At the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the Federal Government through the Minister of Mines, Dele Alake, intensified its campaign for foreign investment in Nigeria’s mining sector. However, back home, economic hardship has pushed even children to abandon their education for the mines, albeit at illegal sites. ISAAC SHOBAYO tells the story.
Apart from insecurity, another problem those in the troubled parts of the Plateau State have to grapple with is illegal artisan mining, which is gradually eroding the interest of the young in education.
In most of the mining sites in Jos South, Barkin-Ladi, and Riyom local government areas of the state, children, especially the underaged, are the centre of attention, as they try to eke out a living at these sites.
Many farmers that have been hounded out of their farms have equally abandoned farming altogether. This is no surprise with insecurity occasioned by frequent attacks in farming communities and the destruction of farms by bandits. Therefore, many have turned to the mining fields as a means of survival and relative safety.
The common line of thought in most of these mining communities is that education is a sheer waste of time compared to the quick money they are making on a daily basis from the mining business. Schools, especially primary and secondary, have suddenly become empty.
When the Nigerian Tribune visited Barkin-Ladi Local Government Area, most classrooms could hardly boast of up to 15 pupils; the rest of the class were on mining sites.
A primary school teacher in Kassa community of the local government, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said most of the pupils, like their parents, have been exposed to ways of making money through mining at the expense of their education.
“It is not peculiar to primary schools alone; students of secondary schools are deeply involved in this as well. They are in the process of being exposed to all manner of evils, such as drugs, prostitution and other forms of social maladies.
“All efforts to make them see the long-term implications of their action proved abortive. Quite a lot of them are nuisances to their communities, posing a threat to their respective communities,” the teacher said.
Most leaders in these communities where artisan mining is booming described the situation as worrisome and called for urgent action to curb the looming dangerous trend.
A community leader in Riyom Local Government Area, Dachom Musa, who said the ugly situation is posing serious danger to the growth and development of the Berom land, stated that despite the efforts of some community leaders to sensitise the young ones, most parents encourage their children to drop out of school and go into mining because of the pecuniary benefits.
“In most of these mining communities, classrooms are empty; the children have taken to mining; in some places, the teachers too have joined them in the mining fields. The most unfortunate thing is that the money realised from this illegal mining is often used on alcohol and drugs.
“This is a threat to their future and, by extension, the state as a whole. This is not a good omen for us; it has adverse effects on the future of the children and the society in general,” said Musa.
He, however, expressed displeasure over the posture of the state government towards the trend, adding that it is unfortunate that despite the danger posed by development, the government seems unperturbed to stem the tide.
Nigerian Tribune’s findings further revealed that quite a number of these young ones have lost their lives in the process of this mining. Recently, no fewer than 25 youths were buried alive in a mining pit when the earth collapsed on them in Kassa community of Barkin-Ladi Local Government Area of the state.
Apart from this, mining sites have also become soft targets for bandits on the prowl in the troubled parts of Plateau State. There are instances where these undesirable elements attack mining sites and open fire on them without any provocation.
Another dangerous dimension is night mining, where these children and adults go on mining in the night and are underground until the day breaks. Quite a lot of people have lost their lives in the course.
Recall that recently, gunmen killed six people who were carrying out mining activities at Turu community in the Jos South Local Government Area of the state and another three at the site around Tanjol community in Riyom Local Government Area.
In spite of the dangers and hazards, various mining sites across the state are always a beehive of activity, with all manner of people, including food vendors and women of easy virtue, clustering around the vicinity. So, the children are being exposed to ways of life that could jeopardise their future.
National President, Berom Educational and Cultural Organisation (BECO), Mr. Gyang Dudu, said the organisation has been inundated with several calls to end the ugly trend. He added that BECO has waded in through advocacy to sensitise parents on the danger such actions pose to children’s future.
“We are on an advocacy drive to stamp out that attitude. But this is difficult because of the circumstances that they are facing – they cannot gain anything from the farms because of attacks; that is one of the fallouts of these issues. When their environment is under constant attack, they cannot farm to sustain themselves; they find the mining camp as a ready-made avenue to pick up small amounts of money to sustain themselves.
“But that is not to give an excuse that we want them out of school; we want them to understand that their future is bigger than what they are looking for today. Certainly, we are going to talk to the chiefs and community leaders in those areas about the fact that no child within the school age range is found within the mining camps. We will do this in collaboration with the traditional council, with the local government chairmen and councillors representing those areas,” he said.
Dudu, who said the youths and others at the mining camps are prone to danger of attack by the bandits, stated that the ugly developments are being experienced due to lack of commitment on the part of the government to address the insecurity ravaging the troubled local government areas.
Also, the National President, Berom Youth Moulders (BYM), Solomon Dalyop, said the incident of underage children at mining sites has been a source of worry to the association and other well-meaning individuals in the state, particularly in Plateau North, adding that if the trend is not addressed in time, the consequences will be too ergodic for the state to handle in the long run.
“To us, no matter the circumstances that push them into mining sites at that tender age, it is a bad orientation that might destroy their future and make them liable to society in the future. Moreso, most of the mining sites are full of all manner of acts of violence that children are not supposed to be exposed to.
“The government should therefore come out strong on this dangerous phenomenon, while mining associations and artisan miners should help stamp it out of society. There are instances where our association has chased these children out of the mining sites,” he said.
However, when contacted, the state Commissioner for Education (Secondary), Nyalu Mohammed, simply declared, “I am not aware; I will do my investigation. When I am through, I will get in touch.”