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On the trail of illegal miners

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In its war against economic sabotage and illegal mining, the Ebonyi State government has embarked on sting operations, which have resulted in massive arrest of illegal miners. UCHENNA INYA, in Abakaliki, reports

Ebonyi is blessed with various mineral deposits. Some of the minerals are lead, Zinc and limestone, which in recent times have become precious commodities, attracting all manner of illegal miners from within and outside the country.
Investigations reveal that while at least, ten truck load of lead and zinc depart various mines in Ebonyi State every week, the state government gets only N96 million annually as its 13 per cent derivative.
Angered by the activities of the illegal miners, the state government embarked on sting operation in some communities in the state which resulted in the arrest of over 30 suspects, including six Chinese. It ordered the closure of Zinc and Lead mines in the state.
At one of the mining sites, a tunnel was discovered. The tunnel was created by the illegal miners with which they operate underground mining. Security agencies could not enter the tunnel as they were afraid.
It was gathered that the miners are not alone in the illegal business as some Community Leaders and politicians always go into phony agreement with them and consequently short change government in revenue generation.
The Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Security matters, Dr. Kenneth Ugbala, who led a combined team of security agents, made up of policemen, soldiers and DSS to arrest the suspects in Abakaliki and Ivo Local Government Areas of the state, explained that the state government was not aware of the sites while a tunnel they dug measuring hundreds of metres away did not go through Environmental Impact Assessment, EIA.
He expressed shock on the activities of the miners which he said has created environmental problem to the state.
“The future of this state is at stake because of the activities of these illegal miners. I have the privileged of being in China and Chinese don’t temper with their environment no matter what the problem may be. With the type of problem created here in the name of mining, it is possible that this tunnel they created must have passed to underground to Government House and every other places that Ebonyi people are living.
“So, what do we expect? A total collapse! When we are living up, another road is in the ground in the name of mining and there is no society and there is no environment, states that this type of thing
is seen. It is not as if they pay IGR and when you come to IGR, what type of IGR will even be more important than the future of our children and the entire people of the state. We will make sure that we fish-out all these people. As SSA on Internal Security, I am seeingthis thing for the first time. It is threat to our environment”, he said.
On her part, Special Adviser to Governor Umahi on Solid Mineral Development, Mrs. Nwakaego Nworie, said that she had visited the site with Geological experts and that the miners only allowed them to see the premises and prevented them from going round the whole site.
“I became very curious and insisted that I must see the whole site. I moved down inside the site. I got to a place a soldier blocked me and threatened to shoot me if I pass him. The soldier told me, don’t go to that extreme. That day, I saw the tunnel even though I was prevented from going closer to it.
“Today, I am overwhelmed that I have seen the tunnel of mining for the first time in my life. I made investigation to know if our office is aware of this tunnel and no one could give me information. Before an underground mining can take place, there must be a bye-law and mutual agreement between the host state and investor. But now, we are not aware of underground here and it is worrisome”, she said.
One of the suspects, Nnamdi Peter, who hails from Enugu State, said he has worked in the mining tunnel for three months.
“In the first place, I don’t know this is illegal mining. If I knew it was illegal, I wouldn’t have been working here. The company should have carried out Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) with NESRA before embarking on this type of mining.”
The President General, Ebonyi State Association of Town Union Presidents, Chief Ugochukwu Akpa, said illegal mining activities were part of the crisis rocking some autonomous communities in the state and called for concerted efforts to curb the menace.
On his part, Chairman Miners Association in the state, Dr Sunday Chukwu, expressed worries over revenue leakages in the sector but assured the state government of its cooperation to address illegal mining.
Governor Dave Umahi had at a meeting with all the stakeholders in the mining sector explained that the decision to seal all Zinc and Lead mines was to issue miners with environmental permit and beef up the state revenue.
Umahi also announced the reactivation of mineral buying centre in the state while a task force would be set up to enforce government policies on mining.

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EFCC grills former Kaduna governor for 4 hours over N700m campaign fund

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The Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) on Friday interrogated Ramalan Yero, former governor of Kaduna state, for four hours at the commission’s office in Kaduna.

Yero was at the EFCC Kaduna office from around 9 am till around 1:30 pm, when he walked out smiling.

The former governor thanked his supporters who were outside the EFCC office, for their solidarity and asked them to go to the mosques for Juma’at prayer.

He, however, declined to make comment to the press.

His spokesman, Yakubu Lere, told NAN that the ex-governor was invited in connection with the N700 million campaign funds released to the state by the People Democratic Party headquarters in 2015.

Lere recalled that the former governor was at the EFCC office in Kano two years ago over the matter and was granted administrative bail.

“At that time, he explained during the interrogation that the N700 million was PDP money sent to him as the then governor of Kaduna state to finance 2015 general election with instructions, which he judiciously followed,” he said.

“What they are holding against him was that he kept the money in the office of the secretary to the state government instead of in a bank.

“Even last week he was here on the same issue, but as you can see, he came out smiling, meaning the commission has found nothing to hold against him for now.”

The spokesman urged Yero supporters to remain calm and be law abiding, adding that the struggle to “rescue the state from collapse” has started.

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National news

Speaker seizes mace to avoid impeachment

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mace

The Speaker of Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), Legislative Council, Mr Daniel Michael, on Friday, seized the mace, the symbol of authority, to prevent his impeachment.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that his action followed the move by his colleagues to impeach him over allegation of misconduct and abuse of privilege.

Mr Yusuf Kadir, the majority leader of the house, while moving a motion to pass a vote of no confidence on the speaker for alleged gross misconduct, called for his impeachment.

Mr Haruna Saidu, the deputy speaker, who presided over the house, directed the clerk to serve the speaker with the no confidence vote notice moved against him.

Saidu explained that the speaker had been given notice and the ultimatum to respond to the petition on or before May 30, but had to step down as the speaker in the meantime.

He further said that the impeachment would depend on his response to the notice served him.

Mr Aminu Barde, representing Kabusa ward, called on the house to strike out article B in the motion, which according to him, was strictly a party affair and should not be brought to the house.

Mr Isah Baushe, the Councillor representing Gwarinpa ward, said that the speaker should be given time to respond to the petition in writing before his the formal impeachment.

Baushe added that the petitioners should also provide evidence to back up their claims.

The petition reads: “abuse of office by taking unilateral decision without consulting this honorable chamber, which is tantamount to act of impunity and gross abuse of privilege.

“There was also an abuse of privilege by misinforming and misleading the honourable members to subconsciously disobey the party decision on state exco affirmation.

“This singular action has brought this honourable house to disrepute and ridicule.

“There was subversion of the legislative authority by unilaterally withdrawing an official communication from this chamber to the executive arm of the council without our collective consent.

“Desecrating the symbol of authority by removing and ordering mace to be deposited in an unconstitutional and unauthorised location,” it stated.

In his reaction, the speaker told NAN that he had not done anything wrong and would answer any question brought to him.

“I know myself, I have not done anything wrong, I’ll answer them,” he said.

NAN also reports that the glass door to the chamber was completely broken during the fracas that ensued at the chamber, following the event.

The lawmakers resorted to the use of the old broken mace to conduct the business of the day.

Some of the lawmakers, however, expressed happiness to the happening at the chamber, saying the crisis would allow members to sit up for serious legislative business.

(NAN)

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Navy seizes N66m illegally refined diesel, arrests 23 suspects

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Navy

Nigerian Navy (NN) on Friday says it impounded a vessel, barge and wooden boat illegally conveying about 300,000 litres of suspected stolen diesel worth N66 million.

Capt. Victor Choji, the Executive Officer of the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Pathfinder, Port Harcourt, presented 11 suspected crewmen to newsmen in Onne, Rivers.

He said that the vessel, MV Nazarene, barge and wooden boat were intercepted in the late hours of April 20 by troops on routine patrol of waterways.

He added that “the vessel, MV Nazarene, was caught in the act by our patrol elements transhipping suspected illegally refined diesel from a barge, DP 28, and a wooden boat at about 2300 hours.

“MV Nazarene was seized with 300,000 litres of petroleum product suspected to be illegally refined diesel.

“The 11 all-male crew members of the vessel were subsequently arrested and they have been in our custody as preliminary investigation had commenced.”

Choji said that troops also on routine patrol intercepted another suspected illegal vessel, MV Asha, escorted by six undisclosed security personnel.

He said that troops on boarding the vessel found out that the security personnel did not have permission to escort the vessel at the time of seizure.

He, however, declined to reveal the identity of the security agency that provided the illegal escort to the vessel.

He said “MV Asha was seized on March 29 at Onne waterways with 11 crewmen on board. The vessel and crewmen have been in our custody because their motive is still not clear.

“The vessel was arrested with six security personnel that were not under any authority to escort the vessel, thereby, contradicting the Harmonised Standard Operating Procedure (HSOP).

“The HSOP clearly spelt out roles of security agencies in combating illegalities in the oil and gas sector. I advise that security agencies abide by the HSOP.”

The officer added that any individual or group that wished to lift and load petroleum products legitimately at sea must first seek clearance from navy before carrying out such business.

He said the navy was resolute to ensuring that crimes and criminality within the state maritime environment were frustrated to allow legitimate social and commercial activities to thrive.

The naval officer handed over the vessels, barge, wooden boat and 23 suspects to operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for further investigation.

(NAN)

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