Okezie, Kelechukwu J
Neighbourhood Environment Watch (NEW) Foundation
Abakaliki, Ebonyi state.
Geography: Ebonyi state is one of the states in the southeast of Nigeria. It lies between 703 N longitude, 50 4 E with a landmass approximated at 5.932 Sq.Km. The population of the state by the 2006 census is put at 3 million inhabitants. The state has boundaries in the North with Benue state, in the east with the Cross River, south with Abia state and west with Enugu state.
Mineral Deposits: The state is blessed with rich mineral resources such as Lead, Limestone, Zinc, Marble, Gypsum, granite Quarrying reserves, lignite, coal, salt, copper, kaolin, false gold phosphates etc.
Granite mining / quarrying and lead/zinc are two major solid minerals that are widely mined. Deposits are found in large quantities at Ishiagu in Ivo LGA, Ngbo in Ohaukwu LGA, Ezzainyimagu in izzi LGA, Nkaliki Unuhu and Enyigba in Abakaliki LGA, Umuogharu in Ezza North, Ameka in Ezza South LGA; Agalegu Ameri in Ikwo LGA, Amike Abba in Ebonyi LGA, Akpoha in Afikpo North LGA and Nkalagu in Ishielu LGA. Most of the extractive activities are carried out by mining companies such as Crush Rock industries in Ishiagu, First patriot (Royal Salt) Julius Berger and many others. Artisanal miners compliment the mining sector and counts for over 70% of the extractive activities in the state.
Extraction Process: A prospective site is cleared of vegetation (overburden) and later a hole is drilled deep into the rock and wired with dynamites (in the granite extraction). The dynamites are detonated and the huge granites are broken into manageable lumps, which are thereafter, lifted to vehicles that convey them to the quarrying machines, that further reduces them to sizes needed for road, and other construction purposes. In the case of lead and zinc mining, the investor prospects for the minerals and if located, sends in the machines needed for their extraction. The artisanal miner relies on luck and fortune teller to move in his/her excavator and begin to excavate in the hope of getting the lead and zinc. Family and communal agricultural lands are exploited and degraded in the cause of these extraction activities. Lives are lost, water sources contaminated, air polluted and conflicts promoted to secure authority over a prospective resource rich lands. These extractive activities in most of the communities are uncoordinated with no supervision or requirement for environmental impact assessment. Often times, there are no free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) and provisions of the Community Development Agreement (CDA), where such exists are never respected nor implemented. The resultant effects are degraded and unfertile agricultural lands, communal crises, water, air and land pollution, occupational hazards, deaths, poverty, adverse climatic changes and exotic diseases.
Workforce: Women account for over 80% of the labour force, providing cheap labour and sexually exploited. Widows, pregnant women, children of school age, and out-of-school youths are a common sight in most of extracting and quarrying sites. The men own the sites and have the resources to purchase the materials and equipments needed in the extractive business. Women are most engaged in carrying the lumps sometimes from depths of over 50meters deep and 10 hectares wide to the surface and into the vehicles. Work at the sites start as early as 7.30 am and could last till 6.pm. Dust particulates consisting of silicates and other cancerous minerals are inhaled by these workers and children that accompany them to the sites.
Earnings, Livelihood and Hazards: These groups of workers earn between Four Hundred (400) and Five Hundred Naira (N500) daily, and from this sum, they are expected to fend for their families and meet their health challenges. Most of the women that work at these sites are from polygamous homes where the women are left to fend for themselves and their children. Pregnant mothers and nursing mothers also work at these locations further exposing the health of their unborn child and the under-five olds to skin, lung, and pneumonia infection. They are exposed to such risks as industrial accidents from the pulley machines they operate, drowning from abandoned burrows, noise, dust, and water pollution. They also complain of severe body pains, cough, and constrictions. They aggravate their condition by taking snuff (Tobacco and potash) which they claim helps them to clear the nostrils, chests, and lungs.
Through interviews conducted by N.E.W at the various sites it is obvious that the casual labourers working in these sites do so out of frustrations and lack of meaningful engagements or employment. They are aware of the hazards of their work and could count colleagues who had died from work but do not have viable alternatives due to illiteracy, lack of skill acquisition, and family demands. Owners of the land where the granites are extracted could sell an acre of land for such pittance as N200, 000. There is no policy or institutional protection for these casual workers who suffer and are abandoned to their fate by the government. The few environmental Non-Governmental Organisations working in the state lack the funds and capacity for persistent advocacy for inclusion of this vulnerable group into government programs or to train the workers in skill acquisition enterprises.
Environmental Impacts of the Mining: After the minerals are extracted, there is no fill back or any remediation to restore the lands to previous positions. Trees cut are never replanted. The burrows serve as artificial lakes that drown children, livestock, and the unwary. Many homes suffer from collapsed buildings occasioned by cracks on the walls and on their foundation. In a reported case at Umuogharu, it took the villagers six tedious days to recover a body that got drowned, resulting from unexpected flooding that trapped the workers down the gorge.
At Agelegu Enyum community in Ikwo Local Government Area of the state, it is a tale of woes, of environmental degradation, land grabbing, intimidation, harassment and sexual abuse by a mining company, First Patriot company, formerly known as Royal Salt company. The company continue to pile their overburdens on family and community lands unhindered. The community feels helpless at the emasculation by the company whom they quoted the management of the company as saying that the “weight of their envelop is stronger than the voices of the community members”, which means that they can use their money to drown any voice agitating for their rights.
Poverty: Ebonyi state has a poverty index of over 64% (NBS 2019), the highest in the whole of the southeast. The predominant occupation of the people is subsistent farming. With the coming of civilian democracy, politics offers the next alternatives, and lives are lost in a competitive bid to be in a political position. The rate of poverty remains high in the various communities as the lands are no more fertile for agriculture. The chemicals used in the rock blasting and the particulates of sulfur and silica are carried into the artificial ponds that serve both domestic and livestock use resulting in gastroenteritis diseases.
Lack of Government Presence: Most of the communities, where these extractive activities occur, lack government presence. Water remains a dire need of the people. Boreholes commonly called ‘hernia pump’ serve as the major source of water, yet many of these communities lack these provision or other sources of potable water. Even where the boreholes are provided, the quality is poor that the people revert to the contaminated ponds for use as the mineral deposits underground affect the water quality. Agalegu, Umuogharu, Ezzainyimagu, Ngbo, Ishiagu, Ameka communities to mention a few where these minerals are extracted lack access roads, and health facilities are nonexistent and where they exist, lack basic services. Only tippers, trailers, and project vehicles of strong quality could access some of these areas. Unfulfilled government promises, tax drives and harsh task forces set up by the government are evidence of government existence in these communities. Sometimes, the communities resort to self help resulting in even harsher treatment and reclassifying the youths as members of the proscribed indigenous peoples of Biafra (IPOB) or the Eastern security network (ESN). They are haunted, arrested, killed or disappeared. At Agelegu community, the youths interviewed stated that they do not sleep in their homes anymore for fear of arrest or elimination by the security agents in the state.
However these communities would appreciate any genuine efforts to improve their living standards, provide them with basic social amenities and connect them to government programs.
We conducted interviews with some of the workers at the various sites such as Umuogharu and Agalegu Ikwo and below are the responses as translated by me, Okezie, kelechukwu at the Umuogharu quarry village. That of Agalegu Ikwo will be reported in the next edition.
Annex A: Interviews
My name is Precious Igwe. I am 25yrs old. I am a school certificate holder (SS3), working as a labourer at this mining site. I am doing this job because my parents can’t afford to train me further. I can do business if I am given money or if the government can give me employment. This work is tedious and I use to feel pains at the waist, chest, and all over my body. Sometimes I feel cough.
My name is Blessing Alieze. I don’t know my age. I am from Enyim Ukwunbosi village. I have been working here for the past 3yrs. I started this work at 8 am and close by 5.30 pm. I have six children. I cater for them, since the death of my husband. I earn an average of four hundred Naira at the end of the work- assuming there is ‘market’. I always have ‘pepperish’ pains all over my body. To treat myself I visit the Chemist and ask the chemist to mix drugs for me. I have never gone to the hospital for medical attention due to lack of money. I am requesting for assistance. Even in my village, we have no boreholes and so travel long distances to fetch watch from neighbouring community or drink from stagnant ponds call ‘okpuru’.
My name is Chijioke Nwafor. I am 25years. I have worked here for the past 8 years. I dropped out of school due to lack of money from my parents to train me. I dropped in JSS2. We are eight (8) in my family and I am the firstborn. I earn between 400 to 500 naira daily and I use the money to fend for myself alone. I am not doing this work because I want to do it but because I have no other alternative. This is not a work you can use to cater for your family or make a meaningful living. The risks are many. After the work, I feel as if someone is using a hammer on my body. I feel body weakness daily from this work.
My name is Theresa Nwakpa . I am a widow with four children. I am from Ediaji Village. My husband died four years ago. I earn about four hundred Naira daily from this work. My four children are in public school and I train them. One of my children is sick for the past two weeks and I am doing this work to see if I can raise money for her hospital bill. I suffer from heart and chest pains.
My name is Sunday Nwogwu. I carry the stones from the holes to the top and I receive about 500 Naira. I am from Enyim village. We have this solid minerals and it is from this village that major lumps are taken to the sites, yet we do not have even a borehole, a road, or a health facility. We do this work both in the dry and rainy seasons. During the rains, we use an electric motor engine to drain the holes so we can go down and carry out the lasted lumps to the surface and to load them in a waiting tipper. We appeal for assistance to improve our living; we suffer so much from this work.