Illegal Mining refers to mining activities done without the permission of the government. It also refers to the exploration or extraction of mineral resources without land rights, mining licence or exploration or mineral transportation permit. When this mining is done at the subsistence level, it may also be referred to as Artisanal or informal mining.
In Nigeria, artisanal miners are usually from rural communities who are without legal mineral title. Due to the absence of major legal mining companies, these rural miners hold sway in many of Nigeria’s mines. Their equipment are usually crude and simple and in a lot of cases include shovels, head pans, hammers, pickaxes, simple crushers, sluice boxes, rolling mills and sieves and so on. They generally do not have access to modern equipment. These miners are usually forced into this occupation by crushing hunger or poverty. In some cases, it is the promise of deep pocked bosses who are able to inspire them to mine for export purposes.
Nigeria is blessed with many solid minerals. This should be a major attraction for established and legal miners. Yet, artisanal miners in Nigeria, who largely operate illegally, have become a mainstay in Nigeria’s mining industry. Asides from the dangers it portends to the miners and the society around it, it ensures Nigeria cannot keep a proper record of its production levels in terms of solid mineral extraction and sales.
Why is illegal mining dangerous?
President Muhammadu Buhari raised his concerns about illegal mining in Nigeria and constituted a special security team that will curb the menace. Illegal miners are present in several communities in Nigeria and are believed to be in their hundreds of thousands. What dangers do illegal mining present?
Economic effect of illegal mining
Illegal mining side-lines the government and ensures the right taxes and royalties are not paid to the host community or government. Due to the poor regulation of this sector, mining activities contribute little or nothing to the government.
Illegal miners sometimes excavate small deposits of a mineral, which have little or no economic value, and so are at the mercy of portfolio investors (illegal traders) who are also subject to market price developments. Miners do not have social security and usually have little or no investment capital, thus putting both their financial and health status in line to scrap out the minerals.
Effect on neighbouring community
Due to the poor regulation of illegal miners, they carry out mining activities without consideration to the environment. Over 700 children were reported to be lost to lead poisoning in Zamfara alone due to illegal mining. Poor regulation of this sector also ensures community rights are not adhered to by the miners.
The local miners who carry out their activities without technical expertise often plunder away a lot on their journeys to finding the much-coveted minerals. Several of these activities contaminate water sources of surrounding communities and thus gradually poisoning an entire village.
Proper measures are not taken as there are no standards to live up to. There is also an absence of accountability of mining activities carried out, thus ensuring miners act with reckless abandon.
Environmental and health damages
Miners do not have the right equipment to protect themselves from the poisonous substances they are exposed to during mining activities. This would eventually have long-term health implications on them.
Miners sometimes do not properly cover up mining areas, which can become death traps for humans and animals as well. Mining activities may directly lead to the degradation of farmlands in surrounding communities. There is also the problem of pollution. The air around these areas can become seriously polluted and can be dangerous to human life and plant life.
Deforestation is another consequence of illegal mining since miners dig their way through fields and have no plans to replant lost trees. Miners may also suffer from cave-ins when mining is done underground.
Mineral resources are properties of the state. Thus, miners should obtain licences before they begin mining. Miners must adhere to all environmental and government laws in relation to their activities. While illegal mining activities may bring short-term gain for the miners, it spells disaster in the long run.