Posted by Timige, On 2 Sep, 2023 | Updated On 2 Sep, 2023 No Comments »
Nuraddeen Auwalu, in his mid-40s, is not your typical middle-aged taxi driver from one of the communities in Anka, Zamfara State. Never mind that he’s gradually perfecting the act of converting his old Honda Accord 2005 model for commercial purposes within the town so that he can get some extra fast cash to cater to the needs of his family.
The hustler that he is just won’t let him slow down, especially in his bid to swim against the tide of the economic crunch hitting hard across the country; a situation which had him also register as a casual contract worker in a mining company on the outskirts of the town.
His trip from the town under the guise of being a taxi driver to the mining company usually takes him at least an hour and he does this every day except when the company is on holiday.
Aside from his disguise as a taxi driver, Auwalu also has excellent skills in riding motorcycles. But not many people know that he has a motorcycle or that he rides this motorcycle to the mining site through some unconventional paths that lead to the company.
This he does for two reasons. While his parked car in the house gives him an alibi before neighbours and other residents that he is in the house or nearby, the bike readily becomes useful to navigate these unconventional routes because of the activities of bandits, who monitor both human and vehicular movements along the major roads in the area.
This crafty lifestyle is not peculiar to Auwalu. Such is the situation in Zamafara State where many road users, including motorists, are apprehensive and have totally abandoned the roads because of bandits operating indiscriminately across the state.
From Mayanchi Junction, which is about 40 kilometres to the mining company, every road user has to be on the alert because of the prowling bandits in the area.
Neighbouring Katsina State is not exempted from this kind of ordeal. In January 2022, two persons were killed and five others wounded when bandits attacked a gold mining and processing site.
The site, located in Bakin Korama community, Magama Jibia border town in Jibia Local Government Area of the state, was also where 11 miners were abducted by hoodlums during an attack that prompted the Katsina State Government to direct those interested in mining the mineral resources in the state to formally apply for proper profiling.
The dangerous trip
Saturday PUNCH visited one of the biggest mining sites in Anka, Zamfara State, to have firsthand observation of their operation.
The visit was facilitated by a former Zamfara State Commissioner of Police, Usman Nagoggo, who led a few other journalists on the trip.
Before the dreadful journey began, many of the already accredited members on the trip contemplated going considering the insecurity in the state, especially in the very notorious Anka LGA, where thousands of people have either been killed or kidnapped. In fact, at the very last minute to take off, three of the crew members threw in the towel and withdrew.
Aware of the reservations of the remaining crew members who wanted to take a cue from those who wouldn’t continue the journey, Nagoggo, for the umpteenth time, counselled against panic and assured that arrangement was in place for the safety of the group.
To strengthen the faith of the team shortly before the journey took off from the Government House, Gusau, around 7am following an earlier advisory by the then police spokesperson, SP Mohammed Shehu, urging all to converge on the venue, the former CP and his entourage arrived in 16 Hilux vehicles bearing heavily armed police mobile officers.
Once the trip took off, the eerie silence that permeated the air-conditioned vehicles did not help matters as the occupants, in spite of the cooling system, exuded sweat with their hearts in their mouths like men being led to the slabs for slaughter.
The palpable fear and intensity of heartbeats increased once the team approached the Mayanchi Junction, which is only about 40 kilometres to one of the gold mining sites. Nagoggo disembarked from his vehicle and had a brief discussion with the police team, excluding the journalists from the talk.
After the conversation, the journey moved deeper into Anka town, where the mining site was. But another drama ensued when the police boss directed the convoy to make a U-turn and follow a bush path. This latest move erupted a volcano of questions, as Nagoggo maintained his “no cause for alarm” stance.
The gold mining factory
After a few more minutes’ drive, we were faced by a mighty building in the forest with heavily armed security personnel guarding it.
The guards appeared as though they were expecting our arrival. A detachment of security personnel who were mainly from the Nigeria Police Force opened the heavily fortified main entrance gate.
Pronto, the convoy drove in, as the well-armed police operatives in our team kept stern watch over the perimeter fence and other adjoining areas.
A quick scrutiny of the vast land and mining site revealed the high-level mining activities going on within the property.
From the outside, it’s hard to tell that such enormous work was going on inside.
Saturday PUNCH gathered that the buildings within the inner environment are usually very conducive because of the high-tech facilities and equipment deployed in mining activities, which cost thousands of dollars.
Other facilities in the fenced building consist of a well-equipped clinic, pipe-borne water, a standard restaurant and good bedroom accommodation. The imposing pillars of the building make it nearly impossible for intruders to access it except from the main gate.
Once we alighted from our vehicles, we were expecting to see natives and indigenes around. Our team was in awe when we were introduced to a man whom we suspected to be from the Eastern part of the country, James Udoji.
When he came out of his office, he told us to follow him to inspect the site, as he conducted us around the large expanse of space where the company sat, ensuring that at every opportunity, he assured us of our safety as he also rightly observed that some of us were not at ease.
The tour came to a climax when he took us to where gold was being processed and packaged for onward transportation to other locations. This reporter beheld in amazement the breathtaking and alluring sight of the Zamfara gold bars.
The site worker, Auwalu, said in contrast to the apprehensive mood that pervaded outside, once inside the mining company, he joined his colleagues to work at ease because of tight security.
“Everybody does his portion of the job, which includes processing and packaging metals and minerals, especially the highly-priced gold,” he added.
He said, “The workers feel comfortable and secure doing the job because of the security provided by the owner of the company, even as the whole mining process remains a shrouded trade secret to the workers and the company managers.
“What is only known is that the job includes separating raw gold from other items through thorough washing and flushing. The gold and other earth items excavated would initially be taken to streams where the raw gold is separated from the other items. It is after the separation that the gold is packaged and prepared for delivery to buyers.”
Security experts say Zamfara is being hit by banditry because of the abundant gold deposits in the state, which is believed to be more than 40 per cent of the gold deposits in Nigeria.
Like the proverbial sugar that attracts ants, terrorist activities are more prevalent at mining locations and routes like Anka, Maru, Bungudu, Gusau, Tsafe, Maradun, Shinkafi and Bukkuyum council areas due to the large quantity of gold in the communities.
But this rare gift of nature, which should be a source of blessing, has turned into a curse for the inhabitants of these areas, who have lost thousands of their loved ones and many have been maimed, raped, tortured and made to suffer the worst of human degradation.
To worsen the plight of the indigenes, natives and residents of these areas, thousands of them have abandoned their communities due to persistent attacks by bandits.
‘I am Wazobia’
Despite these security challenges, there are thousands of both legal and illegal gold miners going about their work without any hindrance or attacks. One of them is Udoji.
In an exclusive interview with Saturday PUNCH during the visit to his company, Udoji disclosed that he was operating on 35 hectares of land.
Asked how he survives the onslaught of bandits and terrorists, he narrated his various experiences to our correspondent even as he maintained that the Zamfara gold mining fields belong to all Nigerians.
“I am Chief Sir James Udoji, an indigene of Anambra State. I have been in Zamfara State for almost four years now. When I came here, I observed there were several mineral resources.
“We realised the need for investors to come here and invest and with the support of the community, the state, and the local government, the sky will be their limit because I came to Zamfara State with good intentions, and I have come to stay,” he said.
Saturday PUNCH wondered if he was really benefiting from the mining activities due to security challenges.
He said, “Actually, the security here is not friendly, but I know that with time, all will be well. I thank God we have not witnessed any sad incident in this company. I have been investing so much here. The community will benefit, the state will benefit, and the entire nation will benefit. I am here really for business, and I believe that with the support of the government, I will achieve what I am here for.”
On the insinuation that the mining company belonged to a former governor, a serving senator or a wealthy Zamfara indigene, Udoji replied with a deep-throated laughter.
“But can’t you notice that I cannot even speak in Hausa? How would you explain this? I am from Anambra State, but I am Wazobia. I have investments in the west, Ogun State, which is where this company has its headquarters. Now, I am in the North in Zamfara State, investing in a huge project of mining. I am from the East, where I also have some investments. So, anywhere we are is home. Inasmuch as I cannot speak Hausa, one day I will learn it,” he added.
He explained that his company had made a lot of investments in the community, including construction of roads.
“When we came in, this mining site could not be accessed by road. We constructed the road for almost 12 months. The company is now accessible and with this development, the community is happy. The people are praying for our success,” he added.
The businessman denied that the state government gave him the operating licence for mining, saying he got it from the Federal Government.
“I pay royalty to the Federal Government yearly. The current ban on mining by the Zamfara State Government is biting hard. In fact, I am currently losing a lot due to the ban because there haven’t been any serious activities on the about 35 hectares of mining fields we occupy.
“We plead that the government should have a rethink of this ban because the government and the people of Zamfara State stand to benefit a lot from our activities,” he added.
Udoji said more than 300 workers were in his employ, adding that he planned to recruit 2,000 more when “construction is finished.”
He said, “I know what is happening as far as mining is concerned, and as I said earlier, anybody has the right to apply for a licence from the Federal Government and start a business here.
“Now that I’m here and doing my business unhindered, I can go back to my people in the South, especially the Southern Governors, and explain to them the true situation of mining activities in Zamfara State.”
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