FG proclaim Zamfara No-Fly Zone; ban mines ‘Gold For Arms Swap’

FG proclaim Zamfara No-Fly Zone, ban mining to stop ‘Gold For Arms Swap’
Charles Nwoke, Abuja, Nigeria
March 3, 2021 

The Nigeria Federal Government on Tuesday promulgated Zamfara State a ‘no-fly zone’ to prevent the swap of gold for arms by armed bandits, other criminals, and illegal gold miners in the state.

The Federal Government also banned gold mining in the state even though this is not the first time it is taking this decision against mining.

Over the years, bandits have been tormenting and terrorizing Zamfara State and its environs, leading to the killing of hundreds and abduction of thousands, with the latest being the kidnap of over 300 students of Government Girls’ Junior Secondary School, Jangebe; an incident that threw the country into hullabaloo.

A no-fly zone or air exclusion zone is a territory established by a military authority over which certain aircraft are not allowed to fly.

The airline that violates a no-fly zone may be shot down by the enforcing state, depending on the terms of the no-fly zone.

The National Security Adviser to President Mohammadu Buhari, retired Major General Babagana Monguno, on Tuesday announced President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to declare Zamfara as a no-fly zone. He announced after a quarterly meeting of the National Security Council chaired by President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

The National Security Adviser said without further details, “His Excellency, the president has approved, based on our recommendation, the imposition, and enforcement of a ban on all mining activities in Zamfara State with immediate effect, until further notice.

“He has directed the Minister of Defence and the National Security Adviser to deploy the massive military and intelligence assets to restore normalcy to that part of the country. He has also approved that Zamfara State is declared a no-fly-zone with immediate effect.”

When contacted, Garba Shehu, a presidential spokesperson, revealed that there are strong suspicions and feelings that gold was being used in exchange for arms by hoodlums operating in the Zamfara.

“Even in Zamfara, there is a strong suspicion that some of those choppers are being used to ferry arms for bandits and also to evacuate gold and illegally smuggled out of the country, so the country loses everything in the mining.

“As you are aware, the Nigerian gold market is a big business and the government wants to do two things at the same time by doing this; end banditry and economic sabotage through the smuggling of gold,” he said.

Shehu equally disclosed that a big market in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates is known by this name: ‘Nigerian Gold Market’.

Sources with knowledge of the on-going crisis in North West Nigeria who pleaded anonymity said that Tuesday’s proclamation was targeted at non-state actors, including those taking advantage of the controversy for material gain, including short-changing the government.

Non-state actors involve nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); private sector entities such as international business associations; philanthropic foundations and academic institutions.

One of the sources stated that though the federal government is in the best position to open up further on why it slammed the restriction of flight through Zamfara skies, he said could only give two or three reasons for declaring Zamfara a no-fly zone.

He said, “The first is the strong allegation that there is a correlation between the ongoing banditry and mining. You know Zamfara is rich in gold and other mineral resources. Illegal miners are partly responsible for the instability in the area to get the minerals almost free after diverting the attention of government and locals through insecurity.

“The mineral mongers cashed on a minor disagreement between farmers and herders long ago and the government did not handle the matter the way it should. The truth is while the farmers have been chased away from their fields, and by extension chased from prospective goldmines, the herders, who are mostly carrying out most of the abductions and raids, are getting arms for free from illegal miners, and sadly, they don’t even know the implication of what they are doing.

“That is why most of the bandits, apart from the peanuts they are getting as ransom, have nothing to show for their atrocities except the sophisticated weapons in their possession.

“The issue is a big franchise involving criminal Nigerian businessmen and their foreign collaborators.”

He revealed that the second reason for declaring Zamfara a no-fly zone might likely be the non-kinetic approach of the government.

“For those who cared to listen, the bandits have repeatedly said they will not drop their arms until fighter jets stop hovering over them. I am not sure, but I think while deploying force, the government is also exploring the dialogue option.”

The second security source, who noted that the declaration was long overdue, said there are suspicions that arms are being swapped for gold in the state.

“Likely, people are flying in bringing weapons or some people are flying in to take out precious stones,” said the source.

“People may argue that there are no helipads or airports in Zamfara but there are in surrounding states. Also, the presidency may be privy to information that you and I may not have. The Americans are fully based in the Niger Republic and have a big drone unit there, so there is a possibility that it is not just an isolated decision but advice that came from them.

“The Americans may be aware that there are so many nefarious activities going on there. I do not think the decision was made without some genesis. Even if there is no helipad or airport, they may have landing areas in the surrounding which might have been used to either bring in arms or carry some of those precious items out. Also, helicopters can land in any place and not until you have a helipad.”

The ban on gold mining is not the first time by the Buhari administration. On April 7, 2019, the government, through the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, announced a total ban on mining activities in Zamfara State.

The IGP, who addressed State House correspondents after a security meeting at the time, said the decision was part of fresh measures to restore peace.

IGP Adamu said the government decided because it found out there was a relationship between the bandits and illegal miners.

He also declared that “all foreigners within mining sites are to leave immediately.”

He said all the sites would be taken over by a special task force consisting of relevant security agencies.

Governor Bello Matawalle, the Zamfara State Governor while reacting to the National Security Council’s decision to ban mining, said that the decision might not be from an informed perspective. He stated this when he hosted Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), who alongside Governor Atiku Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi and the Deputy Governor of Sokoto State paid him a sympathy visit over the release of Zamfara schoolgirls kidnapped by bandits.

The Governor said, “It seems the security council doesn’t understand the nature of the security problems in Zamfara State but if they decided to take such action let them go ahead. I am not afraid of anybody and the problem of insecurity in the state predates my administration.

“Nigerians are waiting to see the outcome of the security council resolution; to see if these bandits would be crushed. If the federal government fails to crush them after this resolution then Nigerians will understand that they only sat and served themselves tea, nothing more.”

In the same vein, Governor Matawalle is under serious pressure to reveal the sponsors of the kidnap of the students of Government Girls’ Junior Secondary School, Jangebe.

The Governor had said, “Many people will be surprised to hear those people behind the abduction of these innocent children.”

Reacting to the statement of the Zamfara State Chief Security Officer, the Yoruba socio-cultural organization, Afenifere, said on Tuesday that it is a matter of “urgent national importance” for the Zamfara State governor to expressly name the banditry sponsors in his state.

Yinka Odumakin, Afenifere socio-cultural group spokesman said that banditry has become a huge business venture for those behind it and that the earlier the sponsors were unmasked the better for the state and the nation at large.

He said, “It is a matter of urgent national importance for the governor to name those people, but we know that Nigeria is becoming a failed state because there is no law and order otherwise he may be doing more danger to the security of his state by confronting the bandits’ leaders.

“But it is a national security duty on him to ensure that we know who those criminals are.”

Odumakin said the federal government has not done enough to wipe out the criminals behind banditry in the North-West.

Still, on the pressure for revealing of bandits’ sponsors, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has called on security agencies to prevail on Governor Matawalle to expose the identities of kidnappers terrorizing the country. Chief Audu Ogbe, ACF’s National Chairman, made the call in a statement issued on Tuesday in Kaduna. He urged the governor not to protect the identities of the kidnappers.

He said, “We ask the governor to reveal their identity and let Nigerians be shocked or even the heavens fall.

“We also ask the security agencies to question the governor on the identities of the criminals he is trying to hide. If he refuses to disclose their identities, he must be treated as an accomplice to the criminal act of kidnapping.

“The ACF has been embarrassed by the spate of kidnappings, especially of school children spreading like wildfire all over the North.

“People in positions of authority that will help us out of this mess, like Governor Matawalle, must stop embarrassing the North and the country with careless statements on a serious issue like the kidnapping of school children.

“Zamfara State and the North are way behind the rest of the country in educational development. The serial kidnappings of school pupils in the North will only worsen a bad and unacceptable state of education in the North,” Chief Ogbe added.