The Nigerian Government has banned mining in the state of Zamfara, as police consider illegal mining to be behind an ongoing spree of violence and kidnapping in the region.

The northwestern state has experienced periods of significant violence in recent years, with gang rivalry and cattle theft among the reasons for the conflicts, which were estimated to have claimed 3,000 lives in 2018.

Conflict over resources has also extended into the state’s mining sector, with the region suffering from illegal mining operations eager to exploit what the Human Rights Watch calls “significant deposits of gold” in the state. Nigeria also has considerable reserves of tin and zinc, although many of these deposits are undeveloped, and it is estimated that up to 80% of mining operations in the state are illegal or small-scale projects.

In response, Mohammed Adamu, acting inspector-general of police, has banned mining in the state, claiming that illegal mining operations and gang violence encourage each other to continue.

“Any mining operator who engages in mining activities in the affected locations henceforth will have his licence revoked,” he said. “All foreigners operating in the mining fields should close and leave within 48 hours.”

The Nigerian Police Force also announced that it would work with the country’s military on a joint campaign known as ‘Operation Puff-adder’, in which the groups will go on the offensive against gang members. Around 1,000 military personnel, including members of the air force, have already been deployed in Zamfara.

While these proposed actions aim to reduce the violence in the state, it is unlikely to address existing problems with the Zamfaran mining sector, most notably safety. A Human Rights Watch report found that since 2010, acute lead poisoning, caused by the processing of ore in or near homes, affected more than 3,500 children, killing at least 400. The group found that the lead concentration in the atmosphere of some homes reached 23,000 parts per million, well above the 400 parts per million threshold considered safe.

The influence of mining on the national economy has tumbled in recent months, with the sector contributing just 0.3% to the country’s total GDP. The blanket ban on mining and threat of the removal of operating licences will do little to improve the sector’s performance.