The Okyenhene, Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin, has discredited allegations that he is neck-deep into illegal mining, popularly known as galamsey, in his jurisdiction, hence his inability to fight the illegal activity.
He said the allegations were mere fabrications by his detractors, including some of his family members opposed to his enstoolment.
“I am the allodial owner of all lands in Akyem Abuakwa. If I desire to acquire a fortune from mining, nothing prevents me from applying to the Minerals Commission for a licence to carry out lawful mining operations,” he told the Daily Graphic.
In May 2014, there were media reports that a royal of the Ofori Panin Stool, Odehyee Nana Kwame Adjei Boateng, had accused Osagyefo Ofori Panin of being involved in galamsey and recommended his arrest.
Nana Boateng was said to have backed his allegation with receipts allegedly issued to a known galamsey operator from the Office of the Okyenhene.
But in a sharp rebuttal, the Okyenhene described the allegations as mischievous.
“I am aware that there is gold here. If I want to do mining, what stops me from going to the commission for a mining licence, or even the President about what the traditional authority wants to do?” he asked.
Chiefs and galamsey
While admitting that there were chiefs involved in galamsey, the Okyenhene said he had not relented in his call to the security services to arrest those chiefs.
“Yes, some chiefs may be involved in galamsey. That is why I have, time without number, challenged the government and the security forces to arrest any chief who is involved in galamsey operations. Galamsey is a criminal activity and it is the responsibility of the law enforcement agencies to prosecute persons involved in it,” he added.
On the current campaign against galamsey, he said while the ultimatum given was necessary to allow the government to prepare, he wished it had not been announced.
In March 2014, then President John Dramani Mahama, during a visit to the Eastern Region, described Kyebi as the headquarters of galamsey in Ghana.
“…excuse me to say, Akyem Abuakwa has turned into the headquarters of galamsey [illegal mining] in Ghana. I came here by air and if you see how the land is being destroyed, it saddens me.
“I flew all the way to this place and when you monitor the extent of damage caused to the land and our water, you will feel sorry for yourselves,” Mr Mahama was quoted to have said.
That remark provoked mixed reactions from Akyem Abuakwa.
With his image on the line over a menace which has taken over communities in Akyem Abuakwa, destroying water bodies and agricultural lands, Osagyefo Ofori Panin said “it was an unfair statement”.
“I waited until he visited us again and that time I told him that ‘you came and gave us a name and left for Accra. You have returned. The galamsey that has its headquarters here is still here. You are the Commander-in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces; you have all the weapons, all the security apparatus at your disposal. If you want to stop this you can’,” he said.
He said he told the former President that all that needed to be done was to confiscate the machinery used in the galamsey, as the state would have done to the weapons of armed robbers.
“If you want to stop galamsey, take the excavators which are operating illegally from them. If you do that, it will completely disarm and discourage them,” he said.
The Okyenhene said the former President apologised for the comment and promised to work on the menace, adding that “three years later, we are still here”.
He said former President Mahama was shocked to know the big interests behind the menace in the area.
He stated that it was regrettable that although the country had vast quantities of gold, it did not own it and observed that while gold was found in Johannesburg and Obuasi at the same time, Johannesburg had developed into a world-rated city, while Obuasi remained a metropolitan village.
He said there were criminals destroying the country’s water bodies, while it was the government that had the sole responsibility to enforce the laws.
“I have all this land but the gold underneath is not mine. It is held in trust by the President for the nation. He is responsible for the gold we have here. If people are stealing it in broad daylight, destroying our environment in the process, whose responsibility is it to deal with it?” he asked.
The Okyenhene, who is respected for his voice on environmental conservation, said at a point when the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, invited 200 environmentalists across the world to London, he (the Okyenhene) was the only traditional leader among the invitees.
“I have earned recognition and for the former President (Mahama) to have made that statement and for my family members to go round and spread those vicious lies about me was very painful,” he lamented.
But he said the untruths would not prevent him from standing for what he believed in, adding: “We are going to fight and fight for the future of our children.”