A day with Amotekun, illegal Chinese miners in Osun

The temperature in the early hours of the day had shown that it was going to rain and no amount of pleading with the gods was going to change that. It started slowly and in the blink of an eye, it became heavy. The percussion of water varies according to the surface it wets.

Except days when there are deadlines to meet, the early hours of Thursday, July 9, should be for breakfast and light rest. Nothing more. This was exactly what I did. The sound of the rain on my roof was conforming as I turned the pages of a long forgotten book.

Soon, my phone rang – the caller was Amitolu Shittu, the Director General of Amotekun in Osun State. I wondered if it was time for my long-awaited adventure. I had met with Mr Shittu in June to show interest in following the security operatives on operation anytime they are going to arrest illegal miners. After long hours of argument and counter argument, he assured me that he would allow me to go on an operation with them. However, this never happened until July 9.

The voyage

Upon answering Mr Amitolu’s call, he asked if I was in Osun and would be able to make it to Osogbo in order to join the security operatives in carrying out arrests. For security reasons, he refused to disclose the location of operation and cut the call.

Swiftly, I jumped off my bed and checked through the window with a half smile. The rain had reduced and all expected of me to meet my target was to call the nearest motorcyclist who could run as fast as possible to get to Osun capital, Osogbo within an hour. I got to my destination at 12:15pm. Mr Shittu welcomed me with the assurance that the trip would be fruitful saying “all intelligence tactics have been employed”. Still, he did not disclose the area where the operation would be carried out.

While waiting for my trip to an unknown mining site, it started rainy again. This time, heavier than what it was in the morning.

We won’t leave Mr Shittu’s house until some minutes past 4pm after the rain had subsided. “Let’s go!”, he told me as I entered the only Amotekun vehicle available at the moment. “We are going to Ilesha”, he instructed his driver. Mr Shittu sat behind the driver while I sat at the owner’s side. While on our way to Ilesha, the DG called the Commanders in the area to inform them of our trip.

I was aware that the Commissioner of Police in the state and other security heads were properly briefed about the outing but perhaps not on the particular forest where the ‘busting’ would be done. When we got to Ilesha, we headed to Ayeso Police Station which also serves as the Area Command of the area. The DG was there to let the area commander know that the community police were around. It was at the police station that major fighters who are trained hunters joined us for the real business of the day.

They were more than 50 Amotekun officers who came with extra five vehicles with fully armed men. My first sight on the individuals going for the operation was all that scared me. I asked if we were going for war or arrest, an officer responded saying: “miners are harmful and they sometimes make effort to overpower us. They are hardened criminals.” What then will be the fate of an harmless reporter? The accurate response failed to come.

We soon left for the bush where the illegal arrest was meant to be made. Until I sighted signposts, no one told me where we were going. Having seen various signposts, I concluded that we were going to Ido-oko Ijesha. The journey to the bush again took several hours. Ido-oko Ijesha is one of the forgotten communities with no basic amenities in Osun State.

Following the downpour witnessed that day, the road had become more miserable for few road users. The wheels of the vehicles turned over the wet track which forced vehicles to slow down. It was getting dark already. The furious DG came down from his vehicle and urged all his subjects to do the same while the vehicles were freed from the mud they had been trapped in.

On the illegal site

After another 15 minutes drive, we arrived at an illegal mining site in the bush. By mere appearance, one could easily tell that the biophysical environment of acres of land had been badly affected by the illegal mining activities going in the forest. The result of miscalculation of steps here is death. The land has two excavators.

“No amount of effort can be put in place here to have reasonable agricultural produce in the next 50 years”, one of the Amotekun operatives told PREMIUM TIMES. Land degradation is one of the most discussed topics of the 21st century due to the implications on agricultural productivity, the environment, and its effects on food security.

While Section 44 (3) of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining law of 1999 provides that ownership and control of all minerals in Nigeria is vested in the federal government, which is mandated to manage such natural resources in a manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly, massive illegal activities had been carried out here with here without the required licence.

Upon seeing Amotekun vehicles, the illegal miners started running into thick forest to escape arrest. As they ran, the Amotekun officers also followed them up with their locally made gun. The forest was combed for over 15 minutes as they captured the illegal miners one after the other.

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The arrest

After the arrest of over six local miners, I asked one of the hunters if they were done with business of the day but he would not respond to my request.

“Stooooooorm the buuuush, arrest all. Locate the Chineeeeeesseeeee, disaaaaaaarm them,” the commanders were shouting to their officers. As an armless reporter, two hunters were assigned to me as guards.

They were told to make sure I left the scene unscratched which they did perfectly well. Soon, more illegal miners were brought out from different corners of the forest where they hid. Among them were three Chinese – Liu Yange, Liu Ti Gang and Tang Ai Ting. They were arrested alongside 21 other locals.

They have been mining on the site for over six months. When questioned about their licence, they could not produce any. They also refused to name their proprietor(s) and how they got the land for mining.

By the time the ups and downs were coming to an end, the day was totally dark. The excavators were sealed with the Osun State government seal which forbids further operation on the land and 10 Amotekun members were stationed at the place. Their role was to watch over the land till further instruction from authorities. The foreigners were then driven to Osun State Police Command where they were interrogated and detained for prosecution.

Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES after the operation, Mr Amitolu said the aim was to make sure that the land were not destroyed and that he hoped the government will continue to support the operatives in the best interest of the state.

At 9:50pm, this reporter felt relieved having completed the job of the day. Indeed, it was a day well spent with Amotekun and illegal miners.

Illegal mining in Osun

In December 2019, PREMIUM TIMES published an investigation on how illegal mining activities thrive in Osun State, Southwest Nigeria with the support of police.

While some of the perpetrators use names of influential people without their knowledge, many reportedly receive blessings from them and even get the support of monarchs in the mining areas.

The activities of some Chinese and local gold miners have increased danger capable of endangering the lives of the people in the environment.

Experts told PREMIUM TIMES that illegal mining destroys landscapes, lush vegetation, and leads to erosion. Those carrying out these acts are also exposed to some risks such as acute respiratory failure which has an effect on their kidneys, lungs, skin and even kids around could have terminal diseases.

For farmers, it causes water pollution which automatically renders agricultural land unusable and that has displaced some farmers and perpetuates a cycle of poverty after losing their farm lands to miners in the state.

After PREMIUM TIMES’ publication, Nigerian government said it has commenced moves to stop the illegal activities “killing Nigeria’s economy and environment.”

Amokekun

The governors of the six states of the Southwest region of Nigeria on January 9, launched a security outfit, codenamed operation Amotekun to defend the region rising insecurity accentuated by indiscriminate killings, kidnappings, banditry and destruction of farmlands.

After its launch, the initiative triggered controversy across the country as the Nigerian government through Abubakar Malami, Attorney-General of the Federation, described the initiative as illegal.

The six governors would later meet Mr Malami and the parties agreed to give legal backing to the initiative but said it won’t be a regional outfit as earlier conceived, but state-based.

In February, the governors also met with Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu who agreed that the community policing is partnership and the new initiative will be done in partnership with the police to deal with crime-related challenges.

By April, Osun governor, Gboyega Oyetola launched a taskforce including Amotekun to fight illegal mining activities. In their first outing, they arrested 27 illegal miners in the state. Those apprehended included 17 Chinese nationals and 10 locals, including a local traditional ruler (Baale).

Afterwards, over 100 arrests have been made with suspects being handed over to police. When contacted the following day for an update on the arrested folks, the state police spokesperson, Yemisi Opalola, said in the matter is being investigated.

“We cannot just arrest and take them to court the following day. We need to do necessary investigation,” she said. When reminded about earlier arrests and the silence of police, Mr Opalola told PREMIUM TIMES that she would need to get to the state CID for updates.

The police spokesperson is yet to respond this newspaper follow up afterwards.

The deputy governor of state, Benedict Alabi, had earlier told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview that “Governance is about strategy and processes. If you arrest somebody – that’s executive. Prosecution is done by the judiciary. The judiciary also have their ways and processes. The same way it took us to carry the arrest is the same way the judiciary will take time for prosecution. Nobody will do what we have done, arrest foreigners and throw them back to the society. That should not come to anybody’s mind.. It is not done that way.”



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