Tales of misfortune from Kogi mining communities
The coal mining communities of Ankpa Local Government Area in Kogi State have remained a delight for investors for decades. The mining communities of Ojoku District are set in lush vegetation that splashes its green color across a wide, open, rolling plain to the east of the local government area. Beneath this thick, naturally endowed flora that covers the mining region hides a treasure, coal, affectionately called black gold. It spreads its bed throughout the neighborhood, some projects of which could last for hundreds of years to come.
Alhassan Ahmed, an elder from the mining community of Odagbo, said the black gold was seen as a harbinger of blessing by the locals, but regretted that at the turn of events over the years it turned out to be an illusion.
“I grew up knowing Odagbo settlement like this; it has not changed in any form. I learned that coal mining started here in 1968 from the Nigeria Coal Cooperation (NCC), but so far there is nothing to show,” he said.
Daily Trust Saturday reports that the city still bears an ancient appearance. “Our residents remain the poorest of the poor. Our story is one of dashed hopes,” Ahmed lamented.
The plight of the residents of the sleepy settlement of Odagbo mirrors the ugly image of the rest of the district’s mining communities. It is a community with a name that remains inseparable from coal mining in Nigeria and is said to be sitting on a coal deposit of around 72 billion tons. The archives of the Federal Ministry of Mines, Steel Development, however, reveal that only more than 350 million tons would have been exploited.
Tracing its formal history of coal excavation, Daily Trust Saturday learned that the Nigerian Coal Corporation launched operations at Odagbo in 1967, with full operations commencing in 1968. It, however, suspended mining activities in 2001 due to allegedly troublesome issues over mismanagement.
For further clarity, a director of the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development postulated that after an unsuccessful privatization of the mining company by the Bureau of Public Enterprises in 1999, the government withdrew all necessary aid to the NCC until around 2002 when the company finally closed. down its operation.
Sources within the ministry said that around 2013, the federal government was forced to auction off some of the NCC’s assets, including that of Odagbo, in order to pay off some outstanding debts of the cooperation.
The collapse of the NCC led Nordic Nigeria Limited to participate in a short-lived mining operation at Odagbo. However, the company later lost ownership of the site in a legal tussle with Kaylor Energy Limited and subsequently ceased operations.
Our correspondent has learned that currently Koylar Energy Limited, a Zuma coal-fired power plant, and another company believed to be led by the Dangote Group, are the main investors, with funds staked in the mining district. And locals say they are groaning under land degradation and water pollution.
Koylar Energy Limited, an Indian company with mining number W008123, is said to be in charge of four mining communities in Ojoku district: Odagbo, Ofanwa, Alufele and Odogomu, while Zuma, a coal-fired power plant, operates in Okobo, Ika . and Enjema. Dangote Group operates in the Awo and Olupi communities of the district.
Despite these big names in mining activities, locals have constantly sounded the alarm about neglect and abject poverty.
According to the Odagbo youth leader, Comrade Saidu Haruna, the current woes of the mining communities were due to the complete neglect of the contractual agreement by the former miners in dealing with the side effects of their activities. He said community development agreements, which granted conditions and implementation of social responsibility for cooperation to the mining company, were not always respected by investors.
He alleged that the miners often colluded with some elderly citizens of the communities to deceive the locals. The youth leader said the youths had protested a few months ago over the refusal to repair erosion that threatened a road, which forced the mining company to deploy heavy machinery to level it.
According to Haruna, the defunct Nodic mining company had built a town hall for the community in two years of operation, pointing out that advocacy with the The direction of the mining company Kaylor to help rehabilitate the only primary school in the village fell on deaf ears.
The youth leader further said that the contractual agreement with the stakeholders to employ citizens in the community has been dropped saying that the company only employs foreigners and engages natives of the community in jobs. subordinates such as security and cleaning.
“At the height of these bottled up grievances, youths from the community barricaded the road leading to the mine site a few months ago. I was arrested by naval agents and labeled a terrorist. I was then released after the intervention of the interveners. But we are happy that our road has been leveled to allow the tension to ease and the business to continue to operate smoothly,” he said.
In Odagbo, residents lamented the lack of basic social amenities, such as electricity, clean water, health facilities and good schools despite years of mining activities in the area.
“The streams, which were the only source of drinking water in the communities, have been contaminated. We rely on two main streams: Aji Achokpa and Aji Oke as our source of drinking water.
“That of Odagbo Ofanwa, (Aji Oke) was blocked by the activities of the miners, forcing the inhabitants to travel several kilometers to Odagbo to fetch water for domestic use. The pressure on the stream has caused it to shrink over the years,” Haruna shared.
Also speaking, an official from the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development who did not want to be named, said the Nigeria Mineral Act (NMA) of 2007 had correctly defined the relationship between miners and host communities.
According to the 2007 NMA Act 20, Section 123 124 (abc) and 125 pollution of watercourses is prohibited by miners in given communities, and it empowers miners to keep the watercourse clean and sets out compensation for the damage and pollution thus caused.
The NMA Act states: “No person shall, in the course of mining or exploring for minerals, pollute or cause to be polluted any water or stream in the area within or beyond the lease. of this area. The licensee or lessee must indemnify the owner or occupant. »
According to the official, therefore, it is an obligation on the part of the miners or the investors to respect the community development agreements based on the environmental impact assessment (EIA), the environmental obligation, the content of environmental protection and rehabilitation programs as set out in the NMA Act, 2007, section 117, 119 and 120 before commencing any mining operation in any given area.
He added that the NMA Act 2007, Section 4a, allowed an aggrieved community to write to the Minister for Mines and Steel Development seeking a solution if they and the investors could not settle their differences and find a compromise.
When reminded of the instructions of the NMA Act and the need to seek redress to ease their plight, most residents said they wrote to this effect.
“We are aware of the provision of the Act as it affects our collective destiny in mining communities, various categories of associations or interest groups. The elders, the youth and the educated class have done a lot of work on our fate to no avail,” said Jimoh Okpanachi, an elderly resident of the area.
They called on the Federal Government and the Kogi State Government to persuade investors to ensure social responsibility as contained in the Community Development Agreement (CDA).
The frosty relationship between the host community and the miners of the Okaba-Odagbo mining axis remains the same as that of the other two mining sites in Ojokwu district. Residents of the Ika and Okobo mining communities where the Zuma coal-fired power plant operates had recently protested against mistreatment by investors, saying CDA had been abandoned by the miners.
In a brief telephone interview, an investor, Zakari Yau, operating in the mining sites of the Enjema, Ika and Okobo axes, said the allegations of abandonment by host communities were false. The investor said there was no grumbling in any form or grievance from its host communities, implying that there is peace and quiet in the area of its operation.
“We have no problem with the host communities. Our relationship is cordial; we have no grievance in any form. And if you want to know more, come for a panel discussion about it,” he said.
But when our correspondent made an appointment with him, he did not acknowledge receipt of a text message to that effect or answer calls.
He said that the existing cordial relationship between the miners and the hosts was due to the fact that more than 60% of the investors or miners were from the environment of the district and as such they would not do anything detrimental to the community residents.
Efforts to speak with those responsible for Kaylor Mining Company failed because the company’s security officer, identified as Moïse, at the Okaba-Odagbo site directed all inquiries to the company’s administrative headquarters in Ankpa.
When our correspondent went to the company’s administrative headquarters in Ankpa, the officials approached refused to comment, saying: “We don’t talk to the press”.