The Other Side of Mining Activities in Nigeria

By Abubakar Jimoh

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Artisanal mine workers in Nigeria; Photo: (c) 2012 Human Rights Watch

Effort to identify and address the persistent human rights and governance challenges facing mining host communities in Nigeria has prompted the recent release of findings from various assessments carried out by Global Rights across mining communities in the country.

Speaking at the event, Country Director of Global Rights, Abiodun Baiyewu recalled that four years ago when the lead poisoning health emergency first broke out in Zamfara state, Global Rights conducted a needs assessment on the protection of mining communities in the state.

“Since that initial assessment, we have gone on to evaluate some other states in Nigeria. Our recently concluded appraisal of these mining host communities sought to identify the human rights and governance issues facing the mining industry in Nigeria.

We hope this briefing will serve to enlighten the public and strengthen our campaign for effective resource governance and accountability in the solid mineral sector which respects the rights of host communities,” she anticipated.

Presenting the report, which consists facts and findings to the stakeholders, the Programme Officer of Global Rights, Precious Eviamiatoe explained that Nigeria as a country well-known for its rich deposit of hydrocarbons is also endowed with some planet’s finest minerals; and if effectively harnessed, mining could potentially improve infrastructure, create employment and improve standard of living, especially in mining host communities.

She said, “Mining extraction however comes at a cost to environment, community health, and with social consequences most of which are borne by mining host communities. At the core of planning and implementation in the mining sector therefore, there must be a deliberate attention to the protection of the rights of mining host communities. Failure to ensure their protection often results in disasters, a classic example was the Zamfara lead poisoning disaster.

“We have three core takeaway from Zamfara state: effective governance of the extractive industry for both formal and informal mining in Nigeria is possible; extractive host communities are quite capable of demanding for the protection of their rights and seeking remedies, if they receive the requisite knowledge and support from both government and civil society to do so; and the lead poisoning disaster in Zamfara is a potential time bomb waiting to happen in other states in different contexts.

“Premised on these we widened the scope of our intervention to other states in Nigeria, starting with assessment visits to extractive host communities in Plateau, Niger, Ebonyi, Osun, Oyo and Kogi States.”

The report bemoans little or no knowledge by most mining communities in Nigeria about the mining and its impact on their environment, health or social construction part from those they immediately feel or can directly attribute to these activities. “Most have no knowledge that mining activities – both by company companies and artisanal miners are regulated by government. While they knew most companies obtain licenses from the government, they have very vague knowledge of the regulatory institutions or legal framework governing mining or protecting their rights within this framework.

“Host communities’ lack of knowledge of government’s requirements for mining grossly short changes mining communities in various ways. One of the most striking ways is the situation in which communities, aware of the presence of mineral resources within their own land engage in unregulated artisanal mining, oblivious of procedures for obtaining a mining lease or forming mining cooperatives,” it disclosed.

On the environmental impact of mining activities, the report reveals failure to diligently implement available laws and policies as the greatest setback to environmental protection in Nigeria. It highlights a proliferation of abandoned mines in every community assessed; lack of prioritized effort by government to reclaim inactive mining gouges. While the Mineral and Mining Act makes provision for funds to reclaiming mines by companies, little thought has been paid to the aftermath of artisanal mining activities. According to the report, in some communities, abandoned mines have been improvised into water wells for community use. It cites the instances of Ishiagu and Komu mining camps in Ebonyi and Oyo States respectively, where some community members use contaminated rain water collected from inactive unreclaimed mines to bath and cook.

Illegal underground mines constructed by unregulated artisanal miners in some communities covered by the report have created environmental hazards and weakened social infrastructural like communal access roads. The report noted large expanses of farmlands have given way to unsustainable mining activities, giving accounts that de-vegetation promotes erosions and directly contributing to rapid desertification in the Northern region of the country as occasioned in Zamfara State.

The common health impacts of mining activities reported in host communities assessed were air effluents and dust pollution resulting in respiratory infections and condition including asthma, chronic bronchitis, and pneumoconiosis; noise pollution resulting in varying degree of deafness and stress related disorders; and water pollution resulting outbreaks of cholera and other water borne ailments. These sources of pollution potentially for long term health impacts such as cancer, skin disorder, birth defects, miscarriages and infertility.

“In spite of the high revenues generated from extractive activities, socio-economic development in the host communities assessed was not commensurate by any standard. Most residents complained that mining – artisana and formal – have done little to enhance their economic, social and infrastructural development. At Komu where a gemstone mining camp is located for example, there is a noticeable absence of governmental presence evidenced by the abysmal level of infrastructural development in and around the camp. The community lacks access roads, portable water, a functional health centre, power supply and telephone services. Mining communities in Zamfara state have some of the highest number of out of school children in Nigeria,” the report described.

As shown in the report, compensation and resettlement of affected communities for land compulsorily acquired for mining purpose often raise concerns about the security of land tenure, intensify land disputes and amplify concerns about the security of land tenure, intensify land disputes and amplify concerns about adequate and fair compensations, and appropriate resettlement.

The Minerals and Mining Act of 2007 mandates mining companies to consultatively reach Community Development Agreement (CDA) with their prospective host community towards the provision of social and economic benefits that will enhance the sustainability of the host community. However, the report faults CDA which does not stipulate the appropriate representatives to negotiate the Agreement with, or insist that social and environmental impact assessments be conducted and explained to members of the communities to assist them understand the far reaching impacts of the mining activities.

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