’re above the law, Dr Chris Kwaja, a Senior Researcher at Modibbo Adama University of Technology in Yola, Nigeria told the ENACT organised crime project.

Even when the governors of Katsina, Niger and Zamfara states led negotiations with the sponsors of illegal mining, this was under conditions determined by the sponsors – showing the level of political connectedness and state protection they enjoy.

Second, those who sponsor illegal mining also fund banditry and cattle rustling in mining communities in order to incite violence among cattle breeders and rearers. Locals from Zamfara State told ENACT, on condition of anonymity, that such conflicts displace people and create opportunities for illegal miners to operate. Many media reports blame the conflicts in the region on rural banditry, without addressing its links to illegal mining.

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The rise in illegal mining highlights fundamental social, institutional and structural problems in Nigeria’s governance system. It reveals the prevailing socio-economic problems in the region, especially the inadequate responses to poverty and poor service delivery by the state. The youth in particular have limited income-generating opportunities, and this is where the sponsors of illegal mining recruit their labour force.

Source: Institute for Security Studies.

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