INVESTIGATION: How Dangote Companies Violate Mining Laws, Polluting, Endangering Lives and Environment in Benue Communities – Part 1

0
286
A truck being loaded with coal to be transported to any of the company's cement factories.

In this two-part narrative of a 6-month investigation, National Record uncovers the despair of local inhabitants and residents of some communities in two local government areas of Benue State that are hosts to subsidiaries of Dangote conglomerate. These communities are no longer at ease as the mining activities of the companies have become serious threats not only to their immediate environment, but even more to their lives and property, thereby dashing initial hopes of progress and development they thought will accrue to the communities from the companies. Iduh L. Onah, Amos Aar and Vera E. Abah report.

ALTHOUGH Mbatyula, a semi urban community of Mbayion District in Gboko LGA of Benue State, plays host to a multi-billion-money spinning factory, Dangote Cement Plant, its inhabitants and residents are under perpetual fear of real and imagined existential threats from the company’s activities without it making any conscious effort to ameliorate the fear

Mbatyula is in terrible shape; with wretched, rusty-roofed buildings perpetually bathed by thick cloud of dust and effluence from the heavy machinery at the cement plant. The dusty environment is also intensified daily by heavy-duty trucks which also generate thick fumes and dust as they drive into and from the factory, shipping out tonnes of cement. All these activities, National Record findings reveal, combined to create dangerous hazards to the flora and fauna in Mbatyula, a community populated mainly by indigenous farmers and employees of the cement plant.

Expansive mine pit from which limestone had been extracted by Dangote Cement Plant in Mbatyula, Mbayion District of Gboko LGA

Formerly known as Benue Cement Company (BCC), Gboko, before it was sold to Africa’s richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, in 2010, the Dangote Cement Plant has turned into a health and environmental nightmare not only to the inhabitants of Mbatyula, but even more so to the employees of the company as well as visitors to the community and company.

Apart from the daily emission of dangerous fumes and dust from the industrial activity, residents of the community also complain of the hazards they suffer from constant blasts which affect buildings in the community, many of which have their walls cracked.

File photo of emission of harmful effluence at the Dangote Cement Plant, Gboko.

It is not only Mbatyula community in Benue State that is under the yoke of pollution by the activities of Dangote’s multi-billion-naira enterprise. Other communities where lives are also being endangered by the activities of Dangote companies are spread across four local government areas.

These communities, for over two years now, have their major sources of water that they depended on for generations polluted since March 2020 when Dangote Industries Ltd/Dangote Coal Mines Ltd began strip mining of coal in Effeche-Akpali, a rural community in Ugbokolo Ward of Okpokwu LGA of the state. The mining operation has since been escalated to Abache and Olaija, two neighbouring villages of Effeche and Odoba in Ogbadibo LGA of Benue State.

While the coal is being excavated in these four villages, the scale of pollution emanating from these mining sites is massive going far beyond the immediate hosts. A stream and three key rivers depended on by the immediate host villages and several other communities downstream – Okpanowa Stream, River Okollo and River Umabe, have their sources located metres away from the coal mining sites, while River Okpokwu, which all these rivers flow into, has equally been poisoned.

The primary source of contamination from the coal mining site, National Record finds, are Okpanowa Stream and River Okollo; both of which are a few meters from the mining site. They both flow into River Umabe; while Umabe, our findings reveal, is joined by River Ohimini, which also has its source from Odoba hills, to form River Okpokwu, from which Benue State’s moribund multi-billion-naira Water Works farther down at Otobi in Otukpo LGA depends. Although the water works had for decades served Otukpo, it is at the moment in limbo due to lack of funds to rehabilitate it to better serve the bulging population of the city if it becomes functional.

Depending on Okpanowa Stream, Rivers Okollo and Umabe are over 30 communities in Ugbokolo, Amejo and Eke council wards in Edumoga District of Okpokwu LGA as well as Ochobo community in Ohimini LGA. All these communities, with the exception of Effeche-Akpali, the first host community of Dangote Coal Mines Ltd for which the company has drilled a borehole, are now forced to drink from the poisoned waters of Okpanowa Stream, Okollo, Umabe and Okpokwu, as Dangote Group celebrates cheaper but environmentally more hazardous coal energy to power plants at its vast factories across the country and perhaps other parts of Africa.

Of blasts, dust and endangered farms in Mbatyula

Located at Kilometre 72, Makurdi-Gboko Road, Mbatyula in Tse-Kucha-Mbayion; the Benue Cement Company (BCC), Gboko, originally designed to run its kilns entirely on LPFO and use diesel to generate electricity had, after the takeover by Dangote Cement, in mid-2015, been mothballed to run entirely on coal.

Cracked walls of a building in Mbatyula alleged to be from the impact of blasts by Dangote cement plant.

With an estimated 133 million tonnes of limestone reserves, and projected to last for over four decades, the factory is now seen by the host community as a curse.

Joseph Yaji Akpa, an indigene of Mbayion, told National Record that blasting of the limestone is one of the many hazards that members of his community face. He alleged that the shock and stone pellets from the blast have “killed some people” and damaged buildings in Mbatyula.

“The shock and stones from the blasts have killed some people and have brought down many houses here. When the blasting is to be done, residents run away but people who are unaware are occasionally injured,” Akpa alleged.

A plot of soyabeans covered by dust generated from the activities at the cement factory.

When asked of the identities of fatal victims of the blasts, Akpa could only give one name; Aaga Ashir Nyamkaa, who he alleged hailed from Mbaiwan Village. He was not able to provide further details to enable our reporters to track the family of the alleged victim.

“This farm is mine,” Akpa said, pointing at a farm not far from the cement factory. “When my family comes here to work and the company starts blasting, we all usually take to our heels.” Akpa objected to our reporter taking his picture or have an interview on camera, saying; “I don’t want my face in the newspaper or television.”

Another ever-present hazard that residents of Mbatyula perpetually contend with is the hazy dust that has now become a permanent environmental feature in the community. During the worst periods of the dusty haze, ash-coloured particles, our reporter noted, intermittently settle on both flora and fauna, more noticeably on rooftops in the area. In less than 10 to 15 minutes of stay within the community, one notices these dusty particles on one’s body, particularly visible on the head, ears, eyelashes and nostrils.

River Ngō, a major source of water for Mabtyula residents, polluted by drained ‘black oil from Dangote Cement plant.

A resident, Terkula Terwase, told our reporter that the hazard from the dust is worst during harmattan. “People don’t sit outside in their homes because of dust at peak periods of factory operation. It is particularly worse during dry season,” he said.

Terwase also stated that the dust and effluence impact very negatively on crops and economic trees. “When the dust and smoke that emit through the towers fall on crops and economic trees, they impact very negatively on the yield. The dust also falls on food when people eat outside, they can’t wash clothes and dry outside because it falls on and dents the clothes,” Terwase said.

Terwase alleged that the Cement Plant empties a certain black oily liquid into River Ngō rendering its water useless to communities that had depended on the river for domestic and agricultural use.

“When it rains, the black oil which they use in their machines to grind limestone is drained into River Ngō and this destroys rice, okra, pepper and other crops in farms at the banks of the river as far as Tse-Kucha,” Terwase told National Record.

Non-provision of Amenities

A member of the community who works with the plant, and pleaded anonymity for fear of retribution, told our reporter that Dangote Cement has overtime failed to provide social amenities in the host community in accordance with the Community Development Agreement between the company and his people.

Spot where ‘black oil’ from the company is drained into River Ngō.

“We don’t have water here and we don’t have electricity for the past two years, even the electricity we enjoyed in the past was provided via communal effort. The company promised us a hospital, water, school, road, and scholarship but they have not dug even a single well for us here,” the source revealed.

In the effort to get the official position of Mbatyula Community on the environmental hazards and issues on Community Development Agreement (CDA) and social amenities, National Record visited the Kindred Head of Mbatyula, Zaki Ortar Ajoh, in his residence in Tse-Kucha, but he was said to have been out attending a ceremony. When contacted on phone and our mission explained to him, the Kindred Head lamented the negligence of traditional rulers in the area by Dangote Cement company.

He said because of the company’s nonchalant attitude, he refused to attend a meeting between the host community and the company to deliberate on issues bordering on compensation for environmental damage and other hazards being endured by the people of the area. According to him, the plant’s management always remind them that they (chiefs) don’t own land in that area and so the company will not grant them any benefits.

“They say that chiefs don’t have land here, they don’t consider us until when there is crisis between the company and the community that our intervention is needed. They have not fulfilled any of the promises they made with us as enshrined in the Community Development Agreement (CDA),” Chief Ajoh said.

Another building in Mbatyula community with cracked wall allegedly caused by blasts.

For Secretary of Tse-Kucha/Amua Youths Association, Mr Shedrack Igber, the residents of Mbatyula and environs cannot even make use of rain water because whenever it rains, black particles are forced down from the dusty haze created by the activities of cement factory.

“During dry season, we don’t have drinking water, even for bathing, unless we buy it. We don’t have light here at the industrial line in Tse-Kucha for the past three years. When we protested, they promised us two transformers since November last year [2021] but they did not fulfil it.

“When the disgrace became unbearable for us, we decided that the Chinese man who is the plant’s director should leave because we don’t know his value. We wrote a lot of letters to Dangote’s head office in Lagos to that effect and we copied the Benue State Commissioner of Police who directed the DPO of ‘A’ Division that we are planning to carry out a peaceful protest. That’s why they called us for a meeting today [Friday, 24th June, 2022] so that they would listen to our problems. But we are yet to decide whether today’s meeting is fruitful and enough for us to suspend the protest we are planning. We will go back and hold our meeting at community level tomorrow to decide on the protest because there seems to be no hope from what they told us at that meeting,” Mr Igber told National Record.

Joseph Yaji Akpa pointed out that though Dangote has in place a N10-million annual scholarship scheme; however, nobody from the immediate host community of Mbatyula has never benefited from it.

“They have been giving scholarship for many years which is ten million naira (N10,000,000) every year but we don’t benefit from it here [Mbatyula]. The scholarship is always for the entire Mbayion District; so, most times, members of the host community here don’t access it. Sometimes they say people who are doing diploma programme will not get the scholarship.

“We have Mbatyula earth dam which was excavated by the community but its banks collapsed one certain time and Dangote helped us to rebuild and they handled the project by themselves which was not properly executed,” Akpa said.

Litigation Threat

A week after the meeting, a source from the community told National Record that rather than the conceived protest, the community resolved to sue Dangote Group to Court over the consistent failure of the conglomerate to fulfil agreements reached with the host community.

In the pre-litigation letter to that effect, a copy of which was obtained by National Record, dated August 31, 2022 and channelled through the Plant Director, Dangote Cement Gboko-Plant, Mr Louis Raj, to the Group Managing Director of Dangote Group, the Tse-Kucha, Amua and Quarry Youths Development Association of Mbayion, outlined their grievances.

The letter, written on behalf of the community from the chambers of S. T. Hon (SAN) & Co., entitled: “Request for Compensation for Accumulated/Continuous Environmental Hazards Suffered by Our Clients as a Result of the Activities of Your Company,” was received at the Cement Plant on September 5, 2022.

The letter reads in part: “It is our client’s position that the activities of your company at the Gboko plant have caused them so much discomfort and unquantifiable damages. We shall however be highlighting hereunder, some of the continuous lingering effects for your consideration.

“a. The stone dust emanating from the chimneys poses and causes airborne sicknesses and diseases to some family members of our clients and to a very large extent the entire host community.

“b. It has also rendered our clients’ farm lands infertile and results in poor yields of food and cash crops at the time farm produce are very expensive and cost of living in Nigeria is very high.

“c. The dust also drops into our clients’ streams and contaminates the sources of bathing water and in some cases affects the wells from where they fetch water to drink.

“d. The continuous spillage of cement dust on our clients’ automobiles results in the damage of their paints.

“e. The coal dust is highly toxic, hazardous, dangerous yet it saturates on our clients’ rooftops and compounds.

“f. The contaminated waters and oil from the factory also destroys our clients’ paddy rice farms, contaminates their wells and stream waters and kill the fisheries and other edible aquatic animals even in ponds constructed by our clients.

“g. The vibration from the blasting of lime stones causes cracks and often times breaks our clients’ buildings, the dust that accompany such blasts is not only dangerous to their lung but causes eyes [sic] problem amongst other diseases.

“h. Most times, heavy boulders and stone debris fly through the mud walls and falls [sic] into the huts of our clients. These are just a few of the damaging effect [sic]of your company’s activities to our clients.”

The host community in view of the totality of the alleged environmental hazards inflicted on its members demanded, among other things, a monetary compensation to the tune of one billion naira from Dangote Group and the drilling of motorised boreholes and provision of jobs to at least 50 youths from affected families.

“Troubled, peeved and frustrated by these continuous environmental hazards and air pollution suffered by our clients as a result of the activities of your company, our clients have engaged us to write to you and hereby make the following demands:

“1. Monetary compensation in the sum of One Billion Naira only to be paid by the company to the affected families and the host community.

“2. Construction of at least 20 motorized boreholes and provision of source of light to make it functional within the host community

“3. Employment of at least 50 youths from the affected families and the host community in the company.

“4. Provision of at least 4 well equipped healthcare facilities for the host community.

“5. Any other compensation or incentive as the management may deem fit in the circumstances of our clients’ quagmire.”

The community gave the company 30 days from the receipt of the letter within which “to respond positively to our requests therein. We may be left with no option, than to seek legal redress for our clients if our letter herein is treated with levity.” This ultimatum lapsed on October 5, 2022.

When contacted to respond to the claims by the community, the management of the cement plant asked National Record to call and speak with Mr Jibrin Abubakar, the Corporate Communications Manager, North of Dangote Group as he was conversant with all the issues pertaining to the inquiry.

When Mr Abubakar was called, he further asked National Record to write a letter outlining our questions for inquiry to Mr Anthony Chiejina, the Group Chief Branding and Corporate Communications Manager, Dangote Group. Though this was done, followed by a reminder and calls, the company neither responded nor returned the calls.

But the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, Abuja, in response to our FOI request seeking to know what the ministry as a regulator of mining may have done to address the grievances of Mbatyula residents and whether it could avail us a certified true copy (CTC) of the Community Development Agreement (CDA) between the community and Dangote Cement Plant upon takeover; said little to soothe the concerns of the host community.

In the letter dated 21st November, 2022 and signed by the Dr (Mrs) Okono Vivian C., Director, Mining and Environmental Compliance (MEC) Department on behalf of the Honourable Minister of Mines and Steel Development, the ministry said though the Cement Factory has an “approved Environmental Protection and Rehabilitation Program (EPRP)” with the certificate issued on 18th November, 2020, it however has “no record of CDA with the host communities of the Cement Factory in Gboko LGA.”

Although the ministry noted in the letter that a copy of the Cement Plant’s EPRP certificate was attached to the letter, however, National Record only found attached a CTC copy of an EPRP issued to Dangote Industries which the said is for Dangote Coal Mines.

Additionally, while the ministry stated that the “company has not submitted a Fuel Storage Plan (FSP) of its Cement Factory and its Coal Project site,” it said the “Complaint on the alleged air and water pollution and cracks on buildings as a result of the mining activities of the Company is being investigated by the Ministry…”

In Benue South, It is Rampant Pollution

Like their compatriots in Mbayion District of Gboko, several communities in Edumoga District of Okpokwu as well as others in Ohimini and Otukpo local government areas in Benue South are also groaning from the harmful environmental impact from the activities of Dangote Industries Ltd/Dangote Coal Mines Ltd going on at Effeche-Akpali, Abache and Olaija communities.

Polluted River Umabe, at Umab’Ehaje Village, a few kilometres from Effeche.

For the past two years, the ongoing strip mining of coal has rendered unfit for human consumption an ancestral stream, Okpanowa, and three major rivers that have served generations of indigenous people of the communities of Edumoga District. But helpless and without any option, the people continue to drink and depend for other purposes on the poisoned waters.

When National Record commenced this investigation in June, it was told that before the rains, Dangote Group had, following protests by a social-cultural group in the area, the Edumoga Youth Movement (EYM), and in recognition of the damage done to the major sources of water, commenced drilling of boreholes for affected communities since April 2022. As we go to press in November, none of the boreholes has been completed for use.

National Record gathered that because of the number of the communities involved, Dangote had agreed to do the drilling of the boreholes in batches, beginning with an initial four which were said to have been successfully drilled and cased as at April 14, 2022, awaiting the installation of water tank carriers, water tanks and pumping machines and solar power panel.

River Okollo, one of the primary sources of pollution, is a few metres from the mining site.

The jubilation at the prospect of having access to safe drinking water by these communities which welcomed the drilling has drained as they continue to drink from their hitherto clean natural but now contaminated rivers.

While the immediate host community, National Record observed during a visit to the area, has been provided with a functional motorised borehole, the over two-dozen communities living downstream, have literally given up any prospect of safe drinking water as a result of the uncompleted or abandoned boreholes.

Indigenes of the communities spoken to by our reporter the visit describe officials of Dangote Industries Ltd/Dangote Coal Mines Ltd as deceptive as the pollution aggravates with each rain. The waters of the rivers remain red-brown even when the rains were over.

When National Record contacted the General Manager (Special Duties) of Dangote Coal Mines Ltd, Mr Nuhu Elujah to find out why the boreholes have not been completed, he admitted that there was an initial hiccup in the payment of the contractor by the company which had delayed the work. He however stated that the problem had been resolved and assured that the contractor would move to site to complete the boreholes soon.

The sources of Okpanowa Stream and River Okollo are a few meters from here.

“Those four boreholes, they have some technical problems in terms of contract payment but as I am talking to you, because of the pressure which we have put on the head office, they have settled the contractor; they have given him the first tranche of the money; so, anytime from now, he has promised us he is going to move to site to complete the whole work. I will get back to him and give you the update about these four boreholes,” Mr Elujah told National Record on October 15, 2022.

But over a month after this assurance, and as at press time, sources in the communities say the contractor was yet to show up to complete the work.

Pollution Nightmares

Dangote Industries Ltd/Dangote Coal Mines Ltd commenced strip mining of coal in February 2020. When the rains came that year, it was immediately noticed that the mining activity had affected River Okollo, indigenes of Effeche-Akpali told National Record.

A senior lecturer at the Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo, who hails from one of the communities affected by the pollution, told National Record that the pollution caused by mining company, when it began, was a novel experience for the communities.

Apart from the pollution affecting communities far beyond the immediate hosts the lecturer said the inhabitants of communities were scared of the blood-red colour of the rivers after the first rain in the areas on March 26, 2020 as a result of the erosion of heaps of stripped soil from the mine site at Effeche-Akpali.

One of the pipes through which water from mine pits is drained into Okpanowa Stream and River Okollo.

The senior lecturer, who pleaded anonymity because he is not a spokesperson of any of the communities or the district, said unlike before, when the rivers usually regain their colourless state hours after it rained, this time around, they (rivers) have since remained red-brown, either during rainy season or dry season.

He condemned officials of both the Benue State Government and Okpokwu LGA who he said had been part of the processes for failing to protect the wellbeing of their citizens. According to him, the state and local government officials ought to have insisted on the mining company doing the needful in terms of remedial measures for environmental damages it was bound to cause the host communities.

According to him, the company may not have obtained the relevant environmental and social impact assessment approvals from the relevant authorities before the commencement of the mining. He said environmental experts must have noted the dangers of the ongoing pollution and made the required recommendations for remedial measures.

Polluted River Okpokwu, at Okete in Eke Ward.

He noted that except the relevant government agencies were compromised, the company is supposed to have indemnified the exploration before commencing any activity.

The senior lecturer condemned the management of Dangote for its failure to take into account the hazards of its operation, especially coal, which he said contains the most poisonous pollutants. He said the action of the company is most because it is aware of the negative impacts of strip coal exploration, yet delaying the completion of the boreholes for the communities.

“I went home the other day [April 2022] and discovered that that Dangote had drilled a borehole in my village. I was told that water was gushing out before they stopped the drilling machine which they said worked for over three hours. I was also told by our people who were very excited that the company also drilled boreholes for some of our neighbouring villages.

“But as we speak. It’s over two months since the boreholes were drilled and nothing has been done beyond the drilling, the last of which was done on April 14. So that’s the stage we are in now. I’m told the company has also not done very little for the immediate host communities apart from stoking conflict that has divided the family kindreds as a result of issues around compensation,” the source said.

Polluted River Umabe at Ogene in Amejo Ward.

For Victor Ameh, a fish farmer in Ogene Village in Amejo Ward of Okpokwu LGA, the pollution of River Umabe is a major blow to his fledgling fish farm at the banks of the river. The pollution of the river has forced Mr Ameh to abandon his fish farm. In one fell swoop, he woke up one day in 2020 to see all his fingerlings dead and floating on his fish pond, Ameh said.

“I was making reasonable income from the farm when I started. I could not even keep pace with the demand for cat fish which I supply to customers in Makurdi, Otukpo and Enugu. I had planned to expand the farm and employ additional hands. But just one morning, I came to the pond only to see thousands of the fingerlings floating on the pond. I was shocked because I had the previous evening changed the water. It was later that I discovered following tests that the river had been contaminated by Dangote,” Ameh told National Record.

File photo of now closed Favour Farms Fish Pond located at the banks of River Umabe in Ogene, Amejo Ward. The farm belonged to Victor Ameh.

He said the pollution has different effects across the communities. “Apart from fish farming that some people were considering to start following the initial success I had, fishing activities in the river has generally been affected. Secondly, the health of villagers who solely depend on the river for all domestic chores, in fact everything you need water to do, are in danger. We drink the water, we bath in it, we wash our clothes; it is totally unthinkable what our fate will be if this mining continues;” Ameh lamented.

File photo of dead fish from Favour Farms Fish Pond.

A Struggle for Mitigation

Since beginning of the coal exploration which immediately triggered the poisoning of the main sources of water, the Edumoga Youth Movement (EYM) has been on the neck of Dangote Coal Mines Ltd. Although the tenure EYM’s leadership that mustered the courage and initiated the struggle to confront the company had ended, the incumbent leadership of the organisation remains committed, mounting pressure on the company to remedy the damages it has orchestrated.

EYM’s President, Engr Geoffrey Owotikwu, expressed his disenchantment with the slow pace at which Dangote is approaching the issue of the water challenge for communities most affected by the pollution.

According to Owotikwu, more than two years of enduring the hazardous pollution, the company has still not seen it as an emergency to speed up the provision of boreholes for the affected communities.

One of the four boreholes drilled by Dangote Coal Mines Ltd in April 2022 as mitigation for the pollution of River Umabe, now seems to have been abandoned by the company.

He said of the 17 communities in Edumoga ascertained to be the direct victims of the water pollution, the first four communities under phase one are, as at June when he spoke to National Record, and even as at press time, still waiting for the completion of their boreholes.

“We are not asking the company to pay this, pay that as damages caused. We are making the demand for the sake of our water that was damaged and kept our people in the state of dilemma. We know how dangerous contamination from coal is and for that reason, we said that they should sink at least 3-4 boreholes in every of the 17 most affected that depend on the now polluted rivers. We are not saying they should drill boreholes for the entire Edumoga District, which has over 200 villages, and which is arguably the largest district in Benue State,” Engr Owotikwu told National Record.

He said following pressures by his predecessors upon realising that Okpanowa Stream, Rivers Okollo, Ohimini and Umabe had been severely polluted from the mining activities, the EYM, the management of Dangote Coal Mines and the third-class traditional ruler in Edumoga, Chief Ochechema Ojoh, after the visit of the Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, resolved to provide boreholes for communities whose sole sources of water had been badly polluted.

“They approved phase 1 since 2021, after the visit of the Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Uche Secondus, and since then, it was in April this year that they commenced drilling, and that was after we had written series of letters. Because of the delay, our people were agitated and wanted to demonstrate, but we calmed them that going there to demonstrate or even blocking the federal road to Enugu in protest over the pollution should be the last option.

“We are a peace-loving community; we need investors in our community; but it’s obvious Dangote is taking advantage of our peaceful nature and wasting the opportunity we have given them. You go to a community to carry out such a huge money-making venture from which you are generating billions of naira but you cannot give back or restore to that community even what they had that you destroyed or took from them,” the EYM president stated.

Owotikwu gave more insight on the drilling of the boreholes, saying: “The company perhaps thought it is only the host community that their mining will affect but now, about a quarter of the district is affected. Since the company came in April this year to start the boreholes, they only drilled and left saying they will soon come back to complete them.

“Recently [May-June], I spoke with the contractor, I asked why he collected money from the Dangote Group of Companies to drill boreholes in our communities, and despite that they are too small, but yet they have not finished them? He told me that it’s the company that gave them the job and they were given segment by segment. He said the first approval they got was to drill and that they were still waiting for approval to complete them.

“Now, let us try to be human here. How long can it take them to drill even 100 boreholes in a year. They are drilling only four boreholes for four out of more than 17 affected communities. If my colleague, the secretary of EYM, were around, I would have asked him to bring the report of a joint committee of stakeholders set up when this issue started, and the Council of Chiefs in Edumoga District intervened and the youths have to obey the elders because no matter what, they are under the leadership of the Council of Chiefs.

“The traditional rulers waded into the matter and the company, in collaboration with them, resolved to set up a committee which included the youth, the chiefs and representatives of Dangote Mines. The committee went round the affected communities and they were shocked at the degree of damage and pollution caused by the company. As I am speaking with you, the current rainy season has made the water to be so contaminated that you can’t use it to wash your clothes or do anything with it.

“Before a company starts mining activities in any community, there ought to have been basic Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), the expected damages and whether these damages can be remedied, and on the basis of that, project mitigating measures on the essential amenities that can be offered. It is only when these steps are taken that the government should release the license or approval to commence mining activities. From what is happening, it’s obvious that Dangote started mining even without license because they cannot show us up till today either the ESIA or the mining licence.

“Dangote Group has the capacity to drill one thousand boreholes in a space of one month if they wish to, except if there’s a foul play somewhere. We are requesting that they should make phase 1 approval at least 17 boreholes so that it will go round the affected communities.

“We have appealed, and continue appealing, to government to come in and help us otherwise, if these issues are not resolved now and they escalate, it will lead to another insecurity, it will lead to something that we will not even want to see. We the youths are looking for an opportunity to save lives in Edumoga District. We are well organised, well-structured and we move in harmony. But what Dangote needs to do to cushion the effect of what is happening in our community, they are not doing and the youths are no longer happy.”

Seminary, Ochobo Community Also in Distress

Although located about 15 kilometres east of the mining site at Effeche, a Catholic secondary school, Michael The Archangel Minor Seminary, and its host community, Ochobo, in Ohimini LGA of the state have also joined the long list of victims of Dangote’s coal mining activity happening about 30 kilometres away from them. Like the communities in Edumoga, the minor seminary and its host community of Ochobo are also in the grip of a dilemma of no plausible or cheap alternative source of water.

Located off old Otukpo-Enugu Road that is now abandoned for the newer and shorter federal highway to the southeast, Ochobo, a rural community which enjoys the fortune of serving as the confluence community where Rivers Umabe and Ohimini joined to form the bigger River Okpokwu, now shares in the calamity of the pollution by Dangote Industries Ltd/Dangote Coal Mines Ltd.

A teacher who is conversant with the predicament of the minor seminary, who however pleaded anonymity, lamented that River Okpokwu which the school depends on for its water needs since its founding has become highly polluted such that the school’s authority is now compelled to decontaminate before usage.

He said the minor seminary now spends about one hundred and forty-eight thousand naira (N148,000) every month to decontaminate the water for the school’s use, including in its fish ponds, poultry and animal husbandry.

One of the fish ponds of the minor seminary with contaminated water from River Okpokwu.

“It is a very big challenge to us. Since the pollution started, members of Ochobo Community are in distress. The community does not have any other source of water other than River Okpokwu; that’s the water they use to drink, cook and bath with, and as contaminated as that water is, there is no other option for them,” the teacher said.

Asked how the seminary is affected by the pollution of River Okpokwu, the teacher explained that the school draws water into a big reservoir through a pipe laid from the school into the river. According to him the minor seminary did not experience the pollution prior to the commencement of coal mining activities in Effeche.

An elder in Ochobo Community, Mr Augustine Idoga, told National Record that prior to the pollution, the community relied on the river for all their water needs – bathing, domestic use, all season farming, among others. He said despite the water being badly polluted, they are still forced to use it as they have no alternative option. “For the past two years since they started the mining, we have not taken good water here, we just take the polluted water raw without purifying it and that has made many people to be sick while some have died.

“We have written a letter about the hazard and requested compensation last year but Dangote has not responded to it till today,” Idoga lamented. Asked if a copy of the letter to the company could be made available to National Record, Idoga said it is in custody of the secretary who he said was not available as at the time of our visit.

To be continued.

This investigation by National Record is supported by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development, Inclusivity and Accountability project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation.

close
newsletter

Let's Keep you updated

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER AND STAY UP TO DATE

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here