The State of Osun, blessed with a huge reserve of gold and rich arable land for cocoa (a cash crop) has become a farmer’s nightmare, leaving huge environmental risks, with the obvious degrading effect of mining in some communities in the state, EarthNews Media Ruth Tene Natsa with the support of Global Greengrant Funds/Global Greengrant Funds UK/EUROPE took a tour of three communities in Osun and writes on the overwhelming degradation these communities are faced with…..
The sight which greets every first-time visitor to the Igun Atakumosa Community is the rich greenery and cocoa farms/slanting cocoa trees which border very bad roads into the village, attesting to the arable land the community is blessed with.
Aside from the large expanse of agricultural lands that have been destroyed by the evident impact of illegal mining, is the obvious poverty in which community members live.
Igun community has no maternal child care facilities/services, no portable drinking water and a non-existing secondary school except a boarded primary school, no road( except a 1 km tarred road recently constructed by the governor) and no form of social or modern facilities.
EarthNews Media findings uncovered deep neglect of the community, despite the huge resources daily taken out by miners who access mining sites with full knowledge of the state government, as they pay and are issued tickets.
Speaking with EarthNews Media, community secretary to Igun Atakumosa, Adegbayibi Adenigbabe lamented “the huge environmental risks, poverty, health challenges and hopelessness mining has brought to their community”
According to Adegnigbabe “mining has robbed our community of its only source of drinking water, agricultural lands and produce and degraded the environment such that our community is at risk of an earthquake, landslide and a flooding at best.
“The government have destroyed our land, they have destroyed our farms and have refused to give us compensation” he said
The Community Secretary added, “While the community is blessed with abundant natural resources, particularly in the area of agriculture (cocoa farming) and mineral resources with abundant gold deposits, the community is no doubt a looming natural disaster waiting to happen as deep open wells and mining channels have led to the collapse of many economic trees and agricultural produce”.
Igun Atakumosa is said to have over 3000 open mining pits and 9 mining ponds with contaminated water which serves no good for human consumption or agricultural purposes. Sadly the pits are still counting as EarthNews Media findings supported by the Global Greengrants Fund/Global Greengrant UK/Europe revealed and showed fresh mining pits which had been dug in recent times.
The community’s only drinking water source which also serves as the miners’ water spot to wash and sift their gold dust has been contaminated and community members have to trek several kilometres daily to get water both for drinking and other personal uses or make do with the mineral contaminated water.
Lives are not spared in the community as two miners were recently buried in the course of their work, while community members suffer terrible itching and skin irritations, allegedly as a result of the exposure to the effect of mining in their communities as alleged by community members.
Sadly community members lament that no forms of compensation had been given to the people since gold mining began in the early 40s by the Nigerian Gold Company ( A defunct government mining company), this according to them led to their hostility to the government to reclaim some of their abandoned rig.
This is further evidenced by the several abandoned mining equipment and rigs left by the defunct company over 15 years ago, these include industrial generators, excavators and rigs.
Speaking with EarthNews Media Chief of the community His Majesty Sunday Oba Oladipo recalled that the community had welcomed mining and had been giving a paltry sum but lamented that “despite the small compensation paid to them no efforts have been made to implement the initial agreement reached between the community and the government”
According to him, they promised us light, tarred roads, scholarships for further education for community members and equipping of our only health centre.
He recalled that the youths in the community had been promised gainful employment on the commencement of mining activities in the state, tarred roads, a hospital and scholarships for students in the community, but none of the promises by the government yielded positively for the community as EarthNews Media findings showed deep-rooted poverty in the community.
The chief recalled that community youth worked and watched as the government carted away the mined products with little and no benefits to the community members which led to a revolt and the community demanded the company leave the community.
Unfortunately with the exit of the Nigerian Gold company came the influx of illegal mining activities which further degraded the environment and impoverished the people.
According to the Chief, efforts by the government to retrieve the abandoned mining equipment had been met with stiff resistance by the community as they demanded compensation for their destroyed community.
He lamented that “the community since the inception of Aregbesolas government has been besieged with informal and illegal mining activities who pay the paltry sum of N50 to access the mining sites which is further destroying the environment”.
In his words” Mining has left about 9 adulterated water ponds and poisoned our only source of drinking water, they have destroyed our farms and our women are suffering. They promised us a hospital but we do not see anything”
The chief lamented that no efforts had been made by either the federal or state governments to address the drinking water challenge the community is suffering, as members were forced to trek long distances to get drinking water or buy sachet water even when they could barely afford to pay themselves.
One of the Miners who spoke with EarthNews Media, Usman Abubakar said “The miners belong to an Association and pay 50 naira to the state government to access the mining sites after which no royalty or tax is paid on any gold or minerals mined in the community. He presented a torn half of his daily ticket”
EarthNews Media observations have revealed an urgent need to fill up the open mine pits both for the security of lives and stray animals, as well as to restore the environment for the benefit of cocoa farmers.
There is also an urgent need to begin developing immediate social infrastructures to give people a sense of belonging and benefit to the natural resources nature has blessed them with.
There is also an urgent need to provide medical tests and attention to the community so that community members can be fully checked to ensure their health status.
A major question begging for answers in Igun is why the state government issues tickets to miners, considering mining is on the Exclusive List of the federal government.
Itagumodi also known as the gold city is a community few kilometers away from Igun Atakumosa and has a population of 2000 residents, mostly farmers whose livelihoods have been stolen. In addition to the community members is the existing migrant community of over 1000 young miners from various parts of the North seen with their mining tools in the early hours of the morning ready to hit the mines.
A few of the miners who spoke with EarthNews Media said they were only out to earn a living and came from all parts of the North including Katsina, Kano and Zamfara.
But most touching is the story of Mama Rhoda Ajanaku ( Speaking through an interpreter) who has lost her husband and 8 children to the poisoned environment caused by mining. Unfortunately, she has not only lost her entire family and livelihood but is also blind from the effect of the contaminated water she has to drink.
Mrs Ajanakus’s story is said to be better as whole families have been wiped out as a result of exposure to the toxic environment. Community members showed neglected and abandoned homes where whole families had lived and had been wiped out as a result of the alleged mining scourge.
Chief Akingbade’s house is said to have lost 18 family members, while the High Chief, Odofin of Itagunmodi Peter Ogundoro has lost all 21 members leaving only one survivor.
Speaking with EarthNews Media, the traditional ruler, Atagunmodi of Itagunmodi Oba Micheal Olalekan who said he had ruled for over 20 years lamented that “the degrading impact of mining was not only a loss to the community, but was of no economic benefit to the nation”.
The chief lamented that, unlike its counterpart community, their community was blessed with several boreholes but the water is thick and not safe for human consumption”
” We have lost our means of livelihood because most of our palm trees fall and die because of the mining activities. We used to supply other communities with palm oil in the past, but that is no more” he said.
A community elder and a former cocoa farmer Ajayi Emmanuel recalls that gold mining in Itagunmodi Community began in the 40s with the influx of northern gold miners.
” Mining has affected our lives, we have lost all our farmlands, we have no one to help us, they are using our land, our wealth and giving us nothing in return”
The elder, called on the government to come to their aid and provide portable drinking water which is very hard to get especially in the dry season as well as other social amenities.
Another community leader Chief Olatunde Bolaji, Risa Ijoka of Itagunmodi We are very proud that our land is filled with gold, but still we are being cheated by Hausa people and anybody coming at random and coming to take advantage of all the resources in the name of mining.
Speaking on rights, He said “We know our rights as a mining community, but there is nothing we can do about the influx of migrant miners because challenging the miners could result in fights and this will be against the law”
He said several efforts have been made to the state government, who sign MOUs with various companies, but after meeting with the indigenes they never show up again.
“ If there is the assurance of giving to the community, we will see something very tangible and we will welcome that, but we see nothing,” he said
Sadly EarthNews Media findings have revealed that the miners are not necessarily illegal as they go into the communities with the full knowledge and permission of the state government, this was confirmed through a copy of the tickets issued to miners from the State of Osun, Office of Natural and Mineral Resources and Private mining Title Owners Association.
Community members said, often the miners come in with government vehicles claiming they are from the Osun state office, leaving them with no option, but to watch as the illegal miners cart away their communal wealth, while they continue to suffer.
EarthNews Media’s observation in this community is the huge influx of northern miners with little or no source of employment for the locals.
Before community members have to rise to demand their rights, it is time the government looks at the existing opportunities in these communities and aligns their activities to become more profitable both to the communities the government and the Nigerian people at large
Iperindo community in the headquarters of Atakwamosa East Local government of the state is alleged to have one of the richest concentrates of gold but currently runs no mining activity.
Community Leaders who spoke with EarthNews Media said “We have driven out all the miners because they refuse to sit down and meet our demands”
Speaking on behalf of the 6 member King Makers Committee, Chief Oladungboye Gbenga said ” Several years after the Nigerian Mining Corporation had come to carry out exploration activities in the land, Segilolo Gold company among several others have been coming, “but we always chase them away because there are no benefits to the community members”.
He recalled that on their initial request to the government, they had requested governments and companies interested in mining gold in their community to build and equip a hospital, Schools, tarred roads, a police college
According to Chief Gbenga” community members had in the past been exposed to the effect of mining which had contaminated the environment with its offensive odours, the results of which many community members had twisted tongues, sufferer ed blindness and many other illnesses.
He lamented that even the exploration carried out in the past had left huge excavated grounds with no remediation efforts by the explorers
In this community government and investors must sit with community members to agree on what will best profit the community and look for the way forward according to the opinion of the President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Arch. Kabiru Ibrahim
Arch. Ibrahim stressed the need for the government to do more to protect mining host communities from the negative impacts of mining”, they should produce infrastructures, roads, schools, water” she said
“We Understand that mining should have some form of Corporate Social Responsibility, but what we have observed is most host communities see the companies as the government because there is no government presence. They expect the companies to provide these social amenities, but that is the primary role of the government, the government should not shirk its obligation of providing for communities, while mining companies only complement as part of their social licence to operate, so government should do more on the social economic realities of mining companies”
He called on mining companies to obey and abide by the laws “because we see lots of impunity in the sector. Mining Companies will not carry out Environmental Impact Assessment (CIA) , they do not sign Community Development Agreements (CDAs) and perhaps do not acquire their licenses through proper channels. So if mining companies (Both local and international) begin to obey our laws, we will begin to see progress” he said
For host communities, he enjoined them “to know their rights and demand for the protection of their rights. They should also know that we have laws that protect them. Some of them do not know that we have a mining Act or that there should be EIAs. They should work with community Organisations (CBOs) to engage government and I feel if all stakeholders are all serious about bringing development to the sector, we will begin to have progress”.
Recalling a previous assessment carried out by various Civil Society organisations, the Farmer’s President recalled that, during the assessments, we discovered that lots of host communities do not know their rights and that informed our interventions through our town hall meetings, capacity building and even our engagements with them.
The Land Use Act says the governor holds the land in trust for the community members and on behalf of all citizens, However, individual landowners have the right to give out their lands particularly when they have a Certificate of Occupancy, or it could also be a customary land such as community lands and in such cases when a mining company comes into a community, it is the responsibility of that company to pay compensation for the land it has acquired, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that the company pays compensation. The surface rent is a tax paid on land and does not remove the obligation for compensation. Compensation comes when there is a loss and it is beyond parting with land but could also be a loss of future earnings,
He maintained that the sector if properly regulated can create jobs and generate revenue “particularly now that our cash cow oil is not producing as much revenue as in the past,I will say our government should look out to international best practices, to ensure our lands are protected as cash crops are also cash cows and I think we have more than enough and if it is properly regulated, it does not have to be that if government acquires land for mining, it will automatically stop agriculture while in production”
Meanwhile, efforts to hear from the Mines Officer of the state proved abortive despite efforts to reach him as he insisted that he had not been authorised by a higher authority to speak on the role of government.