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Surviving The Horrors Of Coal Mining (1)

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While Nigeria continues to call for diversification into mining and solid minerals, what it has failed to do is to address some of the horrors mining communities are forced to live in. Ruth Tene Natsa with the support of Global Rights Nigeria, while on a tour to Kwiba, Kwilapandi and Maiganga communities, unveils the losses indigenes are forced to live in.

Biba Saidu is only three years old and already suffers partial paralysis(as she can only play and move with one side of her body) alleged to be as a result of the polluted water she and other members of her community drink.

The communities, Kwilapandi and Kwibah adjoin Maiganga, all in Komta Village of Billire Local Government Area, Gombe State, where the Ashaka Cement Company mines Coal worth millions of tonnes.

A visual observation of the community by LEADERSHIP Friday, evidenced lack of infrastructures (no clear cut paths or roads, no potable water, no electricity, mud houses, very poor hygiene and lots of sick and infirmed people, an obviously polluted  stream (glazed oil like) which flows from the Ashaka Mining Site all through to Kwibah and Kwilapandi communities.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP Friday, Komta’s Village head (Kojen Tangale) Kilang Mela alleged that “his community of mostly peasant farmers and civil servants had suffered severely as a result of the polluted water from the Ashaka Coal Plant”.

He said on record, “We have recorded eight deaths, 12 miscarriages by our women, 19 people currently suffering stomach aches, we have had five surgeries, 16 people have lost 144 cows while 64 farmers had lost their farm produce.”

The Kojen Tangale alleged that since 2009, the community has been suffering hunger with the resultant effect of the coal mining which continues to destroy their farms “the little we have barely sustains us because of the destruction caused by the mining in the neighbouring community”.

He lamented that all efforts to get redress from Ashaka Cement has gone unheeded “the company has refused to pay attention to us, they have even ignored the petition we wrote to them since 2013. This is despite the fact that mining started since when my late brother was the village head of Komta, he died and I inherited his title. He also wrote the company before his death and they did nothing. I also wrote to them and yet they have done nothing”.

Similarly, the legal representative of the two communities, Yila Peter Malum posited that over the years, there had been severe marginalisation and neglects of his clients by the Ashaka Company.

He noted that even though the communities were not leased to the Ashaka Company “the Minerals and Mining Act 2007 provides that if there is any pollution arising from the mining activity, then they should be compensated, so Kwiba and Kwilapandi are outside the lease area but are entitled to compensation.

Barrister Malum said since 2015 when he got engaged by the communities, there have been lots of pollutions ranging from water, air and even noise pollution. “The water goes straight into their water sources (river and wells), some of the wells have expanded years, up to 60 years but they have been submerged and covered by the polluted water. The coal bursts into flames in the dry season as a result of the temperature while they are forced to breathe the smoke emanating from the fire” he alleged, as a result, they suffer asthma and other related nasal ailments.”

”I took it upon myself to see how I can ensure justice for this people as my investigations revealed that lots of women in the communities have had miscarriages; animals have been lost and several surgeries had been conducted on victims including the fact that many people have lost their farmlands, so I petitioned the company and copied all the relevant authorities but only the ministry of environment responded, this was a letter we wrote since 2015”

He added that “We have taken the water and sent to Abuja and Lagos for analysis so that we can have a document and sufficient evidence to approach the high court for these communities, because by the provisions of the mineral Act, they are entitled to compensations which these communities have not been compensated with.”

In his reasoning, “What we are saying is that these communities should at least be given some benefits in terms of social amenities, a hospital and a good road. Even the Maiganga community they built a health centre for, is underfunded, no drugs or medical facility. It is just built to cover up as a result of the confrontations by the host community after several cases of Asthma and other nasal related ailments that they now went and established that clinic, but these other communities have benefitted nothing from the company”

We were in a meeting with representatives from the state ministries for environment, Ashaka and NESREA and there was admission by even the Ashaka representatives that the people are passing through challenges as a result of the mining. In fact, the ministry of environment and the state National Environmental Standards and Regulatory Enforcement Agency (NESREA) have been directed to have independent bodies conduct proper water analysis and investigation in respect to the pollution so that we can have a template to work on.

For Safiya Adamu, a 50-year-old widow and fresh milk seller, it is a sad moment as she recounts her experience. ”My husband died three years ago from stomach ache and after two surgeries. He died at the Billire General Hospital and yet the hospital diagnosed nothing.”

She insists however that “He died as a result of the polluted water released by the Ashaka company mining coal in the adjacent community. They release water from the Dam, and sometimes the water is black, other times it is white and tastes very bitter”.

“Prior to the pollution, this is the same water we drank. We were born here and nothing ever happened to us, we continued drinking the water because we didn’t know it was polluted until the sicknesses started, but now we trek several kilometres, carrying water on our heads to meet our daily demands. We had 19 wells for all the hamlets in the past and were very content but now the Ashaka Company releases polluted water and it has covered our wells. Even our animals die after drinking the water from the stream

“Our most pressing need now is potable water so that we can rest from the sicknesses. Our kids should also be employed by the company. Right now our children’s documents have been in the hands of Tijjani Ashaka for six years, but because we have no help, nothing has been done. I gave him their papers myself, so I know it is true. Our women suffer miscarriages. In fact, in this hamlet, three of my in-laws have had miscarriages; my younger brother’s wife lost three children and again had a miscarriage”

Also adding his voice, a veterinary surgeon, specialised in public health, Dr Daniel Mado said “the major problem of the community is the polluted water. Humans and animals all drink from there, the animals die so agriculture is affected, the people get sick, there is no communication, agriculture goes down.”

Agreeing that he hadn’t tested the water, he said “I didn’t carry out any test but in our discussion with the Ministry of environment, I did speculate from my professional position that the water is likely to have acids and nitrates which could have health issues and we have confirmed from members of this community that the water is sour. Acid tastes sour so it means this water is likely to have acid, but we can only confirm when the results we have taken are returned.”

“In addition to the acids, there are coal deposits that are consumed by the animals, most of the animals that have died have coal residues in their stomachs that I have seen and also lots of women have had miscarriages.”

The veterinarian urged that government treats the communities as urgent and provide an alternative source of water by sinking a borehole away from the polluted water for them.”

LEADERSHIP Friday also spoke with lawyer to the host community (Maiganga) Barrister Benjamin Sati where he alleged that some members thought they were cheated on the compensation given to them as settlement by the Ashaka Cement Company, managed by Lafarge. “A CDA ought to have been entered between the Company and the community as stated in the Minerals and Mining Act, 2007, but that was never done.”

HE said, he set up a draft CDA which recommended setting up a seven-member committee with representatives from the four local communities (Maiganga, Latinkwaka, Kayelbaga and Kalkulum) that makes up the mining area. We suggested a community fund  to be funded by Ashaka and jointly managed by both the company and the  communities and also advocated the employment of 70 percent of indigenes at the site not necessarily in the main plant since mining does not necessarily require skilled labour, in addition to scholarships for about 20 students from the community.”

“But the company has not shown interest, they argue that they are a multinational company and if they have to give every community as per demand they would not be able to forge ahead. They tell us they are committing a substantial amount to the government. But what we are demanding is substantial compliance, you cannot tell me you are giving 20 scholarships this year and only two people are getting from Maiganga when the bursary, as at the last time we checked, was only N20, 000 per annum”.

He recalled that, even before the signing of the CDA, we recommended that Ashaka shows commitment by constructing a road to the community from the Gombe Yola highway, for which they commissioned the construction of a nine km concrete road (but that was not completed) as even the machines that were brought for the construction are no longer there. I cannot say with a degree of certainty that they have been fair.

Speaking on the many challenges of the Maiganga community, he said “They do not have good water, but one or two hand pumps, no roads, no stable electricity, even the clinic built by the company is not standard, no medical personnel but health officers and I am not sure they have a qualified nurse, they do not have any facilities in cases of emergencies in addition to the fact that citizens have been denied their farmlands.”

“Infrastructure wise, the company are trying as most of the villages in that area are electrified. In fact, they even complain that some people refuse to allow them plant poles now as the communities are now getting exposed and that has hampered their attempts to electrify one of the villages, they built a block of classrooms and the kangaroo clinic which is not enough” he added.

“What we expect now is for the CDA to be signed even if it is not what we actually wanted, but as a lawyer, any document signed by both parties will be binding and if they do not adhere, we can take legal action, but if they fail to adhere and push us to the wall, that will be our last resort.”

On the role of government to protect the community members, he said for the state government,” I do not think they have done enough to protect them. The SSG and some permanent secretaries of the state have shown little commitment in protecting the community but for the FG, I would give credit to them because the Mines inspectorate has been calling to find out the response of the Ashaka Company and so also the Ministry of environment.”

“As to reclaiming the environment, we propose that the company works and re-plants trees to shield the communities from natural disaster, noting that experts have agreed that it will not be too disastrous if the site is reclaimed and time will come that the same site could again be used for farming, if the site is reclaimed and trees are planted.”

“We are not ignorant of the cold war between ecology and the economy, the ecology is deteriorating and the economy is like a vampire on the ecology, we are exploiting lands and the government is folding its arms, I think the government should do more, particularly the state government” he said.

He maintained that not less than 30-40 trucks of coal are daily evacuated from the site and stressed the need for justice for the communities.

Also speaking, a member of the Gombe State House of Assembly, representing Billiri East Constituency, Hon.Rambi Ibrahim Ayala said “Our agitation right now is that beyond the palliatives, you just don’t start mining without taking into serious account the need to address the serious issues of people, in fact there is no compensation that will be adequate enough.”

“There should be serious efforts in addressing these challenges, it is not enough to say we are building room and parlour, at the moment there are enabling laws that the communities should get involved with. We have situations like the instance in the Niger Delta where the community and states are given 13 percent derivative, so I think these are issues that should be seriously considered by the government, the company that benefits. We also want the community to be fully involved, to be carried along and be part and parcel of the project so that they can be full beneficiaries of what is being explored in their communities.”

Community head of Maiganga village, Uba Garba (Dakace Maiganga) said “We have so many worries, where we were before, we were living very well, we had food and everything. Then they said they would relocate us and after they brought us here, the problems began. As it is now, all my children are scattered, the comfort they used to have they no longer have. My grandchildren are nowhere.

He recalls that coal plant is presently located in his farm where he said “I was harvesting over one thousand bags of maize from one farm but got paid the sum of N800, 000 naira only. If I had been asked to sell my farms for a 100, 000 times the worth, I wouldn’t have sold it because from 6am -6pm, I am still unable to complete the task on the farm, I normally use a harrow which makes work very slow.”

“They have broken our farms and that is why my children are scattered, now I am sick of high blood pressure, in fact as I am speaking to you now, my head aches. My children are no longer home, the company has impoverished us and scattered my children. I am now poor and feel cheated, what worries are beyond these?” he queries

“We have made several complaints but the elders will cover the talk. When we complain to the company they would promise improvement. When we protest, they would bribe the chiefs to come and plead with us and make promises and afterwards nothing, just cheating. We can’t complain, if we do, we are termed to be stubborn.” he said

For Mrs Susammah Joshua, a housewife, life has become sad. ”Our greatest worry is the lack of employment for our children, we have nothing, no jobs. Concerning the little we farm we own, it is even difficult to afford the fertilisers and sometimes the harvest is so poor, the whole suffering finishes on our heads.”

We have no efficient maternity, most of our women deliver on the roads. I have also delivered on the road, my in-laws too have delivered on the roads because we lack sufficient health workers, we do not have drugs in the health centre among several others. These are some of our several problems. As we sleep in our homes, the sand and dust falls on us and you find crawly worms moving around in our homes. No water in the community, we have to sit out from morning till afternoon, waiting for the water to run as the borehole is solar powered”.

She decried the coal dust at night. “We do not sleep but sit awake, holding our mouths and yet they said they have taken us to a better place. When we got to these new allocations, once you enter with two to three kids, the place becomes overcrowded and if you lean on the walls, your body turns white as if you laid on the ground.”

When we protest, they use money to shut our elders up, then they won’t be able to talk on our behalf. We tell them our health challenges, but no one cares, hospitals are expensive and we cannot afford the bills. In fact, I lost my daughter as a result of the hardship. I took her to the hospital but there was no money and the child died. So also my sisters, they will leave to start trekking to the hospitals but with no one to help, they sometimes give birth on the way and before you know it, the child dies.”

Our most worries relate to our children that the company has refused to employ. They should even employ them to help meet our needs but they won’t and the kids are just there being idle. They do not work and cannot even afford to marry or go to school. With nothing to do, they have given our children bad names.”

For Mallam Shuaibu, a herdsman, husband to three wives and father of 30 children, his problem is space. “Already, we are poor and there is nothing we can do, we came with the promise that they will help us and improve our standards of living but they have done nothing. They have collected our farmlands and with the mining, our farms are being destroyed and of no use to us, our animals and cattle become very sick when the mines release the polluted water from within. Even we, the humans, you can see us. Our animals no longer breed because of the polluted water.”

“As it is right now, our accommodations are in very bad shapes, we do not have good houses to raise our children because the houses are small”.

Meanwhile, engaging the communities’ global rights, Programmes Officer, Barrister Shema Okoye is passionate that something should be done for the community, insisting, the Community should not continue mining without a CDA.

“The people should stop asking for a bore hole, it is not sufficient use, it is the least of their problems because a borehole will not help them in this polluted land. So Ashaka cement has to first of all find a way to drain its water, they can’t keep draining the water through the community as their water is being poisoned.”

“And for those who have suffered as a result, she insists they should be compensated; for those who are sick, someone needs to take responsibility for the treatment and their medical bills.”

In her words, “I would say mining activities should stop until everything that needs to be done is done, because as mining continues, people continue to get poisoned, women are still suffering miscarriages and having babies with illnesses. Their rights are being trampled on, there should be a ripple down effect of whatever is being benefitted from the mining going down there because we saw the trucks, coal is being mined, they are selling coal and cement and making money from it. They are making money from it so the community suffering as a result of the mining should benefit from it.”

“If there is no CDA and Ashaka is not living up to its Corporate Social Responsibility, then something is wrong, so we are saying engage the states in activating the MIREMCOs.”

She argued that the lease does not cover this community and is irrelevant insisting that, “if the community is affected by the mining, it’s like what happened in the Niger Delta Area, you see that it is only certain communities that they extract oil from, but the entire region suffers the consequence. So if the lease does not cover them, why are they getting poisoned by the water? This is what we are saying, if the lease doesn’t cover this community, stop the mining until you find another way to drain your water.”

She maintained that “Very often, communities are not aware of their rights and entitlements, especially host communities, so we help them know their rights. They have rights to life, property, livelihood and dignity which have been infringed or breached upon.”

What Global Rights is saying is “it is not enough to give us a borehole. When our water has been poisoned, there is much more that needs to be done. People have had surgeries because, people have been sick, women have had miscarriages. We don’t know if some women are fertile or sterile now, or if they can still have babies. So these losses need to be paid for.  These people are not gaining anything, yet you make money daily.

 

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