Several angry residents of the Upper East Region have descended heavily on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Ghana Police Service following recent deaths of some illegal miners in Talensi, a district in the region.
The residents say fifteen people have been killed so far at the site and their bodies have been secretly buried so that the ongoing illegal mining activities would not come to light.
“As a regulatory body mandated to protect the environment according to the EPA Act 490 (1994), the EPA is supposed to be proactive in preventing galamseyers (illegal miners) from causing harm to the environment.
“What is happening in Talensi right now is clear evidence in our opinions that the current administration at the EPA’s national headquarters in Accra is not living up to expectations on the anti-galamsey fight,” fumed Moses Nabzor.
He added: “This is one of the reasons the international community will not take Ghana seriously on Climate Change issues. Environmental degradation or pollution has a lot to do with Climate Change. But illegal mining is going on in Talensi under the watch of the EPA. They (the illegal miners) are currently there mining without permit.”
The 25-acre site is located at Gban, east of Talensi. The site was legally acquired by Zongdan Boyak Kolog, a young small-scale miner better known as Polo, in 2013 and named Nanlamtaaba Enterprise.
Kolog is said to have reported the illegal miners’ activities to the Upper East Regional Police Command several times but the command failed to act, resulting in deaths of unregulated miners and serious injuries to the trespassers at the site.
He also notified the police about some of the deaths, but the police, again, reportedly did not act.
There is evidence that his lawyers also wrote to the regional police command a petition dated June 26, 2023, citing new names of people who had joined the other illegal miners at the site to mine without licence and permit. That petition did not yield any results.
The fifteen people who have died so far were killed mostly through explosion and electrocution within the last four months. The residents say the bodies of the illegal miners killed so far were buried in some communities in the Bongo District and three communities in Talensi— Datoko, Kolpeliga and Yale.
The latest tragedy struck in the last week of September, 2023, when a young man, Godwin Buing, was apparently electrocuted and buried secretly at Kolpeliga.
“The people behind the illegal mining activities often take the bodies secretly to the families and put fear in the families by saying if the families report, the police will come and arrest them for encouraging their relations to do galamsey (illegal mining).
“So, the families, for fear of arrests, would quickly bury the bodies. Two chiefs in Talensi are involved in these illegal mining activities. One notorious criminal, who is always seen in videos wielding guns and shooting guns in public with police bodyguards around him, and his notorious criminal brother are involved, too,” another resident, Paul Yin-mmi, seethed.
How unlicensed miners invaded a licensed concession
Kolog applied for environmental permit in January, 2023, for his concession.
And while he was waiting for the EPA to issue the permit, he also visited the site regularly to keep intruders at bay.
During that period, Earl International Group Ghana Gold Limited, a Chinese company known previously as Shaanxi Mining Company Limited, appeared on Kolog’s concession with earth-moving machines, claiming the site was part of the 16.02 square kilometres of land it had acquired for large-scale mining operations.
The Chinese company was reportedly backed by the Minerals Commission, the District Chief Executive (DCE) of Talensi, Thomas Duanab, the Chief of Gban, Elijah Nab Pardnyuun and Pardzie Nab (a relation of the Chief of Gban known in Talensi as commando) to take over Kolog’s concession.
Kolog filed a suit at the High Court ‘2’ in Bolgatanga against the Chinese company and its four backers, asking the court to bar them from entering his concession among some other reliefs sought.
The court granted the interlocutory injunction request against the five defendants.
But after the court issued the injunction, the DCE was captured together with commando in a video engaging some young miners at the no-go site and telling them the concession no longer belonged to Kolog. Many observers interpreted the DCE-led action as contemptuous.
Afterwards, a young man by the name of Ibrahim Naab, nicknamed gold baron and related to commando, allegedly mobilised some youths in the area and incited them to attack Kolog if they spotted him at the site.
Kolog reacted by reporting Naab to the District Police Command in Talensi and made available to the police an audio recording of Naab’s alleged threat.
Naab was arrested and put before the Circuit Court in Bolgatanga.
Kolog also filed a contempt application against Naab, the District Chief Executive and the other four defendants in the already-running case at the High Court ‘2’ in Bolgatanga.
But the contempt application suddenly hit an indefinite hold-up after Justice Alexander Graham, the judge who was presiding over the substantive case, came under threats and a violent attack at his residence from some unidentified persons and fled the region before the dawn of 16 March, 2023.
The attack and threats came five days after he convicted two people— Naab Nyarkora Mantii and Richard Sunday Yinbil— sent to him contemptuously on an “influence-peddling” mission by the Paramount Chief of Talensi, Tongraan Kugbilsong Nanlebegtang.
Justice Frederick Kwabena Twumasi, a new judge who was posted to the region to replace Justice Graham, fled the region, too, when he came under similar threats by unknown faces weeks after taking over the court.
Considering the threat on his life and the violent attack on the judge, Kolog heeded advice from his lawyers and other well-wishers to stay away from his site in the meantime for security reasons.
His absence from the site and the absence of a judge at the High Court ‘2’ to date gave illegal miners a golden opportunity to invade his site and steal gold from the concession.
One Lipton is said to have dug an illegal pit at the site and recruited countless men fifteen of whom have died so far and buried secretly.
Another Abiseyine Ayamga is said to have illegally dug a pit at the site and engaged an ‘army’ of illegal miners to work for him and his sponsors.
Ghana’s Minerals Commission showing favouritism in favour of China’s Shaanxi and reported allies?
When Kolog applied for environmental permit in January, 2023, he paid all the fees demanded by the EPA to process the permit.
But the permit has not been issued to him from January to date (October) despite his persistent demand for it.
The national head office of the EPA reportedly wrote to the Minerals Commission for details about the status of Kolog’s Nanlamtaaba concession. Then, the paramount chief of Talensi, who is said to be in conflict with Kolog but in support of China’s Shaanxi, wrote to the Minerals Commission for the same details about Nanlamtaaba Enterprise.
Kolog’s lawyer, Charles Quansah, applied for a search at the Minerals Commission for the status of Nanlamtaaba Enterprise’s concession, too, and paid a required USD500 (Gh¢5,808) for the search.
The commission lost no time in furnishing the Tongraan with the information he wanted about Kolog’s Nanlamtaaba Enterprise.
But the same commission has failed to respond to the application for search which Kolog’s lawyer made and paid for since January, 2023.
The response the Tongraan got from the Minerals Commission stated that Kolog was operating illegally because he did not have an EPA permit and an “operating permit” (digging permit) from the Inspectorate Division of the Minerals Commission.
That response letter was photographed and deliberately circulated on several social media platforms to create an impression that Kolog was operating illegally and to incite potential illegal miners to invade his concession, according to development watchers.
“Did Polo (Kolog) not help and support the same Tongraan, the DCE, Robert Boazor in the past? Look at what they are doing to Polo today. I reserve further comments until the right time,” said Isaac Tindanbil.
Media Without Borders forwarded a message to the Minerals Commission’s Chief Executive Officer, Martin Kwaku Ayisi, on Wednesday, 4 October 2023, for his comments on the commission’s alleged failure to produce the result of the search for which Kolog’s lawyer applied and paid USD500 from January to date.
The commission’s CEO received the message but did not respond to the question posed to him by the author of this report.
Response from EPA
When Media Without Borders met with the EPA’s Executive Director, Dr. Henry Kwabena Kokofu, for his comments on Kolog’s quest for permit, he said processing did not necessarily guarantee permit.
“The processing fee does not warrant permit. It is receiving your application; then, it goes through processing. When it gets to a point that we can permit, then, we inform you that your application is successful; so, go and pay permit fee. Then, we permit,” he said on Monday, 2 October 2023.
He added that the permit Kolog sought could not be granted because the Minerals Commission had disclosed to the EPA that a large area of Kolog’s concession was part of the 16.02 square kilometres of land Earl International Group Ghana Gold Limited acquired for a large-scale mining business.
“We said part of the concession, about 17 %, is outside that large concession. We, EPA, can permit that portion that is outside if Minerals Commission demarcates that one; then, we can permit that one,” he added.
The EPA’s Director of Mines, Michael Sandow Ali, added his voice, saying the EPA had communicated to Kolog the reason he could not be granted permit.
“It’s not only information by word. We wrote to the Minerals Commission and, then, we copied him. So, he is aware that this is why the processing cannot be permitted for now,” he stated.
When asked if the illegal miners’ activities in Talensi ever came to the EPA’s notice and if EPA was concerned about the destruction being done to the environment by the illegal miners, Dr. Kokofu’s response was: “Report to the police. We don’t want to discuss this one here.”
Meanwhile, Kolog’s counsel has countered the claims made by Ali that the EPA had communicated to his client that the permit he wanted could not be granted.
“Did the Minerals Commission indicate to the EPA the process the purported large-scale miner went through to acquire part of Kolog’s concession? You cannot just get up and give somebody’s mining concession to someone else.
“They have not given us any indication. They have not told us that is the reason why they are not giving us the permit. We have not signed a concessionary agreement to the grant of our small-scale mining agreement to anybody,” Quansah told Media Without Borders on Wednesday, 4 October 2023.
Response from police
The police did nothing, not only after Kolog notified them about the invasion of his site by illegal miners and the resultant deaths, but also after he reportedly drew their attention to the illegal miners’ disregard for the court’s injunction after the judge fled the region.
In fact, one resident alleged that the police had decided to turn a blind eye to the illegal miners’ activities at the site because the illegal miners had been remitting parts of the proceeds realised from the illegal mining operations to two top police commanders.
“Illegal miners are killing themselves and burying themselves and nobody gets to hear. And when they die, we hear that one of those who are backing them to do the illegal mining takes fluids from their bodies. We don’t know what he does with the fluids.
“If the government can stop Shaanxi from operating because of several accidents, why can’t it stop the illegal miners now from working on somebody’s concession? It’s because the police have a share. I’m telling you. You can call them. They have a share,” Benjamin Nabil stated.
“If they don’t have a share, they should quickly go and stop illegal mining on the concession. If the concessionaire, the one who owns the licence, has not got digging permit and would not be allowed to mine, then, people who don’t have any permit should not go there to mine under police watch.
“They mine there in the presence of police. Police are guiding them to do illegal mining,” Nabil stated further.
When Media Without Borders contacted the Upper East Regional Police Command on Thursday, 5 October 2023, on the allegations made by the residents, its public relations officer, DSP David Fianko-Okyere only said he would “inform the regional commander about it”.
The only response received so far from the police is what the public relations officer said.
The regional police command has not said anything further on the allegations since Thursday to date (Sunday).
Residents have hinted at plans to stage a demonstration in the streets against the EPA, the Minerals Commission and the police on the reported illegal mining activities at the site.
Source: Edward Adeti/Media Without Borders/mwbonline.org