Strong intelligence report suggesting infiltration of illegal mining in Zamfara, killer gangs in Southern Kaduna and other areas with renewed acts of banditry by elements of Boko Haram/Islamic State In West Africa Province, ISWAP, is believed to have put the Presidency in tenterhooks, investigations and interactions with security agencies have shown.
It was further gathered that the development may be responsible for the ban slammed on mining activities by the Federal Government last week.
There is also anxiety at the presidency over the rising spate of killings, particularly, with the way they are being handled by the service chiefs, whom are beloved to have over stayed and allegedly lacking in new initiatives to cope with the sophisticated and dynamic orgy of violence.
There are also indications that government may be looking beyond Zamfara State to other states like Kogi, Plateau, Benue, among others with mineral deposits as well as open grazing issues with herdsmen, since reports also confirm, potential financial derivatives for terror financing.
Although, the Presidency allegedly admits the possibility of the connection between mining activities and killings in Zamfara, it is however mute on whether the killings are linked to ISWAP, one of world top four leading terror organisations.
However, our investigations have put this beyond doubt.
The report also revealed that ISIS had been making efforts to bolster its network and activity in the country, through ISWA, which had been launching assaults on the North-Central and South-South regions in a calculated way to intensify long-standing ethno-religious tensions.
However, in its bid to stem further bloodshed in Zamfara and other areas, the presidency, say the newspaper sources, is willing to extend similar sanction to mining hubs in other areas where upsurge of insurgencies are likely to occur. Though still tentative, the newspaper’s source in the Presidency hinted that states with strong mining activities, open grazing routes with isolated settlements may come under heavy security surveillance albeit temporarily until the security agencies get a handle on the ongoing banditry in the affected areas. While these rash of activities may indicate a willingness of government to stem the needless bloodletting in Zamfara and other states, the newspaper’s finding is inconclusive as to whether Federal Government realises that its many years of leaving the gold mining in Zamfara and other places largely unregulated, among others, may be the major cause of the current misery and displacement of its citizens in the embattled state.
In a release by the presidency, late last week, mining operations in Zamfara had to be suspended “in the face of intelligence reports that have clearly established a strong and glaring nexus between the activities of armed bandits and illicit miners – with both mutually re-enforcing each other.”
As a result of the order, the Federal Government directed that mining activities in Zamfara and other affected States be suspended with immediate effect. Speaking later on the enforcement, Acting Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, informed the public that the police are collaborating the Nigerian Military and other Security Services in ‘Operation PUFF- ADDER’ which is a full scale security offensive against the bandits. “The operation is aimed at reclaiming every public space under the control of the bandits, arrest and bring to book all perpetrators of violence in the area and their collaborators, achieve a total destruction of all criminal camps and hideouts, mop up all illicit weapons fueling the violence and attain a full restoration of law and order in the affected communities,” Adamu said.
To what extent these measures will contain the killings is yet to be seen. But the newspaper’s investigation gathered from reliable sources in the intelligence community that ISWAP insurgents, looking for new stream of income to finance terror operations in the country are believed to have set eyes on the largely unregulated mining fields in Zamfara and similar places. Replicating their infiltration into cattle rustling syndicates, traditional kidnappers and other acts of banditry that prevailed in the area, the insurgents are believed to have taken over local ‘enforcers’ in the mining fields of Zamfara and now hold traditional rulers in the areas to ransom. The development, as learnt, was a case of a danger foretold long before the killings began in Zamfara.
Back in 2010 when Zamfara faced the lead poisoning crisis that killed 700 people in many mining villages in the state, the dangers posed by the unregulated mining of gold was raised by various agencies of government including those charged with security. “Like most warnings in Nigeria, government ignored them,” the informer in the presidency told the newspaper. At the time, a presidential fact finding team had reported the dangers of allowing artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM), to flourish in Zamfara given the historical value placed on gold. Zamfara is believed to be rich in gold deposit. But mininggold, like other resources except crude oil, is largely unstructured, largely informal and illegal. Unskilled artisans are in charge of the extraction, purification and commercialization of gold in Zamfara, on a small scale. In this disorganised maze, criminal gangs have become law enforcers. Gold from Zamfara is routinely smuggled out of the state to ready markets in neighboring Togo, Benin and Niger. From here, the gold finds its way to other markets across the world with Nigeria benefiting next to nothing from the sale and Zamfara maintaining its status as one of the poorest states in the country.
There were fears, too, that the practice could lead to proliferation of banditry. “Between 2013 and 2015, that prediction appeared to have happened,” explained the newspaper source. According to Yari Usman, a local journalist in Guzau, state capital of Zamfara, small gangs of enforcers began an extortion and monopoly racket in the far flung mining areas of the state. “It appeared like they had support from local rulers in the place. They make the illegal miners part with fractions of their take; they supply mercury used in processing gold; they were also used to extort money from big time miners,” Usman said.
But all that changed from 2016 upward, the source further averred. With a new kind of frenzy, organised gangs raid villages, drag victims from their homes into the forest and demand ransom from their families.
There were also orgies of killings with apparently no reason or rhyme, it was gathered. The bandits also rustled livestocks across villages and communities in Zamfara. Hundreds of cows, goats and birds have been forcefully taken from homes by rampaging bandits. From Ajia and Wonaka in Birnin Magaji local government, to Kayayi village in Shinkafi local government, from Yan Taskuwa to Kucheri, from Tungar Kolo to all the Kara markets in Zamfara, the bandits have left trails of blood and attendant sorrows.
But putting a perspective to this, senior operative in the DSS told the newspaper that the latest killing in Zamfara can only be explained by the infiltration of ISWAP. “Local bandits have to be a part of the society where they operate hence they used controlled violence. But the killings in Zamfara recently suggests that the perpetrators have no ties whatsoever with the place. Their aim is to take over the place; bring in their own miners who will remit the gold deposit for onwards transmission in financing terror,” the DSS source said to the newspaper. The operative drew parallel between the killings with what happened in Benue, Jos and Kogi where there were similar killings, cattle rustlings and multiple kidnaps. According to the source, ISWAP operatives infiltrate the gangs, liquidate their leaders and assume control. “When this happens, you see unprecedented rise in bloodshed like you have in Zamfara and other places.