The Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, like many other parts of Nigeria, is rich in mineral resources. Geological materials such as Cassiterite, Clay, Dolomite, Gold, Lead/Zinc, Marble and Tantalite are some of the natural resources that can be found within the area; and presently, there are mining activities going on in 5 of its 6 Area Councils.
National Geographic defines mining as “the process of extracting useful materials from the earth.”1 Typically, materials that are not produced through agricultural or other artificial manufacturing processes, are obtained from mining; and historically, mining is as old as mankind. Mining is a major source of many economically valuable materials that serve various human needs and have come to be indispensable to society. The mining industry contributes substantially to the economic growth and development of various nations around the world, but it is not without its hazards to the environment and the health and safety of humans.
A case in point is Guinea, a country in West Africa, which has the world’s largest bauxite reserves and which mining sector alone contributes about 25% of the country’s gross domestic product2. The environmental and human impact of mining activities according to a report have been dire. Locales complain that not only have they lost their ancestral lands to the mining industries for meagre compensations which they sadly are not trained on how to properly invest for future dividends, mining activities have also affected the quality of air they breathe and their water supply. Arable lands have become mining sites thus leaving them with less land to cultivate food and make a living from. The direct impact of mining has also left them fearing for their lives and has scarred their lands.
Guinea is by no means a unique case as mining has been known to cause land, air, water and noise pollutions. It destroys both land and aquatic biodiversity; destabilizes the ground thereby posing a threat to constructed roads and buildings; contaminates and depletes both underground and surface water sources; degrades the aesthetic value of the land and creates an eyesore; leads to land dispossession; and negatively affects the health, economic and general wellbeing of persons living in and around communities where mining takes place.
Another case in point, and one which is closer home, would be the story of residents of Kubwa Extension II Residential Area, Abuja who, according to a report by a popular daily in 20183, had to cry out to government over the hazardous effects of the activities of a quarry situated in their community. Story was told of a 13-year-old who developed eye problems as a result of the contaminated air. Residents lamented that not only were dust particles a constant feature of the community’s air, noise pollution in form of very loud sounds caused by using explosives to blast rocks was also a norm.
This rock blasting which was mostly done in the afternoon and nights, thereby disrupting their sleep, would cause the grounds and buildings to quake which is not only uncomfortable and scary, but also leads to cracks on building walls and introduces great amounts of stone dust into the atmosphere. There is also constant noise from the heavy machineries used on the site, as well as, from the never-ending stone milling that goes on in the quarry. Community members interviewed in the report stated that, the round-the-clock noise and intermittent blasts have resulted in hearing problems in their children and difficulty concentrating in school, while others claimed the noise pollution was causing them constant headaches and migraines. Residents also decried the damage to roads in the area caused by trailers transporting rocks from the quarry site and the general disruption of the tranquility of the neighbourhood which they said was affecting their mental health. They further stated that they were not living in the area illegally as they had acquired their lands duly from government.
Furthermore, it was noted that the community’s efforts to seek redress through their residents’ association only resulted in their human rights being violated when the Nigerian Police, even after being pre-informed, swooped in and disrupted their peaceful protest at the gate of the mining company, injuring some persons in the process. They also arrested and charged to court the chairman of the residents’ association for organizing an unlawful protest and disturbing the peace of the community. Note that, the protest became their only option after a petition to the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development and a series of letters calling for the quarry’s management to have a dialogue meeting with the residents’ association went unanswered.
The foregoing is not only an eye-opener to the unpleasant effects of mining on the health and wellbeing of persons living within the vicinity of mines, but is also a peek into the unfortunate state of things as it concerns the relationship between host communities, government and mining companies in our country and shows how quickly issues of this nature can devolve into crisis if things are not done with respect to proper standards and consideration for all parties involved; but sadly, as is the norm in Nigeria, so many things get done without following standard procedure or due process especially because it is the common man and not the elites who bear the brunt of these poor decisions or actions.
In this case, it is important to mention that as it regards mining in the FCT, the first shortfall is the lack of environmental education, information and warning. Many indigenous communities have gladly embraced mining only to realize later when the negative effects interrupts life as they know it, that they did not make an informed decision or that the things they demanded for in their community development agreement (where there is one) was insufficient to cushion the devastating impacts of mining or that in the long run, no amount of money or any other form of compensation can truly begin to cover the damages to their environment, health and way of life. Also, because of this lack of proper education and information, many hapless persons have found themselves purchasing lands sited dangerously close to mines from locals because they did not know there was a mine nearby or do not understand the level of harm living very close to a mine would expose them to.
It is therefore, the duty of the government agencies in charge of mining to ensure that people only live within safe distance from mines and not in health-damaging proximity. Information concerning areas earmarked for mining should be public knowledge so as to avoid people ignorantly purchasing lands in these areas from equally ignorant locals out to make unlawful lands sales to enrich themselves. It is the prerogative of government through its relevant agencies, to let communities with mineral deposits that are about to be explored know what to expect; the consequences to their health and wellbeing, flora and fauna, livelihood, environment and social life should be explained in great detail (conducting Environmental Social Impact Assessment [ESIA] shouldn’t only be done for the purpose of getting mining license but should be placed on public notice and published for public consumption and reference whenever the need arises ).
These communities should also be informed about what real and meaningful compensation should look like and how they can exercise their right to this compensation. It is not enough to simply provide them this information though, there should also be practical guidance and training for community members on how to demand compensatory rights, use monetary compensations for sustainable development, especially in communities where agriculture is the mainstay and farmlands are going to be lost to mining, as well as, how to facilitate a profitable community agreement between them and mining companies. There should also be a focus on women and young persons in all of these to ensure that there is inclusivity as no one will be left out of the negative impacts of mining activities when they start rolling in.
Another bugging issue is that of mining companies getting lease by government to begin operations when they have not even met with the host communities for a community development agreement to be signed or these companies not keeping to the signed community development agreement or doing so halfway and haphazardly and communities turning to government to seek for redress without any success. This should not be so as it can leave community members dissatisfied, embittered and tension-prone, and may ultimately result in a disruption of the peaceful coexistence of communities and mining companies. Mining companies should not relegate the community development agreement (CDA) signed to the backburner. It is imperative that they do all they can to curtail the adverse effects of their activities on the community and that what is left behind at the expiration of their tenure is more than just environmental degradation and health problems. To add to that, government should play its role of protecting its citizens by effectively regulating and monitoring mining companies, not just to ensure that they’re observing and maintaining global best practice and adhering to standard guidelines in their activities, but to make sure that they do not renege on their corporate social responsibility to their host communities.
On their part, indigenous communities should not engage in or support illegal mining. They should desist from selling lands close to mines to outsiders and also ensure that they provide an amiable environment for mining companies to carry out their business. It is their duty to make their expectations in the community development agreement both realistic, feasible and beneficial to all and not just a select few in the community. They should also follow due process in demanding compliance by mining companies to the community agreement and report cases of non-compliance to the proper authorities.
Written by Dorcas Edet and Bassey Bassey
HipCity Innovation Centre