Nigeria suspended mining in the restive north-western state Zamfara, a presidential aide and the police chief said, amid concerns illegal miners are connected to a surge in banditry.
The suspension underscores the breakdown of security in a part of the country where the military, police and state security forces have been deployed to tackle criminal gangs behind a spate of killings and kidnappings.
“The federal government ordered the suspension of all mining activities in Zamfara State with immediate effect,” said presidential aide Bashir Ahmed in a tweet.
Security forces in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy and whose security is central to regional stability, are stretched tackling a decade-long Islamist insurgency in the north-east and communal fighting between farmers and herders over dwindling land.
Nigeria has largely untapped deposits of minerals including gold, tin and zinc. Some 80% of mining in Nigeria is artisanal and gold in Zamfara is routinely smuggled to neighbouring Niger and Togo.
A statement issued by Nigeria’s police chief said the move followed intelligence reports that “clearly established a strong and glaring nexus between the activities of armed bandits and illicit miners”.
Zamfara is worst hit by the uptick of violence that killed dozens since the start of the year. The surge began last year and prompted deployment of the air force and 1,000 security personnel to the state.
In the last few weeks joint operations between security agencies focusing on Zamfara, Kaduna and Katsina, as well as the western states of Kogi, and Niger have been undertaken.
Banditry plagued the north-west for years, particularly around Zamfara and neighbouring Kaduna. The recent spate of kidnappings and killings has put the region in the public eye.