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Inside Nasarawa ‘dreadful’ mining camps

Her sweat-soaked face bore the furrows of sorrow as she struggled to explain the circumstances that led to her separation from her husband after relocating…

Her sweat-soaked face bore the furrows of sorrow as she struggled to explain the circumstances that led to her separation from her husband after relocating to the Opa mining site located some 30 kilometers away from the headquarters of Nasarawa Local Government Area.

Clearing the perspiration that formed on her forehead and cascaded down her cheeks with her forefinger, Grace Emmanuel, 38, also ‘justified’ why she quit her job as an auxiliary nurse to venture into mining.

“As a nurse, my earnings could barely take care of my family needs. My husband was an inspector (of police) who was at the time transferred to Lokoja. But he cared less about me and our five children; he never sent money for our upkeep. I was facing many challenges when I heard about this mining camp and decided to come here.

“I started combining mining here with my job, but when I realised that what I was earning here was thrice my salary as a nurse, I decided to quit my job. I eventually became a dealer in mining, in addition to sponsoring some pits,” she said.

But her newfound “glory” was not without new challenges. “Disaster struck sometime last year in the form of a mysterious fire outbreak that razed down this place and affected almost everybody. Before then, this place used to be a beehive of activities. The population was unprecedented. Apart from mining, there were several other businesses that took place, such as food vending.

“But with the fire incident, everything changed, and we have since been struggling to pick up again,” she said.

Curiously, Grace parted ways with her husband soon after relocating to the Opa mining site. Although she claimed that their separation had nothing to do with her movement to the camp, sources at the site privy to the matter confided in Daily Trust Saturday that her relationship with her husband went awry when she started making enough money from the business. Like Grace, findings by Daily Trust Saturday indicate that several other female artisanal miners who travelled to Opa from different parts of the country in search of daily bread made fortunes and ended up separating from their husbands.

“They either became so rich from the business or got enticed with money by their rich male counterparts, thereby turning their backs against their spouses,” a source said. A truck driver based in Nasarawa town who wished to remain anonymous, whose wife deserted him after moving to the Opa mining field, said he regretted allowing her to go to Opa. “It got to a point when my wife was no longer regarding me as her husband; she even stopped calling or answering my calls. I made inquiries and found out that she was being enticed with money by the rich male mining merchants. She eventually told me that it was over between us; thereby leaving me while retaining our five children”, he said.

On the flip side, Daily Trust Saturday gathered that a male miner who made a lot of money after relocating from Bauchi State eventually abandoned his wife for a female miner he met at one of the mining camps.

“He stopped communicating with his family back home, and when the wife could no longer bear it, she traced him to this place; and there was drama when she found him cohabiting with a female miner in a tent. He sent the wife back and continued living with the female miner,” a source who sought for identity protection said.

The random lustfulness

Opa, from which the mining site derives its names in Afo local dialect, translates to “Are you willing?” Investigations revealed that the mining site, which came into existence some 10 years ago, used to be a beehive that attracted artisanal miners from different parts of the country.

“If you were here some years back, it used to be overpopulated with people like a marketplace. People were making a lot of money from digging and extracting different types of minerals for sale to middlemen, who in turn sold to companies,” said Gambo Ode, the supervisor of the site.

Our reporter, however, gathered that with so much money at Opa, immoral activities became the order of the day. While men took to drugs and began to assault and sexually harass females, married women began to abandon their poor husbands for rich merchants. With time, various forms of immorality got so entrenched that early last year, Opa was said to have incurred the wrath of God (or the gods of the land).

A mysterious fire outbreak was said to have occurred in the middle of the night, leaving behind destruction of hurricane proportions. Although no life was lost, many tents housing valuables and working tools belonging to miners were razed. “Since then, things have never been the same here again. As you can see, the population has drastically reduced. Many miners who lost money and properties relocated elsewhere, while those who remained behind virtually started all over again,” Adamu Musa, a miner said.

Although multiple sources confirmed sexual assaults and women separating from their husbands, the head of Opa mining field, Ode, denied knowledge of vices in the camp. He, however, confirmed the mysterious fire incident but attributed it to “the will of God.” While disclosing that over seven types of mineral deposits were discovered underneath the site, Ode raised the alarm over attempts by some foreign companies to acquire the land and take over the mining activities.

He appealed to the government to grant them licences to continue mining at the site, which he said was a major source of survival for jobless youths.

 How female miners are sexually assaulted

Unlike in advanced countries of the world where victims openly speak out on the matter, those assaulted in Nigeria and Nasarawa State in particular decline to openly tell their stories due to socio-cultural barriers.

Investigations, however, indicated that not a few women that are involved in mining activities at the different sites in Nasarawa State are violated. These violations, which are under-reported, assume emotional, physical and economical dimensions, according to experts. The president of Women in Mining (WIMIN), a non-governmental organisation, Janet Adeyemi, an engineer, disclosed that 23.1 per cent of women in mining communities across the country experienced sexual violence, compared to 18.7 per cent in the non-mining communities. She stressed that the problem was further compounded by the dominance of men in the mining sector in Nigeria.

Adeyemi, who disclosed that their work so far covered about 28 states, said that in Nasarawa, such cases were referred to the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) of the Dalhatu Araf Specialist Hospital (DASH), Lafia for psycho-social and psychotherapy attention.

Dr Luka Dauda Odu, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, who is also the focal person of Gender-Based Violence at the hospital where sexual and assault concerns are channeled, confirmed that they had received many of such cases about female miners in the state.

“These things are happening, but they are under-reported due to so many socio-cultural and religious barriers that are inhibiting victims to come out to report. But these activities take place in Nasarawa, being a leading state in mining activities in Nigeria as a whole.

“A lot of women in mining sites are also involved, where you see them digging deep down because of economic benefits. Being a trade that has to do with physical strength, men are involved, and some take advantage of the resources they amass and the physical strength that God has given them to explore the mining sites. In the process, some of them tend to abuse the opportunity. For example, when you are close by in a big pit you dug and nobody is there apart from you and that woman who got in to lift some of the bagged products, some men may see it as an opportunity to assault some of these women against their wish. So, some of these things are indeed happening,” Dr Odu said.

According to him, during clinical interviews with gynaecologists, the victims are referred to the SARC Centre for psychosocial and psychotherapy.

“When they come, they would tell you that they were assaulted; some would be blunt and tell exactly what happened. Others initially hide their real stories until they are persuaded to speak out.

“Eventually, they open up and explain the real situation to us. Some say they were physically assaulted as a result of quarrel when sharing the resources, or that somebody tried to forcefully take away that which belongs to them, which results in physical assault and other forms of violence,” he said.

Psychological impact

Speaking on the impact of assault against women, including female miners, Dr Odu said: There are a lot of psychological impacts. Some of them are depressed, as a result of which they have low energy and loss of interest in the things they do. “Also, anxiety disorder sets in, as well as the paranoid tendency. Consequently, they suspect even individuals that are innocent around them.

“They tend to get scared of the people around them and develop what we call persecutory delusion- the fear that somebody is coming to persecute or harm them. Posttraumatic stress disorder is another impact. Because they lack the coping skills, some tend to generate suicidal thoughts. Loss of interest in general activities also takes place: affecting their health and productivity,” he further explained.

Our survival stories – Artisanal miners

Beyond the issue of sexual assault and separation of female miners from their husbands, investigation by Daily Trust Saturday shows that the artisanal miners who come in search of daily bread are exposed to several risks and dangers as they work under harsh conditions at the various sites. Many of them who spoke said they endured the risks and harsh working conditions because they lacked alternative means of survival.

It was gathered that while many of them fall sick due to strenuous activities, others die in the process of searching for minerals under the pits and tunnels. There is the sad story of a 200-level student of the Nasarawa State University (NSUK), Keffi, who went to ‘Liberia’, one of the mining sites located near the Opa camp in a bid to raise money for his school fees.

“While he went down one of the mining pits and was struggling under the dark tunnel to excavate stones, the surface suddenly caved in and buried him alive,” a source said. Similar stories were told at other mining locations visited by our reporter. But in spite of these awful incidents, several artisanal miners said they had no choice but to continue struggling at the sites to cater for their families.

Aliyu Mohammed, 50, who has been working at the Opa mining site for over two years, said it had not been easy, but he is grateful to God for surviving the odds to take care of his family.

“We dig deep into the earth searching for minerals. Sometimes we spend several days under the tunnels and come out with only one sack. The middlemen exploit us by paying peanuts for the bags, which they sell at higher prices to foreigners. But we manage because we have our families to take care of,” Mohammed said.

For Blessing Rabo, 35, despite the difficult nature of the work, she gets enough to fend for herself and her family. “My husband asked me to come here. I started with washing the stones for others. At that time, things were going on well here; and I can tell you that in spite of odds, I have reason to be grateful to God,” she said.

At the ‘Liberia’ mining site located a few kilometres away from Opa, Gloria Sunday, 40, sat on a boulder of rock sorting out stones, her body covered with dust. “Today has been a bad day because since morning I am yet to gather enough to fill this little container, let alone a sack. This quantity cannot fetch me good money because the buyers don’t give us good price,” she said.

Gloria, who said her husband introduced her to the business, said she could only stop mining when she got a better means of survival. “If I had a choice, I won’t do this work, which is not easy for a woman. But for now, I have to endure the hardship in order to support my husband in taking care of our family,” she said.

Elsewhere at the Igwo mining site, located at Agaza in Kokona Local Government Area, Ashezi Kuje, 25, was seen in the midst of a group of boys hitting hard at a heavy stone with hammer.

According to her, she intends to raise money to support her family of five and further her studies. “It is quite challenging but I have no option because I have to support my parents who are just peasant farmers in the village,” Ashezi said.

Similarly, Ibrahim Musa, 35, who said the site was discovered about three months ago, said he was there in search of daily bread. “I dig down in search of even the low grade to sell. It is not easy, but since there is no easy job, I endure in order to survive. I am married with a kid, whose education I need to sponsor.

“The products here are grossly underpriced by the middlemen due largely to the bad access road and distance. The government should assist by fixing the road and providing water and other amenities,” he appealed.

In Awe Local Government Area, Daily Trust Saturday also visited another mining site located some 10 kilometres away from Kaoje town. The site is said to be owned by a former governor in the North East. But the workers there, mostly young males, came from different parts of the North. They decry the working conditions there.

Mati Jibrin, 22, who hails from Jigawa State, said he heard about the site and decided to join in the mining business. “Every morning, I say my prayers and head for the site to commence work. We go deep down the dangerous pits in search of minerals. I don’t earn much, but as a family man with children, I am managing to survive,” Mati said.

Also, Hudu Sale, 35, from Bauchi State, said he relocated to the site three months earlier to fend for his family. “We used to get enough at the beginning, but now, things have changed. We are only given N1,500 each to feed per day; we don’t know what happens to the rest of the money we generate here.

What we are doing to fight menace – WIMIN, others

Worried by the growing menace of gender violence and sexual abuse in the mining sector, WIMIN hosted a sensitisation workshop in Lafia, the Nasarawa State capital, where they called for measures to check the trend. During the workshop with the theme: ‘Understanding and strengthening collaborative effort to combat sexual-based violence in the mining sector,’ the president of the WIMIN, Adeyemi, called for more participation of women in the sector, as well as removal of obstacles that affect their operation.

She listed the obstacles affecting women in mining to include lack of training and education, difficulty in securing mining licences, limited representation, displacement and lack of livelihoods, as well as emotional trauma.

Stressing that the problem was compounded by the fact that the mining sector in Nigeria remains male dominated, she said: “Paradoxically, these women’s survival is jeopardised by the very industry they turn to. Despite the perceived income of opportunities, a concerning 23.1 per cent of women in mining communities experience sexual violence, compared to 18.7 per cent in non-mining communities.”

Adeyemi, who spoke with Daily Trust Saturday on efforts at stemming the tide of violence against female miners, said WIMIN was looking at all issues in the sector, where there are glaring factors, such as poverty and lack of employment.

“We go round to speak with the women and get to know their problems. For instance, at some of the mining sites, the supervisors demand for sex before allowing women to work there. Even women who go there with cooked food to sell are sexually abused and even raped at times before they are allowed to sell.

“While some of the male miners act under the influence of all manner of drugs, as well as alcohol, some of the women surrender voluntarily for money, due largely to factors such as poverty and emotional imbalance,” she said, adding that the issue of some women separating from their husbands after going into mining was due to “social consequences of sudden wealth and power balance.”

She said that going forward, the WIMIN would produce a referral manual in Hausa and other local languages that seeks to embolden victims to report cases of abuse so that they can remove the emotional stain and restore their dignity.

The Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Nasarawa State, Labaran Magaji, was quoted during WIMIN’s sensitisation workshop in Lafia to have assured of the state government’s commitment to support the advocacy and fight against any form of sexual and genderbased violence. On his part, the state’s coordinator of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Nduka Ezenwugo, assured of the commission’s readiness to partner with the WIMIN in the promotion and protection of women engaged in mining activities across the state The Director, Public Defender in the Nasarawa State Ministry of Justice, Justina Alu, said they had received and prosecuted many cases relating to domestic and gender-based violence in the state but yet to specifically receive complaint on assault against female miners at the sites.

“The issue of sexual harassment against female miners came to our attention when WIMIN hosted a sensitisation workshop in Lafia. We have generally handled several cases pertaining to gender-based violence, but we are yet to specifically handle any on female miners. It is possible that some of the rape cases we handled were from the mining sites but they were not specified as such.

“We are still mapping out modalities on how to work with them and sensitise them on how to reach out whenever they are violated,” she said.

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