Lead Poisoning: As Niger State Blazes The Trail — Leadership Newspaper
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Lead Poisoning: As Niger State Blazes The Trail

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Although acclaimed as a land with huge endowments in mineral resources, Nigeria seemed unsure of what premium to place on the wealth buried underground. While South Africa and Ghana, among others, are making huge fortunes from mines and minerals, this country is still grappling with establishing appropriate regulatory framework to instill best practice methods.

All that may have become history as the Buhari Administration is paying more than a casual glance in the direction of the country’s vast and varied deposits across the country. Indeed, Nigeria has four minerals adjudged to be world class, namely Bitumen, Coal, Gold and Barite. These four industrial minerals have a combined reserve estimate of over one billion tons. Other minerals of value in several states include kaolin, lead, zinc, tantalite, iron ore, limestone, dolomite, marble and feldspar.

As the national economy grapples with the exigencies of volatility in global economic fortunes, it has become a notorious fact that the government must embrace diversification and aggressively elevate both agriculture and solid minerals sectors. These two sectors, no doubt, hold great potentials for job creation, wealth generation and the quest for a resilient economy.

Three years running, the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development has worked to evolve adequate regulatory frameworks and investment friendly policies. It is imperative that states and local governments pick up the gauntlet to explore avenues to create jobs and enhance wealth through the creation of special purpose vehicles or engage in joint ventures in exploiting the vast mineral deposits in their domain.

Indeed, state and local government administrations must become smarter, no thanks to competing demands worsened by emergent environmental, social and security challenges.

Although virtually all the 19 states in Northern Nigeria are generously endowed with solid minerals, many are also sleeping over their potential money-spinning natural resources. One outstanding example is Niger State, where the government is finalizing plans to establish a mining city, described by the governor, Alhaji  Abubakar  Sani Bello as the first of its kind in Nigeria.

Alhaji Bello unveiled the plans at the second International Conference on Lead Poisoning in Abuja. The two-day parley was co-hosted by the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development and Medicines San Frontiers, MSF, to scale-up in developing a preventive governance framework for lead poisoning, especially the one associated with artisanal gold mining in Nigeria.

“The city will be a comprehensive turnkey solution that will include a processing center, on site laboratory, trade and investment center, training centre and mining supply store. It will also be equipped to carry out exploratory services, including geo-physics services, geochemical sampling, resource estimation, reserve calculations, data interpretation and target generation,” the governor disclosed.

The Niger State Mining city will also have a data room on the state’s mineral deposits, a ready market for processed minerals even as it seeks to promote safer mining methods to prevent hazards to man and environment.

“We have also ensured the training and retraining of miners and staff from the ministries of mineral resources, environment and health on safer mining practices; and we have strengthened our resolve to always take steps that will check the threats to human life while maximizing the potentials of this strategic sector”, the governor told the gathering which attracted the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Oshibajo; the Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Hon. Bawa Bwari; the Head of Mission, MSF, Mr. Philip Aruna; Chairman, Senate  Health Committee, Dr. Lanre Tejuosho, royal fathers, development partners and  policy makers.

Niger State may have taken the lead in proactive steps to mitigate environmental damages associated with unsafe mining practices that are rampant all over the country. Indeed, attention has been on Nigeria since 2010 when lead poisoning killed no fewer than 400 children at Yargalma Village in Bukkuyum Council, Zamfara State. Five years later, a similar calamity visited Niger State where 30 children were prematurely killed at Shikira community in Rafi Council.

“Since then we have been working with partners to ensure there is no recurrence of such ugly tide. As a state richly endowed with an array of solid mineral deposits, we are aware of an exponentially increased risks associated with artisanal mining and processing of mineral resources”, Alhaji Bello volunteered.

While the government cannot stop artisanal mining completely, the governor said steps were taken to enthrone safer mining methods, train staff on laboratory analysis and management of lead poisoning, deploy more staff at Magiro Health Post and upgrade Kagara General Hospital to treat lead poisoning cases. The government is also cooperating with partners as MSF, the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, the Nigeria Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program among others.

While calling for vigilance at all times, Hon. Bwari said despite remediation efforts, “there will always be some recontamination” owing to slow response to treatment and defiance by local miners using unsafe and crude methods. “The effective, long–term solution in ending further lead exposure is through behavioural change and the use of appropriate and economically feasible technologies”, the minister noted

Hon. Bwari also emphasized the need for continuous enlightenment on the use of safer mining and processing methods and listed steps taken by his ministry as quick remediation of contaminated areas; grouping of artisanal miners into cooperatives and supporting them with tools and training; continuous monitoring of miners’ activities to prevent contamination of the environment and encouraging the establishment of gold processing zones far from residential areas.

The second edition of the confab on lead poisoning closed with the resolve for closer cooperation by stakeholders on preventive and remedial measures. Specifically, participants recognized the need for proper case management, remediation and safer mining practices in Zamfara and Niger states in addition to improving emergency response capacity by government organs and community leaders.

As a long term strategy, the forum suggested “identifying and mapping possible areas of future outbreaks”. This approach relies on engaging the local community to promote safer mining and environmental health. It also requires inter-ministerial cooperation at state and federal level.

Participants also agreed on “the creation of a federally coordinated program associated with artisanal gold mining.” This entails training local miners, grouping them in cooperatives, providing them tools for safer mining and supporting them for remediation of mining sites.

The forum also recognized the active participation of Vice President Oshibajo in re-organizing artisanal mining in the country. Indeed, the dividends from the reforms in Nigeria’s mines and minerals sector are obvious with a 565 per cent jump in export profile between 2016 and 2017.

–Kareem is a policy analyst in Abuja.



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