The Federal Government has refused to bow to pressure to free the Chinese and others arrested for illegal mining in Zamfara and Osun states last month, vowing to prosecute the suspects.
The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, said the government would meet with the Chinese government over the illegal activities of their nationals in Nigeria.
He described the illegal gold mining in the country by the Chinese nationals as economic sabotage.
Two Chinese were arrested for illegal mining in Zamfara, despite a subsisting ban on mining activities in the state by the Federal Government.
The ban followed the alleged links between illegal mining and banditry, which has led to the loss of hundreds of lives and destruction of property in the state.
Twenty-seven people, including 17 Chinese, Senegalese, Burkinabes and Nigerians were arrested for illegal mining in Osun.
Adegbite, who spoke to journalists at the Abuja headquarters of the MMSD on Friday, said the Federal Government would no longer tolerate illegal mining.
A steady rise in the value of gold due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on currencies has been linked to the recent spike in illegal gold mining and the Federal Government, which is grappling with challenges arising from the decline in oil price, is determined to capitalise on the country’s gold deposits to shore up its revenue.
The minister, who claimed the illegal miners were working for “Nigerians in high positions of authority”, said they had decided to adopt diplomatic and legal measures towards addressing the illegal mining by foreigners in the country.
He said, “The Chinese are the main culprits in the illegal mining activities and we are going to meet with the Chinese Embassy.
“We are going to present all the facts to them so that it will not appear as if we are targeting them unfairly.
“Taking gold out of Nigeria illegally is economic sabotage because if you look at the quantum, the value is huge.”
According to him, the influential Nigerians he refused to name have been mounting pressure on the government to free the illegal miners.
But he said the suspects would be prosecuted.
Adegbite said the ministry had finalised plans to take over the prosecution of all persons arrested for illegal mining.
Adegbite said the government was not worried about any moves by the illegal miners’ backers to scuttle the planned prosecution.
He said, “These godfathers were operating with impunity before, but they are now scared because the arrested illegal miners are naming names but they (godfathers) are denying.
“The law is on our side and we must prosecute these people to serve as a deterrent.”
The minister said some state government officials, heads of security agencies, and traditional rulers, were involved in illegal mining.
“There is a particular situation where soldiers in a particular cantonment are aiding illegal miners,” he said.
The minister said the Chief Justice of Nigeria had advised that state chief judges should designate special courts for the prosecution of offences relating to illegal mining.
However, he said the illegal miners arrested in Zamfara and Osun would be tried at the Federal High Court.
He said the Federal Government would discuss with the United Arab Emirates to check the source of Nigerian gold smuggled to Dubai.
Dubai is the major destination of most of the gold smuggled out of Nigeria.
Adegbite said, “We will work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get the Dubai authorities to ensure that any gold that is coming from Nigeria is certified.
“Right now they don’t ask for Export Certificate so we want them to start asking for export certificates. If they don’t see the certificate or if they notice that the certificate is not genuine, they confiscate the gold and repatriate it to us.”
To encourage the UAE to help track smuggled Nigerian gold, Adegbite said the government had considered an arrangement whereby the UAE would keep a fraction of the confiscated gold and return the greater portion to Nigeria.
The minister said the UAE could keep 30 per cent of confiscated gold, with 70 per cent handed to Nigeria.
He said, “We need to work with our neighbours, and we need to educate the Customs and Immigration people so that gold is not taken out of our borders for pittance.”