Bitumen host communities in Irele Local Government Area of Ondo State have expressed palpable fear over the decision of a mining company, Southwest Bitumen Nigeria Limited (SBNL) to commence operation in the area without formal agreement with them insisting that the activities of the company must not be shrouded in secrecy.
At a forum organised by Irele Progressive Union (IPU), a socio-economic and cultural association of sons and daughters of Ode-Irele, with headquarters in Irele Local Government Area of Ondo State, the host communities called on federal and state governments to prevail on the company to suspend exploitation until all protocols guiding bitumen mining and rights of host communities are strictly observed.
The Chairman at the occasion, Dr. J.K. Naiyeju, a former Accountant General of the Federation, noted that mining and other extractive industries were among the most destructive activities on the planet, especially for the hosting indigenous and farming communities, and therefore all necessary conventions must be observed before commencing any form of exploitation.
Naiyeju warned that mineral resources over ages anywhere in the world can be a blessing or a curse, citing the cases of the Ogoni people and other Niger Delta kingdoms as reminders of the potential side effects wrapped with blessings of mineral resources. He said: “With large-scale mining, enormous quantities of earth and subsoil are processed and unimaginable quantities of water are used and huge quantities of toxic material waste are left behind.
The impacts can last several lifetimes, or centuries. Cultures and community life are so disrupted that it can take generations for them to recover.” Dr. Naiyeju noted that currently the primary interest of any mining company was how to maximise profit while economic or other benefits to the local population and protecting the environment were secondary to them.
The National President of IPU, Dr. M.O. Akinwumi who noted that Irele land hosts over 21.37 billion barrels (50 per cent) out of the total 42.74 billion barrels of the resources in the state, said the forum would offer an intelligent platform to educate our people on their legitimate rights and obligations about the new venture.
He said the people of the local government received the news of the proposed exploitation of the resource by Southwest Bitumen Nigeria Limited with joy, noting that the devastating effects of bitumen exploration on the ecosystem and the socio-economic life of the people might be unimaginable if necessary measures are not put in place.
Akinwumi explained that from available information, SBNL had mobilised equipment to the site at Lamudifa in the local government area, in anticipation of the commencement of the mining activities without any MoU, with the host communities while issues raised in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EAI) report had not been addressed.
In his keynote address, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Ondo State University of Science and Technology, Okitipupa, Professor Francis Igbasan said that the exploitation of bitumen in the state, if properly implemented would not only enlist Nigeria into the $110billion global bitumen market but would also raise the country’s GDP significantly.
“It is believed that the tapping of this resource shall commence in due course. The project is needed in the local government area, and very important to the state in terms of IGR and infrastructural development and the project is of great importance to the Federal Government in raising the country’s GDP and preventing the over dependence on petroleum. Its take off will transform the area in terms of employment creation and infrastructural development”.
He, however, noted that issues raised on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report were yet to be addressed and resolved. A baseline study to determine the status quo of the communities has not been carried out, and no company has signed any memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the host communities. All these pending matters needed to be done before the company or any mining company could be allowed to commence operation.
The forum also observed that nothing was on ground to suggest that efforts were being made at addressing the concerns of people towards building a relationship that would guarantee sustainable peace, protect the environment from impact abuse and economic prosperity of the people.
The people of Ode-Irele called on Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, (SAN) of Ondo State and the Federal Government to call the mining company to order, and ensure that necessary steps should be taken by the governments to protect and preserve the rights of the host community and see that the mining land of the environment and economic interest of the people are well protected and preserved.