Abandoned mines: small-scale, artisanal mining leaves legacy of ruin in Ebonyi, Enugu, Plateau, Nasarawa [2]

By Olajide Adelana

IN conclusion, this two-part investigation looks at how surface and small-scale mining leaves a legacy of ruin in Ebonyi, Plateau, and Nasaarawa states.

Read the first part HERE

Nigeria also has many artisanal and small-scale mines that provide a livelihood for thousands of people, mostly mining gold, gemstones, and cassiterite (a tin oxide mineral). This segment of the extractives industry employs an estimated 400,000 and 500,000 people in the country. 

However, this activity is poorly regulated by the government. Most of these miners operate outside the formal regulatory regime without licenses or permits.  As a result, communities suffer from environmental degradation and negative health consequences. These mining sites are rarely properly closed or remediated, creating hazards for communities long after miners have moved on.  

Aerial view of surface mine sites in Ebonyi state. Photo: Nelson Apochi.
Aerial view of surface mine sites in Ebonyi state. Photo: Nelson Apochi.

In Ebonyi state, the landscape is punctuated with pockets of abandoned mining pits. Two kids while away time in one of them near the town of Ihotor-Ameka, singing as they run in circles and then collapse on a heap on the muddy soil, giggling. 

A resident, Okeh Gloria, recalls the day in 2019 when her third child, 2-year-old Sylvanus, was in pain and fighting for his life. His eyes had rolled back in his head, his mouth closed. His muscles tightened, and he struggled to breathe. Gloria and her husband were distraught. 

Jittery, Gloria squeezed his jaws open and poured palm oil down his throat. She had seen many others in the community use this remedy and thought it might help. But Sylvanus’s conditioned only worsened.  

“I cried and prayed when I saw him convulsing. I could not believe what I was seeing,” says Gloria. Sylvanus was later rushed to hospital, where he stayed for six days before he regained consciousness and began his journey to recovery. The family had to pay N50,000 for his treatment. 

The couple suspected heavy metal poisoning as the cause of their child’s sickness. Ihotor-Ameka has huge deposits of minerals, notably lead and zinc, and is littered with mining pits from both abandoned and active artisanal and small-scale mines.  

When the pits are flooded after heavy rains, the miners pump the water into the surrounding environment, including rivers and streams. The risk of water and soil pollution with heavy metals is high.  

“Although we could not explain it, we knew the reason for his ailment cannot be dissociated from our environment,” Gloria says. Several weeks after her son became sick, other residents began to show similar symptoms.  

“My neighbour’s son was sick and convulsing,” she says. “Two days later, he died. He was only 3 years old.”   

Water samples collected from the area and tested at the Institute for Agricultural Research, Zaria and the National Research Institute for Chemical Technology (NARICT) had lead (Pb) concentration of nearly 408 parts per million (ppm); for reference, a U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule requires systems to monitor drinking water if lead concentrations exceed 0.015ppm.  

Heavy metals can harm the body even in small doses. Lead exposure can be especially dangerous for children, causing damage to the brain and nervous system, stunted growth and development, behavioral and learning challenges, and hearing and speech problems. Seizures and convulsions are among the more severe neurological symptoms associated with lead overexposure.  

Diagnostic capacity is a challenge in Nigeria, including testing for heavy metal poisoning. People come down with strange illnesses that often are left undiagnosed, even after evaluations by experienced physicians.  

But this is not news. In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a high incidence of convulsions and death in young children due to lead poisoning in five mining villages in Zamfara State. The number of children affected continues to grow 

Many blame the informal and unregulated activities of artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM), who make up 85 per cent of miners in Nigeria’s extractive industry, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Artisanal and small-scale mining differs from medium and large-scale mining. There is limited available information on production, revenues, operations, and location of their activities. 

“The havoc that these artisanal and small-scale miners cause is often overlooked because they don’t necessarily carry heavy machinery to the site,” says David Bade, a farmer whose land is threatened by abandoned mining pits in Yelwa community, Kokona LGA, Nasarawa State. 

“They came in droves, took over our farmlands and started digging for tourmaline, a gemstone,” he adds. “Several months later, they vacated the site and moved elsewhere.” 

Bade says he has noticed a sharp decrease in his harvest because his farmland is no longer fertile. As lead deposits are common in the area, it is also possible that the miners may have kicked up lead-contaminated soil and dust in their search for gemstones.  

“Before, I used to harvest up to 300 bags of maize; now I rarely get up to half of that. I have also been attacked by snakes and other reptiles that hide in the holes. I have lost two of my dogs to snake attacks.” 

This is not unexpected, says Ibrahim Yahaya, an official of Nasarawa State Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. “Mining can severely alter the soil and reduce its fertility. When miners dig into the earth for these minerals, they inadvertently dump the excavated materials on the topsoil. This is called over-burden and it makes it more difficult for crops to access nutrients,” he says. 

How large companies enable informal mining  

Artisanal and small-scale miners operate as part of a broader mining ecosystem in Nigeria. With limited access to capital, they are often financed by sponsoring companies that take a large cut of their profits. The sponsors have mastered the art of profiteering from Nigeria’s weak mining regulations and enforcement. In the states visited, the number of artisanal and small-scale miners continues to grow due to the availability of a ready buyer.   

Some larger mining companies have reportedly given artisanal miners access to concessions that they are not actively mining. A Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) audit report covering activities in the extractive sector from 2007 to 2010 found that only 30 per cent of the companies holding mining titles were engaged in active quarrying, mining, and exploration.   

In Ebonyi State, most big mining companies with or without licenses grant access to their mining site to artisanal miners, often members of the local community. The company pays a negotiated fee to the landowner and local authorities but retains exclusive rights to the mined commodity. One source noted that many of these companies are Chinese.  

“They send scouts to the community to negotiate with individual landowners who believe they have mineral resources underneath their properties. Afterwards, they agree on fees to be paid to the landowner and local authorities in the area, often the traditional heads,” says Chikezie, a miner in Ameka. 

The government has signalled intentions to formalise the sector, improve revenue collection, and increase the contribution of solid minerals to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). But progress has been slow and uneven, complicated by a lack of geological information and limited government capacity. Mine closure and remediation do not appear to have featured heavily in discussions about formalisation.  

One small-scale granite miner in Umuogharu, Ezza North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, who declined to give her name for security reasons, said the state government is aware of their informal mining activities. 

“We pay the necessary levies and go about our activities,” she says, adding that discussions on abandoned mines and proper mining site closure were rare in their interactions with the state government. 

In Wamba community, Nasarawa State, large mining corporations and the locals agreed on a sharing formula for the proceeds from mining activities. 

One of the locals, Kasim Usman said, “When they (mining company) came in 2019, we agreed that a certain percentage of the mineral resources mined would be given to the community. One-third is paid to the local government as royalty, one-third is paid to the owner of the land owner where the resources were mined, and one-third is paid to the community.” 

Aerial view of surface mines sites in Plateau state. Photo: Nelson Apochi
Aerial view of surface mines sites in Plateau state. Photo: Nelson Apochi

Neither the mining companies nor the artisanal miners take responsibility for the proper closure and reclamation of mining sites. They simply move on to another location.  The exploitative behavior of these large scale companies is often the root cause of community corruption and violence, and it results in a huge loss of revenue to the government. In turn, poor revenue from the sector make budgetary allocations and funding for reclamation of abandoned mines difficult for the government. 

Lives lost, livelihoods affected in Plateau, Nasarawa, others 

In Plateau state, years of complaints by mining communities about the wreckage caused by abandoned mining pits have fallen on deaf ears. Belied by its beautiful scenery, abandoned mining pits in Jos city are now potential death traps for residents of the area. 

Tin was discovered in Jos plateau at the turn of the 20th century, and colonial mining began soon thereafter. These tin mines were largely abandoned following the 1972 nationalization policy, which broke the monopoly of foreign interests, particularly of British firms. Decades later, tin mining communities are still struggling with the negative effects of mining on human health and the environment.  

Today, informal artisanal and small-scale miners operating on meagre profit margins work in these abandoned mines. This carries a unique set of risks and dangers.  

In December 2019, an inactive mining pit in Zawan community, Jos South LGA, collapsed, killing six people who were illegally prospecting for tin and other minerals. Eyewitnesses said that more than 50 people were in the pit before it collapsed.  

In Sabon-Barki, Jos South LGA, residents are fearful when it rains because of how abandoned mining sites channel floodwaters. In April 2021, a 4-year-old girl was swept away after a heavy downpour. 

“She was returning from school alongside her brother when the flood carried her from Dadin Kowa to Muchogopyeng,” says Belinda Yusuf, a resident of the area. 

In Keffi, Nasarawa state, the Five-Star Mining Company allegedly vacated its mining project without reclamation after an outcry by residents of the area over the incessant blasting of rocks. The abandoned site sits behind Keffi Secondary School. 

“Each time they blasted the rocks, strong vibrations reverberated throughout the entire area,” says local resident, Garakuwa Zubairu. “Our buildings began to crack from the foundation.” He said residents complained to the company and asked them to reduce the blasting activity, but to no avail. The company maintained that it was licensed by the federal government to carry out its activities. They brought their complaints to state government authorities, who inspected the site and directed the company to stop work. The company then vacated the site without doing reclamation work.  

“We are afraid that our children might tip over into the mining pit,” Zubairu says.  

Checks at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), showed that the company was incorporated on January 6, 1993.  The company is headquartered in Calabar with Janet Okok, Effiong Effiong, George Effiong, and Nkoyo Effiong on the board of directors.  

Slow progress on reclamation 

Government remediation efforts dates back to 1955, when the federal government reclaimed abandoned mining sites managed by Northern Regional Government at the time. Reclamation of several other abandoned sites followed in 1980.  

In 2017, the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development (MMSD), which oversees the solid minerals subsector in Nigeria, said it would spend N1.67tr to reclaim more than 1,600 abandoned mine sites across the country.  

A total of 32 mining sites were reclaimed between 2007 and 2019 at a cost of N2.39 billion, or about N75 million per mine – less than the amount originally projected. (In 2014, a ministry official named Salim Adebgoyega,  had put the reclamation cost per abandoned mine at N80m to N100m , depending on the size of the site.)

Progress has been much slower than expected. The ministry initially projected that 100 sites would be reclaimed annually between 2007 and 2020. An inventory of abandoned mines and quarries commissioned by the ministry in 2017 to evaluate the environmental and social risks associated with past mining activities is yet to be released officially. The Environmental Protection and Rehabilitation Fund (EPRF) called for in the 2007 Nigeria Mining Act is not fully operational. 

The ministry did not respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted on September 29, 2021, asking for specific details about progress on mine remediation and closure – including a list of all abandoned mining sites identified by the ministry, reclaimed abandoned mining sites, the cost of the reclamation of the sites, and the status of the EPRF. The ministry acknowledged receipt of the request and asked for ample time to compile the required information, adding that the process of revalidating abandoned mines and quarries was ongoing. 

The government has allocated significant funds to the reclamation of abandoned mines but has achieved little in terms of value for money.

One of the reclaimed sites in Barkin Ladi area of Plateau state, is still prone to flooding and ecological problems years after the purported reclamation in 2017. Residents who spoke  were critical of the work done. 

Product mined in Nasarawa State. Photo: Neslon Apochi
Product mined in Nasarawa State. Photo: Neslon Apochi

“We cannot farm on these sites. The land is not fertile. No bioremediation was carried out,” says Dafum Chung, a resident. “They just came to sand-fill the site and went away. Although the gully erosion subsided, the problem of flooding is still persistent.”  

He adds, “I used to farm close to my house until flooding and erosion caused by mining destroyed my farmland. Although I have relocated to another area to continue my farming, my friends who still farm there are always complaining of poor harvest.” 

The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development acknowledged receipt of a FOIA request for procurement records, including budgetary allocations and lists of contractors engaged but request was not fulfilled by publication time. 

Can communities sue? 

Nigeria has a federal system of governance, but states have limited power. Mining is on the exclusive legislation list – a list of issues over which the federal government has exclusive legislative powers. This means states cannot advance their own legislation governing mining-related issues, including mine closure. State governments cannot enforce federal legislation.    

“You really cannot blame the state governments,” says  Nigeria country director at Global Rights, Abiodun Baiyewu. “The federal government is quick to remind you that the benefits of the minerals primarily belong to the commonwealth at the federal level. It was not until 2017 that benefits started to trickle down to the local communities. Even so, the benefits have been negligible because the government still earns so little from solid minerals due to massive hemorrhages in revenue.”  

However, one potential avenue for states to regulate their mining sectors remains unexplored. Section 19 of the Mineral and Mining Act of 2007 provides for a state-level governance apparatus for mining, known as Mineral Resources and Environmental Committee (MIREMCO). To date, this apparatus is yet to be fully explored.  

Communities that have been negatively impacted by abandoned mines have limited avenues for recourse, including through national legal systems. A programme manager at the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Chinedu Bassey, argues that several international human rights instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory are yet to be properly legislated in the country. These include the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Ten years after endorsing them, Nigeria is yet to develop a national action plan to implement the principles, which allow aggrieved communities to seek redress in court.  

The chief executive of Connected Development (CODE), a nongovernmental organisation that works to empower marginalised communities in Nigeria, Hamzat Lawal, says the real question is whether the Nigerian justice system is reliable. “If we’re being realistic, these communities do not have the resources to pursue a case against the government, and while that reflects the weakness of our judicial institution, it also shows the extent of failure of leadership in the country,” he says.  

Regardless of the challenges, human rights lawyer and activist Inibehe Effiong believes that mining communities can sue the government or businesses if they can provide evidence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt of their culpability. 

A farmer. Photo Nelson Apochi.
A farmer. Photo Nelson Apochi.

Effiong is right. There are quite a few justiciable clauses to rely upon. Beyond the Mineral and Mining Act of 2007, Section 17 (2d) of Nigeria’s constitution states that a community’s natural resources must not be exploited except for the good of the community.  

Some international avenues are also available, particularly if a multinational mining company has violated the rights of communities through inadequate mine closure. For instance, communities could file a grievance with the National Contact Points (NCPs) that are responsible business conduct in the company’s home country or they could request a UN Special Rapporteur investigation.  

These avenues are rarely explored, however, due to lack of information and low literacy levels amongst residents of these communities.  Communities can only seek redress if they are aware of their rights and are empowered with the information they need to demand justice, accountability and transparency from government entities and other stakeholders in the extractive industries. 

For this to happen, knowledge and participatory dialogue platforms are important, says Baiyewu. 

 “Let’s start with providing a basic knowledge of what mining entails, the likely impacts, and the rights of mining host communities,” she says. “Mining host communities need to access information on how to air their grievances, and ensure ease of access to the relevant agencies of government.” 



    Lawal has a similar view. Rather than sue the government, he says, leaders of mining communities would do better to learn how to engage the government as partners. 

    “It’s the first step in the right direction, and it disarms a government that is quick to defend itself against its own citizens.” 

    This report was supported by Result for Development (R4D) under its Leveraging Transparency to Reduce Corruption (LTRC) project.  

    *All Photos are by Nelson Owoicho 

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