Though it has been confirmed that the health of thousands of people in several communities in Okpokwu, Ohimini and Otukpo local government areas of Benue State, especially the entire residents of the city of Otukpo, are endangered as they have no choice but to depend on rivers polluted by coal mining exploration by Dangote Group of Companies, the Benue State Government, represented by the Commissioner for Water Resource and Environment, may not be committed to the protection of lives of the endangered communities. Aboh Agbochenu reports.

CONTRARY to his words last week that he will be appearing before the Benue State House of Assembly this week to discuss Dangote Group of Companies’ mining exploration that has polluted key sources of water in Benue South Senatorial District, the Commissioner for Water Resources and Environment, was conspicuously nowhere to be seen when the House reconvened today, Wednesday, July 1, 2020; National Record can authoritatively report.

Our findings indicate that not only was the commissioner absent, the House said it is not aware of the dire situation posed by the pollution of some key sources of water by Dangote Group of Companies. The House also said it has also no schedule on its agenda for today to see the Honourable Commissioner for Water Resources and Environment.

Flashback

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But in a telephone interview with National Record on Thursday last week, Engr. Ahire, while acknowledging that his ministry was aware of the pollution of Rivers Okoolo and Umabe by Dangote Group, it was not aware of the pollution of River Okpokwu on which the entire population of Otukpo depends on for their water through the state-owned Otobi Water Works.

“I am aware of the issues as Commissioner for Water Resources and Environment. Both of them are in my line of duty to supervise,” Engr Ahire had stated. He said though he was supposed to lead a team to the site when the authorities of Okpokwu local government council drew his attention to the crisis, he dispatched a multi-disciplinary team headed by the Permanent Secretary of the ministry; along with the Director of Environment, representatives from the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESRIA) as well as the Benue State Environmental Sanitation Authority (BENSESA).

“They went there and they inspected the mining site, the water sources and had interviews with the Dangote team and also the communities. It became apparent that yes, really the water sources were polluted by runoff from the mining activities and they could see black particles in the water,” the commissioner further told National Record, adding that multi-disciplinary team reported that Dangote Group operators at the mining site had expressed that its plan was to prevent water spills from the mining site into the river (River Okoolo), but however accepted that indeed some runoff had taken place and that they were already prepared and were actually preventing the water by recirculating it within the mining site.

The commissioner said the company assured the team that as an immediate temporary arrangement; it accepted and was already providing water through tankers to the host community. “That arrangement, we learnt, was either once or twice a week. So I already pointed out that even as an interim measure; that would not do as that will not cover the whole communities,” the commissioner had pointed out.

While stating that the Ministry of Water Resources and Environment takes the matter very seriously and as a result, Engr Ahire was definitive when he said his was scheduled to meet with the Benue State House of Assembly on Tuesday this week (yesterday, June 30, 2020) to discuss the matter so that if need be, the State Governor will take it up officially with Dangote Group.

“We would have discussed it this Tuesday but other things overtook our plans. So on Tuesday, I already have a 10am appointment with the State House of Assembly to go and discuss this matter with them so that the state government can take it up officially with the Dangote Group,” Engr. Ahire had said.

He also stated when asked if he was aware that the contamination extends beyond the communities in Okpokwu to other communities in Ohimini as well as the city of Otukpo, as the Otobi Water Works is built on drawing water from River Okpokwu which has River Umabe as a major tributary, the Honourable Commissioner had expressed surprise by saying: “If this be the case, then I will take it up even further because as it is now, we have to send another team, even a bigger team now, and actually go and verify all these and require the Dangote Group to shut down.”

He punctuated that comment by further saying; “We cannot allow our people to go through this. Things are very difficult for everybody already. From Monday, I will address myself to it and prepare so that together with the State House of Assembly, we can address this thing, we will go back there, we will go back to the site and look at it and if need be, we will ask Dangote to shut down until a permanent solution is found.

“We will ensure that the water will not be affected unless they are going to provide alternative sources of water that will serve the whole communities.”

Assembly Not Aware of Polluted Rivers

Prepared to witness the Commissioner’s meeting with the Benue State House of Assembly, National Record was in the premises of the House of Assembly very early on Tuesday, where it was told that there was no sitting that day but on Wednesday (today).

Again, early as 9.20am today, our correspondent was already at the House for the sitting. The Honourable Commissioner neither at the Executive session nor the Plenary. Findings by this reporter indicate that the Commissioner had not initiated any move to meet with either the leadership of the House or the plenary contrary to his claim to National Record last week that he will be appearing before the lawmakers in connection with the mining activities of the Dangote Group that have contaminated waters of three main rivers and rendered them dangerous for human consumption for a huge population of people in Okpokwu, Ohimini and Otukpo local government areas.

When asked, the Minority Leader in the Benue State House of Assembly, a member Representing Tarka Federal Constituency, Rt. Honourable Ben Ben Mgutyor, disclosed that the Commissioner was neither scheduled to appear before the Assembly. He disclosed further that if the Commissioner was to appear either in the Executive sitting or the plenary, notices could have been given to the members.

When told of the water pollution, Hon Mgutyor said that a serious issue of such magnitude should have been reported by any of the members representing the areas complaining of water pollution as a result of the activities of the Dangote Group of Companies.

Efforts to see the members representing Otukpo/Ohimini and Okpokwu could not yield results as they were all rushing in for the plenary.

Otukpo LGA Reacts

When contacted, the newly inaugurated chairman of Otukpo Local Government Council, Honourable George Ali, said he was aware of the pollution about some months ago when he was a Caretaker Chairman of the local government.

He said the issue of pollution was then just emerging and that at he became aware of the situation as he was handing over in order to contest for the chairmanship of the local government when officers of the State Ministry of Water Resources and Environment visited Otobi Water Works following complaints that the waters of River Okpokwu had unusually turned deep-orange colour.

According to Honourable Ali, now that he is aware, he would inform the representative of Akpa/Otukpo State Constituency at the State House of Assembly to enable him to raise the matter at the House.

Committee Submits Report to Dangote Group

While calls to the newly inaugurated chairperson of Okpokwu LGA, Hon Amina Audu, were not picked or returned, National Record gathered from reliable sources that the 9-member Committee constituted over a week ago to identify communities negatively impacted by the pollution and make recommendations of remedial measures to be taken by Dangote Group today submitted its report to the company at its mining site in Effeche-Akpali, Ugbokolo Ward of Okpokwu LGA.

A reliable source informed that while the site manager is said to be sick and hospitalised, the report was submitted to his deputy, an Indian. who is said to be in charge of the mining that is full continuing despite the pollution and complaints by communities. 

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