Federal Government on Sunday banned mining activities in Zamfara State and ordered foreign firms operating mines in the area to leave within 48 hours or have their licences revoked.
The Nigerian government said it took the action following discovery of strong link between the current spate of massive killings, banditry and kidnapping in the region with the struggle for mineral resources in the gold rich region.
The inspector general of police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, announced this while briefing State House Press Corps in Abuja on Sunday.
It would be recalled that the chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, had while lamenting the spate of killings in the state recently, estimated that well over 4,000 persons had lost their lives to “bandits” in the gold rich region of the state.
Aside the loss of human lives, economic activities in the state had been halted with over N2 billion paid as ransom to secure the release of residents abducted, during the period.
No fewer than 682 villages and towns have been devastated by regular raids, while over 4,000 farmers have fled their communities and moved to neighbouring Katsina, Kaduna and Kebbi states
This is as an estimated 13,838 cattle, and 11,088 sheep and goats have been stolen.
The bandits are said to be taking advantage of the vast unsecured and poorly policed forests from the Basuguma forest of Neighbouring Sokoto, expanding to Kuyambana forest that also borders Kaduna, Birnin Gwari, Niger.
“We also have Kuyambana Dansado forest there, in Katsina, we have Rugu and at South East of Zamfara where we have Maradi, we have forest there.
Despite the huge ransom paid, the situation did not abate, leading to the cancellation of dialogues and negotiations between the federal, state and local governments with the bandits
Yari stated, “I have told my people that negotiation and dialogue will no longer take place during my time, because, l have done that three times but it did not work.”
Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari; director-general, Department of State Services (DSS), Yusuf Bichi, and director-general, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ahmed Abubakar, attended the briefing by the IGP who stated that “a combined team of security forces will be dispatched to the area to take control.
“In the face of intelligence report that has clearly established a strong and glaring nexus between the activities of armed bandits and illicit miners -with both mutually re-enforcing each other, the Federal Government of Nigeria has directed as follows:
“Mining activities in Zamfara and other affected states are hereby suspended with immediate effect.
“Consequently, any mining operator who engages in mining activities in the affected locations henceforth will have his licence revoked.
“All foreigners operating in the mining fields should close and leave within 48 hours.”
He revealed that a full inter agency operation known as “Operation PUFF- ADDER” had been unleashed on a full scale, in a renewed security offensive against the bandits.
According to Adamu, “As part of sustained efforts to flush out and permanently put an end to armed banditry and criminality in Zamfara State in particular and the North West in general, the Nigeria Police Force in collaboration with the Nigerian Military and other Security Services has commenced “Operation PUFF- ADDER” which is a full scale security offensive against the bandits.
“The operation is aimed at reclaiming every public space under the control of the bandits, arrest and bring to book all perpetrators of violence in the area and their collaborators, achieve a total destruction of all criminal camps and hideouts, mop up all illicit weapons fuelling the violence and attain a full restoration of law and order in the affected communities.
“Our commitment at protecting the sanctity of life and property is irrevocable, and we will not scale-down the pressure on the armed bandits until they are totally flushed-out.”
He also used the opportunity to assure the general public, especially in the affected areas that the security services were doing their best to address the situation.
“May I appeal for the cooperation of the local communities, especially the traditional and religious leaders within the community.”
The IGP also cautioned against the use of social media to misinform the public on security issues.
He added: “Meanwhile, we note the use of social media to spread fake news, falsehood and deliberate misinformation. We therefore urge our citizens to exercise restraint in circulating unconfirmed information capable of doing more damage to us all.
“Let us not allow the social media to hijack our sense of judgment and capture our minds,” he said.
Tony Ailemen, Abuja