Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Uche Ogah, has accused private jet owners of aiding and abetting gold smuggling in the country.
Ogah disclosed this at an investigative hearing on a $9 billion yearly loss to illegal mining and smuggling of gold, organised by the Senate Committee on Solid Minerals, Mines, Steel Development, and Metallurgy.
He called for capital punishment for offenders, saying: “Gold smuggling in Nigeria is often done using private jets. That is the very reason private jet ownership and operations need to be streamlined in the country.”
According to him, illegal mining in Nigeria started far back in the early 1980s as a result of the indigenisation policy of the military regime in the late 1970s.
The menace, he explained, was prompted by the inability of indigenous workers to obtain mineral titles and required technology for mining used by the British miners before the indigenisation policy.
Ogah lamented that gold smuggling and illegal mining, which are robbing the country of billions of dollars on yearly basis, thrive due to a series of factors like connivance of security agencies with the offenders, host communities collaboration, low level of application of technology, and negative mindsets of Nigerians to Nigeria.
“For these crimes to be fought decisively, potent punitive measures like capital punishment, need to be legally provided for,” he said.
He, however, added that the menace could be tackled proactively through the establishment of Mines Police, Special Court or Tribunals to try offenders, adequate funding for the ministry, and positive mindsets of Nigerians to Nigeria.
“The main crux of the matter is for us to be Nigerian by seeing ourselves as Nigerians in all circumstances. Doing this will make us see mineral resources in our communities as a collective wealth of all Nigerians that must not be illegally explored by anybody within or from outside the country,” he said.
A member of the Senate Committee, Francis Fadaunsi, alleged that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) made smuggling easy in Nigeria. The apex bank, he explained, facilitates the menace, through its lopsided and exclusive policy on foreign exchange availability to Nigerians.
“Gold smuggling and illegal mining are carried out by political elites and not just the poor masses at the illegal mining sites. Categories of Nigerians at the top, from political office holders, politicians, traditional rulers, top security officers, and so on, are involved in gold smuggling and illegal mining in one way or the other. The poor ones did it on behalf of the big ones,” he said.
Chairman of the Committee, Tanko Al-Makura, said for a thorough investigation of the menace and required way out, heads of relevant government agencies would be summoned for the more clinical interface.
The concerned agencies are the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Immigration Service ( NIS), Nigeria Police, Department of State Services (DSS), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).