Mining: What hope for host communities?

From Zamfara to Kaduna, Gombe to Kogi, Plateau to Ebonyi; the story is the same; mining host communities complain of neglect by companies who are making so much profit at their expense, BENJAMIN UMUTEME reports.

The mining of minerals in Nigeria accounts for only 0.3 per cent of its GDP, due to the influence of its vast oil resources. The domestic mining industry is underdeveloped, leading to Nigeria having to import minerals that it could produce domestically, such as salt or iron ore.

Right to ownership of mineral resources is held by the federal government, which grants titles to organizations to explore, mine, and sell mineral resources.

The discovery of crude oil led to a decline in productivity in almost all mineral industries. However, with dwindling revenue from oil analysts say it is imperative for the government to quickly diversify the economy with emphasis on solid minerals, which the country has in abundance.

This has led to a flurry of activities in the mining sector but, it has mostly been to the detriment of the host communities.

Like petroleum, like mining?

When crude oil exploration started in the Niger Delta region in the late 1960s, many of the host communities expected a better life. Fast forward to several decades and it is still mostly a tale of sorrow and the resultant negative impact of oil exploration in their various communities.

The implication is better imagined than felt as many community’s livelihood have been devastated by the activities of oil companies, who would rather settle a few power brokers in those areas than carry out their corporate social responsibility to the communities. Thus, these companies are empowered to ride rough shod on the host communities.

A close look at the experience of mining host communities reveals a similar pattern. Silvia, a resident of Enyigba in Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi state, where Royal Salt, a mining company operates, said the company has failed to implement the Community Development Agreement (CDA) it entered into with the community.

According to her, Royal Salt has failed to build hospital, provide water and provide jobs to the people of the community.

“We welcomed Royal Salt with open arms without knowing that they were coming to deal with us, humiliate us and deprive us of what belongs to us.

“Since Royal Salt came in they have refused to implement the CDA. As I am speaking with you now, we don’t have good roads, there is no water, our water has been polluted. There is no employment. They promised to build hospitals, provide jobs, they have not provided it. They are supposed to employ about 80 of their workforce from the community but they are not implementing it,” she said.

In different parts of Kogi state where coal is mined in large quantity by Dangote and ETA ZUMA, the story is virtually the same. The activities of the companies have left the host communities wondering whether their coming is more of a curse than a blessing.

A typical example is Okobo community in Ankpa local government area of the state, which indigene appear to have woken up to the realisation that their lives have not been the same again since ETA ZUMA resumed full operations in the community.

According to the traditional ruler of the community Alhaji Aminu Abubakar the company after several years of foot dragging finally signed the CDA in June 2017.

But getting Eta Zuma to come to the negotiation table so that the agreement can be implemented is proving to be difficult,” Okobo community Youth leader, Idris Ibrahim said in a telephone conversation with our correspondent.

Expressly, Plateau state environmental officials say 1,100 tin and columbite mines, abandoned after the mining boom of the 1960s, now pose serious health risks to as many as 2 million people living in the area.

According to them, radioactive mine tailings were reported to be a danger to local people living around mining fields in Jos, Barikin-Ladi, Bukuru, Bassa and Riyom districts of the state.

Official conspiracy

Many host communities and analysts believe government’s inability to effectively monitor the mining companies have often times embolden them to operate they way they do.

For Enyigba resident, Silvia, several complaints to the Ebonyi state government and security operatives have failed to yield the desired result.

“Even when we complain, they use police and soldiers to intimidate us. They brag and say to us, Nigerian government is in their pocket. They are using our security against us. We have complained several times to the state government, they at not doing anything.”

Speaking in the same vein, Godwin Ojo of the Environmental Rights Action (ERA) opined that the government in collaboration with the mining companies are more interested in profit making than the welfare of host communities.

He said: “There is an unholy alliance between the prospectors and government with the sole aim of maximising profit. Without prospectors breaking the rules, government will naturally protect them and that is why you have the issue of jackboot.

“You just lay complaint and the next thing you see is the DPO coming to knock at your door. Externalising costs is easily done by companies when there are weakened enforcement mechanisms.”

Mainstreaming human rights as antidote

According to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPBHR) the duty of the state is to protect human rights.

The principle maintains that it is the state duty to make it clear to third parties especially businesses not to infringe on the rights of the people and even when this happens, that there are remedial measures to address them. But, is this been adhered to by both government and mining corporations?

Speaking at a Town Hall meeting on promoting sustainability in the extractive sector through adherence to human rights norms in Abuja, executive secretary of Global Rights Abiodun Baiyewu said that mainstreaming human rights norms into the entire process of mining activities would address the underlying issues that have trailed operations in the sector.

“Mainstreaming human rights norms requires the infusion of the dictates of various concepts of human rights into every stage and facet of industrial undertakings. This implies that every stage of the project from the policy conception to the encounter with the consumers or beneficiaries must observe and sustain the standard of human rights,” Baiyewu said.

She said the way forward was to naturalise the resource and put it in the hands of the local people rather than looking for foreign investors in the name of dollars and pounds. “When you do this they have the primacy of protecting the environment and benefiting from the resources,” executive secretary maintained.

In the same vein, Technical Adviser, Planning, Partnership, and Engagement at NEITI Dauda Garuba believes stakeholders should begin to think of ways to put back the money in the hands of mining host communities because they bear the brunt of the mining.

According to him, host communities have for a long time been put on the footnote of operations in the sector.

“Let them be beneficiaries of the sector. They are inna position to help the government police the irregularities that go on in the sector.

“There needs to be some harmonious collaborations and synergy between the communities and the government. The government needs to reach out more to the communities,” he further stated.

As Baiyewu rightly noted most of the challenges besetting the industry results from failure to operate by the dictates of human rights’ norms.

According to her, “The Mining industry is a critical sector in Nigeria economy in view of its relevance to production and export. There is therefore need for all hands to be on deck to ensure its sustainability.

“But for efforts in this regard to yield the desired outcome, the operators should make deliberate effort to adopt the standard operational behaviour which will endear it to all stakeholders and propel it to sustainability by ensuring full implementation of human rights policies in their operations.”

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