Strabag Precious Stone International market in Ibadan is a silent gold mine for many billionaires across West Africa yet government is being shortchanged as they fail to pay royalty, while the market remains an eyesore.
If you are visiting Strabag precious stone international market, Ojoo Ibadan, Oyo State, for the first time, you will not believe that billions of naira are being exported out of the community monthly.
From the narrow entrance of the market, which is dominated by foreigners from other west Africa countries, everywhere looks unkempt, dirty, with some dilapidated structures.
Owners of some of the buildings have vacated the buildings but are still receiving monthly rent of between N1,500 and N2,000 from the tenants.
Located at the yard of the defunct Strabag construction company, the company which constructed the Lagos-Ibadan expressway in the 70s, the market occupies almost 250 houses and has only 10 percent of Nigerians earning their daily income in the market while 90 percent of foreigners operate in the market, according to investigation.
Every Thursday, precious stones worth N500m are moved out of Ibadan to countries like Thailand, China, United State of America, Hong Kong and other developed countries of the world by some powerful billionaires from West African countries.
Our correspondent, who went round the market disguised as a customer, revealed that stones like tourmaline, Beryl, morganite and granite are being exported through NAHCO airport Ikeja, while buyers launder money through the land borders so government cannot determine the amount spent on the transaction.
Daily trust Saturday gathered that officials of the Ministry of Mines and Steel, both at the federal and state levels, the Nigeria Immigration Service and Customs at airports are also culprits, as they are allegedly being bribe.
Our correspondent gathered that most of precious stone merchants who are foreigners live in the most sophisticated estates in Ibadan, Lagos, Abuja and other big cities in Nigeria.
“Some of the merchants have been in the business in Ibadan for over 40 years because of the stability of precious stone deposited in Oke-Ogun area of the state, while their agents hunt for precious stones in the 36 states of the country,” said a source who spoke to our correspondent in confidence.
Among the gimmicks of the foreign businessmen are wooing village leaders with construction of roads leading to their villages and building schools for their children.
It appears Section 94, Chapter 3 of the mining act 2007 as amended which states that; “No person shall purchase any mineral unless he holds a licence to purchase minerals issued under this Act” is not applicable to the foreigner, as many of them dare Nigerians in the market.
A Nigerian source in the market told Daily Trust Saturday that “Government is aware we are here. Government had raided us in this market sometime ago but the foreigners were released after the intervention of their big men. Many petitions have emanated from here but it was swept under the carpet. With this business, the Nigeria government needs little money from the oil sector, if they are serious. What we are experiencing here can only happen in Nigeria and no other country in the world. How will you take precious stone from a country without paying royalty?” he queried.
Manually publishing their stones on their white table and almost 20 coffee joints where they relax to exchange market ideas, these men move around with flawless, colourful and hard precious stones worth millions in their pockets.
Daily Trust Saturday reports that prices of the stones which are determined by their colours and texture are deported in every state in Nigeria, especially in Oke-ogun area of Oyo State where mining camps are numerous.
Our correspondent further gathered that other states in Nigeria have Alluvial precious stone while Oyo State is blessed with pecmitine (vein) being exported from the state without the state getting anything in return.
Another source in the market told our correspondent that the foreigners control the market by determining how much they buy gem stone in Nigeria and how much it is being sold in the country.
The source said; “They are able to control the market because they have markets abroad and they have the money in Nigeria. There are some people sabotaging the effort of government, community and the citizens. Ibadan is the centre of gem stone in Nigeria, centre of marketing and centre of exploitation. Exploitation in the sense that government has no idea what is going on here.
“There are industrial stones which they export and refine but the gem stones are the ones they cut and use in making jewelleries. We have the best stones in the world. Talk about our tourmaline, Sapphire, emerald and other gem stones; we have the best. At times, when you travel to international market, they prefer our stones to other countries.
“Precious stones thrive in the international market. The foreigners – Malians, Burkinabes, Guineans, Gambians, Senegalese, determine the market. How much they buy and how much they sell. If you talk, they will tell you this is Nigeria. They are also members of ECOWAS and if you take them to any station, they will always have their way. The most important thing however is that we want to know who is protecting government’s interest here. How do they pay royalty? To who? If you hear anything mining association of Nigeria, it is not here. It is only in Abuja and this is where we do the transaction.
“People just gather themselves in Abuja to get grant from the Federal Government and World Bank without giving back to the country. They get money for artisans from the disbursement from the World Bank and the Federal Government but I want to challenge you to show me an office belonging to an artisan. If you complain, they will tell you it is because you are hungry. Petitions have emanated from here but they didn’t act on them because people who are supposed to act are also benefiting from the illegality.
“We are not against international trading but due process must be followed. There was a time we brought up an issue here but before we know it, some ambassadors called Nigeria government officials that their men are doing their business here in Nigeria and we should not disturb them because we are all members of ECOWAS.
“Meanwhile, you cannot try that in their own country. There’s no other country in the world where such a thing can be done except in Nigeria. You live in a country, go to their mining camp, and explore it without paying royalty to anyone. Never! It’s either they buy it from the site and take it directly to the airport or they take from here to airport without notifying the government and our government doesn’t care. Government officials know what I am talking about.
“We need lapidaries in Nigeria; a centre where we cut and polish stones. Here, we sell it per gram while over there, they sell per character. When you sell one gram for $5, they sell character for $500. Meanwhile, one gram contains five character.”
Worried over the development, two partners in the market, Mr. Bature Kolais and Mohammed Babakafa confirmed the abnormality in the market to our correspondent, while urging government to investigate the activities in the market.
As at the time of going to press, the Spokesman of the government and the chief press secretary to the governor, Taiwo Adisa did not pick calls put across to him and text message sent to him was not replied to know the effort of the government to address the abnormality.