Nigeria: Rush for Solid Minerals Turns Farmers Into Sacrificial Lambs in Nasarawa

Chinese companies are at the forefront of mining activities in Nasarawa State that are taking land away from local farmers.

Ilyasu Umar’s farmland in Adudu, Nasarawa State, served his family for generations until he was evicted from it in 2021.

Adudu is located in Obi Local Government Area of Nasarawa, an agrarian northern Nigerian state with lots of mineral deposits. However, the exploitation of the minerals is turning into woes for the local farming population. The lush green landscape of the area, once devoted to agriculture, is now being devoured by mining operations.

Mr Umar, whose 30 hectares of farmland was taken, is in despair like many other farmers who have accused community leaders of supporting mine operators to take their farmlands without compensation.

“This land belonged to my family for almost four generations. I cultivated maize, cassava and sesame and got bountiful harvests in years past. I remember the farming season of 2018 when I harvested over 1000 kilogrammes of maize from that same piece of land,” Mr Umar told PREMIUM TIMES.

“When the miners started coming into the community, it was a cause for concern for me and the other farmers. The sarkin (chief) has taken all the land from us and said we should not complain about it,” he said.

Some other villagers corroborated Mr Umar’s account of the land takeover. They narrated how mine operators allegedly induced the community’s chief into taking land from farmers and handing it over to the mining firms.

His farmland seized, Mr Umar now works as a driver, moving local goods to neighbouring towns.

“I had to immediately take up work as a driver to support my family. It’s a completely different line of work, and the income is not as steady as when I was a farmer,” he said with a hint of nostalgia.

“While many other farmers who were displaced have relocated to nearby villages in search of new farming opportunities, I find myself unable to do the same at the moment because of my family.”

Apart from being displaced from their farms, the farmers also said they received no compensation from the mining company.

“We, the farmers, have never received payment or compensation from the mining operations in this community. And we do not have the power to do anything about the situation,” Mr Umar said

“We hope the government and the people in authority will hear about our plight and address it.”

We did no wrong

However, the community leaders and the operators of one of the big mining companies in the village said they did no wrong in the acquisition of the land.

Amali Ubangiri, the CEO of Adudu Prospective Mining Ltd., and Imap Mohammed, his associate, initially claimed that their company provided compensation to the affected farmers and also resettled them in new farming locations.

Mr Ubangiri said his company started its operations in the village five years ago and paid the appropriate compensation for every farmland it took. He also said the company is actively contributing to the development of the local communities, in line with its corporate social responsibility.

“We have always adhered to the regulations and guidelines set forth by the government, ensuring fair treatment and compensation for any farmland acquired for mining purposes. We have a legal mining license for Adudu and the Sarkin Adudu, His Royal Highness, Alhaji Abdullahi Mohammad Hassan, knows of our presence in the community.”

When asked to provide details of how the compensation was paid to individual farmers like Mr Umar, Mr Ubangiri acknowledged that his firm did not make any direct payments to the displaced farmers.

“Indeed, we didn’t provide direct compensation to the farmers, but we diligently fulfil our social responsibilities to the community. For instance, we have contributed to infrastructure development, including road construction in Adudu,” Mr Ubangiri explains.

If no payment was made to the farmers, then who got the compensation? This question was put to Mr Ubangiri who simply insisted that his firm violated no law in acquiring the land it mines on.

The affected farmers said they wrote to the mining company and the local chief but got no response from either of them.

“We took the step of writing an official letter of complaint to Adudu Prospective Ltd., but unfortunately, we haven’t received any response from them,” Mr Umar said.

The chief of Adudu, Abdullahi Hassan, whom the farmers accused of conniving with the mining firm, said he acted for the benefit of the community. He said the land belongs to the community and he and other chiefs approved that it be given to the mining company, without compensation to the farmers.

“The decision to allocate lands to the mining company was made after carefully considering the potential benefits for our community. As community leaders, we are responsible for ensuring our people’s progress and development.

“Some farmers were indeed using the lands for agriculture, but we believed that the mining activities would bring about a more significant transformation that could benefit a wider spectrum of people,” he said.

Mr Hassan said the community plans to relocate displaced farmers to new farming locations.

“The presence of the mining company in the village has indeed brought about progress for us, so we must support it. However, we do have plans to relocate the displaced farmers to new farming locations. In the meantime, they may need to seek alternative employment to sustain themselves,” he added.

The unheard cries of farmers in Toto

The situation in Adudu is similar to that in Toto, a town in Toto local government of the same Nasarawa State.

Many farmers in the local government were reluctant to speak about their situation.

After being rebuffed by at least six farmers, this reporter made a breakthrough during a chance encounter with an okada operator in the village. The motorcycle taxi operator, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal from the village authorities, said he was a farmer until his farmland was seized in October 2020.

He said the community leader had granted some Chinese companies the right to exploit mineral resources on lands occupied by farmers.

“Before my land was taken, I grew crops like maize, cassava, and yams. It was a big farm because it gave my family enough food and some extra to sell. But in 2020, Sarkin said we should leave the land at the end of the farming season. That was in October 2020.

“That was how I became an okada rider. I had a sense of dignity as a farmer. I used to provide for my family without worrying about daily expenses but things are a lot different now.”

A request for an interview with the Sarkin Yakin Toto, Mohammed Keche, was denied by his palace officials.

But his spokesperson, Ibrahim Ahmed, said the chief acted legally by supporting the takeover by the mining firms.

“The Sarkin is committed to the well-being of the community first before anything else. Any claims of farmland dispossession are baseless and unfounded. All the mining operations going on in Toto are legally carried out with the permission of the government and our sarkin,” Mr Ahmed said.

When the reporter mentioned some of the farmers whose farmlands were taken, Mr Ahmed said the land never belonged to them.

Mining companies mum

At the mining site in Toto, this reporter saw extensive extraction of minerals. Two Chinese companies, “Wanwang Global” and “Lideal Mines Ltd.,” were carrying out mining operations in Toto.

The companies had state-issued mining licenses and were conducting excavations for the exploration of solid minerals, particularly lithium, in Toto.

Officials of the two firms declined to speak with this reporter. The spokesperson for “Lideal Mines Ltd” declined to provide a statement, citing ongoing legal issues, while officials at “Wanwang Global” also declined comment.

Nasarawa’s Minerals

The discovery of more minerals in different communities in Nasarawa now appears to be a curse to farmers in the state. Some of the minerals Nasarawa was known for include coal, bauxite and lead.

Sidikat Salau, the coordinator for the Initiative for Advancement of Mining, Earth Science, and Environmental Protection (IAMEEP), an NGO advocating sustainable practices in the extractives sector, said the region’s wealth has been further enriched by the relatively recent revelation of significant Lithium deposits in the Toto area.

“In present-day Nasarawa, the concept of exclusivity regarding mineral titles is non-existent. Instead, it is the Sarkis, community kings, and chiefs who wield the power. They have expelled all the individuals holding legitimate licenses,” she said.

“We have conducted a thorough analysis, and it has become evident that these Chinese companies, under the guise of sugar processing, are actually siphoning off one of the world’s most precious minerals – lithium.

“Just last year, the value of lithium stood at a staggering $78,000 per tonne, and this cost is projected to soar even higher. The reason behind this meteoric rise is lithium’s pivotal role in the production of electric vehicles, laptops, and mobile devices,” she explained

Same story in other communities: “I was a farmer”

The situation in Adudu and Toto is not different from that of Agwatashi, in the same Obi LGA as Adudu, where this reporter met Sani Abubakar, another displaced farmer.

Mr Abubakar has a new job at a site where extracted solid minerals are undergoing cleaning and packaging. While he spoke, other workers were stacking the materials in cement bags for evacuation to the company’s depot.

“I was a farmer until about a year ago. We heard about happenings in neighbouring villages (about land seizure for mining operations) but we never thought Agwatashi could be like those places,” Mr Abubakar said.

He grew maize and sorghum and harvested between 50 and 65 bags of sorghum per farming season, he recalled.

“At first, it was all so difficult to accept. But I had to find a means to feed and support my family. Leaving Agwatashi was never an option; this is my home; my roots run deep here.”

However, due to his new job at the mining site, Mr Abubakar appears to be happier than Mr Umar and the other farmers in Adudu.

“They pay me fairly well,” he said of his new job where he does manual cleaning and bagging of freshly extracted solid minerals.

He said he prefers his life as a farmer, but the responsibility he owes to provide for his family is more vital than any sentiment.

The Riri situation

This reporter took a bike ride from Agwatashi to Riri, another village in Nasarawa where mining is also ongoing. Here, the displaced farmers said they had been fairly compensated for their seized farmlands.

Abdul Idris, one of the farmers, said the community leader handled the negotiations for compensation with the mining company.

“As farmers, we were not directly in contact with the mining company. Instead, all the arrangements were made through our community leader, and he provided the compensation.”

Mr Idris did not disclose the amount he was paid but appears to be contented. Like other affected farmers in Riri, he has acquired a new plot of land in a different area and relocated there to resume his agricultural activities.

Nasarawa government concerned

Danlami Wada, a deputy director at the Nasarawa State Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, told PREMIUM TIMES that the pervasive disputes over land arising from mining activities in the state are a concern to the government and it is addressing the issue.

“We aim to strike a balance between harnessing our mineral resources for economic growth and safeguarding the interests of our communities, especially the farmers who have relied on these lands for generations,” Mr Wada said.

He said the government has measures to ensure that mining activities do not jeopardise the well-being of local communities. However, the government is not involved in settlements or compensations between farmers and mining companies, he said.

“We have no say in compensations and resettlements of affected farmers unless the cases are reported to us.”

However, Mr Wada said his ministry has been working to create awareness among mining companies about the importance of community engagement, fair compensation and sustainable practices.

He urged farmers to come forward and report any injustice or issue they face due to mining operations.

Food Security

If the situation in Adudu, Toto, and Agwatashi persists and spreads to other states rich in minerals, it can worsen Nigeria’s already dire food situation.

About 25 million Nigerians are at risk of starvation, according to UNICEF, due to various issues such as insufficient food production and insecurity.

Attah Ademu, an agricultural economist, said farmland grabbing has a broader implication on food security. He said the loss of farmlands disrupts local food production, leading to increased reliance on imported goods and higher food prices. This, in turn, affects the most vulnerable populations, pushing them further into poverty and food insecurity.

“Smallholder farmers constitute a significant proportion of all farm holdings in the country. And in turn, many of us living in the urban parts of the country depend on these people for our food. Almost 80 per cent of the food we enjoy comes from these small-scale farmers,” he said.

“So what do you expect to happen when you dispossess them of their farmland and sole livelihood? It will worsen poverty and put more people at risk of food insecurity.”

“This reporting was done with the support of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development”.

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