Four years after devastating environmental impact of mining in Okobo was exposed, nothing has changed

The Nigerian government is yet to bring to justice perpetrators of terrible devastating environmental impact on Okobo community as a result of mining activities, four years TheCable Newspaper exposed the practice.

Shortly after the devastating environmental impact on the Okobo community was exposed, Mr. Kayode Fayemi, the Nigerian former Minister of Solid Minerals Development and the current Ekiti State Governor assured that those behind the practice will be fished out and punished.

Worse still, four years after the promise, nothing has happened while the Okobo community still awaits justice and hopes government intervenes to protect them from the hazardous environmental impact.

The story published in 2017, showed how residents of Okobo community, Ankpa Local Government, Kogi State, in the last years have been living in a terrible environmental hazard as a result of the environmental pollution caused by the activities of Eta Zuma Mining Company Limited that mines coal in the community, leading to residents suffering deaths and diseases as a consequence of the mining activities.

It showed how a stream that serves as the only source of water supply in the community has been contaminated by the mining activities and the water has become unsafe for human consumption.

While children and adults find it very difficult to sleep at night as a result of the noise that comes from the mining site further complicating their stress and frustration. And, as trucks trudge in and out of the community, coal dust fills the atmosphere affecting their breath and causing eyesight problems, lungs, and chest pains.

Because of the huge noise that comes from the mining site, at night, many of the residents often take abode in the nearby communities to find a quiet place to sleep. The company works 24 hours, making it impossible for the host community to have a quiet environment and sleep at night.

The women in the community have severally complained, they cannot farm anymore as they are gradually losing the energy to go to the farm as a result of the illness they suffer from the mining activities.

Mr. Onegema, a community resident, said, a primary school building in the community collapsed as a result of vibrations coming from heavy equipment used in the mining site. And his son Adamu was trapped and killed in the incident. Unfortunately, the company did not compensate him for the death of his son.

Although the primary school was rebuilt by the mining company, the school was not built to compensate the residents, but because their machine destroyed the school, hence they had no option but to build what they destroyed Mr. Onegema said.

In spite of the five years of operation in the community, residents have not gotten any corporate social responsibility (benefit) from the company. Even as the community stream has been contaminated by the mining activities, the company has refused to dig a water borehole for the community to have access to potable water.

Although the residents suffer different kinds of illness from the mining activities, the only hospital in the community is the Zuma company staff hospital which the residents do not have access to. Residents travel to Ankpa General Hospital, two hours journey away to access medication.

At the moment, there is no safe water in the community to drink and bathe, no arable land to farm, and no job for income generation Mrs. Salamatu Sule, a community woman leader disclosed.

Our crops were confiscated by the representative of the Zuma Company because they fell within the boundaries of the mine location. They were harvested and sold to us the owners of the crops she further disclosed.

Mr. Lawal a community resident disclosed that many of the children born in the community find it very difficult to see properly as a result of thick dust that pollutes the environment from the mining activities. The implication, therefore, is that the children cannot go to school because they cannot see and read; hence we will keep having illiterates he quarried further.

Mrs. Maryam Alidu, a community resident, suffers severe back and chest ache, while Taye Yakubu suffers from Pneumonia, Rabiu Muhammad, Maryam, and Yakubu suffer eye problems Rabiu Muhammad, Maryam, and Yakubu, suffer eye problems. And all illnesses traced to the activities of the mining company.

The Struggle for Justice

Mr. Idris Ibrahim, the community youth leader was attacked by some armed youth and shot while he lost his eyes for advocating for justice and fairness for his people. Mr. Idris was been treated at the Ankpa General Hospital.

The company employs our children and turns them against us; they often threaten to sack them if they refuse to carry out their instruction bidden Mr. Onegema said. The company pays no community development levy, thus, the resources to fight for our rights are not available, hence the suffering continues, Onegema complained.

Mr. Onu Enjema a traditional ruler of the community said, Idris was attacked because he fights for the community’s right. Those who are uncomfortable with his struggle for justice wanted to eliminate him. He was shot and further wounded with axe and cutlass, we do not have the money to fight them, the traditional ruler said.

We have written to the company severally drawing their attention to the environmental pollution and injustice their activities are causing us, but the company has never responded to any of our letters.

At the moment, due to the perceived injustice in the community, tensions between residents and mine workers are high and this is likely to spark off a crisis in the community at any time. The youth might resort to militancy as the only option to get the Zuma Company to honour and respect the community’s rights.

Was There a Community Development Agreement (CDA)?

The 2007 Minerals and Mining Act makes it mandatory for mining companies to reach a community development agreement with a host community.

The community development agreement is a written document that spells out the terms of an agreement that will ensure that the community benefits socially and economically from the exploration of its resource.

In the case of Okobo community, the leaders said they did not sign any community development agreement. They said they heard a person who does not live in the community whom they do not know signed the document on behalf of the community.

Since 2014, Zuma Mining Company has refused to sign the community development agreement. The company refused to sign because it was not comfortable with some terms in the CDA that benefit the community and do not have a direct benefit to the company.

Surprisingly, the Kogi state government is aware of the activities of the Zuma mining company in the Okobo community. Unfortunately, the state government seems not to care about holding the mining company to account. Mr. Gabriel Yakubu, an assistant director at the Kogi state ministry of solid minerals, said, although the state government is aware of the situation, the community should lodge a formal complaint to the state government. Mr. Yakubu confirmed the absence of a mines environmental compliance officer in Kogi state.

The Health Implication

The activities of coal mining in Okobo community have resulted in the weighty metals dissolving into the water in the community, making the water become acidic and highly toxic. This makes the water unsafe for domestic use either bath or drink, while residents resort to the purchase of sachet water for drinking.

The water contamination as a result of metallic elements has hazardous effects on the human, animals, microorganism, and eventually plant life.

A study by Global Rights found a soaring level of copper, cadmium, chromium, phosphates, and manganese in soil samples found within 10 metres of the mining pits in the community during the rainy and dry season.

The environmental hazard and contamination could lead to kidney damage, liver damage, anemia, liver disease, muscle pain, eczema, gastro-intestinal disease, hypoglycaemia, Mr. Simon Adogba, an environmentalist, conducted an air quality report in the community with the view to monitor the concentration of carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide and nitrogen dioxide disclosed.

The study further revealed, the concentration of carbon monoxide contained for each of the areas sampled was between 187 and 208ppm, which is superior to the US National Ambient air quality standard of 35ppm for an hour’s exposure.

The US National Ambient air quality standard shows, at a concentration higher than 200ppm, there is a likelihood of a chronic headache, drowsiness, shortness of breath, and nausea. The report further shows exposure to a concentration higher than 0.0533ppm could lead to acute or chronic lung problems.

We made frantic efforts to get to the management of the Zuma Mining company, email sent to info@etazuma.com , the official company email contact was not responded to while several calls made to +234 09 290 210 and +234 09 290 215, the company official phone numbers published on its website never connected as both numbers were switched off throughout the period we tried to contact them.

Although the Nigerian government in the last four years had made a promise to bring actors responsible for the environmental hazard in Okobo community to justice, nothing has been done. And, the community continues to bear the burden of environmental hazards as a result of mining activities.

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