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Mobilising Towards Safe Mining In Nigeria



The Mining Environmental Compliance (MEC) department of the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development recently held a workshop for its staff on mining best practices, safety standards, laws and their enforcement. ABAH ADAH reports:

Before the advent of oil boom, Nigeria, said to have over 500 assorted valued minerals largely untapped, thrived majorly on mining and indeed agriculture. That was when Jos, Plateau State and Enugu, then Anambra State were hubs of tin and coal mining respectively,  providing jobs and means of livelihood for many. However, this mining activities used to have the other side-the hazards it pose to lives. Even environmental impact of the mining activities is still a source of worry to host communities to date.

The three stages of mineral development, viz exploration, mining and processing, have caused different

types of environmental damages, which include ecological disturbance, destruction of natural flora and fauna, pollution of air, land and water, instability of soil and rock masses, landscape degradation and radiation hazards. The environmental damage has in turn resulted in waste of arable land, as well as economic crops and trees.

The most recent catastrophes widely reported were the cases of lead poisoning experienced in Zamfara and Niger states respectively.

Some time in 2010, cases of mysterious death, especially among among children were recorded in the village of Yargalma in Zamfara State.

An investigative team comprised  international and national entities, including the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  World Health Organisation (WHO), Medicins San Frontieres (MSF), Nigeria Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Programme under the Nigeria CDC (NFELTP), TerraGraphics (TG) Environmental Engineering Inc, under the auspices of the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) set out to access the nature and extent of the outbreak. Their investigation confirmed widespread lead poisoning among children and residential contamination from lead-rich ore being processed for gold by artisanal miners, possibly the worst outbreak of lead poisoning in recorded history.  400-500 children, 30-45 per cent of them five years and below, were reported to have died as a result of the poisoning and contamination in a space of six months. Consequently,  remediation works were begun and concluded in eight affected villages to pave way for effective treatment of those still living with the poison. Even as remediation was still ongoing, five years after, i.e. in April,  2015, another outbreak of lead poisoning also found to have resulted from unsafe mining practices occurred in two villages of Rafi local government area in Niger State.

Nearly 30 children were reported to have died. More than 2, 500 residents were exposed. With the assistance of MSF, the two villages were remediated, and suspected cases were treated. What saved the situation from escalating further was that the lessons learnt from the Zamfara incident were applied. It is sad enough that in the history of mining in the country, the emphasis has been on production, with no regard for environmental safety until recently.

However, what is important today is that these incidents seem to have put the federal government on its toes. At least  efforts at being proactive so as to prevent the occurrence of the ugly incident around the country are obvious as far as the activities of the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development and other relevant ministries and agencies are concerned in recent times.

In a move to confront the challenge then, the first international conference on Lead poisoning in Nigeria, joint effort of FMoH and MSF, was held in Abuja in May,  2012. Deliberations at the conference covered: Environmental management and compliance; Public health intervention for lead poisoning; Safer mining best practices for artisanal gold miners; and Inter-ministerial/interagency collaboration and coordination framework (federal, state and local levels) among others. A second one, with special focus on prevention and the slogan: Safer Mining; Clean Environment; and Healthy Community, was put together from 26 to 27 June, 2018 by the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development (MMSD) in collaboration with FMoH, bringing international and national stakeholders including experts together to brainstorm on how to prevent the menace of lead poisoning and possibly other mining hazards.

For the country to have clean and safer mining as well as safe mining environment, the artisanal and small scale miners who constitute over 80 per cent of the miners in the country and operate largely in the states and local governments be sensitised on the safety aspect of the mining laws and regulations in the country.

In the light of that, one cannot but commend the recent surge in the safety campaign, sensitisation on mining laws and the the zeal of the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development being effected by its Mines Environmental Compliance (MEC) department, especially in the area of human capacity building on enforcement of safety laws and policies.

The 4-day retreat recently held by MEC to update its staff, beginning from Wednesday, 7 through 10 November, 2018, presented ample opportunity for the participants to get updated on safety laws and implementation as well as international best practices.

The Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007 (“the Act”) was passed into law on March 16, 2007 to repeal the Minerals and Mining Act, No. 34 of 1999 for the purposes of regulating the exploration and exploitation of solid materials in Nigeria.

Declaring the retreat which which was held at the New Keffi Hotel, Keffi, Nasarawa State, the permanent secretary of the ministry, Mrs Georgina Ehuriah, charged participants to take advantage of the forum to improve in line with international standards and support the present administration’s sustainable mineral resources development through dedication to duty.

Speaking to newsmen, Ehuriah said the move was part of the ministry’s efforts aimed at enhancing the capacity of concerned staff towards having safer mining with no or minimal hazards for host communities and their residents.

“The ministry is very much concerned about the environment where mining takes place, especially the hazards which mining activities may expose residents of host communities to and the issue of abandoned mines.

“We have aggressively started training our officers to ensure that safe and professional practices are adhered to in line with the existing legislations.

“They are to go to all the mining communities to enlighten them on the aspect of the environmental protection laws that concerns mining and enforce it,” she said.

Speaking,the director, Mines Environmental Compliance in the ministry, Engr Sallim Salaam, said the retreat was meant to refresh the officers in knowledge and have them prepared to be able to perform better in the area of monitoring and enforcement.

He said one of the critical challenges the sector has faced over time was that of compliance with mining environmental laws.

“The roadmap for growth and development of the sector emphasises capacity building as a way of increasing staff proficiency, strengthening the technical department for them to discharge their responsibilities in line with their mandate effectively.

“So what we are doing is to restrategise for improved performance,” he said.

A participant, assistant geologist in the ministry, Mrs Kulu Saratu Pani, who also spoke to newsmen, expressed optimism that at the end of the session,  they expect to go home with better and updated understanding of mines environmental control.

She commended the present administration, saying “they have done so well in terms of throwing search light on solid minerals and mining in general, environmental safety campaign and making access to mining title easier.”

A few weeks before this workshop,  a one-day retreat on mining governance for chairmen of mineral resources and environmental management committees now established in almost all the states of the federation was held in Abuja where representatives from across the states were in attendance.

The Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development,  Abubakar Bawa Bwari, has charged the members of the Mineral Resources and Environmental Management Committees (MIREMCOs) now established in 30 states to take the issue of environmental management and safety seriously while facilitating effective mining to ensure further growth in the sector’s GDP.

The minister gave the charge in his speech, presented by the permanent secretary,  Barr. Georgina Ehuriah,  to declare open the one-day retreat on “Mining Governance” held for the chairmen of MIREMCOs.

“Government is concerned about the environmental safety of citizens living in our mining communities and it is desirous of reducing the health hazards associated with the degradation of the environment due to various mining activities in the mine-host communities.

“I urge you to contribute towards the sustenance of this growth so that the sector may surpass the forecast by government to increase the sector’s GDP from 0.3 per cent in 2015 to 3 per cent by 2025,” he said.

The states without MIREMCO are Abia, Baylesa, Borno, Gombe, Kastina, Lagos, and Taraba.

In her speech, read by the director, Mines Environmental Compliance (MEC) in the ministry, Engr. Sallim Salaam, the permanent secretary urged participants to use the occasion to interact and acquaint  themselves with relevant laws and regulations governing operations in thee mining sector for effective discharge of their responsibilities.

“Our expectations after this event include rapid mineral resources development in the country through effective and inclusive participation of states and LGs with consequential upsurge in revenue generation for government and employment opportunities,” she remarked.

Speaking earlier on behalf of the chairmen,  the Edo State MIREMCO chairman,  Daniel Inneh, said though many challenges were facing the sector,  the most disturbing of them remains poor funding, urging government to look into that as soon as possible with a view to pragmatically addressing it.

Even much earlier, MIREMCO organised a sensitisation meeting between miners and host communities in Bwari area council to discuss issues relating to mining activities in the area council.

The FCT mines environmental compliance officer and a member of the committee from the ministry of mines and steel, Engr. Osseini Enoch Ukwenya, said the meeting was to ensure harmonious relationship between the operators and the host communities.

Osseini admitted that there was bound to be disagreement between the operators and the host communities, which he believed was subject to negotiation as mining affects every community including displacement. Displacement, he said should bring about compensation to the owner of the land as the land may not be useful to the owner for a long time even after mining activities.

He said the reoccurring issue between the operators and the host communities had been that of pollution, as well as the inability of the operators to keep the agreement entered into with the communities.