Ifumkpa: C’River community where youths, foreigners connive for illegal mining

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Some illegal miners at one of the mining sites in the Cross River National Park, Ifumkpa.

By Christian Njoku

Gold mining in Nigeria goes as far back as the ancient Benin and Ife empires in the pre-colonial era, although, the gold mined during era was not in commercial quantities due to poor capacity to mine.

At present, it is estimated that Nigeria has over 600,000 tonnes of gold deposit, worth over 1.4 billion dollars.

This treasure is scattered in different parts of the nation, especially in the North-West, North-Central, South-West and even South-South region.

According to available data, Nigeria accounts for approximately 0.5 per cent of global gold production with artisanal and small scale producers providing the majority of the gold.

This figure is anticipated to rise in the medium to long term due to the present administration’s push for investment in the industry.

However, as positive as this may look for Nigeria, gold mining has its challenges which are enhanced by poor regulations corruption in the sector, lack of infrastructure, artisanal mining among others.

One of the communities in South-South Nigeria that is blessed with gold in commercial quantity is Ifumkpa in Akamkpa Local Government Area (LGA) of Cross River.

Ifumkpa is one of the communities in Cross River that make up the Cross River National Park.

Blessed with huge mineral deposits such as gold, a large percentage of which is located in the National Park, Ifumkpa has rich arable land and wildlife which is gradually being depleted.

A make-shift tent in the forest erected by illegal miners

A visit by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) to Ifumkpa shows that in spite of huge gold deposit, the community languishes in abject poverty, virtually social amenities, yet it experiences high influx of foreigners and Nigerians from different states to mine for the precious mineral.

One of the miners, Malaam Musa Abdullahi from Kano, told NAN that they were contracted by `powerful` indigenes of the community to mine gold.

He said they have an agreement with their principal on the quantity of  gold they are expected to deliver weekly.

“These powerful indigenes get about 10 to 15 boys who are teenagers, those in their 20s and 30s from the north, provide them food and they reach an agreement on the number of kilogram to deliver weekly.

“Accommodation is not included in the agreement as we sleep in the bushes, near our mining sites.

“The indigenes of Ifumkpa don’t join us to mine because they don’t know how to do it, we are the ones that know what raw gold looks like and most of us have the spiritual capacity to call gold as we dig,” he said.

Abdullahi said sometimes, they get more than their weekly quota, they settle their principal according to the agreement  sell the rest at the Iwuru Tipper Park, close to Ifumkpa for between N60,000 to N70,000 per kilogram.

He said he is ignorant that the mining takes place in the Cross River National Park.

One of the mining sites in the forest in Ifumkpa

Many youths of the community are now motorcyclists who convey miners said to site. For them, it is a lucrative business as they make between N6, 000 to N8,000 in one trip.

This is in spite of the difficult terrain and health risks associated with the dusty road.

At Ifumkpa NAN gathered that there was a serious rift between community youths and officials of Nigerian Parks Services days earlier.

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So, every stranger youths see in their community became a suspect, including this writer.

Mr Cletus Ibuni, Traditional Head of Ifumkpa said the chiefs of the community were aware of the huge gold deposit in their land, which is mined by strangers, allegedly contracted by the youths of the community.

Ibuni, who said they had tried once or twice to confront the affected youths, but were

“We have reported this matter to the state government and even the conservator of park it is painful that this kind of resource leaves this village on a daily basis and we have nothing to show for it.

“I have cried to the Minister of Solid Minerals; and Mr Okon Owuna, member representing this constituency in the Cross River House of Assembly but nothing has been done.

“The traditional rulers are scared because if you dare make trouble with the youths, you don’t know what they will do to you, we need security officials to be sent to protect our forests and the park,” he said.

Mr Owuna, Member Representing Akamkpa 1 in the State House of Assembly said he is aware that foreigners were trooping into Ifumkpa but there was freedom of movement in the nation.

He said there was nothing the state could do as mining was on the Exclusive List which means that only the Federal Government can take actions against illegal miners.

Ifumkpa is a community of about 10,000 inhabitants who are mostly farmers of cassava, plantain, palm oil among other agricultural produce but only comes alive in the dry season.

In the rainy season, it is cut off from the rest of the world as the only access road becomes impassable, a large percentage of the agricultural produce harvested during this period are wasted due to no access road to the markets outside.

Ifumkpa has just one solar powered borehole, donated by a mining firm that was earlier denied access to mine in the community by the Federal Government; it has no electricity, telecommunication network and no state or Federal Government presence.

The only primary, secondary school and primary healthcare centre which all look dilapidated in the community were built by the indigenes themselves after years of waiting for the state government, in spite of sitting on a huge amount of gold deposit.

Confirming the invasion of Cross River National Park by illegal miners, the Conservator of Park, CP Caroline Olori, said the activities of the miners were carried out in collaboration with indigenes especially youths.

Olori said that indigenes who embrace illegal merchant of solid minerals such as gold or timber have remained poorer and insecure while few people feed fat on their common wealth.

“We have arrested many boys who we cannot trace their origin, they only tell you they are from one state or the other in the north and they all live in our forests.

“In many of these communities with mineral deposits, the indigenous youths are now in charge and the traditional rulers no longer speak for fear of being killed.

“Today some youths of these communities fight the National Park for trying to ensure that their resources are not plundered.  If these communities remain quiet our forests will be thoroughly depleted with attendant insecurity that may be difficult to handle,” she told NAN.

Miners on a bike from Ekpiri Iko junction to the forest in Ifumkpa

“I have heard of the mining activities but I can’t just jump into people’s community and start asking questions because I am meant to understand that mining is on the exclusive list,” he said.

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Ifumkpa is a community of about 10,000 inhabitants who are mostly farmers of cassava, plantain, palm oil among other agricultural produce but only comes alive in the dry season.

In the rainy season, it is cut off from the rest of the world as the only access road becomes impassable, a large percentage of the agricultural produce harvested during this period are wasted due to no access road to the markets outside.

Ifumkpa has just one solar powered borehole, donated by a mining firm that was earlier denied access to mine in the community by the Federal Government; it has no electricity, telecommunication network and no state or Federal Government presence.

The only primary, secondary school and primary healthcare centre which all look dilapidated in the community were built by the indigenes themselves after years of waiting for the state government, despite sitting on a huge amount of gold deposit.

Confirming the invasion of Cross River National Park by illegal miners, the Conservator of Park, CP Caroline Olori said the activities of the miners were carried out in collaboration with indigenes especially youths.

Olori maintained that indigenes who open up their communities to illegal merchant of solid minerals  such as gold or timber logging have remained poorer and insecure, while few of the indigenes and foreigners live fat on their common wealth.

In her words, “we have arrested many young boys who we cannot trace their origin, they only tell you they are from one state or the other in the north and they all live in our forests.

“In many of these communities with minerals, the indigenous youths are now in charge and the traditional rulers no longer speak for fear of being killed and resources are carted away on a daily basis.

“Today, some youths of these communities fight the National Park for trying to ensure that their resources remain, if these communities don’t rise up, our forests will be totally depleted with high-level insecurity that we may not be able to handle,” she reiterated.

However, Dr. Omoseye Omosebi, Federal Mines Officer for Cross River blamed the illegal mining in the Ifumkpa axis of the National Park on the National Park Service led by CP Caroline Olori in Cross River

Miners with their implements and food head into the forest in Ifumkpa

Dr Omoseye Omosebi, Federal Mines Officer for Cross River blamed the illegal mining in the Ifumkpa axis of the National Park on the National Park Service led by Olori in Cross River

According to him, two companies got licence to mine in Ifumkpa, they did their exploration and discovered gold, they went ahead and commenced community development projects one of which is the only surviving solar powered borehole in the community.

He said they also met with the community leaders, youths and other stakeholders in preparation to commence operation but shortly after, Olori said the area belongs to the park and asked the company to stop their activities.

Omosebi said he met the Olori to make her see the implication of stopping a legitimate company from mining in the area already but his efforts failed to yield fruits.

“The mining law says that irrespective of the Land Use Act, once a mineral is discovered in commercial quantity in a place, mining activities take preeminence over any other activities or use.

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“I told her that if we stop licenced companies from mining in Ifumkpa, we will not have anyone to hold responsible when illegal mining commences there.

“The road to the community is in a terrible state, it will be difficult for you to make arrests in the community but all my advice fell on deaf ears.

“The illegal mining of gold in Ifumkpa is now growing and we can’t control it,” he said.

He said rangers from the National Park know the forest more than any other security agencies but unfortunately failed to secure the place.

While the accusations go back and forth, the ecological and social damage of the activities of illegal miners continue to rise.

The consequence of this according to Mr Ahmed Abdullahi, Assistant Conservator General, (ACG) of National Park Services Nigeria is the insecurity they create.

These illegal miners ensure that the unarmed members of these communities flee their communities for their lives and leave the place fallow for them to continue their illegality.

“We are aware that a lot of miners have flooded the Cross River National Park, this is a very serious alarm, the state, local governments, security agencies and all stakeholders have to rise and fight this menace.

“If we don’t, gradually, they will become established because their sponsors have so much money and they will become a big problem for the community, Cross River and the nation as a whole,” he said.

An exhausted plantain farmer in Ifumkpa trying to move his produce out of the village through the rough and difficult terrain.

The Cross River National Park is a 4,000 square kilometers of forest, 3,000 in the Oban division and 1,000 in Okwangwo division.

It is important to state that the park, surrounded by 105 communities that are purely rural, should have access roads, drinking water, electricity and telecommunication network.

On March 26, Gov. Bassey Otu appointed an eight man Mineral Resources and Environmental Management Committee, (MIRENCO), to tackle illegal mining and its effects in Cross River.

The appointment, which is in line with relevant provisions of the Nigerian mineral and mining Act of 2007, became necessary following increased reports on illegal mining in Cross River.

While this is a good move, security experts say that having a committee is not enough, adding that there should be thorough mapping of mineral producing communities.

They say this should be followed with massive sensitisation on the social, economic and environmental effects of illegal mining.

These communities also need basic amenities like electricity, portable water and roads that can reduce over reliance on the forests.

This is the position of one the youths in the area who volunteered to speak.

“We know mining of gold takes place in our forest and it is engineered by powerful individuals and this makes it difficult to tackle.

“The problem is made worse by the fact that there are no social amenities here. We have no roads electricity or (telephone) network.

“This situation makes it difficult for youths to survive hence they take to doing these things that will destroy our collective resources.

“With electricity telecommunication and good road, young people can find something to do. I wish government can look into this’’, he told NAN.

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