As miners plunder C’River communities, natives flee

Havoc is being wrecked by artisanal, illegal and other big-time firms mining in Biase and Akamkpa Local Government Areas of Cross River State. The Cadastral Office in the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development is reported to have given licences to two firms to mine even inside the Cross River National Parks in […]

Havoc is being wrecked by artisanal, illegal and other big-time firms mining in Biase and Akamkpa Local Government Areas of Cross River State.

The Cadastral Office in the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development is reported to have given licences to two firms to mine even inside the Cross River National Parks in Oban, a vast reserved forested area.

Some of the natural minerals found in large quantities in the state include diamond, gold, barite, tourmaline, limestone, gypsum, titanium, emerald, gemstones etc.

Due to the very attractive cost of these minerals in the international markets, all types of miners have reportedly brought in no fewer than 2000 artisanal miners and other men, mostly non-Nigerians, to mine.

In Biase LGA, there are several licensed and illegal miners. Those licensed to mine particular types of natural stones reportedly veer off to mine gold or gemstones.

Traditional chieftains of many mining communities in the areas have expressed anger at how mining firms, as well as illegal miners, wantonly plunder their mineral resources to enrich themselves and end up impoverishing the host communities.

HRH Atte Obhort, Sunday Evong, the clan head of Akpet nation, told journalists in his palace that in Akamkpa and Biase local government areas, countless mining firms, as well as illegal miners prospect for natural resources, tearing open lands wantonly and frequently do not declare what minerals they have discovered.

Evong said miners ill-treat mining host communities as if they do not matter.

“We will no longer accept a situation where they exploit our resources and leave us bare. The natural resources they mine from our communities were given to us by God. So, they must carry the people along,” he said.

He insisted that they should also enjoy what comes out from their lands even though they belong to the federal government, adding that the poverty level in his community, for instance, is very high.

The miners are alleged to lure locals and minors with mouthwatering sums of money to leave schools to rush for gold, and those that reject them are threatened.

Unfortunately, these minors are often at the receiving end. For instance, three weeks ago, 14 of such minors were arrested, detained, tried and sentenced to six months imprisonment by a Magistrate Court in Akamkpa Town of Cross River State for illegal mining and other offences in the state’s National Park.

The Magistrate, Justice Okokon Essien, directed that the offenders be jailed because they were unable to pay the fine option of N200,000 as provided by the Service’s law.

Residents allege that these mineral miners are well armed, such that they harm those that try to resist them. Findings show that some of these miners are camping at the Cross River National Parks in Oban, Akamkpa LGA, as well as the surrounding Owai and Efunkpa communities.

There are also reports alleging rape of local women and intimidations of the natives.

Reacting on the reports that licenses were given to two firms: Abdulsaraq & Co International Mining Ltd and Exploration Ltd to mine within an officially protected forest area, Executive Director of WTP, Mr. Ken Henshaw, and the Executive Director of DEVCON, Dr. Martins Egot, at a press conference, said “If nothing is done urgently, people will go in freely and begin to kill the elephants, lions and other endangered species.”

They also expressed fears that in the next two years the protected animals and the park itself may go extinct with the extent of mining activities going on there.

According to locals, Park Rangers employed by government and vigilante groups have since been confronted by the armed miners, who reportedly overpowered them and they fled the National Parks.

The locals in the two nearby communities have expressed fears that their freedom has been restrained.

Middle aged Mrs Philo Edward (not real names) said she had to leave Efunkpa community with her children for safety reasons after threats by officials of the mining firms.

“I was one of the vocal persons who stood out against these people plundering our lands and carting away our natural stones without compensation. I was threatened. It was no longer safe for my children. I was told that the resources underneath the earth belong to the federal government which has given them licenses to dig them up.

“Go and see the extent of devastation of the lands and plundering. They will never cover up the massive holes after mining. Women in my community can no longer go to the farm. In any case, the farms are no longer there. Too many strange men have since occupied our community in the name of mining. They harass our women. They harass anybody.”

Philo mentioned a particular case of a girl whom some of the miners allegedly raped.

She said they rescued and took her to hospital but that the girl and her guardians no longer live in the community.

Corroborating Philo, a youth leader in Owai community, Ben Imiha, said many of the foreigners saunter into their community, constituting nuisances and perpetrating different crimes.

“We have been receiving rape reports as well as violent attacks of our people. We cannot close our eyes and refuse to act. We will defend ourselves if the government will not protect us. I am sure the government is aware of their presence and what they are doing in the National Parks communities,” he said.

Lawmakers kick as environmental groups threaten legal actions

Following dangerous effects of illegal mining in Biase and Akamkpa LGAs, the member representing Akamkpa II state constituency and Deputy Chief Whip of the Cross River State House of Assembly, Linus Bassey Etim, lamented over the alarming and illegal mining activities in his constituency, and how it has impacted locals.

He has called for the state government to make good its desire to also establish some mining outfits so that they can also tap into the abundant resources and accrued financial benefits.

Etim said “the rate of illegal mining in our state is alarming. The state needs to make efforts to obtain the necessary licences to engage in the business legally.

“More than 10 mining companies are operating in Akamkpa. Illegal miners are also carting away the state’s resources and their activities are destroying our natural environment.”

The Akamkpa representative stated that though the Federal Government reserves the right for mining mineral resources, corporate bodies can approach the Federal Ministry of Mine and Natural Resources for licences.

Following his motion, the House was irked by the rate of illegal mining activities going on across the state.

Speaker of the Assembly, Elvert Ayambem and other law makers backed Etim, decrying the effects of illegal mining on the ecosystem of the state.

The Assembly expressed sadness that the state’s natural resources were being carted away, leaving the state devastated and dry.

A prominent citizen of the state and former aide to ex-President Muhammadu Buhari, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, equally decried illegal mining and deforestation in the state.

Obono-Obla, in a statement, said that Biase LGA communities have witnessed troubling times owing to mine collapses in Biase as well as devastation and destabilization by the illegal activities of criminal mining conglomerates.

He said, “the unchecked and illegal mining activities of money launderers and criminal syndicates resulted in an influx of foreigners into the state which has posed grave danger to the well-being and security of the people of the state in particular and the country generally.”

Environmental groups threaten lawsuit

Addressing journalists in Calabar, two environmental groups, ‘We The People’ (WTP) and Development Concern, DEVCON, threatened to go to court if their licences were not withdrawn.

They raised the alarm about the extensive devastation of the National Park at Oban, confirming that these firms and other illegal miners have, against the laws, erected camps for thousands of their miners within the park, and threatened natives to flee.

Executive Director of WTP, Mr. Ken Henshaw, and the Executive Director of DEVCON, Dr. Martins Egot, presented the position of the two NGOs.

They said the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development granted mining rights to the miners to carry out mining activities in the area of the National Park against all existing laws and regulations.

The NGOs cited arrays of statutes to illustrate that National Parks are not supposed to be tampered with.

“The National Park Service Act (2006) unequivocally underscores that national parks are sanctuaries meant exclusively for the propagation, protection and management of vegetation and wildlife. Notably, Section 22 of the Act delineates the functions of Management Committees, reinforcing the exclusive dedication of national parks to the propagation, protection and management of vegetation and wildlife.

“Section 29 clearly makes it an offence for any unauthorised person to go into the National Park without the permission of the Conservator-General”.

They called on relevant security agencies to ensure that licensed and unlicensed persons are moved out of protected areas, and do not also devastate community lands.

An official of one of the mining firms, Abdullahi Idris, said they were lawfully carrying out the terms of their licence.

“We have neither exploited nor engaged in illegal mining. We are duly licensed by the federal government.”

He denied that they armed their workers or threatened the natives.

To stem the spate of illegal mining and attendant effects, the state government has announced the establishment of a Special Task Force on Mining (STFM), according to the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Emmanuel Ogbeche. The STFM is headed by Ngwu Ukam.

State government react

On the reported fleeing of the forest guards owing to threats to their lives by the invaders and illegal miners within the confined territory, the conservator in the state, Caroline Olory, denied that the Park Rangers deserted the park.

Olory also said the federal government has withdrawn mining licences from the two firms which were to mine solid minerals from the protected Park in Oban.

Olory disclosed that she had held meetings with the firms in her office to know how the licences emanated.

“The good thing is that the Cadastral Office in the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development has realised the error and has withdrawn the said licences.

“As we speak, they are pulling out of the National Parks. We have taken charge of the parks,” she told reporters in Calabar.

Conservator-General, National Park Service, Dr Ibrahim Musa Goni, said illegal mining was a major challenge facing the parks, and expressed commitment to the protection of the parks.

He commended the park rangers for their loyalty to the Service and consoled the families of those who died in the course of duty.