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Benue State Suffers Invasion of Illegal Miners, Terrorists, Loggers

Investigation: Human Rights Experts See Linkage Between Mineral Wealth and Landgrabs

By Mike Odeh James

(Kaduna)  The blood of innocents stains the sands of gold, lithium and lead along the storied Benue River, Nigeria.

Agriculturally endowed and rich in solid mineral resources, the Middle Belt state of Benue is under siege from Fulani terrorists who have killed thousands in land-grabbing sprees and from illegal miners who pay them, TruthNigeria has learned.

 Worse yet, there may be a direct link to illegal mining in the state and an upsurge in pogroms this year by  terrorists of the Fulani ethnicity. The Fulani people are one of the best known tribes in Africa, and Nigeria is believed to host 10 million Fulani people.

Gold Rush in Benue

Adebayo Ogorry a UN affiliated human rights advocate, told Truthnigeria in an exclusive chat that “The recent attacks by the Fulani militia in Otukpo and Agatu counties are linked to the quest to exploit the gold in Otukpo and the limestone in Agatu.

Adebayo Ogorry. Courtesy Mike Odeh James
Adebayo Ogorry. Courtesy Mike Odeh James

“You go to areas where the Fulani terrorists had invaded previously, you will discover that they were working on abandoned mines especially limestone and other precious stones,” Ogorry said.

“In Benue, where we have gold deposits, the attacks on Otukpo communities have increased, once they successfully dislodged communities, the attackers settle there and start prospecting for minerals. In most cases, some of the illegal miners who are not from Benue will invite Fulani herdsmen from Zamfara, Katsina, and Niger Republic to attack settlements in Benue South, “Ogorry said.

Apart from mining and killing of locals in their ancestral homes, Ogorry said that the illegal miners and terrorists are actively engaged in cutting down economic trees.

“Most of the forest belt of the region has continued to suffer continuous and deliberate destruction by foreign illegal logging, including the loss of economic trees like the Locust Bean and Ogbono trees.

“Communities that tried to resist this illegal logging have come under similar attacks from criminal gangs that have connections with these foreign mercenaries, who have largely been identified as Fulani herders,” Ogorry said.

In December, 2023, Governor Hyacinth Alia accused traditional rulers and village chiefs of knowing who the illegal miners and loggers are, he however appealed to them to help rein in the activities of people involved in illegal mining. 

Mining Cheats  Rob State Treasury of Funds

The illegal extraction of mineral resources by illegal miners has plunged the state into such financial distress that the state government has had to raise an alarm about the activities of illegal miners.

Barrister Fidelis Myimn. Courtesy Facebook
Barrister Fidelis Myimn. Courtesy Facebook

The chairman of the Mineral Resources and Environmental Management Committee, Barr. Fidelis Mnyim, reported to a press conference on Feb. 16 that

“Benue State has 34 mineral deposits out of a total of 44 available in the country but regretted that the state only gets in the region of N30 million  ]$25,000] from the 13 percent derivatives.

Myimn further stated that the meager amount accrued to the state was a result of the activities of illegal miners.

“Benue has no excuse to get such an amount. But there is a problem: the presence of illegal miners in the state; the improper reporting of mining activities in the state that has denied the state royalty; and the 13 percent derivatives,” Myimn said at the press briefing.

“It is quite unfortunate that our 13 percent derivative is very low. There are several miners who are inactive in the state. Most of these people will just go and get licenses and not do anything,” Myimn went on to say.

“There are other persons who are operating without licenses, and there are some who have licenses but have failed to operate with certain requirements, for instance, payment of surface rent, execution of community development agreements, which include maintenance of roads, provision of water, and several other incentives.

Comrade Omaga Elachi Daniel,  Executive Director of the USAID-funded education NGO called Beyond Boundaries Legacy Leadership Initiative, agrees with Myimn. Daniel, a native of Benue, also noted that illegal mining has been going on in parts of Ogbadibo and Okpokwu counties [Local Governance Areas] since 2017.

Comrade Omaga Elachi Daniel, Executive Director of the USAID-funded education NGO called Beyond Boundaries Legacy Leadership Initiative. Courtesy of Omaga Elachi Daniel.
Comrade Omaga Elachi Daniel, Executive Director of the USAID-funded education NGO called Beyond Boundaries Legacy Leadership Initiative. Courtesy of Omaga Elachi Daniel.

“I know coal mining activities are ongoing in some parts of Okpokwu and Ogbadibo counties, and a lot of those involved in these acts are not registered with the state or federal government,” Daniel said to TruthNigeria.  

“When they are given licenses, they sell the licenses to outsiders who would go beyond their normal sphere. If they are there for lead, they will extend their activities to prospecting for zinc or gold. They go as far as encroaching into farmlands of host communities,” Daniel added.

“Their activities have not only brought environmental hazards to these communities but have also deprived farmers of their farmlands. The activities of illegal miners started as far back as 2016 but took an upswing when it was discovered that Benue has huge deposits of Lithium and Gold in 2021,” Daniel said.

“Despite the attempts by the Governor of the state then (Samuel Ortom) to stop the influx of these miners, the illicit trade continued in earnest due to the fact that the Federal Government was either preoccupied with the issue of security in the Benue Valley or simply neglected it.

Similarly, Tersoo Ugbor, a lawmaker from Benue North, complained that foreigners, especially militants from Cameroon, are invading Kwande county , which is his constituency, in order to mine lithium and gold illegally.

Tersoo Ugbor ‘s objection was reported on 17 October , 2023 by NewsNow TV.

“If this trend is left unchecked, Benue will become the next banditry hotspot, just like the case of Zamfara State over the last several years due to illegal gold mining.” Ugbor said to Newsnow TV.

Mike Odeh James is a veteran conflict reporter covering North Central, Northwest, and Northeast Nigeria for TruthNigeria.com.

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