For a Safer Earth, Healthier Climate

How Mining Operations Threaten Livestock, Agriculture and Livelihoods in Gombe Communities

Komta community is a small community of farmers and herders, which connects to the Maiganga community in Gombe State, North East Nigeria. While no mining activities occur in Komta, the after-effects of mining in a neighbouring community (Maiganga community) have endangered the lives, livelihood and animals in Komta.  Ruth Tene Natsa, funded by GLOBAL GREENGRANTS FUND/GLOBAL GREENGRANTS FUND UK/EUROPE followed up on previous reports she had done on the risks the community is suffering as a result.

A dire effect of mining when practised in an unsafe manner, is environmental pollution, which if not checked could destroy the ecosystem, and environment and pollute the host and neighboring community’s water source. It is, therefore, no wonder that the Komta community is crying for justice over the alleged pollution of their water source and risks to their lives by Cement giant, Ashaka Cement Plc, under the business name Lafarge Africa Plc.

A visit to the Maiganga community revealed serious mining activities, as several covered trucks of coal are seen leaving the less than 5-kilometre tarred road, while several others are seen going in to mine the products worth millions of naira. It is also no wonder that the immediate community of Maiganga enjoys some benefits of modernization as part of the compensations and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)  as well as benefits of the Community Development Agreement (CDA) reached by Maiganga Community and  Ashaka Cement  

These benefits include compact well-structured houses, a modern school (with most of the classrooms bereft of chairs) a dry borehole that has stopped providing water as  Ashaka is forced to supply water via trucks for the use of the community.

The story is not the same for Komta, Kwibah, and Kwilapandi which adjoin the Maiganga community.

EarthNews Nigeria’s visit to the community revealed no access road as visitors are forced to trek several kilometres across bush paths to the community which is said to be home to over two thousand indigenes. No portable water as humans and cattle drink from the same muddy-looking stream which looks like a dirty pond.

Unlike their neighbours Maiganga, the community has none of the modern facilities enjoyed by their neighbours.

Speaking with EarthNews Editor, Komta’s Village head (Kojen Tangale) Kilang Mela had alleged that “his community of mostly peasant farmers and civil servants had suffered severely as a result of the polluted water from the Ashaka Coal Plant”.

He recalled that in the recent past, their community had recorded some losses “We have recorded 8 deaths, 12 miscarriages by our women, 19 people currently suffering stomach aches, we have had 5 surgeries, 16 people have lost 144 cows while 64 farmers had lost their farm produce”

The Kojen Tangale alleged that since 2009 the community had been suffering hunger with the resultant effect of the coal mining which continues to destroy their farms” The little we have barely sustains us because of the destruction caused by the mining in the neighboring community”.

He lamented that all efforts to get redress from Ashaka Cement had gone unheeded” The company has refused to pay attention to us, they have even ignored the petition we wrote to them in 2013. This is despite that mining started when my late brother was the village head of Komta, he died and I inherited his title, he also wrote the Company before his death and they did nothing and I also wrote to them, and yet they have done nothing”.

Such were the challenges of the community that the village head who had represented himself and 126 others in a suit no FHC/GM/CS/22/”018 had sought justice through the courts of law in an originating summons dated October 5, 2018.

The community in their prayers to the court had requested for the award of the sum of N3b only in damages in favour of families of 9 deceased persons, families of twelve women who suffered untimely miscarriages, and the family of one daughter who suffered permanent paralysis in consequence of the defendant’s negligent acts via pollution of their sources of drinking contaminated with mineral toxic, waste effluent releases into the communities, under its mining activities.

The community further asked for an order for the award of N500m in damages for five persons who suffered various kinds of surgeries and 100 people who suffered various kinds of diseases and complications under the defendant’s negligent conduct is contaminating their drinking water with mineral toxics and forms of pollutions in connection with mining activities

The Community further asked for an order for the award of the sum of N400m in favour of 50 people who lost their livestock, cows, sheep, goats, donkeys, and fowls through the consumption of the defendant’s toxic water among others.

Other orders by the community asked for the revocation of the defendant’s mining lease and rights for non-compliance with the provisions of Section 125 of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007 and Regulation 11 of the Nigerian Mining And Minerals Regulations 2011 Section 16(4) of the National Minerals and Metal Policy 2008 which allegedly led to colossal loss of both human lives and material resources from the four affected communities

The Communities also asked for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants, its agents, servants and legal representatives from further carrying out mining activities that would be prejudicial to the plaintiffs in particular and the entire communities of Alatai, Kwilapandi, Kwibah and Komta in Billiri local government area of Gombe state.

Delivering the judgment on September 27, 2019, the Presiding Judge, Hon. Justice Afolabi ordered that the sum of N100m was to be paid to the Plaintiffs as damages by the defendant. She also ordered a perpetual injunction restraining the defendants and their agents from further carrying out mining activities that would be prejudicial to the stated communities.

The Court further ordered the sum of N1m to be awarded as the cost of prosecuting the matter in favour of the plaintiffs.

A member of the legal team representing the community, Barrister Yila Peter Malu said cumulatively they were asking for over N4b against the company ranging from special damages, and general damages to exemplary damages but based on the evidence before the court they were able to award the general damages accessed and awarded at N100m against the Company.

If the community thought the end of their troubles had come, that was a pipe dream as the Ashaka company appealed the judgement, citing that the customary court lacked the jurisdiction to try the case. They appealed that the case be transferred to a High Court.

Meanwhile, when EarthNews Media asked the chief if he was satisfied with the judgement he said ‘To us, it was not too fair, but in some other respect, it was fair as this was the first time communities in that area are getting a judgment against a company of that nature for over 12 years, even as he noted that lots of communities are affected.

He noted that while the Ashaka legal team had filed an appeal, they were considering filing a cross-appeal as there were lots of issues the court had not addressed well. “We want the court to address, particularly the special damages, people who are demised as a result of this allegation. The judge had said we failed to attach the dead certificates attributed to those individuals. However, we listed the names of those affected. The truth is that it is a remote community getting the medical records and certificates of death as proof is not so easy.

But the Company in a letter they had admitted to us had admitted the damages they had caused and it was relying on that document that the courts entered judgment for general damages, but for particular special and exemplary damages, that we wanted the courts to give us, she said, she will not give us as she was not convinced to give us that.

The Barrister said since the judgment, the Ashaka group had been employing different tactics to frustrate them including luring the courts to believe they wanted a settlement. On two occasions through their legal teams, they had asked the courts for time to settle with us but after two sittings it has not been fruitful.

“They have been using these tactics even before the matter went to court, and now instead of them seeing how they can settle with the community after the judgment, they have decided to file an appeal saying they are not satisfied with the judgment. But even the grounds of the appeal have no merit, as far as we know all their efforts are aimed at frustrating the community because they (the Community) are weak. Also because they know the lawyers defending the communities are working Pro bono and following the case to appeal could be a herculean task both for the communities and their lawyers”

The Barrister said that he will consider that justice is served when the intervention that is due to the communities gets to them.

Interestingly, while the communities celebrate the judgment as justice served, the defendants have decried the judgment, describing it as unreasonable, unwarranted, and cannot be supported.

Speaking with Earthnewsng Media, external counsel to Ashaka Cement Plc. Ado Dauda Esq said they had appealed the judgment. “We are appealing against the judgment of the federal high court Gombe on the basis that it is unreasonable, unwarranted, and cannot be supported having regard to the weight of evidence. We are also appealing because there was no basis for the judgment in respect of the cost of one million naira awarded and the cost of one hundred million naira as compensation or punishment against Ashaka. It is ridiculous for one to hold that there was no basis because the plaintiffs could not prove their case and yet the court went ahead to say the defendants shall pay the sum of one million naira as punishment for polluting the environment of the people concerned. We are also appealing because the matter is statute-barred, so this is just a summary of what we intend to do at the court of appeal”

Reacting to the demands of the courts to deposit the full amount awarded to the plaintiffs, the Counsel noted that it was usual. He said “That is one of the conditions that a trial court and even sometimes the court of appeal normally grants if you are seeking the indulgence of the court based on equity, the court will ask you to deposit the judgment sum. However, a party is at liberty to either apply to the court to vary that order or to appeal against that order.

Responding to the reporter’s query that the affected communities are mostly indigent and illiterate and may not be able to afford the facts requested to prove their case in court he said “I take exception to the fact that most of them are illiterates. The community in Gombe state belongs to one of the communities that are educated, they are the Tangale community and it is on record that the Tangale community values Western education very well, so in fact, there are Doctors, literate citizens of that community who claim to be poor, I remember that one of them is a veterinary Doctor, can one say a veterinary Doctor is poor? He queried. Many others have studied up to the university level, you cannot say they are all illiterates, and there are learned people among them.

On the allegation that his client’s activities had polluted the community’s environment, the Barrister said “I was privileged to visit the community with a staff of the Ministry of Environment, we went around, what I have seen there is the opposite of what the plaintiffs are claiming.

“There are technical reports that vindicate the fact that Ashaka has not polluted the community there.  You will be surprised that we received a letter from some of the plaintiffs about 42 (out of 167) of them saying they want to be disengaged from that suit because they have no fate. They wrote to Ashaka saying all that was done there was fabricated”

“In fact, at the point, they came in, it was already late because before they sent that letter trying to disengage themselves from the case the matter was already adjoined for judgment, so they could not reverse the case. We had asked them to go and tell their Lawyer to go and file an application before the court could deliver judgment, but the Lawyer could not do so, so as far as the court is concerned, they are all involved but I am telling you that about 42 of them are not part of the case”

On the judgment that Ashaka should clean up the alleged polluted environment, Ado stated that, unfortunately, the land is not Ogboni land that deserves some cleanup.

The Lawyer further revealed that 42 persons quoted by Komta and his legal team had distanced themselves insisting they were not in support of this even as he maintained he was not in the position to answer the queries being raised by the EarthNews Editor

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