lutching a shovel, Yunusa Umar, 30, joins a group of young men at the ever-expanding bank of Tumburawa river in Tassa, a village in Dawakin Kudu Local Government Area (LGA) of Kano State.
There, they collect sand extracted from the river into waiting tipper trucks.
“I earn between N5,000 and N10,000 or more daily,” he says of his daily job with a smile.
“When we started working here, there were only wheelbarrows and small trucks,” his colleague, Bashir Ahmad, chips in.
“Now, bigger tipper trucks are coming here…More than 100 trucks load sand here every day.”
More than 2,500 labourers work at this site, according to Aliyu Ismail, the chairman of the group of labourers.
“We have been working here for like 17 to 18 years. When we started, we used buckets and carts to fetch sand. We fetched a maximum of two small trucks daily,” he says.
Agrarian community folding to sand mining
few miles from the river bank, Yazidu Labaran, 35, stands on his farm, his gaze fixed on the drivers of his biggest fear.
Mr Labaran says the activities of Mr Umar and his cohorts will eventually consume his farmlands and there is nothing he can do about it. But his nightmare is already Rabiu Audu’s reality.
Some years ago, Mr Audu, now 50, watched helplessly as sand mining expanded the river bank until it eroded his three-acre farmland in Rukku, Kura LGA of Kano State.
“In a few months, they wll reach my own farm. Like three to four months,” Mr Labaran says.
More than 100 farmers in the area have lost their farmland to this problem, Abdulwahab Tsoho, the Secretary of the Association of Tassa Rice Farmers’ Cooperative Union, says.
Across three local government areas of Madobi, Kura and Dawakin Kudu LGAs, PREMIUM TIMES interviewed at least a dozen farmers who lost their farms to expanding riverbanks.
A silent environmental problem
he activities of sand miners along the Tumburawa river that cuts through several local government areas in Kano State, have been a source of concern for farmers in the communities and environmentalists who pay attention to the development.
Sand mining is a silent global environmental problem that is largely ungoverned.
Annually, 50 billion tonnes of sand is mined across the world, making it the most extracted material in volume and the second most used resource after water, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
While the scale at which sand is being mined in Nigeria is largely undocumented, increasing population and urbanisation are driving the demands for construction sand that the Tumburawa river possesses. Without regulations, the extraction is wreaking havoc; escalating the risk of erosion, undermining protection against storm surges and impacting biodiversity. It has also affected water supply, food production and fisheries, all of which pose a threat to the livelihood of people in the affected areas and beyond.
During a visit to the state the following year, the then Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, appealed to the Kano State authorities to stop sand mining along the river. But it continued unrestrained, expanding river banks and eroding farmlands.
Sand mining in Kano
here are at least 96 valid sand mining titles in Kano State, according to documents obtained from the Mining Cadastre Office (MCO) through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Of these, 51 were granted permission to operate in the three LGAs where this investigation was conducted: Madobi, Kura and Dawakin Kudu.
From 2018, when more than 90 per cent of these licences were granted, communities in the areas saw a surge in the number of sand excavators planted in the river and the activities of sand miners.
In 2021, a five-member team of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), found over 30 dredging equipment in the river during an investigation that followed a complaint by farmers.
A copy of the report, obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, also revealed that up to 500 tipper trucks haul excavated sand out of the site daily.
A review of the satellite imagery of Tassa village in Dawakin Kudu LGA, a major sand mining hub, revealed a rapid expansion of the river banks and the disappearance of farmlands close to the river.
The satellite images of the past five years also showed how the number of sand dredges in the river multiplied from only one machine visible in the satellite images in 2015 to six in 2018 and to 30 in 2021.
When small-scale sand mining began at the river more than a decade ago, it was not much of a concern until it started wreaking havoc, residents say.
“If you know this river before now, it was as if you could run and jump to the other end of it,” says Abdulwahab Tsoho, the secretary of the Association of Tassa Rice Farmers’ Cooperative Union.
“But that is not the case anymore. If we are to count all those who lost their farms as a result of this work (sand mining), it would be at least 100 farmers. Some even had to sell their farms as they had no choice. Others didn’t even sell it, yet the farm fell to sand mining.”
Realising they could not stop the sand mining activities, some of the farmers sold their farmlands to the sand miners for paltry sums. Those who refused to sell their farms said the activities of sand miners eroded them anyway.
For instance, Nuhu Bala, 24, and his siblings did not sell their farmland but it was eroded eventually.
“At first, they were avoiding our own part of the land. But people told us that they would still encroach on it whether we sold it or not. And that was what happened,” Mr Bala says.
Shuaibu Haruna, 35, says he was paid N500,000 for his 10 hectares of land, an amount he says he took because they would still encroach even if he decided to reject the money.
Government reports indict sand miners
ed up with the increasing loss of their only source of livelihood to the activities of sand miners, farmers from the three LGAs affected – Kura, Madobi and Dawakin Kudu – rallied together to take action.
The farmers, under the Association of Tassa Rice Farmers’ Cooperative Union, wrote multiple petitions to the authorities, seeking intervention.
According to documents seen by this newspaper, at least 68 farmers signed the petition written to the Kano State Public Complaint and Anti-Corruption Commission, the Kano State Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the River Basin Development Authority.
Their efforts looked promising at first, as the Kano State Public Complaint and Anti-Corruption Commission filed a suit against two mining companies; Yammawa and Sons Nigeria Limited with the Small Scale Mining License (SSML) 32117 and Sani Musa Tamburawa with the SSML 284990.
The petition also prompted an investigation by the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), which revealed that the land has been “heavily degraded”.
“The public complaint received was very genuine, as verified by the NESREA team and the magnitude of environmental degradation occasioned by the sand mining activities was monumental,” a preliminary report by NESREA concluded.
Another report by the Kano State Ministry of Environment confirmed that the sand mining activities had continuously “destroyed farmlands including trees and existing crops.”
It added that the irrigation activities which the people depended on as their main source of income had reduced to the minimum due to the erosion menace and the lack of adequate irrigation water.
In yet another report, the Hadejia-Jama’are River Basin Development Authority noted that the sand mining had tampered with the river embankments and eroded a large part of it.
“The water table of the area became apparently low due to the mining activities hence reducing the irrigation activity and the ecosystem as a whole,” it said.
The federal agency thus suggested that the authorities concerned stop the said mining activities, noting its damaging effects on the welfare of the communities around the areas.
But for unknown reasons, the Kano Anti-Corruption Commission withdrew the case against the sand miners, the farmers said.
Efforts to get more information on this did not yield results. The spokesperson of the commission, Kabir Abba, promised to furnish PREMIUM TIMES with details of the case including documents, but never did despite multiple reminders.
What followed the suit’s withdrawal was multiple lawsuits by the sand miners against the farmers’ association and its leaders: Mr Tsoho and Habibullahi Muhammad, the spokesperson for the farmers’ association.
The sand miners accused them of obstructing their work as they had lawfully obtained operation licences.
In separate suits, Hussaini Sulaiman and Wasilu Muhammad, who worked with Yammawa and Sons Limited and Sani Musa, respectively, filed another suit at the Kano State High Court against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the farmers’ association.
This followed an invitation served to the duo by the EFCC which received petitions from the farmers.
In the suit, both individuals asked the court to declare unconstitutional, “the invitation and threat” against them by the EFCC arising from the farmers’ petition.
They also asked for N1 million as damages.
‘The least regulated sector’
and mining activities, despite its effect on agriculture and rural livelihood, have continued along the Tumburawa river because of the loose regulations around sand mining, according to Haruna Manu, an environmental researcher and doctoral student at the Bayero University Kano.
He said that the government agency saddled with the responsibility of enforcing environmental regulations, National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), has no specific regulations on sand mining and burrow pit operation.
“Sand mining is the least regulated sector in this country,” says Mr Manu, who is also the Executive Director of the Kano-based Savannah Environmental Initiative.
“We have regulations on waste management, construction, on chemicals and water but there’s no regulation on sand mining… After water, sand is the most consumed resource globally. But unfortunately, it is the least regulated and the least controlled.
“You will see a situation where the government issues a licence to someone. But there are no specifications about the depth.
“I have seen countries where they put a limit to the area you can mine at a point in time. But here in Nigeria, there’s no such standard. That is the major challenge we have.
“NESREA has about 35 regulations on the environment. But there’s none on sand mining or borrow pit operation.”
As sand mining continues, farmers count losses
armers across the three local government areas said the loss of their farmlands has thrown them into untold hardship.
Some migrated to smaller farms they owned, while others now work as farmhands on other people’s farms.
They also recalled the estimated annual yield on their lost farms.
On his five acres of farmland, Haruna Abdul, 40, says he harvested N400,000 worth of sugarcane and 20 bags of maize annually.
“I am now a labourer working on other people’s farms,” he says.
On his father’s farm, Abdullahi Rabiu says they harvested an average of N2 million worth of sugar cane and 80 to 100 bags of maize, every year.
“All we have left now is our other farm where we grow millet. Before our farm close to the river bank was eroded, our maize lasted us till another farming season,” he says.
Shuaibu Haruna’s now–lost farmland used to fetch him between ₦500,000 to ₦800,000 from the sale of produce including maize, onions and sugarcane.
‘We’ll meet in heaven’
lthough unaffected at the time, Musa Sani says he would leave the sand miners to God should they finally extend their activities to his farmland – an inheritance from his father.
“They have not encroached on my farm, but if they continue, they will finally reach my side. So I am praying to God that before they reach my own side, there should be a solution,” he says.
“I am not going to sell it and if they encroach on it, we will meet in heaven.”
***This report is produced with support from the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) through its Natural Resources and Extractives Programme (NAREP) fellowship
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