Gold mining in Osun State has appeared to be the main cookie jar for cabals who work in connivance with government officials.
Water bodies in Osun State, South West Nigeria have become highly contaminated with mercury, lead and cyanide as a result of illegal mining activity currently going in parts of the state, putting the health of residents of the state at risk.
A visit to Osogbo, Idoka, and Ijesha environs, revealed the extent of the damage done not only to farmland of residents but also the gross pollution of their water source. These residents blame the government of the state that has failed to take action to stop the illegal miners.
Gold mining in Osun State has appeared to be the main cookie jar for cabals who work in connivance with government officials. Many indigenes and residents have had their means of livelihood taken away as these individuals mine the valuable resource at their expense without recourse to environmental protection.
According to the residents, these miners continue to enter farmlands in search of gold and other mineral resources. Counting their losses, the affected residents lamented that they have resorted to walking long distances to get water for their daily use.
A resident of Osogbo who simply introduced herself as Mrs Ajeigbe narrated her ordeal with the pollution of the river by the activities of the gold miners.
“We first noticed a change in the taste of the water and then a few days later, there was a change in the colour and it was becoming brown. Some of us could not use the water and some other people who had no other option were managing it like that.
“We had to depend on water from the well or go far distances like 30-minutes walk to fetch good water,” Mrs Ajeigbe explained.
A farmer in Kajola-Ijesha whose farmland was destroyed by the miners said she has been in debt since the invasion of her farm by the miners.
The farmer who does not want to be named because of reprisals explained that the miners went to the farm while she was away and destroyed all her crops in the process of excavating gold.
“The experience was shocking and has put me in debt. I went to my farm and saw that they have brought in heavy equipment to dig the soil. They said they were searching for gold but they destroyed my farmland.
“So many people here have suffered the same thing and we have nobody to run to because the government is not doing anything,” she lamented.
The Team Lead of Urban Alert, a Civil Rights organisation documenting Illegal mining issues in Osun State, Anthony Adejuwon, said the contamination of Osun River has been confirmed to be as a result of the activities of illegal miners.
He said while experts from China were brought in, they work with some Northern youths to mine gold.
Adejuwon added that the people were left with no other option than to utilize the contaminated water adding that it is hazardous to their health.
He said “All the rural communities are agrarian communities and looking at the effect on farmers, during the dry season people depend on rivers for irrigation and use water from the river to cultivate vegetables and the rest. Indirectly, people still consume the content in the contaminated rivers.
“The river flows from the mining areas into Osogbo, Ede, some parts of Iwo and to Oyo State.
“The mining communities even suffer more than the affected communities because not only are the water affected, their farmlands are affected as a result of contamination and the mining also causes erosion and landslides, thereby leading to them abandoning their farmlands.
“It is not only Osun river that is affected, virtually all the water body in Ijesha land is gone and some parts of Ife areas. Towns and villages like Idooko, Egbeda, Iponda, Ilase, Eti-oni, even within the Ilesa metropolis and many of them. Those are the mining communities where they are filling the impact of the mining directly.”
A member of the Miners Association of Nigeria, Osun State Chapter, who has also been a victim of illegal mining, stressed that the efforts to arrest the miners have been frustrated by the authorities at various levels.
She said on one of the occasions when she reported the destruction of farmlands by miners to the Environmental Mining Cadastre Office in Osogbo, she was asked to pay for the fuelling of their vehicles before any action can be taken
“They entered into my farm and other people’s farms to dig and mine without consulting the farm owners. We don’t see them because they come at night and mine. They make the farm unusable for the farms.
“Very few times, some of the foreign miners speak to the owners of the farms, give them small money before they mine but they don’t fill the lands when they are done.
“We have reported to the government several times and on one occasion, the police asked me to bring N50,000 before they can make any move,” she said.
Complicity Of The Government
Suggesting the state government’s complicity in illegal mining, the member of Osun State Chapter of Mining Association of Nigeria said no mining can take place without the necessary approval from the state government.
“We know for certain that the Chinese nationals cannot enter into Osun State to mine gold without the knowledge of the government. They can’t mine gold without seeking and taking approval from the Cadastre Office, so the government cannot say they are not aware,” she said.
The Team Lead of Urban Alert also knocked the government for not taking steps to illegal mining in the state despite setting up a committee.
“The government said they are going to stop the miners because they are polluting the environment but the miners are still working. That shows it is more of words of the mouth, it does not translate into action.
“The fact is the Osun State government seems not to have the best strategy to solve this problem, the state government cannot do it alone because mining is under the purview of the federal government. For us, the government is just talking and nothing significant seems to have been done,” Adejuwon said.
The Miners Association of Nigeria, Osun State Chapter, urged the Osun State Government to take steps in purifying the contaminated river and to ensure activities of miners in the state are regulated.
Affected residents also appealed to the government to take steps not only to decontaminate the water but also stop illegal mining in their communities.
Urban Alert, a Civil Society Organisation, has been at the forefront of calling the government to rise up to the task of stopping illegal mining in Osun State.
The Team Alert of Urban Alert, blamed the harmful contamination of the Osun River on the activities of gold mining which it said has put the lives of over two million residents of the state in danger.
Adejuwon said his organisation is keen on finding a solution to the contamination of water in the state and the danger it has been posing to people’s health.
"We started the first campaign targeted at informing the government and public about the problem.
“The Osun State House of Assembly went to do an on-the-spot assessment of the situation. Two weeks after, the state government set up a committee and we thought since there was a committee, the mining should be done the right way but months after, the water remained more polluted and nothing was done.
“In collaboration with senior researchers from Obafemi Awolowo University, we collected samples from different points of the river and took it to the laboratory. Unfortunately, the result came back with the fact that the Osun river has been contaminated with mercury, lead and cyanide.
“Since then we have been reaching out to all the stakeholders and began the #SaveOsunRiver campaign,” Adejuwon said.
He added that the state governor, Gboyega Oyetola, was officially informed through a letter to his office in December 2021
“The Federal Ministry of Mines office in Osun state was well informed, in fact UNESCO was also informed. We have also been engaging the public on how we can all come together to start the problem and we will continue till the government does something serious on this,” Adejuwon added.
An online petition has also been launched by Urban Alert calling for an investigation into the brown colour of Osun river.
The online petition is calling for an assessment and immediate action to purify the water and stop unregulated mining in the state.
Over 2Million Exposed To Danger
The issue of contaminated water currently put over 20 communities across Osun State in the lurch as they lack access to clean water. This poses great danger to the health of the people who remain at the mercy of the illegal miners and empty government policies.
“Over 2 million people living in 20 communities in Osun State, 5,000 traditionalists, and over 5 million tourists are currently exposed to heavy metals that are capable of causing brain and kidney damage, tremor, impaired vision, paralysis, and cancer. The vulnerable white-throated monkeys and sitatunga antelopes drinking from the Osun River are also facing extinction.
“Ending the menace of illegal and unregulated gold mining activities and its impacts on the lives of the people, water bodies, the environment, and the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove (UNESCO World Heritage Site) demands a sincere approach by the government and all stakeholders. There is an urgent need for an independent assessment of the current situation, remediation, and enforcement of laws that protect the environment, mining communities, and water bodies,” the petition reads.
Osun Government Response to Illegal Mining
Osun residents have faulted the government for not taking any step to stop the illegal minings and also purify the contaminated river. Despite several promises, the act had gone unabated making the people lose hope in the government.
However, the state government through the State Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation, Funke Egbemode, said the government will clamp down on illegal miners in the state.
According to her, the state government is worried and deeply concerned about the flagrant abuse of its environment by illegal miners who are daily degrading and polluting the Osun River.
“In spite of efforts to curb the excesses of these fly-by-night businessmen, they have consistently resisted guidance and refused to follow approved standards for mining in Osun.
“The state Government’s mining blueprint has sought through a combination of enforcement and formalisation via registration and capacity development of artisanal miners, to mitigate the degradation caused by mining,” she said.
She added that Governor Oyetola has deployed its limited enforcement resources to curbing illegal and informal mining to arrest the desolation of our land and pollution of our rivers.
“In addition to the enforcement activities the state has commissioned studies on the level of pollution and how to remediate it and also sought assistance from the Federal Government as well as Development partners, including from the Ecological fund, to remediate the damage,” the State Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation said.