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Fact-check: Video of plane moving in forest, not from Zamfara

Claim: There is an international airport in the middle of Zamfara Forest where Great Britain carts away Zamfara gold. 

The video is false. It is originally from Guatemala. However, it is unclear if there is a gold exchange between the Zamfara State government and Great Britain. 

Full Text 

Zamfara, which is in the north-western part of Nigeria, is one of the states in Nigeria that boasts of gold deposits and other solid minerals such as Iron-ore, Copper, Tantalite, and Manganese.

But over the years the state made the news for controversial reasons due to the illegal mining of its gold and tussle over controlling other mineral resources existing in its domain.

In 2019, the Nigerian government permitted artisanal mining of gold in some Northern states, including Zamfara. The states were also allowed to manage some other solid minerals in their domains. 

President Muhammadu Buhari launched the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative (PAGMI), a comprehensive artisanal and small-scale gold mining development programme “to foster the formalisation and integration of artisanal gold mining activities into Nigeria’s legal, economic, and institutional framework.”

This policy attracted criticisms from many quarters, including the outburst by the current governor of Delta State, Mr Ifeanyi Okowa. He alleged discrimination because states in the Niger Delta were not allowed to manage their oil and gas resources.

The Nigerian government later cleared the air regarding ownership of gold deposits in the states. It vested control of all mineral resources on the federal government, according to the 1999 constitution, section 44 (3) and item 39 Schedule II of the Exclusive Legislative List.

This was explained by the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007 (“the Act”) which was passed into law for the purposes of regulating the exploration and exploitation of solid materials in Nigeria. 

On the issue of illegal mining in Zamfara State, the Nigerian government had several times blamed the violent crimes in the state on illegal mining activities. 

Just recently, a video showing an airplane moving in a forest was shared widely on Facebook. The video can be found here, here and here.

In the video, the voice of a man could be heard claiming the video was shot in Zamfara even as he alleged that the state government was shipping gold to the international market without the knowledge of the Nigerian government. 

He further claimed that the aircraft was purportedly owned by Great Britain who was doing illegal business with the Zamfara government. 

According to the man, the Zamfara government has struck a deal with bandits, who in turn used the aircraft to ship gold and other items such as wood.

In his argument, the unidentified man noted that while Zamfara had no existing international airport, the Nigerian government placed a no-fly zone on the state as a result of the shady deals going on in the state.

He said: “This is the airplane that was caught on camera transporting gold out of Zamfara. You will remember that two weeks ago, the Federal Government placed a no-fly zone on Zamfara, despite the fact that the state has no airport. But could you imagine what we’re seeing here right now, is this not an airport? This is an airport in the middle of the forest.

“This video came out recently and the person that revealed this video asked that his face should not be shown on the video. This video has gone viral on the internet and it is one of the reasons why the Federal government had to place a no-fly zone in Zamfara. Zamfara normally has no airport so why did the government place a no-fly zone? Garba Shehu, the Senior Media Adviser to President Buhari, said jets were actually seen transporting gold out of Zamfara. 

“You guys could remember that Zamafara said they are selling their gold to the CBN. In fact, Bello Matawalle met with Buhari and said Zamfara is ready to mine their gold. Zamfara has a mine. 

“There’s information that this private jet is owned by Britain and it is carting away Zamfara gold and this is in conjunction with the Federal government but from the look of things, I don’t think the Federal government is involved in this and that was why they placed a no-fly zone on Zamfara.

“I think this is a shady deal that the Zamfara government struck with those bandits. You know the bandits have taken over the forest. They began logging wood, mining gold, and transporting these woods through heavy-duty helicopters to nearby Niger. From Niger, they’ll fly it out abroad. That’s what they’re doing, and they know that Chinese companies are hungry for resources. They are looking for these natural resources, and the Nigerian government has already barred them from illegally tapping our resources. They’re resorting to any means to get these resources. 

“When the FG placed a no-fly zone on Zamfara, that was not a welcome idea, and even the House of Assembly condemned the Federal government resolution. You could see that because of this, Zamfara gold and their illegal mining have sparked a severe outrage in the country, especially in the South-South, where governors of the South-South have begun to clamour for resource control.

“The information we have is that this aircraft is not only used to cart gold. We learnt the destination is Dubai, the international market. This is an illegal business. You can imagine a situation where another foreign entity comes to your domain and start tapping your resources. It’s a disgrace; it shows that nothing works in Nigeria.”

Verification

DUBAWA subjected the video, which is now circulating on Facebook, to analysis on Invid, a toolkit designed to assist in fact-checking through video verification. 

The result showed that the same video had once been shared last year following the Nigerian government’s announcement of a no-fly zone over Zamfara State. 

On March 2, 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari declared a no-fly zone over Zamfara state as a result of the banditry ravaging the state.  

National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, told journalists at the time that the president also banned all mining activities in the State. This, he said, was to curb the rising insecurity in the State. 

He said the intelligence and security communities ”have been mandated to go after all non-state actors, whose activities have been fueling chaos, for prosecution.”

He said the president ”has charged the new service chiefs to reclaim all areas under the control of bandits, insurgents and kidnappers, kidnappers and all others involved in criminal activities across the country”.

“We are not going to be blackmailed. The government has the responsibility to assert its will. Citizens can reside wherever they want to reside. Anybody who is a criminal should be brought to book,” Mr Monguno said.

Two years earlier, in May 2019, the Nigerian government announced a total ban on mining activities in Zamfara State and its environs owing to the relationship between the bandits and illegal miners. 

What is a no-fly zone?

A no-fly zone has been described as a geographic location over which aircraft (manned or unmanned) have been forbidden to fly. This depends on the area and the specific regulations and can be for military, security, safety or privacy reasons.

It can be used to protect sensitive areas, such as royal residences, or brought in temporarily over sporting events and large gatherings.

After the announcement by the Nigerian government, there were several speculations that certain aircraft were being used by criminals to exchange gold for arms in the state.

Daily Trust at the time quoted presidential spokesman, Mr Garba Shehu, who said there are strong suspicions that gold was being swapped for arms by criminal elements operating in the State.

“Even in Zamfara, there is a strong suspicion that some of those choppers are being used to ferry arms for bandits and also to evacuate gold illegally smuggled out of the country, so the country loses everything in the mining.

“As you are aware, the Nigerian gold market is a big business and the government wants to do two things at the same time by doing this; end banditry and economic sabotage through the smuggling of gold,” he said. 

Subsequently, a video circulated on the internet at the time showed a moving plane in the forest. It was alleged that the plane was used to cart away gold from Zamfara. 

It has been shared widely on Facebook including here, here, here and here.

Zamfara has remained a hotbed of insecurity particularly with the ravaging banditry, kidnapping for ransom amid other crimes.

Source of the video

The result of a keyframe analysis on Invid showed that the video had been shared online since February 2020. It was shared here, here and here.

“Narco jet impounded by the Guatemalan Government. Take off is performed by a Guatemalan Air Force pilot!” reads the caption of the video shared on February 6, 2020.

In a report by 1001crash.com, the plane in the video was the Hawker Siddeley HS-125-700A which was discovered in the forest with a fake registration and a removed interior. 

According to the report, the aircraft was impounded by the Guatemalan government over suspicions that it was involved in narco-trafficking.

Another report by the drive in February 2020 noted that the video was that of the Hawker Siddley 125 business jet that landed on a very rough strip in Guatemala on January 27, 2020. 

Meanwhile, a picture posted on the Guatemalan army Twitter handle @Ejercito_GT at the time showed the same registration number as the one seen on the aeroplane. The caption of the post was written in Spanish, but with the use of Google translate, it was clear that the jet was discovered in Peten.

The tweet reads in English, “#EjercitoGT locates (sic) in the department of Peten, a jet which was transporting possible illegal activities. Waiting for authorities to carry out the corresponding legal procedures.”

Screenshot of the tweet.

This came at a time when there was an increase in the activities of drug-bearing aircraft and vehicles in Guatemala, Belize and Mexico.

Meanwhile, a reverse image search on the photo of the aeroplane using Duplichecker reveals that the registration number on the plane; N818LD was on a very similar jet that landed in Belize on April 24, 2018. Тhе ѕаmе rеgіѕtrаtіоn numbеr wаѕ found on аnоthеr рlаnе оn Маrсh 7, 2018, in Venezuela and іѕ аlѕо ѕuѕресtеd оf bеіng uѕеd fоr іllісіt саrgо.

Conclusion

The video has been shared in a misleading context. The incident did not happen in Zamfara but in far away Guatemala. 

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