Safeguarding The Environment Against Mining Hazards In Nigeria
While declaring open a one-day retreat for chairmen of states mineral resources and environmental management committees earlier in the week, the minister, Mines and Steel Development, Abubakar Bawa Bwari, tasked participants on proper environmental management and safe mining. ABAH ADAH reports:
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 economic value of the countless mineral substances that are found scattered all over the earth, half of which may not have been tapped yet. 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 the 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 catastrophe 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 comprising 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 community members 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.
In a move to confront the challenge, 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 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.
The vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, declared this conference open with a moving speech about the need to address Nigeria’s lead poisoning crisis. What is now in doubt is how far the resolutions from both conferences have been implemented to date.
It has been observed that for the country to have clean and safer mining as well as safe mining environment, the artisanal and small scale miners who operate largely in the states and local governments be sensitised on the safety aspect of the mining laws and regulations in the country, hence the 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 held in Abuja.
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 therefore urge this August gathering to exhaustively consider any such issues that may be referred to it or other existing established cases, and proffer solutions,” he said.
Bwari , who also noted that sustainable development has become indispensable as the diversification programme of government revolves around the solid mineral sector alongside agriculture and a few others, said so far, the outlook has been good with the positive growth the mining sector recorded in the 3rd quarter GDP report of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
“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.
He said in demonstration of its confidence in the MIREMCOs to bring about the much needed solution to environmental issues in mining, the federal government, through the ministry of mines and steel development provided a mobilisation fund of N5 million to each of the 26 states with reactivated and operational MIREMCO in addition to which the first 10 states received Hilux pick-up vehicles for their operations, adding that as a follow-up to proper harmonisation of their activities in the states and the FCT, operational guideline was produced and circulated to all active MIREMCO states, all in the last one year.
He therefore enjoined the governments of seven states which were yet to benefit from these interventions because they had not resuscitated their MIREMCOs to key into the initiative and ensure that MIREMCO becomes operational in their states without further delay.
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, Barr. Ehuriah , urged participants to use the occasion to interact and acquaint themselves with relevant laws and regulations governing operations in the mining sector for effective discharge of their responsibilities.
“Our expectations at the 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.
She also harped on the need to address some of the challenges posed at the state level, especially the issue of double or multiple taxation, urging stakeholders put their hands on the plough and intensify collaboration with relevant stakeholders from other sectors to take mining to enviable height in the country.
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.
He therefore urged government to look into that as soon as possible with a view to pragmatically addressing it.