The only source of water for some remote communities in Karshi council has been ruined by mine workers with Hongao Mining Company Ltd, a Chinese firm. The miners who are being protected by security operatives have made residents vulnerable to COVID-19 as the people have been unable to wash their hands as frequently as they should in this era.
A stream which serves Angwandadi (location of the company site) and at least 8 neighbouring communities is no longer safe for use, no thanks to Hongao Mining which has been using the water (that runs by the site) to wash its stones.
Farmers depend on the stream to water their crops and quench their thirst. But they now have to trek long distances to find alternative means of water. The road to the village is so bad that it has become a breeding ground for kidnappers.
Heading towards Kutasa where Angwandadi is located, a first-timer would immediately notice it is totally cut off from the nation’s capital in terms of infrastructural development. It lies about 70 km north of Abuja. The road to the village is covered by bushes, battered by erosion and occasionally plays host to kidnappers — some persons were abducted along the road a few days before one of the visits.
Not only does the community lack accessible roads, it also grapples with lack of electricity while hospitals and schools remain imaginary luxuries for the villagers. But none of these issues trouble the community like the activities of Hongao.
“The water was good for various uses before they (the Chinese company) came and spoilt it. The one we have at home is being contaminated too by cattle. No borehole, no hospital. This is how we live in Kutasa. No water; we suffer to get water to drink,” Mariamu Bahago, whose farm is not so far from the company site, told TheCable.
LOCATION OF HONGAO OPERATION SITE VS PATH OF VOOVO STREAM
For 2 months, TheCable monitored operations of the company. Documents and interviews with more than a dozen contacts showed some of their activities are not in line with laid-down procedures. Even though the company has exploration licences EL28811 and EL28644, it is illegally using water from the stream to wash stones extracted after which the waste finds its way back to the river in contravention of the Minerals and Mining act.
Worse still, the company failed to provide a borehole for the community despite fervent pleas. Section 61 of the mining act states that every holder of an exploration licence shall:
“(a) conduct exploration activities in a safe, friendly, skilful, efficient, and workmanlike manner in accordance with the regulations;
(b) conduct exploration activities in an environmentally and socially responsible manner; and ….
(e) not abstract, divert or discharge water or effluent from any Watercourse except in compliance with a water use permit and regulations.”
COMPANY SITE LOCATED BY THE STREAM
During one of the visits to the site, TheCable reporter, hiding in nearby undergrowth to avert the gaze of gun-wielding policemen, observed how the miners carried out their operations. Going too close, one of the villagers told the reporter, will be “too dangerous.”
We watched how, with the aid of an excavator, the operators dug out sand from the ground which is then washed with water diverted from the stream, to sieve preferred stones from the sediments. After that process, the water meandered into the stream and ultimately into the body systems of the residents of Kutasa and their neighbours.
A technical officer at the FCT mines and steel development’s mines inspectorate department (the office empowered by law to approve guidelines for miners and enforce mining regulations) told TheCable they have no records of Hongao. The official, who pleaded anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said he could not confirm activities at the site, but added that a team would be raised to inspect the place.
While in the community, one could hear clearly the sound of the machines used by Hongao. TheCable learnt that the Chinese company first came to the village long before November 2019 when they signed a “compensation agreement” with the 7 owners of the land for “small-scale mining operations”. Yuan Jian, secretary/director of Hongao, signed on behalf of the company, as seen in document obtained by TheCable.
That payment, Ishaya Bahago (traditional ruler of Kutasa) said, has been the only form of compensation the community has received from the company. At least 5 other villagers including Samaila Tabo, the youth leader, said they met brick-wall in the requests to the company for a borehole.
Although no law mandates miners to provide water supply for their host communities, it is illegal to ruin existing water supply. It is on this basis Hongao is expected to create an alternative source for the residents after contaminating their water source.
A laboratory analysis carried out by TheCable confirmed the water is highly turbid and unfit for drinking. In the analysis done at the FCT water board, Okobi O. Y. who signed the report on behalf of the general manager, noted that “physio-chemical analysis shows high levels of turbidity, nitrate and iron” and that “water may need further treatment.”
REPORT OF LAB ANALYSIS ON THE WATER
When contacted by TheCable, Austine Akpuma, a director at Hongao, admitted that through its activities, the company has contaminated the water source of the villages but he gave security challenge as an excuse for not providing a borehole for the people whose lives have been badly affected.
He said Hongao has contacted 9 companies to drill borehole in the community but most of them refused to “because of kidnappers” who are usually on the road to Kutasa. A borehole which the company finally built for the community in May is still not functional till date.
U. J. Elimelechi, an armed policeman who accompanied the officials, said he was not aware of any form of illegality in the company’s operations. Akpuma had earlier said Hongao applied to the force headquarters before the policemen were sent.
Yusuf Bulus, a geologist who often visits the area for research purposes, explained the excavation process at the site: “They are alluvial minerals — deposits formed when minerals are eroded from their source, and then transported by water to a new locale, but they are able to operate now because the river is not flowing as it used to deep into the rainy season.
“What now happens is that the water they are using to wash the stones is entering the paths of that river and flowing that way to the neighbouring communities that also use it. It is meant to be natural water that will flow to other channels but it is not the case; the water flowing now is being controlled by men.”
Frank Mba, police spokesman, did not answer calls to his phone, and had not responded to a message sent to him at the time this report was filed. Anjuguri Manzah, spokesman of the FCT police command, was also contacted for comments but no response.
GAINING AT THE EXPENSE OF THE LAW
Ishak Magaji, a mining researcher and lawyer acting on behalf of the community, told TheCable that Hongao did not reach any legal agreement with the community before it started extracting minerals.
“From our findings, we discovered that before they started operating, they did not enter any form of agreement with the community,” he said. “Exploration helps you know if a mining site is viable or not. But in respect of this company, what we have seen is (that) they are carrying out full-scale mining because the machines we saw operating there, I have never seen a gold processing machine bigger than that or a washer bigger than what this company is using.”
Although the company denied they have started mining, one of their labourers alleged they get up to 10kg of gold, a claim we could not verify.
TheCable reporter had, during one of numerous visits to the site, posed as a businessman looking to buy gold. The labourer explained how the company operates: “This machine, if it starts work, e dey go continuous for one week … the gold wey e dey carry am for house, I know say e go pass 10 kilo, any day.”
He added that one gram of gold sells for N15,000 on the site and could go for N17,000 in the market around Suleja, Niger state.
“WE ARE HELPLESS”
In 2019, Bahago said the community and Hongao allegedly agreed to construct a primary school block but none of these promises — borehole or school — has been fulfilled.
“The Chinese are not responding and we are tired of the whole issue,” the traditional ruler groaned, adding that all efforts to seek redress from the government have failed. Gado, who is in his 50s, laments the community is frustrated and doesn’t know what to do
Tabo, the youth leader, said the residents are planning to protest against the miners. He also said the company had given “all kinds of excuses” to further delay drilling a borehole for them as they no longer have any reliable water source.
HOW DANGEROUS CAN MINING BE TO THE HUMAN BODY AND THE ENVIRONMENT?
Johnson Amobi, a senior lecturer at geology department of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, spoke of how impurities from gold mining can pollute farm lands and water bodies.
Amobi, who has worked as a mining consultant in northern Nigeria, explained: “Gold just like other metallic minerals in nature are in their crude form; this implies they occur with other impurities which are called gangue while the metal gold is the essential material.
“The percentage of the essential material (here gold) to the gangue defines the rank for that particular deposit. As rank varies from deposit to deposit, the gangue form the non-essential materials which are the impurities which vary from deposit to deposit.”
HOW NIGERIA LOSES BILLIONS IN SOLID MINERALS SECTOR
Although there are no official up-to-date estimates as to how much Nigeria loses to illegal mining of gold or in the solid minerals sector, data reviewed and interviews conducted by TheCable showed the country could be losing tens of billions of naira in unaccounted revenue.
In 2019, Bawa Bwari, former minister of mines and steel development, was quoted as saying “about 6 tonnes of Nigeria’s gold — valued at about N350 billion — had been traded in the international market yearly since 2016, with no impact on the economy or the national GDP.”
Apart from the major sources of loss which are mostly through licences, royalties and tax that should have been paid, Nigeria also loses a considerable amount of money as a result of the largely unregulated mining by individuals, 80% of which are artisanal miners.
Reporting on shady operations of licensed companies, the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) noted in its 2018 audit report of the solid minerals sector that out of the 47 companies that engaged in export that year, there is no evidence that 30 paid royalties, adding: “It may result in revenue loss to the tune of ₦45,318,640.50 for 23.585 metric tons.”
The report further stated that there are 302 companies that paid royalties in 2018 but are not in the mining register, a loophole it said could open the sector up for illegal activities and huge revenue loss to the government.
Unlike the colonial era when mining sustained the economy, contributing majorly to the GDP alongside agriculture, total earnings from the solid minerals sector between 2009 to 2018, was N398 billion (or $1.94 billion), according to data from NEITI. In 2018, which has the most recent update, the government receipts from the sector was N69.5 billion, mostly from value added tax (VAT) which amounted to N40 billion, while 720 companies paid royalties of N2 billion.
Godwin Mbogo, an industrial expert who works at NEITI, blames poor record keeping and lack of the right fiscal framework for inadequate revenue in the sector “The mining sector is a relatively less regulated sector largely because of the large number of artisanal miners,” Mbogo said.
“One of the major issues with revenue generation in the solid minerals sector is the absence of a clear fiscal regime for the sector.” He also said there have been occasions where companies fail to send various returns as requested by NEITI.
To curb illegal activities in the mining sector, NEITI had recommended increased investment in the solid minerals sector and capacity building for states’ mines officers and surveillance teams.
While that is yet to happen, many communities, like those in Karshi, will continue to suffer unjustly.
- THE CABLE