INVESTIGATION: How Dangote Companies Violate Mining Laws, Polluting, Endangering Lives and Environment in Benue Communities – Part 2

0
520

Continued from Part 1

In this concluding part of our report of the ongoing pollution by Dangote Coal Mines Limited’s operations in Okpokwu LGA of Benue State, Iduh L. Onah, Amos Aar and Vera E. Abah expose the serial violations of the provisions of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act, Environmental Impact Assessment Act, The Nigerian Minerals and Mining Regulation 2011 and other mining regulations and guidelines by the company, all of which combine to imperil not only lives and environment of the host communities and that of their neighbours but have also led to sustained violent conflict in the immediate host communities.

Illegal mining

CONTRARY to the provisions of Section 71 of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act (2007), and Section 154 (a-f) of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Regulations 2011, Dangote Coal Mines Ltd has for over two years carried out its exploitation of coal in Effeche and neighbouring communities in clear violation of the mandatory conditions precedent to mining in any community, National Record investigation reveals.

According to Section 71(1) of the Act, “the holder of a mining lease shall not commence any development work or extraction of Mineral Resources on the Mining Lease Area until after:

“(a) The submission and approval by the Mines Environmental Compliance Department of all Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Studies and mitigation plans required under applicable environmental laws and regulations.

“[b] The submission and approval by the Mines Inspectorate Department of the details of the work which the applicant is prepared to undertake or a programme for carrying out any minimum work obligations imposed by the Mines Inspectorate Department;

“(c) The conclusion of a Community Development Agreement (CDA) approved by the Mines Environmental Compliance Department; and

“(d) The holder has duly notified, compensated and offered compensation to all users of land within the Mining Lease Areas as provided for under this Act or in the event of a dispute, after the matter has been resolved by Arbitration.”

Like the Act, Section 154 (a-f) of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Regulations 2011 stressed the importance of mandatory fulfilment of all preconditions before starting any activity in the mining lease area.

Titled, “Obligations of Mineral Title Holders,” the sections states: “Every person holding an exploration licence, mining lease, quarrying lease, or Small Scale Mining Lease shall comply with all conditions and perform all environmental obligations contained in the Act and these Regulations and as may be contained in any Community Development Agreement as long as the lease subsists, which include–

(a) submission of signed and approved Community Development Agreement before the commencement of operation; (b) submission of approved Environmental Impact Assessment; (c) submission of approved Environmental Impact Assessment Statement; (d) Submission of approved Environmental Protection and Rehabilitation Program; (e) submission of approved Environmental Protection and Rehabilitation Fund Implementation Timetable; and (f) submission of approved mine design to Mines Inspectorate Department with details of environmental concerns.

While our investigation reveals that Dangote Coal Mines Ltd began exploitation of coal, first in Effeche in February 2020, and now in neighbouring communities of Abache and Olaija, the company has not fulfilled any of the mandatory preconditions.

Our findings further reveal that the only mandatory condition fulfilled by Dangote Industries is that it obtained title right to the mining lease area with code number ML-028855. While it claimed to have obtained Environmental Protection and Rehabilitation Programme (EPRP) certificate granted by the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development (FMMSD), dated 11th August 2021, it was done in the breach as it was issued one and a half years after commencement of coal exploitation at Effeche contrary to statutory provisions.

DIL’s EPRP Certificate (Source: Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development).

Findings by National Record also indicate that Dangote Industries Limited (DIL) hired Emerald Environment Limited, said to be a firm of environmental experts, to conduct the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) study on the mining lease area. However, the company did not wait before the completion, submission, review, which includes public display of the ESIA Report, and its approval before it commenced coal exploitation in February 2020.

The 490-page ESIA Report was submitted in June 2020 to the Federal Ministry of Environment four months after Dangote Coal Mines Ltd commenced mining.

National Record made fruitless efforts to obtain from the company a copy of its ESIA study since 2020 when it broke the news of the pollution of the rivers and the dilemma of the host communities. Mr Nuhu Elujah, the General Manger (Special Duties), Dangote Coal Mines Ltd, had then told National Record that though he was not in possession of the document but was sure it was at the headquarters of Dangote Group in Lagos.

Similarly, an FOI request to the Federal Ministry of Environment (FME), Abuja, dated 27th October, 2022, demanding for a certified true copy (CTC) of the ESIA study and a CTC copy of the ESIA certificate, was not responded to as at press time.

Cover of DIL’s ESIA Report.

But while responding to a similar FOI request sent to it by National Record, also dated 27th October, 2022, and which included inquiries over oversight functions on the activities of Dangote Cement Plant in Gboko, the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development stated:

“a. The Company has conducted the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) in respect of the Coal Mine and Cement Factory, however, the ESIA Statement is to be issued by the Federal Ministry of Environment.

“b. The Company has an approved Environmental Protection and Rehabilitation Program (EPRP) for both the Cement Factory (certificate issued on 18/11/2020) and the Coal Mines (certificate issued on 11/08/20210 in Benue State. (copies attached).” National Record however noted that only the copy of the EPRP for the coal mine was actually attached to the response, and from the date of issue on the EPRP certificate, the company began operation a year and half prior to its issuance.

A major breach of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007 is the lack of mining licence by Dangote Coal Mines Ltd over the mining lease area. While Dangote Industries Limited (DIL) is the rightful title holder of the lease, and according to records obtained from the Corporate Affairs Commission, owns 90 per cent of the shares of Dangote Coal Mines Ltd, a search through almost nine thousand approved mining lease, exploration and other types of licences in the archives of the Nigerian Mining Cadastre Office’s website returned negative for Dangote Coal Mines Ltd.

Defective CDA

Another mandatory condition not fulfilled by the company before the coal exploitation was the signing of a Community Development Agreement (CDA) approved by the Mines Environmental Compliance Department of the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development (FMMSD).

Up to now, the company still has no approved CDA with any of the host communities – Effeche, Abache and Olaija. Even the first CDA with Effeche, which the company hurriedly put together while mining had commenced has up to this moment also not been approved by FMMSD.

Our investigations reveal that notwithstanding protestations from members of the Ai’Akaji kindred who are as we go to press vehemently contesting the compensation process and the legality of the CDA, Dangote Coal Mines Ltd still went ahead to commence coal extraction without fulfilling some mandatory conditions including getting the consent of members of the kindred as land title holders.

National Record gathered from a reliable source at FMMSD that the Mines and Environmental Compliance Department queried the first CDA with Effeche on the ground that the CDA “had some technical defects which the company was asked to correct and re-submit for consideration.”

This was confirmed by the Honourable Minister of Mines of Steel Development in the ministry’s response to National Record’s FOI request of 27th October 2022. In the letter signed on behalf of the Minister by Dr (Mrs) Okono Vivian C., Director, Mines and Environmental Compliance Department: “The Company re-submitted to the Ministry, a copy of the Community Development Agreement (CDA) signed with the four host Communities (Odoba-Otukpa, Effeche Akpali, Olaeja [sic] and Abache-Effai [sic]). The CDAs are currently under review.”

One of the polluted rivers, Ohimini.

Although both the ministry and the company kept sealed lips on what rendered the first CDA defective and may still be delaying the approval of the ministry to the re-submitted copy more than two years into coal extraction that has now been extended to two neighbouring communities, Abache and Olaija; a copy of the Effeche-Akpali CDA independently obtained by National Record from a reliable source and the copy of same inserted in the 490-page ESIA Report submitted to the ministry in June 2020 as Appendix 2.1, has visible flaws.

A source at FMMSD, who pleaded anonymity, disclosed that the flaws are very glaring to bureaucrats at the FMMSD who ‘quickly picked them out.’ According to the source, the principles behind CDA and its structure are ingrained statutory protocols dictated by extant laws and regulations, particularly the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007 and Environmental Regulatory Compliance Handbook in Nigeria 2016.

The source also disclosed that contrary to statutory mining protocols, Dangote Coal Mines Ltd’s CDA with Effeche does not indicate the lifespan of the exploitation. “The CDA did not state in clear terms when the company was to start and stop exploitation of the mineral, but its ESIA Report projected that the coal deposit in the Mining Lease granted the company is estimated to last between 25 to 30 years.”

“Secondly, the CDA also failed to give sufficient evidence of the background of the representatives of the community and how they were determined. Doing so demands the involvement of traditional rulers and local government authority’s attestation.

“There are some other essential clauses recommended in the Environmental Regulatory Compliance Handbook in Nigeria 2016 to be followed but which were not. For instance, there is no indemnity clause in the CDA. Worst of all, page 5 of the CDA is missing to which there is no explanation. So, all these flaws render the CDA unacceptable.

“Also odd, and if you look carefully at some of the documents you will notice the discrepancy that Dangote Coal Mines Ltd does not have mining licence. The licence to mine coal on the lease was issued to Dangote Industries Ltd. This implies that Dangote Coal Mines Ltd is illegally mining coal in Benue. As a result of all these, FMMSD had to write and inform the company that the agreement was defective,” the source stated.

Dangote admits ministry queried CDA

While the company had overtime turned down inquiries from National Record on the mining and associated pollution, the controversy stoked by a revelation made by a second-class traditional ruler from Okpokwu LGA, Chief James Okefe, compelled it to respond and clear the air. In doing so however, the company inadvertently exposed the nuances surrounding the CDA or the management of its relations with other stakeholders in Edumoga District and the local government area in general.

In a telephone interview with National Record on October 15, 2022, Mr Elujah, the company’s General Manager, Special Duties, spoke elaborately on the circumstances surrounding the CDA.

Elujah admitted that the CDA was done and signed in a hurry as the company began mining. He said it was after the submission to FMMSD that it realised that the ministry had introduced new protocols on CDAs following complaints from host communities on CDA implementation.

Nuhu Elujah, General Manager Special Duties, (front middle) Dangote Coal Mines Ltd, at mining stakeholders meeting at Government House, Makurdi recently.

“When we started with Effeche, we did the something [CDA] fast, fast and it was signed. But later on, the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development introduced a new dimension to it, that they have been receiving complaints from all over the country from different communities about implementation of content of CDAs by the mining companies in their areas, not just Benue State.

“So, because of that, the minister himself is interested in the content of CDAs. So, the one we gave them before, they queried it. Even the Effeche one that we signed, they queried it, that there are certain other things and so on; a lot of technicalities have been introduced.

“So, this time around, they said any draft of CDA that we make with any host community must be sent to the minister for vetting. After the minister has vetted or the scheduled director there has vetted it, they will send it back to us and until they send it back to us, we cannot go ahead…, even me that is talking to you, I am not a signatory [to the CDA], and none of us at the local level is a signatory for the company on the CDA. The people that are signing the CDA on behalf of Dangote Company are the Group Executive Director and our own Mining Director,” Mr Elujah stated.

Elujah added that the bureaucracy that surrounds the drafting and consummation of the CDA caused the delay and not deliberate although he did not explain why the company did not wait for the approval of the CDA and other mandatory processes before the company began mining.

“Even after vetting by the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development and we sent it to our head office, they have to also forward it to the legal department in Lagos there, so all these things cause delay, so it is not a deliberate action.”

Elujah also stated that at the signing ceremony of the CDA, each of the host communities was represented by a lawyer each and that everything done was in the open with the communities fully involved.

“When we signed it, you see, the CDA was drafted by both the community and the company; officials of the company, and each community has a legal adviser. For Effeche, at the time we were drafting that of Effeche before it was signed, Barrister Obande was there. That of Odoba in Ogbadibo LGA, Barrister Comfort Apeh was their lawyer; that of Abache, as we were drafting it, Barrister Emmanuel Ejeh was their legal adviser. That of Olaija, where we are presently, as we were doing the draft, one Barrister from Abuja, he is a native of Ugbokolo, I have forgotten his name, was their lawyer. So, all these things we are doing, there is no hidden something, they are fully involved,” Elujah said.

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

Elujah however did not speak on the conduct of Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), beyond stating that the ESIA Report, like the CDA, is at Dangote head office in Lagos when he was asked if he could provide a copy to National Record.

Divided, turbulent communities

Besides the violations of conditions precedent to minerals extraction as contained in relevant mining laws, regulations and guidelines, National Record also gathered from our visit to host communities that apart from not being faithful to the terms of the ‘defective’ CDA by Dangote Coal Mines Ltd, Effeche-Akpali has since the beginning of the mining operation become a divided community with two kindreds fighting each other over the original ownership of portions on which the company is mining.

Apart from the internal disharmony within the immediate host communities stoked by the mining, the usual communal fraternity and strong solidarity between and amongst neighbouring communities in Ugbokolo Ward has been fractured such that inter-communal fracas have become commonplace.

Indigenes of the community disclosed that the constant brawls and general aura of insecurity within the community peaked when a senior lecturer at the Department of Maths/Statistics, School of Technology, Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolo, Mr Joseph Onuh, who hailed from Abache coal mining community, was allegedly assassinated.

Onuh, who had completed his Ph.D. and was awaiting defence before his alleged assassination, was said to have been waylaid and fatally shot while returning from the burial of one of his relations on October 26, 2021. He reportedly later died on October 30, 2021 at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu where he was rushed to.

National Record gathered that the late Onuh was said to have been firm on the need to diligently follow the right steps and due process with respect to land title-holding, enumeration and compensation. It is generally believed within the host communities as well as the polytechnic community where he lectured that his death was related to the intrigues arising from the breakdown of communal harmony as a result of acrimonious politics around the administration of enumeration and compensation processes by Dangote Coal Mines Ltd in Effeche, Abache and Olaija communities.

The police, a source at the state polytechnic confided in National Record, are still investigating the brutal murder of Onuh, father of now orphaned five young children, although little progress had been made in the investigation over a year after the alleged assassination.

As we prepared to go to press, National Record gathered from a reliable source in Abache Community that another mining-induced violence had occurred with a member of the community gun down by soldiers. Though confirmed by multiple sources, details of the shooting were sketchy as at press time.

Investigations reveal that the compensation process in Effeche is up to now inconclusive as a result of intense internal quarrel between two kindreds in Effeche; the Ai’Ejeyin kindred on the one hand, and the Ai’Akaji Ebbeh kindred, on the other hand.

While members of the Ai’Ejeyin kindred claim that they are the bona fide indigenes of Effeche, they however disclaimed the title-holding of the entire land in the community by members of the Ai’Akaji Ebbeh kindred, alleging that they are settlers and therefore cannot benefit from compensation over ancestral land and property.

A member of the Ai’Ejeyin kindred, Mr Samuel Ameh, who told National Record in an interview during our visit to Effeche that he is the village head of the community, stated that the host community has been adequately compensated by Dangote Coal Mines Ltd in line with the CDA. According to him, those complaining that they have not been compensated are not entitled to any payment because they are not bona fide members of the host community.

Mr Ameh however said the company compensated members of the Ai’Akaji kindred on what is due to them in line with the evaluation that had been carried out prior to the commencement of mining.

“Already, they [Dangote Coal Mines Ltd] have paid them their money according to the evaluation they did. Then, the CDA we had with them, they are on the process because they have given us electricity, given us borehole, bridge and road. The remaining thing now is about school and health clinic they said they will build, that is what is left to be done,” Mr Ameh said.

Ameh however admitted that a major challenge facing members of Effeche community is the pollution of the rivers which they depend on for their water needs.

“The only thing is the pollution; that is, the erosion of mine water from Dangote [mining site] is disturbing our streams and we reported to them. But those that are saying that compensation has not been made are laying false allegation because they are not part of this community. A portion of land was given to them. If I give you land to farm and you have been compensated for the farm produce, then the owner of the land can take what belongs to him; they don’t have any case to make.

“All the while, traditional rulers went round to the Ai’Akaji kindred who are tarnishing the image of the company. The negotiation has been going on; they settled them very well. Even recently, they went to Abuja, they gave them special notice. Everything was put in place and was explained to them vividly. They are just fabricating lies against the company. If not, the CDA we had with them [Dangote], they are in the process.

“The Och’Idoma that went hunting, that is the late Och’Idoma; they took us there to settle the matter. But up till now… [makes gesture suggestive of inconclusive process]. Then, they referred us to our traditional ruler in charge of Okpokwu, where we had been settled. Later, they took us to the third-class traditional ruler, Chief Ochechema Ojo, we settled there. Now, they brought us to Ugbokolo for the main activity.

“We told them that they are not from here; they are not bona fide indigenes of this land. What belongs to them has been given to them; why are they insisting again? They are from Igala, their grandfather’s mother is from here and we gave them the land; they have already been compensated for the crops and what they have on ground. So, traditionally, we have resolved everything,” Chief Ameh claimed.

But Mr Ofukowoicho Fedoje Oguche, a member of the Ai’Akaji Ebbeh kindred, told National Record that contrary to the claim by Mr Ameh that he is the village head (Ijachi) of Effeche-Akpali, the community does not have an Ijachi. He said Ameh deceived officials of Dangote that he is the village head and that even when it was later revealed that he was not an Ijachi, the company still continued to use him as a channel to the community for whatever reasons best known to the company’s officials.

Oguche, a graduate of Federal University of Technology, Minna, Niger State, also disputed the claims by Ameh that the Ai’Akaji kindred are not title holders to any land in the community. He said the major mining activity in Effeche-Akpali is on the land belonging to members of Ai’Akaji kindred, and that the company wilfully allowed itself to deceived by some people in the community for their personal interests.

According to Oguche, it is this conspiracy against members of his kindred that made the company to deny them compensation for their land and economic trees all of which he alleged have been destroyed by the strip-mining activity.

“The company has never compensated members of the Effeche Olai-Akaji, the owners of major portions of the mining area in Effeche. We have written series of letters to the company but the officials did nothing on the case,” Oguche said helplessly. He disputed the claim by Ameh that everybody in Effeche has been compensated.

“Everyone has special interest in the proceeds from the mining in our ancestral land. The state, Okpokwu LGA, Edumoga District, Ugbokolo Ward, Ojenyon Clan in Ugbokolo Ward, Ai’Agbidi kindred in Akpali Ugbokolo community, Ai’Ejeyin kindred descent of Ai-Agbidi kindred in Akpali, who came to settle with our ancestors in Effeche Olai-Akaji. But Samuel Ameh had argued that members of Ai’Akaji Ebbeh kindred are visitors [settlers] and not entitled to compensation.

“The Ai’Ejeyin family later turned against us because they are more than us in number. They went behind and gave consent to Dangote without our knowledge,” Oguche alleged, lamenting that Dangote has used money to divide the community by setting the other kindreds against the Ai’Akaji kindred by going behind them to sign consent documents.

Oguche said: “How Dangote Company got the consent from non-land owners and started mining in our own portion of land is a big surprise to us. Even now, it is clear that officially, the company does not have a CDA, but it is still going on with mining. Effeche is the registered host community at the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, but the company does not have a CDA with the host community and yet mining is ongoing.

“What efforts have Edumoga District, Ugbokolo Ward, the clan and other kindreds made so far about the environmental pollution ravaging us as the direct and most affected people in the host community and our neighbours downstream? The other kindreds have land on which to farm and have other means of sustenance but we are left with nothing; nothing, even drinking water! They [other kindreds] are busy preventing us from getting public attention for assistance for reasons best known to them. The same thing played out when the Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development visited the mining site as a result of some media publications on the pollution in our community,” Oguche lamented.

He revealed that all traditional efforts have been made to settled the dispute but the quarrel persisted with the company refusing to pay them their due compensation.

“We have taken all the required traditional conflict resolution steps in this dispute; from the least traditional ruler within our jurisdiction to the Paramount Ruler, His Royal Majesty the Och’Idoma, the late Agabaidu Elias Ikoyi Obekpa, but the outcome is deadlock.”

Elder Simon Idoko, the current head of Ai’Akaji Ebbeh kindred, in an interview with National Record corroborated the claims by Oguche, insisting that the Ai’Akaji kindred are not settlers but rather the rightful owners of the land. He said like other kindreds in Effeche-Akpali and Ugbokolo in general, all their ancestors migrated from Igala land to their present location in Edumoga some centuries ago.

He said: “Erosion destroys our farms every year. After you cross this village, all the farms belong to the Ai’Akaji family. Down there [points at a particular direction] is the Ai’Ejeyin kindred; they don’t have farms up here. That is the problem. The place where they mount that borehole to the end of this village is the Ai’Akaji kindred and from that borehole down is the Ai’Ejeyin kindred.

“We [all the kindreds] used to sit together like this before now. But when Dangote came, everything scattered because money has come. They say we are strangers. You know, our fathers have been here for more than 300 years; our great-great-grand-fathers were here. All those people you are seeing are small children.

“The Ai’Ejeyin family doesn’t allow us to farm again. There is an ancestral deity called ekwu, which they put on the ground where we farm and anywhere it is put, nobody is allowed to farm there again. So, as we speak with you now, nobody is going to farm again. Nothing, our farms, they claimed even our palm trees, all our ogbono trees, everything. As this palm tree is here now, none of us can touch it again. [National Record learnt that whenever the ancestral deity is arbitrarily and unjustly installed on a plot of farmland, it becomes impotent and as we go to press, our reporter gathered that members of the Ai’Akaji kindred are farming on the said land without any consequence].

“We are waiting for elders of our community because we don’t have money. Wherever we go, they (Ai’Ejeyin kindred) use money to block us. All that they are doing to us, we are begging God and we are calling on the government to help us because we don’t have money to go to court. The traditional rulers too are not helping us because whenever we fall back on them, they say we are visitors. When we go to Otukpo to Och’Idoma’s palace, they say we are from Igala; but our father lived here long, long before 1947 when the white men were talking about the first Och’Idoma.”

Elder Idoko also disclosed other forms of social discrimination being meted out to members of Ai’Akaji kindred since the disagreement began, and pleaded with government to come to their aid.

“We are begging government because it is government that says that when you live in any land for 15 or 10 years, you have become an indigene of that land. When my daughter wanted to marry, they said I should bring cartons of beer and that if I don’t provide them, they will cancel the occasion. But they don’t give us their own, not even one bottle of beer.

“They maltreat us like slaves in the olden days; that’s what they want to re-introduce now.

“All of us living here migrated from Igala land. Now the Ai’Ejeyin kindred is saying we are from Kogi while they are from Ankpa local government,” Elder Idoko revealed.

When contacted and asked on the alleged non-compensation to members of the Ai’Akaji kindred, Mr Elujah said the company has settled all compensations and that the ongoing disagreement is an internal ancestral matter which the company does not wish to meddle in.

Opaque compensation process

Findings also reveal that the process of compensation to owners of lands, farms, economic trees and other properties is not open. Indigenes of the host community who spoke on this under the cover of anonymity, said virtually all those compensated were made to signed documents without really seeing or knowing the amount written on the document they signed.

According to one of the sources, in the bid to hide the real amount for compensation, officials of Dangote Group in collaboration with government personnel created three separate compensation lists and that nobody was really sure of the authentic enumeration list carried out by property valuers and consultants in liaison with officials of the Benue State Ministry of Land, Survey and Mineral Resources.

Of the three lists, National Record learnt, only volume 3 is said to be the only available copy. Both the government and Dangote Coal Mines Ltd, a reliable source in Effeche confided in our reporter, are denying the availability of volumes 1 and 2 whenever we asked for them. “We do not know why both the federal and state government officials refused to admit the existence of volumes 1 and 2 of the compensation and enumeration documents. It is logical that if volume 3 exists, then there must be volume 2 and then 1, so why are they hiding it,” the source asked.

Political, traditional and community leaders on company’s payroll

Initial findings by National Record upon commencement of this investigation indicate that complaints over the environmental hazards, especially the pollution of sources of water depended on by the host communities and several neighbouring villages, and the demand to Dangote to provide remedial measures were not listened to because the company had bought over political, traditional and other community leaders right from the local to the state level.

Polluted River Umabe at Ogene in Amejo Ward.

A reliable source in Dangote Mines Ltd had earlier this year confided in National Record that the chiefs and community leaders in the immediate mining communities and Edumoga District as well as other traditional rulers of repute in Idoma are on the payroll of the company. The source also stated that as a result of this package, the traditional rulers will not complain. Also said to be on the company’s pay state government officials in the ministries of Land, Survey and Solid Minerals and Water Resources and Environment as well as Government House elected and appointed staff.

While the source declined to name any of the chiefs or community leaders and government officials enjoying the allowance on a monthly basis, a source in the Edumoga Youth Movement, who pleaded anonymity, said amongst the beneficiaries is Chief James Okefe, the second-class chief (Ad’Okpokwu) in charge of Okpokwu LGA.

The source further revealed that Chief Okefe had at a point been paid N18 million by Dangote to ‘smoothen relationship between the company and relevant stakeholders’ in his domain.

When contacted, Chief Okefe acknowledged receiving the N18 million, but said it was given to him as ‘kola and not for compensation’ or any other purpose. According to him, though he was not part of those compensated, the money was given to him by his subjects as kola from their share of the compensation.

Beyond his admission, Chief Okefe is critical of the absence of development of the host communities at the expense of the company, among other things. For instance, he had told National Record that “right now as I’m talking to you, no clinic, no school, this and this… Up till now, we have not seen the agreement… I am told the compensation has not been fully paid to [some people]. What they are saying also, I came and inherited the thing so I was not there from the point they started the compensation. If not, with my experience, this thing wouldn’t have gone wrong the way it is and as far as I’m concerned, I’m not part of the people that they can pay compensation, they can only pay compensation to the beneficiaries and anything that comes out of it, my subjects can buy kola for me, they can give me food.

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

When asked whether the money was meant to be shared amongst stakeholders in the affected communities, Chief Okefe said: “I’m the father of Okpokwu, so if your children give you food, there is nothing wrong with it. You understand what I mean?

“So, if they are saying anything other than this, that story is a fallacy because number one, I’m not from there to convey any payment or any compensation to anybody. But whoever is operating in my domain, if he says Chief take kola, it is not wrong of me not to collect the kola and I bless you, and I do the right thing because the primary responsibility of any traditional ruler is to ensure that peace reigns in his domain and the peace is maintained and he has been able to maintain law and order.

“So, whoever that is coming out with the story, I’m happy the way you called me because you cannot just hear from people and start writing about it. On those people that they are paying compensation to, I’m on it; I will get the details and I will be able to address you, this is what they agreed with Dangote and this is what they have paid them and if there’s any outstanding, I will tell you…

“As for the N18 million, it is not compensation; nobody paid me any compensation and as far as I remain his Royal Highness, nobody paid me compensation but if my children said that Daddy, take and eat, I will eat that food and bless them; so there’s nothing wrong with it,” Chief Okefe maintained.”

Polluted River Okpokwu, at Okete in Eke Ward.

While the management of Dangote Coal Mines Ltd had initially declined comment on the allegation of placing traditional rulers, politicians and civil servants on payroll and prioritising greasing of palms at the expense of providing remedial measures to environmental damages caused by its coal exploration, it was however forced to speak on the matter following National Record’s report of a meeting of mining stakeholders held at Government House Makurdi where Chief Okefe inadvertently spilled the beans on the payment of traditional rulers by company.

At the meeting, Chief Okefe had, among other things, stated that as the “Ad’Okpokwu [Father of Okpokwu], I wrote a letter to him [Elujah], introducing authentic ward heads of Ugbokolo, confirmed by the Bureau for Local Governments and Chieftaincy Affairs and the Idoma Area Traditional Council. He [Elujah] could not honour the letter and is paying somebody who is not even a chief. Every month, he is paying the person, the person is not a chief”. The person under reference, National Record learnt, is Samuel Ameh.

Chief Okefe, seated in the midst of two other traditional rulers at the stakeholders’ meeting at Government House, Makurdi, recently.

In an interview with National Record days after Chief Okefe’s revelation, Mr Elujah opened up not only on the payment of N18 million made to chief Okefe, he also corroborated the fact that there is existing protocol that the company really placed traditional rulers on monthly payroll.

Elujah said upon the appointment of Chief Okefe as second-class chief of Okpokwu in February 2021, he summoned the management of the company to his palace in Okpoga, the headquarters of Okpokwu LGA, for a meeting.

According to Elujah, Chief Okefe, at the meeting, accused the company of not paying homage to him since his installation as traditional ruler.

Eluja stated: “At the meeting, we asked him what were his real grievances. What he put before us were; one, that since he became a traditional ruler, Dangote had not paid any courtesy visit to him not to talk of recognising him as a traditional ruler or custodian of the land in the local government. To that we apologised and we said whatever mistake we had made, we will correct it, and he said okay. He said we need to carry him along in whatever we are doing. To this we said okay, no problem; but asked him what he exactly wanted? He said there are some people; traditional rulers and other community leaders that are put on monthly allowances by the company and that he is supposed to enjoy that. Again, we said okay, on that one, there is no problem, we will discuss with top management in Lagos and they will look into it.

“Number two, that the compensation, all these millions we are paying to the community as compensation and other benefits, that he is supposed to be carried along and have his own share. Here, we explained to him the series of monies that are coming to the community; that one, compensation; compensation is mainly for farm crops and economic trees and there are farmers which these products are valued for in their names depending on the number or size of their land and the quantity of those crops they have and their names are tagged to it.

“Two, the consultants that are doing these enumeration and valuation of the crops are officials of the Benue State Ministry of Land and Survey, so the state government is fully involved in whatever we are doing. So, whatever bill they give us and the names of the beneficiaries, we pay to them. So, we made it clear to him that we as a company, we have no power to touch any compensation belonging to the community or the farmers. But at your own level, since you are their leader, you can invite them before we pay compensation and that time we were talking, we were about to pay compensation to farmers in Olaija Community.

A heap of coal awaiting evacuation to Dangote cement factories.

“He said okay, he would want to know how much we were going to pay and to whom. We said no problem, since you insist, I will let you know, and we gave him the figure. He then asked, how will he have his own, and we said no, we don’t have that power legally, but if you want, I will link you up with the chairman of their community, Mr Samuel Abah, he works with NNPC Abuja, I will give you his number, you can discuss with him and then agree on whatever the amount the community wants to give you.

“Later, he summoned him [Samuel Abah] from Abuja to his Okpoga office; they discussed, he demanded for N25 million for himself and his council members and some groups in Ugbokolo as he said he is not alone. The bargain was strictly between him and the community. At the end of it all, they agreed on N18 million.

“Now, when the company now came into the transaction was when the community directed us to deduct that N18 million at source and should be transferred to Chief Okefe’s account. At that stage, we demanded for a written letter from the community, which they did and I forwarded the letter to head office and the money was transferred to the chief’s account.”

After the payment of the N18 million, Elujah said, Chief Okefe also demanded that Dangote place him on a monthly allowance, a request which he said the company granted.

“Now, he promised that if we also put him on monthly allowance, whatever crisis that will emanate between the company and any community within his domain, he will take care of it. We said no problem. On that basis, we did a memo for 200 thousand naira monthly for him and the headquarters approved it. That was with effect from February this year [2022].

“So, as I am talking to you, we have been paying that 200 thousand naira to his account every month. We didn’t stop there, as he demanded for more and we said the only thing we can do for you is to pay you arrears of one year; that is from February 2021 to February 2022, because that February 2021 was when he was installed as the second-class chief.

“So, we paid him arrears of 12 months, which is N2.4 million on the basis of 200 thousand naira per month. This amount too was paid into his account and he was placed on 200 thousand naira and which he is enjoying up to date,” Elujah stated.

Payloader and truck at the loading point.

Although Elujah did not disclose names of others on the payroll of the company, an unimpeachable source in the company confided in National Record that it is conventional practice in the company to “pay homage, appreciate and be kind to leaders at various levels wherever we operate.”

According to the source, the company as a tradition does not wait until crisis erupts before relating with relevant community, local or state government stakeholders before it begins to reach out to them. “A cornerstone for the success of Dangote is its proactive generosity; it does not use fire brigade approach to troubleshoot,” said the source.

Multiple sources living within and outside the immediate host communities, particularly in Ugbokolo and Amejo council wards of Okpokwu LGA, told National Record that “all the traditional rulers in Edumoga District are beneficiaries of Dangote’s subversive generosity.” He said this is one of the reasons why despite the massive poisoning of key sources of water, neither the politicians nor the traditional rulers have taken confrontational stance against the company even when they hear complaints of people and actually see physical manifestation of the pollution.

“I can confidently tell you that even members of the Edumoga Youth Movement are beneficiaries of Dangote’s deep pocket. Some of them do not hide the desire to get their own share and they did. When the youths were agitated, it was the chiefs that came to the company’s rescue, and to their own benefits too because if the company had packed and gone, they would have lost a stable source of income. This is not something chiefs in our land had experienced before. So, they have to protect and guarantee the interest of the company to also serve their personal interest,” said a well-placed source close to a third-class traditional ruler in Edumoga District.

Another source accused Dangote of colonising the communities in the mining area. According to the source, the presence of the military in the mining area alone is indicative of the aggressive intention of the company to extract the coal by all means necessary. “Everybody is subdued, including the youths. The mining site is more protected than the entire Okpokwu. Soldiers are on guard 24 hours. The communities have been colonised, so to say, by the company but nobody can say anything, including our politicians,” lamented a final year student of the Benue State university, Makurdi, who was at home due to the then ongoing ASUU strike.

But Mr Elujah had told National Record that the soldiers were brought in because some criminal elements in the immediate host communities had turned stealing of the company’s diesel into a lucrative business.

Elujah said: “We brought in the military to secure our property and the lives of the personnel, especially at one time when there was attack in Ajaokuta, this ceramic industry in Kogi State. That sent fears into the minds of management and they now said we can ask for the military to come in so that they can secure the lives of our personnel, especially the expatriates and our equipment.

“From time to time, we used to experience sporadic gunshots especially from those guys that come in the night to steal our diesel. Stealing of diesel has become a business for many of these host communities and all the diesel they are trading in are from Dangote site. So, we had to bring in the military, and even as I am talking to you now, arrangements are also on to bring in the civil defence to complement the efforts of the soldiers.

“So, in all these things, they are not happy, they said why can’t we engage the local vigilantes but we don’t trust them, and they don’t have the relevant equipment that can protect our personnel and equipment.”

For some time now and as we go to press, the most palpable and pervasive fear within the host and surrounding communities whose sources of water have been badly polluted, is however not of soldiers but more of cancer epidemic. Inhabitants of the communities say they have been told that usually, the malaise of any coalmining community anywhere in the world is cancer induced by usage of coal-contaminated water.

Benue State govt keeps mum

Governor Ortom unusually quiet over the mining pollution endangering several communities.

Since the commencement of this investigation, officials of the Benue State Government have tactically evaded all efforts to speak on the issues. While the Commissioner for Land, Survey and Mineral Resources, Hon. Bernard Unenge, who statutorily oversees the processes of enumeration and compensation and to ensure mining companies comply with extant laws, consistently avoided requests for interview, even after his request for advance questions were met; several such efforts to speak with the Benue State Ministry of Water Resources and Environment was also fruitless.

Hon Bernard Unenge, Benue State Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Solid Minerals.

When contacted for the governor’s response on the pollution and other associated issues on the mining in Effeche and other host communities, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Samuel Ortom, Mr Nathaniel Ikyur, initially said all mining matters were on the exclusive list and therefore the governor would not be in the position to comment.

When reminded that as the chief executive of the state, the governor was obliged to protect his citizens from danger of mining pollution, Mr Ikyur said our reporter should contact the relevant ministries for their responses.

Dr Godwin Oyiwona, Benue State commissioner for Water Resources and Environment.

However, when told that the commissioners of both ministries had been reached but evaded speaking on the matter, and that from information available to National Record, it was clear Dangote Coal Mines Ltd was carrying out the coal exploitation illegally and in clear breach of mining laws, regulations and guidelines, Ikyur asked the reporter to give him time to get across to the Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Mineral Resources, Hon. Bernard Unenge, and will get back shortly.

Nathaniel Ikyur, Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ortom.

He also said the Commissioner for Water Resources and Environment, Dr Godwin Oyiwona, had travelled to Egypt for COP27 and therefore will not be able to speak on the matter.

Mr Ikyur neither got back nor picked calls subsequently made to his mobile, just as he failed to respond to a reminder sent to him via WhatsApp message after he had read it.

Unusual silence from Federal Authorities

Curiously, while the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, the Federal Ministry of Environment, and the Nigerian Mining Cadastre Office, the three core regulators of mining in the country are aware of the obvious violations of the existing mining laws by Dangote Coal Mines Ltd, they clearly ignored these breaches even as the mining activities have obvious health, environmental and social consequences on the host communities and their neighbours.

Though FMMSD responded to our FOI enquiry, it however left unanswered some questions in addition to a seeming ignorance of its statutory roles and powers with regard to the provisions of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007, the EIA Act, the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Regulation 2011, particularly Section 155 (a-b).

Arc Olamilekan Adegbite, Hon Minister of Mines and Steel Development.

The Section, entitled: “Compliance to Obligations on Mining Environment,” empowers MMSD thus: “The Ministry, through the Mines Environmental Compliance Department shall:

(a) issue such directives and take such steps as may be necessary to enforce compliance with all laws and regulations relating to the protection, reclamation and rehabilitation and social issues of any mining environment; and

“(b) authorise any officer to inspect or supervise any mining operation and to conduct such inquiries to ensure that the provisions of the Act and these Regulations particularly as to the environmental and social obligation of the holder are being complied with.”

The attitude of the Federal Ministry of Environment is more indifferent. Apart from failing to respond to the FOI request by National Record demanding information on the ESIA process and other environment procedures precedent to issuance of exploration and mining lease title, a Deputy Director in the ministry’s Department of Environmental Impact Assessment, Engr Celestine Gomwalk, told our reporter that the ministry has “processes to follow” and that “nothing goes [out] just like that.”

Mohammed Abdullahi, Minister of Environment

Engr Gomwalk said the FOI request was addressed to the Minister of Environment and that as a civil servant, he is not allowed to express himself. He said if the minister gives the go-ahead, it will be communicated back. “A civil servant is to be seen, not to be heard,” Engr Gomwalk said, stating that “the Freedom of Information Act did not remove the Civil Service Codes, they remain there…that is why I said the due process will be followed and you will get the reply.”

Despite the assurances, no reply came as at press time.

Concluded.

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.

RELATED STORIES:
POISONED RIVERS!

POISONED RIVERS: Benue State Govt Equivocates As Dangote Coal Mining Endangers Thousands of Lives

POISONED RIVERS: Edumoga Youth Movement Enters the Saga

UPDATE ON POISONED RIVERS: Has Benue Govt Chosen IGR at the Expense of its People?

Poisoned Rivers: Mortality Hits Fish Farm as Dangote Coal Mining Persists

Poisoned Rivers: Dangote Group To Face Litigation From Benue Communities

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