INVESTIGATION: Nickel Discovery & El-Rufai’s attempt to confiscate Large Swathe of Southern Kaduna Land
By Steven Kefas and George Makeri
The Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai is set to acquire large expanse of Southern Kaduna Land using the instrument of state. We set out to investigate the matter after seeing a letter purportedly from The Kaduna Geographic Information Service (KADGIS), demanding of Comet Minerals and all other present occupants of the area of interest to vacate the land as government is set to acquire it for ‘Overriding Public Interest for mining purposes in Jema’a Local government Area of Kaduna state in favour of the state’.
We went to the communities involved on fact findings and spoke to several persons in the different communities. We visited Comet Minerals in Abuja. We spoke to the KADGIS official who led the government delegation that met with the host communities after the letter was delivered. We spoke to The Southern Kaduna Peoples Union ( SOKAPU) leadership and several others. Our interviews with the aforementioned interest groups can be found later in this report. From what we have gathered, coupled with our knowledge of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007, the government of Kaduna State has no business evicting persons from a mining site – especially not persons with a valid Mining Lease after following the due process of obtaining an Exploration License in accordance with the necessary preconditions stipulated in the Act. The Governor, El-Rufai, reportedly claimed the company is too slow. A Mining Lease is granted by the Federal Minister for a term of 25 years and Comet Minerals was granted its Lease 15 months ago. Nowhere in the Act is it captured that the governor of a state can stop a legitimate company (that has satisfied all federal requirements) from carrying out its legitimate business on the premises of speed. The Federal Minister may revoke a Mining Lease or Exploration Licence on certain grounds such as non-payment or lack of progress, but the State Government does not have such powers. Mining is a Federal Jurisdiction.
Why the Governor is Interested (opinion)
To understand why the Government of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai is interested in this piece of land, we have to travel back a bit. According to Market Watch, between December 2013 and May 2014, Nickel price went from $14,000 to $21,000 per metric ton. This is about 50% increase within the space of three months. Before this dramatic increase in price, Nickel was not on the radar of the US investors. After this increase however, investors’ attention has been shifting to Nickel. Nickel is the main material for the production of batteries in electric cars and energy storage from solar and wind power generation. With the drive by the world governments towards a pollution free future, Nickel appears to be that future.
Companies like Comet Minerals took the challenge earlier in 2015 and by 2016, massive deposits of nickel were discovered in the embattled Southern Kaduna region within Jama’a Local Government Area. The deposits are very high grade and closer to the surface; Comet Minerals dubbed it ‘The Titan Nickel Project’. The Nickel deposits spanning 20 km of the Comet Lease are over 90% pure and so close to the surface. This means comparatively low cost mining for a surface operation. The Chairman of Comet Minerals, a former Western Mining Corporation CEO and Australian businessman, Hugh Morgan, was convinced the Titan project is a potentially world-class, game changing nickel deposits believed to be the first of its kind in the world.
This Nickel discovery was made near three southern Kaduna communities of Bakin Kogi, Nindem and Dangoma. The Governor El-Rufai was informed about the discovery and given the honour to break the News. The discovery was first made in Dangoma, the other two Communities came later.
When we got to the affected communities on 24th of February 2021, we conducted some interviews – and from these interviews, we discovered that the move to acquire land under the auspices of KADGIS is very unpopular with the indigenous people.
Wardesk News Reporters were in Bakin Kogi in April 2016 at the height of the attacks against Southern Kaduna, including Nindem and Bakin Kogi. Some eyewitnesses in Bakin Kogi claimed to have seen their attackers jubilating and praising the Governor El-Rufai for assisting them in their ‘jihad’.
Just recently too, 20th of February to be precise, a publication of Punch Newspaper announced a call by Governor El-Rufai and his Ekiti counterpart Governor Fayemi requesting for restructuring, state police and resource control for states. By inference, El-Rufai is aware the State has no such powers.
From the foregoing, we are convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the Governor El-Rufai is obviously trying to acquire the land in a bid to chase out Comet Minerals for the sole purpose of taking over the mining opportunities. And this takeover is not to benefit the host communities or the people of Kaduna State as a whole. We have reason to believe the above given that 1 billion Naira was earmarked for development of mining Communities in the 2017 Kaduna state Budget, yet nothing was done for the mining communities. This means the funds were either looted or misappropriated.
Comet Minerals has made information about their Titan Nickel Project publicly available at International Conferences, mining journals and through their twitter account @cometminerals since 2018, so we were able to see the extent of Comet’s activities. We decided to visit Comet Minerals in Abuja to have first-hand information about their experience in Southern Kaduna. To our surprise, Comet Minerals has come a long way and has done a lot. The company completed its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Community Development Agreement (CDA) as was required by the Federal Mining Act before being granted a mining lease. The host communities told us of the much that the company has done and has been doing for them even before active extraction of the Nickel commences, especially in Bakin Kogi, where a bulk of the discovery is made, and down to Dangoma.
From our discussion with the company, we were able to reach some conclusions. Before the letter from KADGIS, the Jema’a Chairman requested of Comet to discontinue exploration work in May 2020. He told them that it was an order from the State Government House. The Director General Mining Cadastre Office overruled and asked Comet to resume work. This was confirmed in our interviews. We made several attempts to reach the Jama’a Chairman, but he was not picking his calls. We sent a text message to him, no reply. What business has a local council chairman over the mining activities of a Federally-approved mining company? We also gathered that the Director General of the Mining Cadestre Office was influenced upon to revoke the license of the company. The Director, not having a good enough reason to revoke the license of Comet Minerals, echoed that his hands were tied. Poor attempts have been made to discredit him for his non-cooperation.
Why is the governor bent on taking over the mining opportunities considering the fact that mining is on the exclusive list solely controlled by the Federal Government? Does he have the technological know-how to extract the Nickel? What has Comet Minerals done wrong? At the Africa Down Under Mining Conference in Australia in 2019, after it was announced that the purity of the nickel found in Southern Kaduna is about 94% and near surface, the Governor El-Rufai accused Comet of moving too slowly in their activities. This accusation, we observed to be false as Comet Minerals has been moving according to all that needs to be done. Governor El-Rufai reportedly boasted that he could take the mining job away from Comet Minerals. Before this conference, the governor had a very cordial working relationship with Comet Minerals. During Comet’s first meeting with Governor El-Rufai in 2016, he told them that he was willing to give them maximum support. He was so excited that he even pledged to surrender areas under forest reserve to Comet Minerals even if it meant signing it into law. Thereafter, the governor began to treat Comet Minerals shabbily and refusing to meet with them.
Our findings revealed that Comet Minerals alone has developed the technology for this kind of mining and the patent for such technology is still in force. How does El-Rufai intend to secure the technology from Comet Minerals?
The company had earlier secured a license from the Federal Government after submitting a very comprehensive and detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report to both the Federal and State Governments. The Environmental Impact Assessment was meticulously done and progress reports were submitted to both the Federal and the State Governments. The Company is also up-to-date in tax payment running into millions of naira. The company is also adhering by very strict company ethics and code of conduct. As a matter of principle, the company does not give nor accept bribes. The company is a strict respecter of due processes and will not skip any stage of verification or certification regardless of how long it takes. It seems the Kaduna State Government cannot find any shortcomings in Comet’s work that would provide the reason to have its license revoked. The company is conscious not to go against globally acceptable code of conduct and professional ethics. These principles, it seems, might be strange to the Kaduna State Government of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai’s politics of attrition against the Southern Kaduna people. The company’s strict adherence to ethics and globally acceptable standard of corporate social responsibility for host communities might go against El-Rufai’s wishes which wanted Bakin Kogi and Nindem marginalised.
Findings from our Interviews
The host communities, Bakin Kogi, Nindem and Dangoma are all comfortable with the current mining firm Comet Minerals and revealed they had no reason to doubt Comet Minerals. Except for Dangoma, the two indigenous host communities, Bakin Kogi and Nindem unanimously frown against the recent move by the El-Rufai government to acquire their ancestral land for whatever reason.
Mining proper has not commenced as it is rumoured in some media space. Comet Minerals has been collecting samples and exploring the area for more testing in their state of the art lab in Australia. We took some pictures from the two Host Communities of Bakin Kogi and Dangoma showing the commencement of exploration with manually dug pits for collection of samples. Proper mining would require gigantic machines and other mining architectures. There was no machine on site as at the time of our visit. Infact Comet Minerals has chosen to use manual labour for much of its fieldwork as a means of providing local employment and injecting money into the communities.
We also observed that the high precedence set by Comet Minerals may be difficult for any other mining firm to rival. For instance, no mining firm anywhere in Nigeria and beyond will begin implementing Community Development Agreement when they have not started making money from the mining fields. Comet has started implementation of some of her Agreements with host communities. Water bores and pumps, school buildings, scholarships have been in place well before mining. Testimonies from the youths of the host communities have attested to the above. Even Dangoma youth leader also attested to the fact that Comet Minerals has been very fair in their dealings.
One of the host communities, Nindem, is under Godogodo Chiefdom. When we got to Godogodo, the Godogodo Chief was not on seat. The Dethroned District Head Mr Dauda B. Avanza, who was visibly sick, took us down memory lane, narrating how the whole project started with Comet coming in to their Communities with claims of discovering some particular precious stone. He referred us to the current Acting District Head who declined speaking to us because according to him, the Chiefdom is his superior and should conduct interview on behalf of the community.
When we got to Nindem, we met the Secretary of the Community, Mining committee, a vibrant and learned man Comrade Dauda Bahago. Bahago spoke to us from a position of knowledge, being in the scheme of things since 2016. He said it was wrong for the Kaduna state government to claim to have discovered Nickel in their lands. He said it was Comet Minerals who made the discovery. Though we were not aware of any claim by the Kaduna State Government of discovering Nickel. He claimed the company has already begun implementing some of the projects they agreed on in their Community Development Agreement. There were concrete electricity poles erected in Nindem. Comrade Bahago claimed even the Minister of Mines has attested to the fact that Comet is already doing what other mining firms won’t do.
Bahago also confirmed the KADGIS letter to us. When we inquired to know if he also suspects foul play, he responded emphatically in the affirmative. He revealed that the Kaduna State Government has tried to send Comet who has invested heavily away from their communities. He alleged that the ‘Kaduna Mining Corporation’ was malicious against Comet Minerals. Bahago also revealed that there is currently a mining operation going on along Antang Village championed by the State Government. Further checks showed that the mining is headed by one Engineer Aminu from Dangoma who also is the mining committee chairman of Dangoma. All efforts made to talk to Engineer Aminu on the subject matter proved abortive as he promised to call our reporters back but never did.
When we got to Dangoma, we met the Youth Leader, one Mr Isyaku. He confirmed to us that Comet has been on ground since 2016. He claimed that when Comet Minerals first came in, they landed their chopper on his farmland – that he was working on the land that day. He admitted his community has a good working relationship with Comet Minerals. However, he claimed ignorance of the letter from KADGIS and the proposed land acquisition by the State Government. The Dangoma youth leader looked forward to great development in his community when the mining commences properly.
In Bakin Kogi, we were lucky to meet the community youth leaders and the village head when we arrived. The village head Mr Danjuma Waziri expressed satisfaction with Comet and their activities so far, stressing that the company has been carrying the community along in all their activities. In his own words, “I set up a committee which has been working alongside the mining company to make sure that the interest of my Community is protected, so far there have been no problems because if there were my committee would have informed me”. The Chief confirmed receipt of the KADGIS letter, saying he was shocked when he received the letter as he could not understand why such a letter at such a time. The youth leader, Mr Zakka Gwom, told us that the youths are conscious of all that has been happening and will not leave anything to chance.
The Chief granted our request to visit the sites where samples were collected by Comet Minerals.
Meeting with Barrister Kadima Waziri
Barrister Kadima is the Legal Adviser of the joint host communities and therefore has been involved from the beginning when Comet Minerals arrived in the area for exploration. Kadima confirmed to us that Comet has set a standard that may be very difficult to find elsewhere in the industry. He confirmed the earlier notion that no mining firm will begin implementation of Community Development Agreement before commencing mining. “It is like a company carrying out CSR before even making profit instead of vice versa”. Barrister Kadima further narrated how Comet Minerals ensured that they carried out detailed EIA before commencing operations. The report of the EIA was duly submitted to both the Federal Government and the State Government before a license was granted to the company. When asked about the legality of the letter sent to the host Communities, the legal luminary cum activist said “We just had the first meeting, we are still waiting for them to tell us the instrument of law they are banking on to have come up with such”.
Senator Danjuma Leah
We made several attempts to reach the senator, including a visit to his spot in Abuja several times, but to no avail. We sent a text message to his mobile number, but got no response.
SOKAPU President, Hon. Jonathan Asake
We spoke to the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) leadership and the president Honorable Jonathan Asake expressed his surprise at such move by the government of Nasir El-Rufai. He however revealed that some years ago, he and a group of persons were told of a conspiracy to dispossess these host communities of their ancestral land. They surrendered the information to the Southern Kaduna representatives with the Senator Danjuma Leah in the know. Asake however informed us that he was not aware of this recent move by the State Government to take over the lands using KADGIS.
Mining Cadastre Office Abuja
We went to the Mining Cadastre Office in Abuja, but due to thick bureaucracy, we were not successful to see the Director General. We called him several times and even send messages to him, but no response. We wanted to confirm certain information we have gathered about his struggle with the El-Rufai Government. From what we have gathered, the DG has refused to revoke the license of Comet Minerals even when he was under threats to do so. He was said to have said that he could not find Comet with any fault to warrant revoking their license or lease.
We got in touch with Mr. Bulus Audu, KADGIS SSA Lands, to enquire about the move of the State Government to acquire lands from some Southern Kaduna communities. We wanted to know how the move would translate into the security and well-being of the affected communities, given that is the government’s primary mandate.
Mr. Bulus, is the KADGIS official who led the government delegation that met with the host communities after the land acquisition letter was delivered. He told us the State Government was not buying land. He said government holds land in trust for the people for overriding public interest, and stressed that no member of any community has a right to say no to government. This clearly means the Governor is acting alone regardless of the prevailing sentiments among the people in the host communities. He encouraged us to read the Land Use Act. When we asked to know why Comet Minerals is staged to be kicked out by the State Government, he said mining companies needed to get a license from the Federal Government. The Federal Government, he agreed, oversees such issues. What then is the business of the State in this? He spoke about State laws that must be adhered to so long as it does not contravene the Federal laws. He suggested that Comet Minerals has not gotten the permission of the State to explore the area. However Comet secured community consent as required under the Federal Mining Act before it was granted an Exploration License. The Company also secured a Community Development Agreement (CDA) before being granted its Mining License. The CDA was passed by the Federal and State Governments. What State permission is further required? Mr. Bulus concluded by insisting that we visit KADGIS Office in Kaduna to get detailed information.
We can now safely conclude that the acquisition attempted by the Kaduna State Government is not done with the interest of the people at heart as the host communities, wherever we went, expressed shock and surprise to a move they may have perceived as erratic and irrational. It is expected of any government that it will make decisions with the interest of its people at heart. From what we have gathered, the Kaduna State Government under Mallam Nasir El-Rufai is bent on a collision path with the people. It is our belief that the Government of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai may resort to blatant abuse of power and shedding of more blood of the Southern Kaduna indigenous communities to forcefully acquire the lands of these indigenous people. This is because, from what we have gathered, there is no lawful means by which the lands could be acquired. If the government of Nasir El-Rufai is acting in the interest of the host communities and Kaduna State as a whole, they will not be on this collision path. Meanwhile, Wardesk News will continue to follow these issues closely and critically, until we get to the bottom of the matter.
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