This column will always seek to instigate thoughts, conversations and actions using mostly political ecological lens. Your participation through comments and questions will instigate further responses and hopefully actions. Let us begin with a look at the mine pits in Nigeria.
The abandoned tin mines of Jos and the coalmines of Enugu are grave metaphors of the ecological harm that the advent of cheap petrodollars brought to Nigeria. It is scarcely remembered that Jos and Enugu were once prized mining locations and that their products were major contributors to the colonial and post colonial economies of Nigeria.
The mines provided jobs to thousands of Nigerians and gave birth to towns or camps – such as Coal Camp at Enugu. They were also sites of horrendous exploitation of labour, with particularly obnoxious levels reached during the colonial era. It is on record that 23,000 Africans had to carry tonnes of the tin ore on their heads over a distance of 320km before a railway line was built to the mines in Jos.
With the ascendancy of oil as the prime revenue earner for Nigeria, and with a poor record of environmental management, the mines that ought to have been decommissioned and some level of environmental remediation and restoration carried out, were simply abandoned. Government after government simply followed the oil, or money.
At Jos, mine pits, some with toxic slurries, were left as open craters in the landscape. Over time, the mine pits turned into vast ponds that essentially turned into death traps for man and beasts alike.
The abandoned coalmines in Enugu did not quite become as deadly as the mine pits of Jos. One reason for this was that whereas tin was extracted through open cast mines, at Enugu, coal extraction was a subterranean affair. Nevertheless, the residents of the Coal City found that the mines could be turned into refuse dumps. And they did.
We should remind ourselves that every mine pit or oil well has a lifespan because mining is not a renewable process but a subtraction or amputation as one analyst once stated. This is so irrespective of whether the pit or well is for the mining of gold or for the extraction of crude oil. This is one reason mining regulations require that environmental impact assessment must be carried out before any mining activity is conducted; and that there must be an environmental management plan, including plans for closure of the mine – even before its opening.
Article 61 (d) of the Solid Minerals and Mining Act, 2007, stipulates that a miner must maintain and restore, the land that is the subject of the license to a safe state from any disturbance resulting from exploration activities, including, but not limited to filling up shafts, wells, holes or trenches made by the title holder, and in compliance with applicable environmental laws and regulations. A cursory look at the state of mining in Nigeria today shows that miners are carrying on in any manner that seems right to them. Unregulated artisanal mining has been going on in the area now known as Zamfara State for decades. However, in August 2010, there was a catastrophic loss of about 300 children due to lead poisoning. Others suffered brain damage while women recorded high incidents of miscarriages. Such reckless mining is ongoing elsewhere.
The mining of granite for building construction in the Federal Capital is clearly a worrisome phenomenon playing out before our eyes. Everywhere you look, hills are being blown apart so that building materials merchants can do brisk business and do not have to go far for the material.
Beautiful cultural and landscape place markers are being destroyed. The city is being scarified and scars of exploitation of the rocks dot the landscape from the outskirts to the heart of the city.
One would not be surprised if Zuma Rock, or even Aso Rock, gets earmarked for destruction. Again, the remains of the mined rocks in Abuja communities are not in any way remediated and pose grave dangers to citizens that live near them.
Although government agencies claim that the recent earth tremors experienced in Abuja are nothing to worry about, or that the tremors are caused by indiscriminate water mining (boreholes), many of us finger the continuous blasting of rocks in the area. The fracturing of rocks above ground could have impacts on structures beneath the Earth’s surface.
Back to Jos, the sad story of the abandoned tin mines of Jos deepened with the recovery of cars in one of them. It is clear that none of the cars recovered from the deadly pond was driven by the owner into the pond. The case of the recovery of the car belonging to a retired General of the Nigerian Army is shocking, to say the least. The discovery of his body somewhere else indicates that the death of the general and the burial of his car in the pond left by mining activities should demand an urgent decommissioning of the tin mines of Jos. The recovery of other cars from the yawning mine pit shows that plenty of criminal activities have been going on around the mine pits.
Now is the time to drain the mine pits of Jos and elsewhere, decommission them and fully restore the territory. It is time to carry out detailed and exhaustive forensic examination of the pits to ensure that historical and current crimes around them do not go unpunished.
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