The Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria provides the Federal Government with control of all minerals in Nigeria. This consequently nullifies private ownership of solid minerals in Nigeria, and with effect, gives the Federal Government exclusive power not only over solid mineral, but also mining concerns in the country.
The aforementioned significant power makes it important to critically consider some fundamental rights of the Nigerian citizens; as solid mineral in Nigeria are mined at the expense of the host communities’ socio-economic, health and environment. Chapter IV of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens. In this case, the constitution also provides rights that are very relevant to the solid mineral extraction. For instance, according to the Constitution, “[t]he State shall protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air and land, forest and wild life of Nigeria. …exploitation of human or natural resources in any form whatsoever for reasons, other than good of the community, shall be prevented”.
It is noteworthy that mining extraction 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 adequate attention has not been given to the protection of the rights of mining host communities; and failure to ensure their protection often results in disasters.
There are reported little or no knowledge by most mining communities in West Africa about the mining and its impact on their environment, health or social construction. Also, 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.
More importantly, 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. It has been observed that large expanses of farmlands have given way to unsustainable mining activities, giving accounts that de-vegetation promotes erosions and directly contributing to rapid desertification across the region.
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.
Free prior and informed consent (FPIC) is a principle that a community has the right to give or withhold its consent to proposed projects that may affect the lands they customarily own, occupy or otherwise use. FPIC remains a key principle in international law and jurisprudence related to indigenous peoples. As noted by Forest People Programme (FPP), England, FPIC implies informed, non-coercive negotiations between investors, companies or governments and indigenous peoples prior to the development and establishment of mining estates or other enterprises on their customary lands. “This principle means that those who wish to use the customary lands belonging to indigenous communities must enter into negotiations with them. It is the communities who have the right to decide whether they will agree to the project or not once they have a full and accurate understanding of the implications of the project on them and their customary land. As most commonly interpreted, the right to FPIC is meant to allow for indigenous peoples to reach consensus and make decisions according to their customary systems of decision-making,” FPP explained.
Also, on the other hand, FPIC becomes necessary to ensure a level playing field between communities and the government or companies, and where it results in negotiated agreements, gives companies with greater security and less risky investments.
It has therefore become imperative for government to prioritise the interest and involvement of mining hot communities in relevant agreement with mining companies. This will not only guide the communities from negative effects of mining activities, but also ensure mineral resources are harnessed for growth and development country.