By Tom Ohikeren
Ankpa is a big town in Ankpa LGA, Kogi State. It is about 170.5 kilometres to Lokoja, the state capital. It is one of the few towns that can pass-off as urban with relatively good roads and also serves as the main town to Onupi, Awoakpali, Okaba and several other rural settlements in the LGA.
For almost six years, Dangote Coalmine Company operated on the minefield with no recourse to the Community Development Agreement ( CDA). It continued its illegal operation, until September 2016 when it commenced coal excavation in Awoakpali and Onupi communities.
Initially, Dangote Coalmine started coal exploration in Onupi village in 2014 without proper community consent – an exercise against the mining regulation. The Act says there must be consent and the CDA must have been signed to show approval of the host community prior mining activities. It is usually an indication that the host community have given their consent and had not been exploited in anyway. In fact, the CDA is a major requirement to acquire a mining lease from the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development (MMSD) before proper excavation could commence.
But that was not the case, according to a report by the former youth leader Dominic Onupi “We just saw them in the bush working So we challenged them,” he told the ICIR.
“After a while, they claimed the deceased HRH. Alh. Ahmadu Yakubu, regent of Ankpa gave them a go-ahead for exploration on the sites having signed a consent letter. But it turned out to be a different community, so they left for Awoakpali with their equipment.”
In Awoakpali, Adejoh, former Chairman of the community development association narrated an almost similar story. The only difference is that those whose land was captured started receiving benefits for crop losses only in 2016.
“We just saw them in the bush in November 2015 so our youths stopped them from working,” says Adejoh.
By January 2016, the mining firm had invited two community representatives – Elder Daniel Adejoh and a chief from Awoakpali to sign CDA without inputs or representation of the community’s lawyer.
“The following day, they brought the agreement drafted by the company. We were all novice. So we were compelled to sign.”
“Our only input in the former CDA is the name of the community,” Adejoh adds.
The Mineral Resources and Environmental Management Committee (MIRECO) Office which represents both State and Federal officials in Kogi was reportedly in the dark, they were unaware of the agreement.
However, after the old CDA was signed, compensations were paid for the tree crops. Adejoh described the compensation as grossly inadequate, as also mentioned by another. The community leaders said they did not know that the excavations would take almost half of the community’s farmland.
This mining activities has caused lots of damage to the well being of the people resident in these communities, sicknesses that were alien to the communities has now become what they have to live with. Miscarriages and other forms of ailment is rampaging the lives of these people and leading some to untimely death.
Environmental impact of coal mining in host communities visited during this investigation revealed constant reduction in farm yields. Sadly, the level of destruction to farmlands in Onupi, for instance, is better imagined. Its effect on farmers, especially women cannot be overemphasized.
Millions of farmers are facing shrinking harvests, because their lands are being degraded under a scorching sun; fishing villages have been swallowed up by rising sea levels and whole roads and towns have fallen into erosion gullies, contamination of streams when effluents from the mines are washed down during wet season due to the landscape has become reality in the host communities of Awoakpali and Onupi.
“It cost trillions of Naira to restore livelihoods and pacify conflicts arising from resource scarcity and migration”.
According to a recent report, gastrointestinal diseases, liver damage, kidney and nerves defeat among other health conditions are susceptible to the rural communities in this coal mining villages as a result of dust challenge and soot during the dry season in these affected settlements.
Other farmers shared almost similar stories of how effluent from the Mines is washed to the farms, especially during wet season causing crop losses. Though, compensation was given by the mining firm, as revealed by two of the farmers, but claimed the pay came once after years of repeated losses.
Again, Section 61 of the Mining Act addresses concerns on the waste water from the mine. The Act charges every license holder to, “conduct exploration activities in a safe, friendly, skilful, .efficient, and workmanlike manner in accordance with the regulations;
“…not abstract, divert or discharge water or effluent from any Watercourse except in compliance with a water-use permit and regulations.”