The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, on Friday, said powerful Nigerians are seeking the release of some Chinese illegal miners arrested in Osun on May 4.
Adegbite, who was speaking to journalists in Abuja, said the Osun state government has resisted the efforts so far.
On May 4, some 17 Chinese nationals and nine Nigerians were arrested by the Osun State Joint Task Force (JTF) for illegal mining in the state.
The Deputy Chief of Staff to the Osun State Governor, Abdullahi Binuyo, said the illegal miners were arrested following a coordinated sting operation around the Ilesa and Ife axis of the state.
He explained that the illegal miners had polluted the Osun River with poisonous metals, thereby making it unsafe for human consumption and irrigation.
However, Minister Adegbite said the government had been pressured to release the offenders.
“There have been pressures, especially in Osun,” he said. “There has been pressure on the state government that these people should be released. Because most of these people are working for Nigerians. Nigerians in high positions, Nigerians in authority. But, thank God, the Osun state government has so far resisted this pressure.”
Special courts for offenders
At the briefing on Friday, the Minister also intimated that the federal government is working to set up special courts in every state of the federation to check the activities of illegal miners.
Nigeria has massive mining resources and the federal government says it wants to position the sector to contribute three per cent to GDP by 2025.
However, the activities of illegal miners continue to undermine progress.
In April 2019, the government banned mining in Zamfara state, after security forces considered illegal mining to be behind an ongoing spree of violence and kidnapping in the region.
Adegbite said part of the problem has been the inability to prosecute past offenders due to the clogged nature of the nation’s courts.
“In the past, we’ve had challenges for people we’ve caught,” Adegbite said on Friday. “Because the federal high courts in every state are so busy. Whenever we file a case, we find that it gets lost in the long list of cases. And it is not unusual for you to find somebody who had been arraigned in court to be caught again doing the same offence.
“So sometimes early this year, around January, I went to see the Chief Justice of the Federation on this and he advised that we should work with the Chief Judge of the Federal High Courts and the Attorney-General to designate some particular courts within the existing court system in every state for mining offences. So that we can have accelerated hearings and, of course, do justice with these people. So this set of people that have been caught now, we’ve asked the state to prosecute them to the maximum extent of the law.”