Nigeria’s government has called for an end to mining operations as crime rises and insecurity continues in Zamfara, a state in the country’s northwest where gold mining has become increasingly common over the past decade. In the midst of a surge in property destruction, killings, and kidnappings of both locals and foreigners by bandits, as well as the presence of criminal gangs who have taken control of certain mining areas, foreigners who have been involved in mining activities have been ordered to leave, while security forces have been deployed in recent weeks to the state.
According to Nigeria’s Minister of Mines and Solid Minerals Abubakar Bawa Bwari, “a lot of activities of the bandits, these criminal elements have affected exploration and mining activities in Zamfara. The military has established a nexus between the activities of the bandits…and the illicit miners there.” Defending the government’s decision to suspend mining activities, Bwari said during the opening ceremony of a minerals exploration project that “although boosting the economy is paramount, protecting human lives is key,” according to AllAfrica. Sadiq Garba Shehu, a security consultant, said to Al Jazeera, however, that “the number of troops, the number of policemen, or security men in general, all arms, all services, is certainly not enough to really make the difference in that area.” Last year, Amnesty International stated that the insecurity and violence in Zamfara had resulted in thousands of deaths and widespread displacement of villagers, who are “in constant fear of attack.” Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, stated that the conflict in Zamfara is “Nigeria’s forgotten conflict” as “authorities’ failure to act has left villagers in Zamfara at the mercy of armed bandits.”
The government’s suspension of mining activities represents a positive development, as it represents the growing awareness that the conflict in Zamfara is not under control, as well as an opportunity for the government to prioritize protecting its citizens from violence and abuse. Villagers in Zamfara, living in fear, have been unable to work peacefully, and their human rights to life and security have been and continue to be threatened. The government must act to protect its own citizens, and this could be a step in the right direction. However, this is only one step in addressing the state’s conflict; as made apparent in the preceding reactions, the Nigerian government has failed so far to provide any comprehensive security. The suspension of mining operations could be a step forward, but more action must follow.
In 2012, conflict arose in Zamfara when farmers and herders began to clash, later becoming armed banditry. The state has thus experienced a rise in violence over the past several years; last year, a thousand security personnel were deployed to the state, and joint operations have been held in recent weeks focusing on states in Nigeria’s west and northwest, including Zamfara. This violence comes as Nigeria pursues economic development and diversification, moving toward mining of minerals, such as zinc and gold, which is often illegally smuggled from Zamfara to Niger and Togo, and agriculture, and away from heavy reliance on oil for revenue. Moreover, Nigeria has simultaneously faced insurgency and conflict in other areas of the country. Thus, despite previous deployments of security forces, villagers have not always been protected.
Ultimately, the Nigerian government must not treat Zamfara as a last priority. It must address its previous failures to curb crime and must establish a stronger presence in the area in the face of the bandits and criminal gangs. Security forces must be concerned with protecting all citizens, including the most vulnerable, or a cycle of violence will continue. The state of Zamfara is important to Nigeria’s economic diversification, and stability in Zamfara is crucial to Nigeria’s overall stability; Nigeria’s overall stability, in turn, is crucial to the stability of the region as a whole. The rule of law must be enforced, criminals must be held accountable, and justice must be sought to ensure greater security and move toward peace.