By BOLA BAMIGBOLA

The recent death of a food vendor, Mrs Wumi Babatope, a resident of Ibodi in Osun State at a mining site in the nearby village of Afon, once again brought to the fore the alarming rate of violent crimes in mining communities across the state.

The availability of mineral resources should ordinarily be a source of prosperity for many towns and villages spread across Atakumosa East and Atakumosa West local government areas of the state, especially where large deposits of these nature’s gifts have been confirmed, but the contrary is the case in the communities.

The communities are not only wallowing in under-development, with fear of natural disaster in the no distant future, owing to massive land degradation; the inhabitants also, almost on a daily basis, experience violent crimes.

The huge presence of miners, mostly labourers, from the northern part of the country as Mali and Republic of Niger, is turning these mineral-rich communities to hotbeds of violent crimes.

The spill over of criminal activities linked to mining is felt in many nearby towns and villages, raising concerns about the safety of the entire state if the situation is allowed to further degenerate.

From kidnapping to banditry, land grabbing, killings, rape and illicit substances abuse, the Osun mineral-rich communities have had to grapple with some heinous crimes that have left bitter taste in the mouth, just as the development many indigenes envisaged before allowing the miners access to their land has continued to elude them.

Before the latest incident involving a food vendor, who was allegedly raped to death in Afon, the Alagun of Itagunmodi in the Atakumosa West Local Government Area of the state, Oba Michael Famadewa-Kosile, had in May 2019 called for the suspension of mining activities across Ijesaland, because the presence of miners had complicated the security situation in the area.

He said the state of insecurity across Ijesaland was directly a resultant effect of mining activities going on in many villages in the area.

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The monarch, who was also abducted by gunmen suspected to be Fulani bandits, while narrating his ordeal said, “I was kidnapped around 4.30pm by 20 men on May 30, 2018 at the Okiika junction on my way home from hospital. I was thoroughly beaten by my abductors, who took N1.7m from my vehicle. I managed to escape when the men slept off.

“Hausa miners have been living in Itagunmodi since 1920. I became king in 1995. Rather than stop mining, the government introduced the collection of levies. The solution to the security challenge is a total ban on mining.”

While Oba Famadewa-Kosile was lucky to escape from his abductors alive, 22-year-old Tope Ayoola, a resident of Iyere, another mining town in Atakumosa West, was rather unlucky, as a shot reportedly fired by a Fulani, who was fighting some Hausa gold dealers in the market on Monday, December 2, 2019, claimed his life.

An apprentice welder in Ilesha, Tope, according to his dad, Kayode Ayoola, had barely settled down in the town on the day of the incident, when news of his demise from a stray bullet was delivered to him.

The incident later led to clashes between the Hausa and Yoruba residents, which claimed three lives, while some stalls belonging to the non-natives were burnt down.

Sources in the town later blamed a suspected Fulani bandit, simply identified as Baguga, who was accused of lying in ambush and robbing some Hausa gold dealers, who were returning from their mining sites, for the crises.

The said Babuga, when accosted in the market by the victims, allegedly brought out a gun and fired a shot, which reportedly hit Tope a few minutes after he returned from Ilesha, where he was an apprentice welder.

Although the Osun State Police Command gave an assurance that the prime suspect, Baguga, would be arrested, there is no record that he was ever nabbed.

A resident of Ibodi, Lekan Awotoye, in a chat with our correspondent, lamented the insecurity that many residents were exposed to as a result of the huge presence of labourers working in mining sites that litter the area.

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He referred to a case of two missing children in Ibodi earlier in the year, who have yet to be found, and blamed the development on the increase in mining activities and the influx of people to the town to engage in mining and associated businesses.

Also, at a village under Ibodi community, Awotoye said the corpse of a woman was recovered from a pit a few months back, adding that labourers at mining sites in the area were strongly suspected as the perpetrators.

Apart from killings that regularly occur in communities where mining activities take place, substance abuse, especially by labourers, is another major problem in the area.

Sometime in May this year, a health worker attached to a public hospital in Iyere community, who pleaded anonymity, narrated her experience, when a labourer from the North was brought to the facility.

The said health worker said, “It was when the lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic was beginning to ease that a labourer at a mining site was brought to us. We were told he was sick.“But when we investigated the case further, we discovered that he took hard drugs in preparation for the day’s work. Unfortunately, their superior who was to lead them out to the site did not show up and after sometime, the drugs he took started affecting his system.

“He became restless and was brought to us in fetters. We were still trying to figure out how to neutralise the effect of the drug, when those who brought him suddenly became angry.

“They threatened to burn down our facility. Mind you, our facility is a primary health centre with limited capacity. But those labourers did not want to listen. The two of us on duty were later rescued by the villagers and we shut down the centre for fear of attack by the labourers. From my experience that day, I can say that about 95 per cent of those labourers working on mining fields are substance abusers.”

She also said rape, land-grabbing and affray were being experienced almost on a daily basis in villages with mining activities in the area.

In a chat with our correspondent, the father of the latest victim of violent crime in Ibodi, Boladale Owoso, said owners of mining fields, where crimes were being perpetrated, should be held responsible.

Owoso demanded justice for his daughter, whose naked body was recovered from a mining field in Afon on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, after she left home the previous day to sell soft drinks and bread at the mining site.

Owoso said, “Wumi used to sell rice, bread and sachet water to the Hausa men working in mining fields. Many women in this town engage in such trade. Wumi was not used to staying late whenever she went out for her business. Around 4pm, she would be back.

“When her husband waited for her to return around 4pm that day and she did not, he called his mum and they started looking for her. They searched everywhere, but could not find her until the next day when they found her corpse.

“Her head was smashed. I can’t really say who committed the crime, because I was not near the scene when it happened, but to uncover the perpetrators, those who own those mining fields should be arrested. The owner will identify the labourers he employed.”

Alluding to the increasing rate of violent crimes in the town following the surge in mining activities, Owoso stated, “This is not the first or second time this kind of incident would happen in our community.

“In this same town not long ago, two children were kidnapped and have not been seen till today. Also, a woman was killed and thrown into a pit. This also happened here in Ibodi.

“The miners packed their loads and fled after committing the murder. The police said they didn’t want crises and they have been moving round the town.

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“Our people are the ones bringing these northern miners. They are the ones selling their farmlands to them. Most of those labourers used to keep their belongings with our people. Some even rent out their apartments to the miners.

“I plead with the police to ensure that criminal elements among the miners are punished. They are not above the law. I want the government to also help in training the children left by my daughter. Wumi’s husband is a petty trader like his wife. He needs assistance to train the children.”

Reacting to enquiries from our correspondent on what the government was doing to address the rising insecurity in the mining communities, the Field Commander, Osun Amotekun Corps, Mr Amitolu Shittu, said majority of labourers at mining sites, especially the illegal ones, were not registered.

He explained, “They are unskilled labourers; many of them were smuggled into the state. This makes it very difficult to have accurate data of the number of workers in each of the sites as well as their profile. Similarly, host communities too, in most cases, do compromise because of their own pecuniary gains.

“We have identified about 11 illegal mining sites across the state and our men are stationed there. We are equally making efforts to discover more and identify the owners.”

As part of the solution, Shittu urged the government to ensure proper registration, not only of the mining sites, but also of the labourers in order for security agents to be able to identify criminals among them.

BOLA BAMIGBOLA writes on the increasing crime rate in mining communities in Osun State and the efforts being made to arrest the situation

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