In Ebonyi State, mining activities have created pits that have continued to claim lives and exposing communities to environmental hazards, UCHENNA INYA reports from Abakaliki
Ebonyi State is blessed with lots of natural resources which can be found in many parts of the state. The state has a lot of lead and zinc. Many miners scramble for these solid minerals without taking into cognizance the environmental impacts on the people. This accounted for why there are many pits in different parts of the state. In Abakaliki, Ikwo, Izzi, Ezza North, Ezza South, Ebonyi, Ishielu and other local government areas of the state, the pits can be found in their large numbers uncovered. Some are located by the roadside where motorists and other road users ply regularly. Some are even very close to highways while some are found within school premises. Some of these pits have lasted for over 20 years and have become a source of water for communities where they are located because of the availability of waters in the pits at all time.
The waters inside these pits are not good because of their stagnant nature and the possible presence of micro-organisms that are harmful to human bodies. But they have remained useful to the communities especially during the dry season that is usually accompanied by water scarcity in the communities. Some of the pits have taken the lives of those fetching water from them and some children who at times swim them.
The pits have also taken the lives of some road users who fell into them when their vehicles, motorcycles plunged into them. In Okposi Umuoghara, a truck last year conveying a quarry that is processed at stone crushing companies in Umuoghara quarry sites fell into one of the deep pits located by the roadside there and the drive and his assistant died. Early last year, a motorcycle operator died inside that particular pit when his brake failed and plunged into the pit. The same thing happened to a man who was riding a bicycle and the bicycle fell into the pit.
Two months ago, the worst happened in the state when Volkswagen golf car carrying the state Youth Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), comrade Ogochukwu Elem and his two police escorts plunged into the one located on Enyigba/FUNAI road between Abakaliki and Ikwo local government areas of the state. The incident threw the entire state into mourning and it took three days for the bodies of the deceased to be recovered from the over 20 year’s deep pit. Elem was buried four days after the recovery of his body. A Catholic cleric, Rev. Fr. Mathew Orie while delivering a homily during the burial of the 35-year-old politician, appealed for the closure of the pit. “When you are driving along that FUNAI/Enyigba road, you should drive between 30 and 40km because we were very scared when we saw that deep mining pit that the vehicle plunged into which caused Ogochukwu’s death.
We are pleading that something should be done about it so that another one will not occur there,” he said. The Governor of the state, Dave Umahi after their bodies were recovered, ordered the immediate closure of the pit and all other open pits across the state but till today that particular pit has not been closed.
The state Commissioner for Environment, Dr John Nnabo explained why the pit has not been closed thus “the government is yet to cover that particular pit the APC Youth Leader died because the resources of covering the pit are quite much. So, the government is gathering resources to be able to ensure the covering of that pit.” Nnabo stated this when he was closing some pits within school and market premises in Amajim, Amaeka community, Ezza south local government area of the state following a public outcry by the people of that community.
He said: “What is happening here in this community is environmental degradation and it is in my jurisdiction to address everything that concerns the environment. What you are seeing here is illegal mining activities that are taking place inside a primary school and this is a primary school I attended. “Some persons in the village decided to do illegal mining because they feel they can get solid minerals.
There is a procedure for doing the mining. You must get a license before you go into mining. Of cause, you cannot mine in school because children are in the school and anybody that is mining in a primary school like this is exposing the school children and villagers to dangers of ill health. “As you can see the next pit you are seeing there is in the market. As they are mining, every person that attends market there and the school children are also exposed to dangers of ill health.
Because these people are doing illegal mining, they don’t know what is called protective devices they should use to protect themselves and even if they use a protective device, these pits are open and these schoolchildren are liable to fall into these open pits. “We saw what happened in the state over a month ago where the state APC youth Leader was driving along the road, he somehow had an accident and his vehicle also carrying his security men (two policemen) fell into an open pit which led to their deaths, these are promising young men, men that could have contributed a lot to the development of the state.
So, for this, we decided as a ministry to be going round to close all the pits in the state. “And for this particular one that is inside school premises and market square, it is becoming a matter of urgency and that is why we have decided to close it. When something happens and somebody dies, it creates a matter of urgency. When the state APC Youth Leader died, it be-came clear to the government that if nothing is done urgently, more people will die.” A member of the Amajim, Amaeka community, Ngwuta Afamefuna said the mining within the school and market square in the area has exposed the people to danger. He noted that the school’s headmistress has tried to stop the mining activity in the school but to no avail.
He alleged that two powerful families in the community have been using their resources to suppress the people by doing the mining without considering the environmental impact on the people. “God blessed us with mineral resources and that is why you see pits here and there in this community. People are doing what you can call illegal mining because of the abundance of mining resources in our community. “You can see mining pits in this school premises and our market. The fence they used and cut off this school premises is not good because they destroyed a lot of things inside this school. They destroyed the school garden, teacher’s quarters and even some of the school buildings.
They just woke up one day and did those destructions and the school headmistress has been battling to stop those things. “Nobody is talking about these destructions except the school headmistress who has become tired of the whole thing because her efforts to stop the destructions have not yielded any result. Look at one of the school buildings how it is today. The miners and the ones that destroyed the building the way it is no, they destroyed the roof and broke the walls. It is a particular family in this community that did this and started mining in the school premises.
“The entire villagers are crying over this and this particular family that is doing this are making money and using it to fight opposition against this dangerous mining in this school. The school headmistress has tried severally to stop this. As she is trying to stop this act, another family has opened their own mining pit also around the school and our market square. “They started mining in the market square because the other family has been mining inside the school premises and nobody stopped them and that is what is causing problems in our community today and both families are using monies to suppress us so that they will continue their evil activities in the name of mining.
“The worst part of this their mining is that school have continued to be at risk. Their activities have been disturbing them, they have condemned the school and that is why many people in this community have withdrawn their children from the school. If you check very well, you will discover that they have created underground mining which cut across the classrooms and the school premises,” he said. A stakeholder from Ikwo Local Government Area, Nelson Nwali Onyebuchi, alleged that the Enyigba road linking the local and Abakaliki has been destroyed by the miners.
He said: “I believe that before these people mine, they must have obtained a license from the government, if not, they are illegal miners. So, if they have a license from the government, the government that gave them a license should checkmate their activities.
“You can see that this place we are standing in a pit and it is by the roadside, it’s a major road linking two local governments; Ikwo and Abakaliki local governments to the capital city. So, my view is that if the government gives these people licenses to mine, they should checkmate their activities and if the government should checkmate their activities, they should understand that this very place is a death trap, if they mine, they fill it. “If they should mine here, after mining they should ensure that they don’t leave that place open because if this very pit that caused this mayhem was filled, this tragedy wouldn’t have happened.”