INVESTIGATION: Inside illegal mining operations of notorious Nigerian terrorist

Halilu Sububu, one of the most feared terrorists in Nigeria’s North-west region, is diversifying his operations.

Mr Sububu, a former gunrunner who mentored several notorious terrorists, commonly called bandits, in the North-west region, has set up a thriving illegal gold mining operation in the solid mineral-rich Bagega and other communities around Sumke forest in Anka Local Government Area of Zamfara State.

Mr Sububu, originally from Sububu town in Maradun Local Government Area, moved to Anka to assume control of most of the mining sites in Sumke forest.

That he could do this unchallenged in the fiercely territorial bandit region that rural North-west Nigeria has become shows how feared he is among other terrorists.

PREMIUM TIMES investigation revealed that Mr Sububu set up a camp on the western side of Bagega and controls communities and all mining sites in the area.

Though other terrorists operate illegal mining sites around the area, none is as lucrative and vast as Mr Sububu’s.

An 18-year-old miner who has worked for Mr Sububu several times told PREMIUM TIMES in November that Mr Sububu’s gang routinely abduct villagers who are compelled to work at the mines.

“We’re always forced to work. Sometimes they (terrorists) would just see you on your way (to mining sites), and then they’ll drag and force you into the pits to mine gold for them. Worse still, what they give us is too little for what we do for them. Sometimes they give us neither money nor gold.”

Though illegal mining was rife in the mostly ungoverned area and the involvement of bandits in illegal mining is not new, before the arrival of Mr Sububu and his gangs, armed bandits were usually hired by locals to protect the mining sites. They were paid in gold or cash.

But that arrangement has now become stale. Terrorists like Mr Sububu are no longer contented with providing protection. They have now taken over the running of the mines from the locals who are now forced to work for them usually without pay.

“Bandits decided to join mining to diversify, especially because most of the communities they (terrorists) target are no longer financially strong enough to pay ransom or levies. It’s good to know that banditry has transformed from cattle rustling, abduction, kidnapping of school children, imposition of levies and tax to mining,” Murtala Ahmad-Rufa’i, a researcher on banditry in the north, told PREMIUM TIMES.

Mr Ahmad-Rufa’i, who authored “I’m A Bandit ” and teaches at the Usmanu Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto, said terrorists in the areas are joining mining because it has become more profitable than kidnapping.

The man Halilu Sububu

Mr Sububu (PHOTO CREDIT: Facebook) page
Mr Sububu (PHOTO CREDIT: Facebook page)

Mr Sububu is not an ordinary bandit. He is the only terrorist in the North-west who is known to have close ties with French-speaking Jihadists in the Sahel region of West Africa (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Senegal) it is believed his gunrunning business was successful because of his affiliation with Jihadists in the Sahel.

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In his first and only known interview with journalists, Mr Sububu addressed himself as the “Leader of the terrorists operating on the northern flank.”

A family friend of Mr Sububu, whom PREMIUM TIMES spoke to on the phone in October, said the terrorist was born in 1986 as Halilu Jammare. His father, a Fulani herder, Jammare, was born in Jajjaye, a community near Sububu. He said Mr Sububu’s mother is from the Niger Republic and came to Nigeria with her grandfather through Maradi in the Niger Republic.

“She should have been around 11 or 12 years old when they came to Nigeria. The community leaders in Sububu gave them land to build a house. That was where Jammare saw her and they got married,’ the source told PREMIUM TIMES.

Mr Sububu’s father died 25 years ago, according to the source.

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Mr Sububu did not become a bandit by accident. “His father abandoned herding and allegedly became a robber. His father was a friend of a notorious thief in the area, Ma’a Jamamare. So, we were not surprised when Halilu became a bandit,” the family source said.

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‘Halilu started stealing domestic animals when he was very young. He moved from stealing domestic animals and began armed robbery before he started gun-running. His connections with the Niger Republic were useful to his gun-running business. He later became close to Alhaji Shehu Rekep (a notorious gun-runner) who is also answerable to him. He has people buying and selling arms from Niger Republic,” the source said.

Mr Sububu has a vast network of gun-runners under his control and is believed to rent weapons to other terrorists operating in parts of the North-west such as Maradun, Shinkafi, Kaura Namoda, Zurmi, Bakura, Isa and Sabon Birni.

He trained notorious terrorists Bello Turji, Lauwali Dodo, Ali Dan Oga, Chimo, Kwashen Garwa, and Haru among others. He is believed to have over 1,000 loyal fighters.

He has three wives and several children. He stockpiles weapons, motorcycles and other valuables in his houses, especially in Sububu and Rudani.

He also has hundreds of cattle and other domestic animals.

Mining operations

“When we are taken to a pit, we share the tasks to ourselves and work on shifts,” a 37-year-old miner told this reporter in October. A few days before the interview, he mined gold for Mr Sububu in Dan Kamfani, another gold-rich area in the state.

“We filled over 160 bags for him after three days of working. After the solos are brought outside, some people start grinding while others wash the sand to remove gold. Washing off one solo of sand gold can take two hours or more.”

Miners including teenagers resting
Miners including teenagers resting

Solo is the term artisanal miners in the area used to describe a 100kg bag filled with sand.

“When you are done doing that, one of Halilu’s men will give you your reward depending on their mood. Sometimes they give us one solo after getting ten solos for them,” the miner said in the Hausa Language.

He said Mr Sububu started paying miners a few months ago. Before then, he said, they were used as slaves.

PREMIUM TIMES spoke to over 10 people including those who participated in mining activities for Mr Sububu or have knowledge of happenings in the area.

Names of sources and their exact communities have been withheld for safety reasons.

PREMIUM TIMES spoke to a family friend of Mr Sububu, six artisanal miners from different communities in Anka and Maru Local Governments who worked for Mr Sububu, two people who have worked in gold mines in the areas, two residents who are not miners and two researchers who provided more insights into the activities of terrorists and miners in the area.

Three out of the six miners mentioned Kwanta Kwanta, Damar Manu, Dareta, Kwayakwas, Dan Kamfani, Mai Galma, Tungar Daji, Dawan Jiya, Bawar Daji and Gobirawa as the sites Mr Sububu controls.

“I worked for Halilu and other Fulanis (terrorists) in about ten mining sites since he came to this area,” another miner, said. “The first time I went to work for Halilu, he didn’t give us anything when we finished working for him. But he has changed. What he does now is to gather all those who work for him and give them a percentage of what they get.”

The miners said Mr Sububu pays them with a bag of sand from the mines for processing 10 bags of sand from the mines. But he said sometimes, Mr Sububu’s fighters refuse to give miners anything even when he instructs them to do so.

But it had not always been like that.

In the first few months, he said, the terrorists would send a message to communities around, asking for “professional” miners to come and work for them. They also waylaid miners going to mining sites, temporarily abducting and forcing them to work for Mr Sububu after which they’re released.

They would be assembled in an open field before the pits while Mr Sububu’s foot fighters count and address them. The rule was simple: put everything you get into the sack to avoid being killed.

“We were afraid because they (terrorists) would stand around with their guns waiting for us to finish,” the miner said. He said his first mining job for Mr Sububu was in a mining pit in Dan Kamfani. He spoke to PREMIUM TIMES in October.

“We would finish and surrender everything to them. Sometimes the work took us several hours. They would not give us food or money or gold and because we were all afraid, none of us ever dare to steal anything.”

Terrorists in the North-west have on several occasions forced residents to work on their farmlands without payment. Sometimes they ask residents to work on their farms as payment for protection or before allowing residents to work on their farms.

Forced to mine

One popular miner from Dan Kamfani had a taste of Mr Sububu’s cruelty.

He was said to be one of the finest and most successful illegal gold miners in the area until the arrival of Mr Sububu. Though he was conducting his activities far away from Mr Sububu’s stronghold, the miner felt it was better to stay low until the terrorist left the area. He left his community and moved to a settlement near Gargam, not far from Anka town, to avoid being forced to work for Mr Sububu’s miners. But it didn’t take long before Mr Sububu found him. He was abducted and taken to a mine in Anka and made to work.

Miners inside a deep pit around Anka town
Miners inside a deep pit around Anka town

“They found me while I was returning from the site,” he said via phone. “They didn’t even take me to Halilu once they established I was the one they were looking for, they asked me to invite my friends and get to work.”

First, they were forced to work around Dan Kamfani before moving to Kwayakwas and later to Dareta. For over four months, he said, he worked for Mr Sububu without pay.

“One day, they (terrorists) said Halilu had instructed them to start paying us after every workday. We don’t know what happened or who convinced him, but we felt a sense of relief and though the payment is not good compared to what we do, it’s still better than not having anything at all. Now, we’re paid based on what we mine every day we work,” the miner said.

The 18-year-old miner from Anka town said the first time he encountered Mr Sububu’s fighters they came across as “good” people until he was abducted on a motorcycle after they found out he was a miner.

They took him to a mining site around Dan Kamfani to work. At first, he protested and asked to know what he would be paid for working in the mines but he was threatened with death. He said he had no choice but to comply.

“I’ve no option… nobody has an option working there. Some people may tell you they like it since they’re getting something out of the gold but it’s all lies because who wants to work in a place where human life is not valued,” he said.

Terrorism financing

A resident of Bagega, who worked for a prominent mining company in Anka town before bandits took over, said on average there are between 40 and 60 grams of pure gold in bags of sand dug from the pits. He said a gram of gold is sold for N52,000 at the local market.

The “expert” miner from Dan Kamfani (who works for Mr Sububu) corroborated this but said a solo can contain more than 50 grams and can be sold at N70,000 or more or even less.

Banditry kingpin, Halilu Sububu (PHOTO CREDIT: Basharu Guyawa)
Banditry kingpin, Halilu Sububu (PHOTO CREDIT: Basharu Guyawa)

“It all depends on who you approach and how you present yourself. I used to sell my gold in Anka to people including Tarawa (white men or Arabs!)”.

Three of the miners spoken to separately said they mine about 65 bags of sand daily.

“It’s impossible to know how much he gets as in most cases we are not involved in bagging of the gold,” another miner, a 42-year-old resident of a community near Dareta, said. “It’s in the millions. It’s huge. There was a time he came to see us where we were mining for him in Dareta, while he was discussing with us he said if he had known mining was lucrative, he wouldn’t have begun abducting people.”

PREMIUM TIMES spoke to this miner in November through a “trusted” ally of the miners.

This miner said he had been working for the terrorist for 13 months. While he said the terrorist no longer forces miners to come and mine for him, he said it would be suicidal for anyone to withdraw their service.

“Well, since we too get something to spend from what he gives us, I believe it’s okay. But once you’re here (working for the terrorists) you know you don’t have any freedom. It’s because we’ve no option than to come and work but once you come you’ll completely be at the mercy of the terrorists,” he said when asked if he enjoyed working for Mr Sububu.

PREMIUM TIMES was unable to establish how many grams of gold Mr Sububu gets after every work day as only his closest and most trusted lieutenants are allowed to gather the gold after grinding and washing off the sand.

On 18 November, one of the miners told PREMIUM TIMES he was engaged in grinding and washing processes for Mr Sububu. It was rare because Mr Sububu hardly allowed those not living in his camp to wash off sand and dirt from the gold.

“Today, we got 270 grams of gold for Halilu after grinding and washing. But there are other solos yet to be touched (for grinding and washing). It could be a thousand grams by the time we finish washing it next week,” he said.

Miners said a gram of gold is sold between N40,000 to N50,000. Thus, the 270 grams stored for Mr Sububu on 18 November would be sold for approximately N13 million.

When this reporter expressed doubt over the amount, one of the miners, an internally displaced person, said 270 grams are “nothing” to the terrorist.

He insisted Mr Sububu would not have left his hometown, abandoning his kidnapping operation if he was not making a killing from mining. “Only God knows how many grams Halilu gets from this place and other places,” he said.

The people Mr Sububu sells his gold and other minerals he gets from his illegal mining operation have yet to be identified. Some of the miners said he sold the gold and other minerals to merchants outside the country.

Two researchers also corroborated what the miners said, noting Mr Sububu’s connection to international terrorists and the volume of gold he mines.

One of the miners said Mr Sububu does not sell his gold in the area because it will be priced cheaply. All other miners PREMIUM TIMES asked said they didn’t know about the buyers.

But they mentioned one name: Buhari. He is believed to be Mr Sububu’s fixer when it comes to the gold business.

Another name mentioned by residents of the area is Gaddafi, who crushes the dirt rocks from the mine before they are washed.

PREMIUM TIMES made several efforts to speak with Messrs Sububu and Buhari to no avail.

None of the miners spoken to seems to have access to Mr Buhari, who is said to be in his early 30s. The miners said he is shadowy and is only known by those close to Mr Sububu. He doesn’t live in the camp but frequents the place.

“He only comes when there is so much gold to take away. I will not lie to you because I don’t know how he does it but everyone around knows he is the one selling the gold. I’ve seen him thrice. He mostly comes in the night and rarely sleeps in the camp,” one of the miners said.

Efforts to speak to Mr Gaddafi were unsuccessful. He did not respond to calls while miners and residents said they could not approach him to talk to this reporter.

Shehu Rekep

While Mr Sububu oversees the mining business, his top commander, Shehu Rekep, is placed in charge of his fighters.

Due to the heavy security needed to transport the gold across the border, Mr Rekep is often put in charge of that operation. Another reason why Mr Rekep is made to supervise the transportation of the gold is that he was a gun-runner before he joined Mr Sububu’s gang.

A miner said he heard, on several occasions, Mr Sububu discussing when ‘kaya,’ which means ‘stuff’ in the Hausa Language, would be taken to Mr Rekep. Whenever there are such discussions, he said, Mr Buhari would ‘visit the camp to see Halilu’.

Basharu Guyawa, who researches activities of terrorists, especially in Sokoto East and Zamfara North, said the possibility of Mr Sububu trading his gold and other mineral resources in the Niger Republic and other francophone countries is high.

‘I’m not surprised (that Mr Sububu sells his gold internationally) because his group of fighters are now under Shehu Rekep in northern Zamfara State. The unofficial routes they use to get weapons from Niger Republic are still there for them to exploit, and you know Halilu and Shehu Rekep have done that for several years,” Mr Guyawa, who heads Rundunar Adalci, a human rights organization in Sokoto State, said.

Mr Ahmad-Rufa’i, the researcher and university teacher, said the possibility of Mr Sububu selling his gold in the international market is high due to his vast connections.

“He is connected internationally. Sometimes he takes his gold outside the country and it’s not every time that he sells the gold for money. Sometimes he gives the gold in exchange for weapons because he still maintains his armouries,” he said.

He said Mr Sububu is using the proceeds of his Illegal mining to buy or get more weapons to finance his terrorist activities by providing support and training to his fighters.

PREMIUM TIMES gathered that communities have easier access to the Niger Republic due to porous borders in places like Tafkin Hili, Dan Ayagi, Take Tsaba and Daama all in Sabon Birni Local Government.

There is Karhen Chana and Ruwa Wuri in Gudu Local Government, Kalmalu in Illela and Rahin Duma, Tambai and Duka Maje in Gada Local Government. The areas are all in Sokoto State.

‘There are areas in Zamfara State from the Shinkafi and Zurmi local governments axis. They (Messrs Sububu and Rekep) have all used such routes to trade weapons before, they now use the same routes to trade gold,” Mr Guyawa added.

Weak enforcement aids illegal mining

In Nigeria, the mining of solid minerals is regulated – at least on paper. But in reality, the government pays scant attention to the mining of solid minerals. Artisanal and illegal mining, with little or zero government oversight, are rife across the country.

Several bans on illegal mining, like the ones made by the immediate past President Muhammadu Buhari in 2021 and 2019, were not matched with actual enforcement and illegal miners have carried on business as usual with little or no consequences.

Teenage miners in a mining site around Anka town
Teenage miners in a mining site around Anka town

The Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act stipulates the ownership of mineral resources, conditions for mining and/or exploration and others.

Section 2 of the Act stated: “All lands in which minerals have been found in commercial quantities shall, from the commencement of this Act be acquired by the Government of the Federation in accordance with the provisions of the Land Use Act,” section (2) of The Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act states.

Under a heading titled “Prohibition of exploration or exploitation of minerals without authority”, the Act said, “No person shall search for or exploit mineral resources in Nigeria or divert or impound water for mining except as provided in this Act.”

Despite such laws, terrorists like Mr Sububu and other illegal miners continue to mine mineral resources in commercial quantities across the country.

The Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Ogbonnaya Orji, lamented the lack of transparency in the governance of solid minerals in the country.

He also said insecurity and lack of regulation are some of the issues affecting the mining industry.

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“There is a need for collaboration with security agencies and mining host communities to help curb insecurity in the mining sector. Because the activities of miners are not monitored or regulated by relevant authorities, they tend to operate without guidelines leading to environmental hazards. We need to accelerate our commitments to change the way we source minerals and metals,” Mr Orji said during the 2023 West Africa Mining Host Communities’ Indaba Conference in Abuja.

Multiple calls and messages including on WhatsApp to the Minister of Solid Minerals, Dele Alake, for comments were not answered nor responded to.

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