The Federal Government has refused to bow to pressure to free the Chinese and others arrested for illegal mining in Zamfara and Osun states last month, vowing to prosecute the suspects.
The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, said the govt would meet with the Chinese government over the illegal activities of their nationals in Nigeria.
He described the illegal gold mining within the country by the Chinese nationals as economic sabotage.
Two Chinese were arrested for illegal mining in Zamfara, despite a subsisting ban on mining activities within the state by the federal .
The ban followed the alleged links between illegal mining and banditry, which has led to the loss of many lives and destruction of property within the state.
Twenty-seven people, including 17 Chinese, Senegalese, Burkinabes and Nigerians were arrested for illegal mining in Osun.
Adegbite, who spoke to journalists at the Abuja headquarters of the MMSD on Friday, said the federal would not tolerate illegal mining.
A steady rise within the value of gold thanks to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on currencies has been linked to the recent spike in illegal gold mining and therefore the federal , which is grappling with challenges arising from the decline in oil price, is decided to capitalise on the country’s gold deposits to prop up its revenue.
The minister, who claimed the illegal miners were working for “Nigerians in high positions of authority”, said that they had decided to adopt diplomatic and legal measures towards addressing the illegal mining by foreigners within the country.
He said, “The Chinese are the most culprits within the illegal mining activities and that we are getting to meet with the Chinese Embassy.
“We are getting to present all the facts to them in order that it’ll not appear as if we are targeting them unfairly.
“Taking gold out of Nigeria illegally is economic sabotage because if you check out the quantum, the worth is large .”
According to him, the influential Nigerians he refused to call are mounting pressure on the govt to free the illegal miners.
But he said the suspects would be prosecuted.
Adegbite said the ministry had finalised plans to require over the prosecution of all persons arrested for illegal mining.
Adegbite said the govt wasn’t worried about any moves by the illegal miners’ backers to scuttle the planned prosecution.
He said, “These godfathers were operating with impunity before, but they’re now scared because the arrested illegal miners are naming names but they (godfathers) are denying.
“The law is on our side and that we must prosecute these people to function a deterrent.”
The minister said some government officials, heads of security agencies, and traditional rulers, were involved in illegal mining.
“There may be a particular situation where soldiers during a particular cantonment are aiding illegal miners,” he said.
The minister said the judge of Nigeria had advised that state chief judges should designate special courts for the prosecution of offences concerning illegal mining.
However, he said the illegal miners arrested in Zamfara and Osun would be tried at the Federal supreme court .
He said the federal would ask the United Arab Emirates to see the source of Nigerian gold smuggled to Dubai.
Dubai is that the major destination of most of the gold smuggled out of Nigeria.
Adegbite said, “We will work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to urge the Dubai authorities to make sure that any gold that’s coming from Nigeria is certified.
“Right now they don’t invite Export Certificate so we would like them to start out posing for export certificates. If they don’t see the certificate or if they notice that the certificate isn’t genuine, they confiscate the gold and repatriate it to us.”
To encourage the UAE to assist track smuggled Nigerian gold, Adegbite said the govt had considered an appointment whereby the UAE would keep a fraction of the confiscated gold and return the greater portion to Nigeria.
The minister said the UAE could keep 30 per cent of confiscated gold, with 70 per cent handed to Nigeria.
He said, “We got to work with our neighbours, and that we got to educate the Customs and Immigration people in order that gold isn’t taken out of our borders for pittance.”
Adegbite further revealed that the govt discovered that the majority of the Chinese and other foreigners involved in illegal mining had been living in Nigeria illegally.
“The foreigners engaged in mining are here illegally. Some only have visiting visas that had expired about two, three years ago.
He said, “We want the Ministry of Interior to watch these people and that we are taking it up with their embassies in Nigeria.” Adegbite revealed the ministry’s plans to register artisanal miners and collaborate with Nigeria Immigration Service to see expatriate quota abuse, another factor he said had contributed to illegal mining.
Adegbite also said the ministry was in talks with the Office of the National Security Adviser on the necessity for a centralised, standing task force on illegal mining.
An ounce of gold currently sells for $1,700.
Adegbite explained that the event was liable for the surge in illegal gold mining activities in Nigeria.
He said, “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, industrial minerals aren’t selling well and since of the economic problems related to the pandemic, currencies are taking place and gold is that the safest value at the instant .