By Our Correspondent
Fresh agitation is building in the Niger Delta region following perceived inequality in the implementation of the law guiding ownership and exploitation of solid minerals in the country.
Niger Delta leaders and prominent interest groups are reportedly angry that indigenous artisans in Zamfara State and other parts of the north were allowed to exploit and sell gold and other solid minerals within their domains while such privileges are denied to Niger Deltans.
It was learnt that the matter was aggravated by the alleged sale of a bar of gold to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) at N5bn by the Zamfara State Government.
High Chief Sobomabo Jackrich, on Friday, backed the recent position of the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, describing the development as unjust and against the law of the country.
He said the body language of the government suggested that the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007, which was passed into law on March 16, 2007, to repeal the Minerals and Mining Act, no 34 of 1999, applied only to the Niger Delta.
Jackrich said: “This law vested the control of all properties and minerals in Nigeria in the state and prohibits unauthorized exploration or exploitation of minerals. Land in which minerals have been found in commercial quantities shall be acquired by the federal government, in accordance with the land use Act. Accordingly, mines and minerals including oilfields, oil mining, geological surveys, and natural gas are exclusively under the control of the federal government.
“This has been the case for the people of the Niger Delta when it comes to managing their God-given resources. It looks to us, that the initiators of this legal rule originally had the people of the Niger Delta and their resources in mind, before crafting this obnoxious rule in a federal system of government”.
Jackrich, who is the founder of the Network for Defence of Democracy and Good Governance (NDDGG), said the report of the Zamafara gold and the CBN meant that “there are two different laws for two different people in the same country.”
”A Matawale can mine and sell gold and make revenue for Zamfara state, but a Wike cannot drill crude and sell to generate revenue for Rivers state. In 2019, the federal government established the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiatives (PAGMI).
”If you go through the dictates of PAGMI, you’d quickly understand what we are saying. For instance, PAGMI is empowered to buy all the gold produced by artisanal and small scale miners for supply to the Central Bank of Nigeria. The CBN is supposed to purchase gold that has been mined, processed, and refined under the PAGMI for use as part of Nigeria’s foreign reserves.
”The import of PAGMI is that the federal government has officially empowered artisans up north to go into mining gold and sell directly to PAGMI, which is more or less an agency, who now sells in turn to the CBN”, he said.
Jackrich, who doubles as the National Leader, Kengema Unity Forum (KUF) described PAGMI as flawed, skewed, tribalistic, and nepotic adding that the idea of CBN buying gold bar directly from Zamfara Government had become worrisome and dangerous.
He said: “It is even more worrisome and dangerous, that instead of the official routine of the CBN buying gold bar only directly from the PAGMI, we are now witnessing the CBN buying directly from the Zamfara state governor, which is against the laws of the land on resource control.
”We commend the boldness of the Deputy Senate President, Senator Omo Agege, for pointing out this grave injustice and imbalance in the system to the whole world on the floor of the Senate, while urging well-meaning Nigerians to lend their voices against this deliberate acts of oppression and provocation.
”We, therefore, urge the federal government to put up a human face in the exploration and exploitation of the numerous gold deposits in the country, so as to ease international borrowing and to reduce the burden of the provision on a section of the nation”.
Also, the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) Worldwide, accused the Federal Government of perpetuating double standards and injustice by allowing artisanal mining of gold in the north especially Zamafara State, and forbidding a similar practice on crude oil in the Niger Delta region.
The President of IYC, Timothy Igbifa, in a statement in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, observed that in the north where there are gold and precious stones, the locals and indigenes were mining them unmolested to enrich themselves.
”But it is illegal in the Niger Delta to engage in artisanal exploration of the vast hydrocarbon deposits in their area. If you say, it is a double standard, applying two different sets of rules in the same country, it is an understatement.
”It is the height of injustice that the people of Niger Delta have been forced to live with since 1914. Several attempts have been made to re-negotiate our continuous existence as an indivisible entity to no avail.
“Some powerful entrenched interest group feeding fat on the skewed and debilitating Nigerian project have resisted every genuine effort for the complete overhauling and dismantling of the self – destructive Nigerian enterprise,” he said.
Igbifa said the country has been continuously shouldered by Niger Delta, particularly the Ijaw communities, while the government kept ignoring the minimum demand of the people for restructuring and resource control.
He insisted that the clamour for restructuring, self – determination, and resource control had become a duty, adding that to avoid implosion, the country must undergo restructuring.
He said: “Gold, diamond and other precious stones found in large quantities in the north are owned, enjoyed and utilized by northerners. Oil and Gas fields ancestral to Niger Deltans are shared by all Nigerians. How long are we going to sustain this corrupt and unjust system?
”The rest of the world is moving on. Even in the most perverse and autocratic state, the laws are not stymied to prevent the people from reaching the heights they aspire to, individually and collectively.
”But in Nigeria, it is a different kettle of fish. While the Niger Delta has continued to shoulder the huge burden of the Nigerian State by sharing the wealth of the region with every part of the country. The North has continued to enjoy its huge solid mineral deposits alone.”