By Salihu AyatullahiBy Salihu
In Kakanfu, Pategi Local Government Area of Kwara State, Nigeria, hundreds of illegal miners with hard drugs, guns and explosives dig underground in a large-scale search for Lithium with no oversight and few safety measures. Security operatives and local authorities take bribes to turn a blind eye to – and also aid – this illegal activity, according to sources and evidence found by The Informant247 in this investigation by SALIHU Ayatullahi.
Deaths and injuries are common and the mining activities expose local communities to several levels of toxic chemicals and severe environmental degradation. Children have withdrawn from school to join the operation. This investigation also traced and revealed one of the biggest buyers and sponsors of the illegally extracted mineral: a powerful Chinese-owned company that has over the years been evading and underpaying taxes.
Once a tranquil agrarian community, Kakanfu in Pategi Local Government Area of Kwara State had thrived for generations as its farmers cultivated fertile lands. They planted all types of crops and reaped the bounty of their toil. But the serenity of this small village was shattered when the earth beneath it unveiled a hidden secret—a massive deposit of high-grade lithium.
In 2022, the Nigerian government discovered “high-grade” lithium in the community. “Nigerian lithium is hot cake now. The mineral was discovered in Kwara by National Integrated Mineral Exploration Project (NIMEP) during exploration and we did an investigation and came up with analysis and discovered that Nigerian lithium is of high grade,” Abdulrazaq Garba, director-general, Nigerian Geological Survey Agency (NGSA) had said upon the discovery.
“High grade in the sense that the standard worldwide for even exploration and mining starts from 0.4 per cent lithium oxide but when we started exploration and mining, we saw one per cent up to 13 per cent lithium oxide content. Another advantage of Nigerian lithium is that it is hard rock lithium and that is what investors are looking out for worldwide.”
As news of this valuable mineral travelled wide, Kakanfu found itself at the centre of a frenzied ‘gold rush’, drawing attention from all corners of the world. Garba, while announcing the discovery, said investors were willing to pay a humongous amount for it.
Road to Kakanfu
A few months later, the promise of newfound wealth had turned the once-peaceful farming village into a bustling mining town, with outsiders setting up makeshift camps and mining operations.
The villagers, once content in their agrarian lifestyle, became eager participants in the mining frenzy. They toiled day and night, digging deep into the earth to extract the lithium that held the promise of unimaginable riches. Their dreams of a better life fueled this, but the price they were paying for it remained unknown.
Sarki, 28, worked as an illegal digger at the Kakanfu mining field for eight months. He went there in search of fortune. He found it, but suddenly decided to stop. He didn’t just quit; something happened. The corpse of his friend, Abu, will remain forever in the earth, trapped beneath immovable tonnes of fallen rock in a hole too dangerous for rescue teams to enter.
The pair had on a hot afternoon in March crawled into the hole in one of the fields when a mine collapsed on them. While he survived with injuries, not even the efforts of several other diggers could save his friend.
“He was my best friend. We were just young guys with no jobs trying to make ends meet. We knew a digger was a hard job with many risks, but we never thought it this far,” he said. “Anytime I remember him and the last moment together, it hurts. I couldn’t continue with the work despite making huge money from it. I had to stop!”
He was willing to say more, but not ready to take us to the mining site. He was afraid. After much persuading, he agreed, but with a caveat! “My identity must be kept top secret. I am risking it to do this,” he said. His body was stiff, his hands were shaking, and his voice was low; he was nervous. We met him at a local restaurant in Pategi town.
With his help, The Informant247 Investigative Unit was able to, for the first time, navigate deep inside the mining operation area, and as we walked through the transformed landscape, we witnessed the scars left by the relentless quest for lithium. Large pits marred the once-pristine earth, and the air was thick with dust and the smell of chemicals. The natural water sources, once clear and life-giving, now ran murky with pollutants from the mining process, all of which were caused by illegal miners working to meet the world’s soaring demand for lithium.
What is Lithium and why is it so valuable?
One of the foremost reasons behind the surging demand for lithium-ion batteries is their remarkable energy density. These batteries can store a substantial amount of energy within a relatively compact and lightweight structure. This characteristic is especially critical for portable electronic gadgets, where sleek design and extended usage periods are paramount. The high energy density of lithium-ion batteries empowers smartphones to offer extended talk and usage times, laptops to achieve longer battery life, and electric vehicles to cover greater distances on a single charge, transforming how we interact with technology and mobility.
Freshly extracted lithium
The rechargeability of lithium-ion batteries sets them apart as a sought-after power source. The ability to recharge these batteries multiple times ensures longevity and sustainability, thereby reducing the need for frequent battery replacements and minimizing electronic waste.
They are also a crucial attribute in the form of slow self-discharge. Unlike some conventional batteries that tend to lose their charge over time, lithium-ion batteries exhibit a relatively low self-discharge rate. This means that even when left idle, these batteries can retain a substantial portion of their charge over an extended period. As a result, they are exceptionally well-suited for devices that experience intermittent use, ensuring that they are readily available whenever needed.
In essence, the growing demand for lithium-ion batteries is a result of their unmatched attributes and capabilities. But this comes at an exceptional cost.
Kankanfu – Nigeria’s lithium village
At Kakanfu, the lush fields that had sustained generations of farmers now bore the scars of relentless mining activity. Small trucks laden with sacks of precious lithium rumbled through the village.
Mining field at Kakanfu
The promise of a significant sum, a sum as substantial as N1.5 million, is enough to get any member of the community to forsake their ancestral lands for unregulated mining activities.
The Informant247 met with one of the community leaders named Mohammed who was willing to give out a plot of his farmland for N1.3 million.
“The last I can go is N1.3 million for a plot of land because it contains high-quality lithium, the one that will sell fast in the market. I have already gotten labourers to remove the topsoil. What the buyer just needs to do is bring their equipment and start mining. I have sold land to people who have made millions from the Lithium they extracted from it,” Mohammed said.
Asked if there were any other requirements, he responded, “No, once you get the land, you start mining. You will have to give the community and other neighbouring villages their share as your mining activities progress, but for now, no!” he said, smiling.
This exchange of land for a financial windfall runs afoul of the stringent regulations laid out by Nigeria’s legal mining framework. Section 44 (3) of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Law of 1999 vests the ownership and control of all minerals in Nigeria in the federal government, which is mandated to manage such natural resources in a manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.
The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development is responsible for granting licences to operators through the Mining Cadastre Office. Any operator without a licence from this ministry is deemed to be carrying out illegal activities. Such a person may be arrested and tried in the Federal High Court.
“Mining in Nigeria involves obtaining mineral titles and licenses from the Nigerian Mining Cadastre Office, adhering to stringent environmental compliance and permits, upholding health and safety standards for workers, fulfilling financial obligations including payment of fees, rents, and royalties, maintaining transparent reporting and documentation, and promoting value addition and beneficiation of minerals within the country before export,” Legal practitioner, A.J. Edun, told The Informant247.
These regulations, designed to ensure responsible resource extraction and protect the environment, the community, and the nation’s future, are rendered null and void in the face of this concerning trend.
A Mining Operation
As The Informant247 entered the sprawling mining operation area, covering several acres of once-fertile farmland, we saw hundreds of illegal miners working tirelessly to unearth the hidden treasure beneath the earth’s surface. Towering excavators and water-pumping machines dominate the place.
We’re met with the deafening roar of machinery, the clang of hammers against chisels, and the shouts of miners coordinating their efforts. Each day, they labour under the scorching sun.
The mining process is both laborious and perilous. The first step involves stripping away the topsoil, uprooting plants and trees that once adorned this fertile land. With hammer and chisel in hand, the miners painstakingly drill holes into the rock. Their hands calloused, their determination unwavering, they plant explosives with care. The explosives, once ignited, will shatter the rock, revealing the sought-after lithium beneath.
As the explosives detonate, the earth quakes, sending tremors through the mining site. The sight is both awe-inspiring and terrifying, as the miners watch with bated breath to see what lies in the aftermath. Amidst the debris and dust, the precious lithium is unveiled, glistening like a hidden treasure waiting to be claimed.
“Before the blast, we will notify people, some will leave, while others will wait. You know this is not coordinated. The stubborn ones will continue to work in their own stead. Once the rock is blasted, the extraction process follows. Removing the rock shells, and the miners will have to identify the type of lithium. We have the Magan and Cobalt,” one of the diggers told The Informant247.
As sacks are filled with the classified lithium after the extraction, a sense of accomplishment and excitement fills the air. If the find is of high grade, the miners are emboldened, and they continue to dig deeper. However, if the quality falls short of expectations, they abandon the current field and relentlessly search for a new site with better prospects.
“Once we get the lithium out, we will separate it. I have two plots and about 20 Hausa people working for me. There is Mangan and there is Cobalt. We will then proceed to break it into smaller pieces before moving it to where it will be weighed and sacked. Each sack contains 50kg of lithium,” he added. “Once we have weighed it, we will move them into the waiting small trucks you can see over there.”
How the business works – for the big boys and artisans
The Informant247 gathered that each small truck carries 100 sacks of 50kg lithium from the mining site in Kakanfu to Lade, the district headquarters now turned into a lithium marketplace.
“Aside from the guys working for big companies who have enough resources and manpower to mine and transport the resources to Lade, we have diggers who can’t afford that. We call them the small boys. They are artisan miners. They will sell what they extract at the mining site, and some will manage to transport it to Lade,” Sarki said.
The lithium comes in two varieties – Mangan and Cobalt. While Mangan fetched a modest price of N6,000 per sack, the highly sought-after Cobalt commanded a staggering N8,000 per sack at the mining site.
Our findings revealed that the transportation cost from the mining site to Lade per trip amounted to a hefty N100,000. However, that was not the only expense that siphoned money away from the operation.
“We pay the driver N100,000 for the transport cost, which covers the fuel and vehicle rent. The Kakanfu community takes N50,000; vigilantes take N10,000. And that is all here. You will have to pay other charges at Lade,” he added.
Once these trucks arrive at Lade, there are buyers eagerly waiting to inspect and purchase the valuables. The small trucks could be sold for a handsome sum, ranging from N1.4 million to N1.5 million.
People die here – so cheaply!
“We shouldn’t have to live like this, but I have a family at home to cater for. Five children, my wife, and my aged mother. So I have no option but to do it,” said Kazeem, 35. As with all the other miners The Informant247 spoke with, he declined to give his surname.
The crash of steel-pounding rock echoes through the dark gallery, as he hammers away in a small corner. He’s muddy, sweaty and breathing heavily, crushing stone after stone around him. He works for one of the big mining companies.
Pay is based on what we extract. No lithium, no money, he said. And when accidents occur, we are on our own.
Earlier this year, after one digger’s leg was crushed and another suffered a head wound in a mine collapse, Kazeem said they had to raise money for treatment from other diggers.
Deaths happen with regularity, too, diggers said. But not even mass casualties filter out. Three miners were killed in September when a dirt tunnel collapsed. Five months ago, eight diggers were killed by landslides in a single day, followed days later by the deaths of five diggers after an explosive was mistakenly ignited.
Kazeem said he had personally pulled no fewer than eight bodies from mines in the past few months. The Informant247 was not able to independently verify his claims, but they echoed stories from diggers about the frequency of mining accidents.
No one knows precisely how many children had withdrawn from school to work at the mining site, but we counted no fewer than 40 during our visit.
A school official in one of the mining community’s neighbouring towns said they lack the power to address the problem.
“We have a big challenge with the children because it is difficult to take them out of the mines. Most of our students have withdrawn from school to join their parents at the mines. Between 2022 and now, we recorded the highest number of student withdrawals,” said the official, who requested anonymity. “We have to find a solution for this or we are in for big trouble.”
While officials acknowledge the problem of child labour, it remains a sensitive topic. Children work not just at the mines, in violation of Nigeria’s mining code, but also on the fringes of the trade.
At one point, The Informant247 saw a boy struggling to carry a half-full sack of lithium.
“He should be 13,” Sarki said. Habeeb is a quiet boy who looks younger than his age. He is from Lade.
Earlier this year, his mother began taking him with her on her trips to the mine at Kakanfu. Loading and selling lithium is a popular job for women and children here. At first, he was only tasked with helping her mother watch over and sell the lithium, but he learned to find small-sized but high-quality. If he could collect enough bits, like 50kg, he could get paid.
“The money I get I use to buy school materials that I need,” he said. Unlike some who withdraw totally, Habeeb still goes to school, but only on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. For the remaining weekdays and weekends, he is at the mine. His mother said this is normal. “There are many children there, some are not even going to school again,” she said. “That’s how we live. That is how we survive.”
Security operatives, community leaders, and local authorities are all involved
When a police vehicle swooped down the road leading to Kakanfu sometime last year, the illegal miners thought they were around to arrest them and stop the mining activities. “But No! They had a different mission. I was still actively involved then. They wanted their shares,” Sarki recalled.
He claimed the police were complicit. “Since then, they come here every day and take money from us openly. I heard they have now forged alliances with some leaders in the community to make the collection easier. The fact is that the police are making money out of this. The Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) as well. It’s a daily cash cow for them, and everybody knows about it.”
The Informant247 saw fully armed police officers at the mine during one of our two visits in August. They were smiling and communicating in hushed tones with a group of miners. We, however, couldn’t confirm the station they belong to.
We also found there were more than a hundred lithium stores in Lade. The big ones are protected by paid police agents. We gathered that the money gotten from this illicit act flows up the chain of command through the informal but widespread system of returns, in which the subordinates attached to these stores pay their superiors a portion of the money they make.
For smugglers and the mineral’s ultimate buyers, such bribes are simply a cost of doing business that pales in comparison to the profits they can reap when they resell the resources on the open market.
“Not only that, officials from Patigi Local Government Authority have a post here as well. For every small truck that moves 100 sacks of 50kg lithium out of this mine, they collect N30,000. They call it a government tax,” he said.
At checkpoints on the outskirts of Lade town, police officers turned a blind eye as trucks packed with illegally mined lithium drove past at nightfall, starting a journey to Lagos.
“Don’t be surprised; they have gotten their shares already. There is a military checkpoint at Tsaragi. The soldiers there take N50,000 for every big truck heading for Lagos with lithium; you know that is the only road that links us to Ilorin,” Sarki said.
Tsaragi is only a few kilometres from Lade. While The Informant247 could not independently verify this claim, we, however, witnessed and captured how, at the military checkpoint at Tsaragi, soldiers openly demanded bribes from motorists.
This is a checkpoint ostensibly put in place to combat the rampant crime that afflicts the communities. On a daily basis, countless Nigerians traveling on Tsaragi Road are accosted by these armed military officers demanding bribes. To extort money, these officers frequently threaten victims.
Abdulkareem Abdulrazaq Azeez, Criminologist, University of Ilorin, speaking on this, said, “We have a very poor security architecture in the country. Before you even get to Pategi, I’m sure you go through a lot of checkpoints. Before you reach the final checkpoint, you meet Customs officers, military personnel, or even police officers. They witness most of these illegal activities going on, but due to conspiracy, they choose to take their own share and allow the illegality to continue.”
Chinese – The biggest beneficiary of illegal mining
Several small stores and makeshift shops are stacked cheek by jowl along Lade Road, which leads to Patigi town. A fistful of lithium-laden dirt is held up at Lade Market, where the illegal miners sell their resources.
Nearby, big trucks pulled up with white sacks of freshly mined and already purchased lithium and ready to be moved to Lagos for onward shipping out of the country. At intervals, more sacks arrived from Kakanfu on small trucks.
“We sell to the Chinese, and then they take it to Lagos,” said Yakubu Alhaji, a shop worker.
There are many shops in Lade, but the illegal miners said all these shops sell to a few big Chinese companies, among which is: Kunlun Mining.
The Informant247 gathered that the company is one of the biggest sponsors of the illegal mining activity in Kakanfu, getting resources across to proxies to carry out the operation and also buying from the artisan miners. Their proxies have police escorts, Sarki said.
Kunlun Mining is a company incorporated in Nigeria. With several directors and affiliates with office locations scattered across Nigeria, the ultimate beneficial owners of the company are Zhang Xijun and Wang Meleen – both Chinese nationals. They both own 50 per cent each of the company.
The company with registration number RC1003351 was incorporated in December 2011 ‘for petrol exploration and mining activities’. Information obtained from the website of Nigeria’s Ministry of Mining and Steel Development (accessed on August 19, 2023) showed that the company’s affiliates have six different quarry lease licenses in Oluyole village, Oyo state, Nigeria. However, the status showed that all the licenses expired between 2018 and 2021.
Some other companies The Informant247 was able to link to Kunlun include: Kunlun Construction Limited incorporated in 2010 with Registration number RC-925912; Kunlun Group Limited incorporated in 2013 with Registration Number RC-1105827; Kunlun Build-Project Limited incorporated in 2007 with Registration Number RC-706445. These companies have registered office addresses in Oyo, Rivers and Abuja. They are involved in several activities ranging from general merchant and trader to exploration to mining and building construction.
According to NEITI’s report of 2016, the company said it has 62 staff; of which 52 are national non-local and 10 are non-Nigerian.
But while growing its tentacles in Nigeria, building subsidiaries, and actively carrying out activities, the company is involved in a number of illegal activities, including tax evasion.
According to several documents obtained and analysed by The Informant247, the company has, between 2005 and 2015, been underpaying taxes and this has always been recommended for reconciliation.
In 2018, the companies and affiliates did not pay a penny in taxes to the government. They achieved the feat again in 2019 and 2020, according to documents obtained by this medium.
For the year 2019, the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NIETI)’s Solid Minerals Audit (SMA) Industry Report said Kunlun Nigeria Limited, alongside six other companies, failed to pay VAT, EDT and CIT. This non-payment contravenes Section 235 of CITA (2015).
The report, prepared by Haruna Yahaya & Co. Chartered Accountants, also added that the company did not provide its AFS, which made it impossible to calculate its liabilities. It was recommended that the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) should carry out a comprehensive tax audit to recover all unpaid taxes from the company.
Again, in the year 2020, the report said Kunlun Nigeria Limited, along with five other companies, refused to pay VAT, EDT and CIT.
Prepared by Amedu Onekpe & Co Chartered Accountants, the report, which was the last released by NEITI, also recommended that the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) should carry out a comprehensive tax audit to recover all unpaid taxes by the company.
Criminals with big connections
While several Chinese nationals have over the years been arrested across Nigeria—Kwara inclusive—for varying illegal mining activities, only a few have been jailed.
In 2020, the then Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, lamented that some political ‘godfathers’ put pressure on the government to free Chinese nationals arrested for illegal mining in Zamfara State.
“In cases where the Chinese are actually arrested, their connections within the government will see them back on the streets. Most illegal mining cases don’t progress into a courtroom,” Abdulazeez said. “This shows that there are powerful networks of organised criminals involving local and foreign actors in Nigeria’s mining and extractive sector.
“It’s quite disheartening. Some expatriates benefiting and financing this illegal mining have police officers acting as security guards for them. They have our people surrounding them, providing security,” Abdulazeez said. “These are illegal individuals doing unlawful work in Nigeria, and the fact that they are being accommodated and protected is deeply troubling for the country. When we need these security personnel to uphold the law and protect the nation.”
Dr. Olufemi Bamigboye of the Geology and Mineral Science Department, Kwara State University, Malete, said, “In Nigeria, there is a necessity to confront powerful interests. Those who are doing illegal mining are those who are in power. To effect meaningful change, comprehensive measures need to be implemented, including stringent oversight of the entire process. The Chinese people that are buying this, if they know they cannot smuggle the products out of the country, they will do it the right way.”
Patigi environment pays the cost of illegal mining
Almost all farmers in Kakanfu have sold their land to miners who quickly excavated, pumped in water and chemicals, and abandoned their pits after extracting the minerals. Blasting rocks without proper training or adherence to safety protocols has resulted in severe environmental degradation, including soil erosion, deforestation, and the release of toxic substances into the ecosystem.
The village sits on the Kakanfu Stream, a tributary of the Niger River, which is one of the largest rivers in Nigeria. In the last few months, these water bodies have turned an alarming yellow colour unrecognizable from their former resilient blue. The natural water sources, once clear and life-giving, now ran murky with pollutants due to chemical wastewater from the illegal mines.
“When we get here, first we cut down the trees, then we burn them. Then we start digging the soil to open the pit,” says a young miner, who refused to give his name. “We have to open the pit, then once the soil has been turned, we use electric pumps to spray water with heavy speed over the land to reach where the lithium is.”
Around him, the once lush cassava farms have given way to craters filled with muddy water. The chirping of birds has been replaced by the roar of excavators, tearing the soil open so the miners can extract the precious minerals.
“This mining is causing severe damage to the ecosystems,” said Dare Akogun, a climate activist and journalist. “First of all, clearing the topsoil causes deforestation. The landscape has changed, and there is an effect on biodiversity.
“As we see in Kakanfu, the digging operation destroys the soil’s original nature profile and minerals as the different ground layers are mixed up. The life in the soil disappears. It becomes difficult for plants to survive on this land.”
He furthered, “In the not-so-distant future, perhaps within the next two to three years, the mounting number of individuals participating in these activities will inevitably lead to the depletion of mineral deposits within the environment. After the minerals have been extracted, the land is often left exposed, mirroring similar cases where mining endeavours concluded without proper restoration efforts
“Pategi Local Government Area has been grappling with flooding for nearly two decades. Regrettably, many within the community remain unaware of the long-term consequences of their mining activities. This is another unfortunate opportunity for water that is coming from River Niger, to find its way to that place and cause more environmental damage to communities within.
“The urgency to regulate mining activities cannot be overstated. The prevailing lack of oversight and accountability has allowed this issue to persist unchecked. It is imperative to acknowledge that actions taken today will undoubtedly reverberate and influence the miners in the future. Currently, individuals simply descend upon the area, mine for profits, and then abandon the land. This behaviour is analogous to a time bomb that, left unaddressed, is poised to detonate.”
Legal mining itself is also a cause of deforestation, but Akogun explained the difference. “Illegal mining like the one in Kakanfu is more damaging because the miners are unregulated, and after using up the land, they usually do nothing to rehabilitate it. They don’t refill the pits after digging, so the soil can’t regenerate. This is what makes it more destructive than formal mining.”
Refilling the craters left behind is the first step toward soil recovery, but it is not enough. Akogun explained that it would take time for the land to recover.
Mining at Kakanfu
“Mining is affecting us a lot. There used to be clean rivers here, and we used to spray our farms,” said Ralia, a cassava farmer in Rani-Ramat, a community few kilometres from Kakanfu whose residents refused to leave their farm for mining. “Now, the mines have turned our water bodies muddy and toxic. Because of that, we can’t get water for our farming activities. The water is spoiled.”
Miners have unregulated access to guns, explosives, hard drugs
There is widespread and unregulated access to firearms and explosives. We gathered that the illegal miners have unlimited access to personal guns for protection and explosives for blowing rocks, showing implications that reach far beyond the immediate mining sites.
The Informant247 learnt that the subterranean world of these unregulated mining operations has created an environment where firearms are wielded not only as tools of protection but also as instruments of control and intimidation. Interviews with insiders revealed how these miners acquire personal guns through clandestine channels, evading legal frameworks that should curtail such activities. The unchecked proliferation of firearms in these mining communities adds an element of volatility that threatens not only the miners themselves but also Kwara and other neighbouring states.
Beyond firearms, the accessibility of explosives such as dynamite for blowing rocks is equally alarming. These illegal miners procure explosives without any legitimate oversight. These explosives, intended for legitimate industrial use, are diverted to fuel their operations.
The unregulated nature of these activities creates an environment where the potential for violence is ever-present. Miners, driven by desperation and a lack of alternatives, often find themselves ensnared in a cycle of exploitation and criminality, their actions facilitated by the ready availability of weaponry, The Informant247 gathered.
“Explosives are illegal. It takes people who are well-registered to engage in explosives, but these are people doing illegal work. What they are doing is illegal. Everything they are doing comes from illegal connections. Most of the explosives they are using are from illegal sources,” Abdulkareem told The Informant247. “The problem is that these explosives are used by security agents and also bought by registered organizations. But in the hands of illegal miners, it’s quite disturbing. They use explosives because they want to blast rocks or very hard-to-break sedimentary sand. It’s quite a disturbing issue to have guns, ammunition, and weapons in the hands of these illegal miners.”
Expert fears activities might fuel insecurity in Kwara, neigbouring states
The security expert said the unchecked availability of firearms and explosives raises concerns that extend well beyond the immediate mining sites. The implications of this alarming trend, he said, are multifaceted, affecting not only the safety of those involved but also the delicate ecosystems that bear the brunt of their destructive activities.
He said, “In Nigeria, 80% of mining, according to Richard in 2019, is illegal. We have seen illegal mining cutting across the federation from Zamfara to Niger State, from Plateau to Katsina. You know, even here in Kwara. It has been here for a long time, particularly in Kwara North. We have deposits of resources underneath; this illegal mining is quite happening. For instance, in Pategi, that’s where you want to take your research; it’s happening in Baruten and Moro. It spreads across almost all the Kwara northern states, in fact into the Kwara South too.
“One of the most challenging parts is the illegality and the challenges to security. It goes from one crime to another; to secure themselves, they resort to AK-47 rifles and other weapons. Historically, the banditry and kidnappings going on in Zamfara, Katsina, and others have shown that things come from illegal miners. In 2019 and 2020, the Federal Government and some state governments wanted to stop illegal mining completely. They even stopped mining completely in Zamfara to halt the escalating rates of security challenges.
“Urgent action is required to address this critical issue, strengthen regulatory frameworks, and ensure that those engaged in illicit mining are held accountable for their actions. Failure to do so not only perpetuates a cycle of environmental degradation and criminality but also jeopardizes the safety and well-being of entire communities.”
For Dr Olufemi, he said those who sponsor illegal mining also fund banditry. “If the government is serious about fighting banditry and insecurity, they should stop illegal mining.”
Illegal mining denies Nigeria of potential revenues
Ahmed Omotosho, a European-based International Economist, told The Informant247 that illegal mining conducted by foreign actors has a multifaceted impact on Nigeria’s revenue, economic stability, and sustainable development, adding that this illicit activity not only robs the country of significant financial resources but also undermines its long-term growth prospects and exacerbates various socio-economic challenges.
He said, “At its core, illegal mining deprives the Nigerian government of substantial revenue streams that could otherwise be channelled into critical sectors such as education, healthcare, infrastructure, and social welfare. The absence of proper taxation, royalties, and fees from these unauthorized mining operations hampers the government’s ability to allocate funds for essential public services, hindering the overall well-being of its citizens.
“Moreover, the clandestine nature of illegal mining often leads to environmental degradation on a massive scale. Unregulated and irresponsible mining practices result in deforestation, water pollution, and soil degradation, further exacerbating Nigeria’s ecological challenges. The subsequent costs of environmental rehabilitation, ecosystem restoration, and public health crises due to contaminated water sources and air quality deterioration create an additional financial burden for the government.
“Beyond immediate fiscal losses, illegal mining undermines investor confidence and discourages legitimate foreign investment in Nigeria’s mining sector. Responsible and law-abiding investors may shy away from committing resources to a country where regulatory oversight is lax and the rule of law is undermined. This hinders the potential for technological innovation, knowledge transfer, and job creation that a well-regulated mining industry could bring.”
He suggested that since China is highly proficient in mining operations, the Nigerian government should collaborate with the Chinese government to strengthen and improve the country’s mining sector.
When The Informant247 approached the Kwara State Mining officer to inquire about the mining activities in Patigi Local Government Area, he said, “There are some companies that have valid mining licenses in Patigi. I won’t say more than that because I am not authorised to speak to the Press. So, I will advise you to write to Abuja.”
However, a check on the website of the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steels showed that as of August 19, 2023, no company currently holds a valid license for lithium mining in Pategi Local Government Area.
Freedom of Information requests sent to the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel and the Nigeria Mining Cadastre Office were not responded to. We also pushed our findings to the Police and Military spokespersons who did not respond.
The Chairman of Pategi Local Government Area did not respond to several calls and messages sent to him.
This Investigation was produced with support from Civic Media Lab