There has been a growing concern over the environmental impact and the dangers of living with it after the tin mining which once boomed on the Jos, Plateau ceased. ABAH ADAH examines the scenario.
In those glorious days of mining in Nigeria, the Jos Plateau with its environs was popular for the huge tin deposits being mined there. However, that has become part of Nigeria’s history since the 1970s when the oil boom was at its peak as successful governments felt complacent with the huge sum of money being realised from crude oil exports over the years, turning their eyes away completely from mining and agriculture which had hitherto been the economic backbone of the country. Though mining has ceased, the impact of the activities on the environment pose great danger to life and other economic activities such as farming.
Contrary to the orchestrated efforts at reclaiming the open pits in recent times, recent findings have shown that the mining pits are still there unreclaimed in spite of the appropriations, though said to be insufficient, made for that over the years.
In fact, one of the ways by which man impacts on his environment is through mining activities. The mining industry is one of the oldest industries in the world, and its importance to human development becomes evident when one considers the naming of the prehistoric age after mined products –“Stone” age, “Bronze” age and “Iron” age.
Mining is the extraction of valuable mineral resources or other geologic materials from the earth, usually from an ore body, vein or seam. It can also be said to be an act or process of extracting minerals of economic importance from their natural environment and transporting them to points of processing and use.
Mining in Nigeria started as far back as the eighteenth century. Over 500 occurrences and deposits of different minerals are known so far to exist within the country with the exploration of some of them being on a small scale. One of the major cases of mineral exploration and exploitation that boomed within the nation has been that of tin in Jos.
Tin is said to be one of the oldest mineral resources known to man as its strategic importance was recognised as far back as some 300 years ago when its hardening effects on copper was discovered. Since then, tin ore has been mined in several parts of Nigeria including Zaria, Kano, Bauchi, Ilesha and Plateau provinces, with over 80 per cent of the production coming from the Jos Plateau.
Plateau state is located in east-central Nigeria, created in 1976 out of the northern half of former Benue-Plateau State. It is bounded by the states of Karina and Nacho on the north, Taraba on the east, and Nassarawa on the south and west. The Plateau rises to about 5,250 feet (1,600 m) above sea level in the state’s north-central part, and the Benue River valley stretches along the southwestern border.
Although there are wooded valleys in the southeast, the vegetation is mostly open grassland (formerly wooded but now with only occasional hedges of cacti and scattered trees), which is used for grazing and farming. Although the state is best known for its mining production, agriculture is the major occupation of the people. Acha (a grain known as “hungry rice”) and millet are the chief cash crops; yams, sorghum, corn (maize), potatoes, cowpeas, rice, fruits, and vegetables are the staple crops.
Fulani herdsmen graze their cattle on the tsetse-free plateau and supply milk to the dairy at Vom. As stated earlier, the state has unarguably been the most important mining area in Nigeria and is a major exporter of tin and columbite. The tin is smelted just outside Jos, the state capital and its largest town. The metals are shipped by rail to Port Harcourt for export. Also in the glorious days of mining, other minerals, notably tantalite, kaolin, tungsten (wolfram), zircon, and thorium compounds, are also exploited on the plateau. Lead, zinc, and silver are mined on a small scale in the eastern part of the state around Wase, Zurak, and Kigom.
Known for its heterogeneity, the state has about 40 ethnic groups, including the Vergam, Ankwei, Angas, Jawara (Jarauci), Birom, Mango, Fulani, Hausa, and Eggen. The mining industry has attracted European, Igbo (Ibo), and Yoruba immigrants into the state. Jos is connected by road with Wamba, Akwanga, Keffi, and Lafia and has an airport. Lafia, Pankshin, Wamba, Shendam, and Akwanga are also sizable market and mining centres. Places of interest include a museum, with Nok terra-cotta sculptures, and a zoo, both located at Jos. There is a federal university at Jos and a college of technology at Bukuru. Major research institutes are located at Vom (veterinary sciences) and at Bukuru (strategic studies).
The production of tin in Jos Plateau in the colonial era started with about 1.5 metric tonnes in 1914 and then began to increase until peak production of 17,740 metric tones was reached in 1943 (when Nigeria became the 6th world producer). In 1970 however, tin mining declined rapidly due to the behaviour of the market for tin and a diversion of interest in Nigeria towards oil production and export. With tin mining activities going on at various sites on the Jos Plateau at informal levels, the social and economic impacts within the natural and built environment of Jos Plateau comes readily to mind.
Plateau State, especially its capital Jos, earned the sobriquet appellation of tin city as a result of tin and other solid minerals mining in large quantity in the state.This solid mineral brought fame and lured a lot of miners both within and outside the country to Plateau State.Though mining of tin was said to have started in 1904 but the exploration of the mineral reached its peak in the 40s up to the early 70s. It attracted many foreign mining companies whose equipment are now relics of the past at various abandoned mining sites across the state. The booming of tin then and the clement weather also attracted many Europeans to Jos up to the 80s. Findings have revealed that proceeds from tin mining formed part of the resources used to develop some cities in Europe. Hence, the recent call for reparation by some eminent sons and daughters of Plateau over degradation of their land occasioned by years of mining in the state. The point they have been making is clear and genuine-since the tin mining have stopped, let us have some repairs that will restore the land to its normal state to avoid the risk of living with the damages done and to be able put the land to other economic uses.
A member of house of representatives, representing Barakin Ladi/Riyom federal constituency of Plateau State, Hon. Istifanus Gyang, once told journalists that Plateau State, especially his constituency, deserved compensation and reparation from United Kingdom and Europe for environmental damages caused by mining in colonial times.
The federal lawmaker said the colonial government exploited the minerals resources in the state such as tin among others and exported them to cities in UK such Liverpool and Manchester including Scotland, adding that their years of mining activities caused a lot of degradation presently posing different types of challenges to most communities in Barakin-Ladi, Riyom and in some other parts of the state.
He said the aftermath of mining activities was affecting farmers, fishermen while people faced different types of health challenges, adding that water from mining ponds were not fit for consumption as they contained a lot of iron.
“Colonial people came, exploited our mineral resources. They devastated our land, that is why you find mining ponds at every nook and cranny of the state, especially in my constituency, these ponds are now threat to our survival. For these reasons, I am pushing for reparations.
“I am packaging a position papers for the national assembly, the Queen of England for reparation. I am ready to go to any length devoid of violence to actualise this. Most of the lands have been taken over by mining ponds, farming is at the lowest ebb. I am making efforts to get the backing of the federal government, they must pay reparation,” he said.
A septuagenarian, Hamish Ibrahim, who claimed to have worked with foreign miners in the 50s up to the 70s said in spite of the large deposit and years of exploration, it did not translate to wealth and development. Despite the existence since 1946 of legislation requiring commercial mining companies to reinstate land damaged by open cast tin mining, only some few square kilometres of the 316 square kilometres affected by mining are said to have been reclaimed.
Experts have advised that something similar to the Ogoni Clean-up scheme be embarked upon, not only in Plateau, but also in areas impacted by mining activities such as the coal mines now abandoned in parts of Enugu State to save further degradation and forestall possible environmental catastrophe.