Above is a file photo of the polluted River Umabe allegedly by the coal mining activities of Dangote Coal Mines Ltd
By John Ameh
OVER a dozen communities in Benue State have written a letter to Dangote Coal Mines Limited asking it to stop its strip mining of coal currently going on at Effeche-Akpali in Ugbokolo Ward of Okpokwu local government area of the state. The letter, National Record gathered, is a pre-litigation notice and has been served on the company through its parent company, Dangote Group of Companies.
Written on behalf of the communities by an Abuja-based law firm, Alleh Okpeh & Company (Obiye Law Office), and addressed to the President and Chief Executive of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the letter dated 18th August 2020 and signed by Donatus Ogah Esq.; is entitled: “Your Toxic Pollution of Umabe/Okpokwu Rivers Running Through and Serving Natives of Amejo, Eke, and Ugbokolo Communities of Edumoga District of Okpokwu Local Government Area and Other Idoma Communities Downstream of Benue State: Notice To Stop Work.”
According to the letter, the communities are asking Dangote Coal Mines Limited to “cease from further exploitation of coal at the Effeche-Akpalli” as its activities since the commencement of the mining have polluted the rivers which “have served them and their forebears through the ages.”
The letter pointed out that the demand to stop work is principally for the purposes of the survival of the inhabitants of the communities and the preservation of their environment and ecosystem, the company will however resume work if “responsible mechanisms are put in place” as well as “payments of full and adequate mitigations/compensations for damages already suffered and caused by your [Dangote Coal Mines Ltd] activities.”
The letter reads in part: “We have been informed by OUR CLIENTS that they depended on the natural waters of the above mentioned rivers for ages for their domestic and agricultural livelihoods and which were recently destroyed by your exploration of coals which consistently polluted the rivers thereby rendering them very unsafe for drinking, bathing, cooking and for irrigation farming.
“OUR CLIENTS brought to us information in pictorial, physical and documents as evidence showing that since the commencement of your activities in the strip exploitation of the coals, the said Rivers are now seriously polluted by your operations and these communities which depends [sic] heavily on them (rivers) for varying usages are badly affected.
“These [sic] pollution is in the nature of unbearable dissolved matter, high turbidity coloration, toxic and chemical changes in the natural content of the mentioned rivers’ waters, destruction of Fishes and other aquatic lives that form the bulk of the source of protein for their consumption and livelihood. All these are direct consequences of your coal exploitation located near the source of River Okollo at Effa, which is a tributary of River Umabe, which in turn flows into River Okpokwu.
“All the communities that have depended on uses of THESE RIVERS for time immemorial suddenly woke up in a morning in the month of March 2020 to the realization that their only natural source [sic] of water which have served them and their forbears through the ages became so polluted and has made life excruciatingly unbearable for them in all spheres of their day-to-day activities.
“We were also informed that the members of these communities can no longer bath on [sic] the rivers, drink the waters, do their fishing and other Agricultural activities on which their lives heavily depended on. For their daily use of water, they have resorted to buying water supplied by water tankers and from ‘pure-water’ vendors that have cashed on the misfortune of the people to exploit them and deepened their tale of woes and unfortunately, no alternative source of water supply has been provided by the Polluter (Dangote Coal Mines Limited). It is important to note that our clients are poor agrarian communities. Your mining activities have not only further impoverished them beyond their limit but also have gradually destroyed their ecosystem.”
According to the communities, the Niger Delta experience, among other stories of woe orchestrated by environmental degradation ought to have served as sufficient lessons to guide Dangote Coal Mines in its exploration activities in order not to endanger the environment and the lives of the people in their host communities.
“It is our firm belief that the Niger Delta experience and other examples of such incidences in Nigeria and other places the world over should have served as lessons to us and the consequences of which you must endavour [sic] to avoid for the peace, wellbeing, survival and sustainable development of our people and environment.
“It is in the light of the above challenges that we have the instruction of OUR CLIENTS to ask that you cease from further exploitation of coal at the Effeche-Akpalli from where water flows to pollute the rivers downstream. The cessation of the exploitation is for purposes of the survival (livelihood and lives) of the inhabitants of our client’s communities as well as the preservation of their environment and ecosystem until responsible mechanisms are put in place. We wish To NOTE that this is without prejudice to payments of full and adequate mitigations/compensations for damages already suffered and caused by your activities to be agreed by partners.
“We were also informed that that several ailments and sudden deaths not previously experienced in these communities and which are the direct consequences of your operations have befallen the inhabitants of our client’s communities that have for ages depended on the rivers.
“Finally, it is the firm instruction of our Clients that if after Seven days of receipt of this notice and you still continue with the coal mining operations at Effeche/Akpali resulting in the pollution of the rivers, every legal means available to OUR CLIENTS will be deployed for the purpose of stopping your operations including litigations both Criminal proceedings and civil claims – for compensations and any available remedies for damages and losses suffered and in order to avert further pains on the affected communities.” (Their emphasis)