After years of outcry, occasioned by massive environmental and health hazards, a cement manufacturing company, AshakaCem Plc, has signed a community development agreement with its host communities around Maiganga, in Akko Local Government Area of Gombe State, where a coal mine operated by the company is located.
Managing Director of the company, Rabiu Umar, told newsmen on Thursday that the agreement, which was signed on December 13, at the premises of the company in Gombe, was in line with the provisions of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007 and extant regulations 2011.
Umar said the signing of the agreement marks a new beginning in the relationship that exists between the company and its host communities.
“AshakaCem, following the precepts of its sister company Lafarge Africa Plc remained committed to good corporate citizenship and environmental friendliness.
“Fulfilling all statutory and regulatory obligations and striving to exceed expectations in terms of socioeconomic development to her partnering communities is an integral part of the way we run our business,’’ he said.
Recall that icirnigeria had carried out an investigation into the health hazard brought about by the activities of AshakaCem in Maiganga community in Gombe State.
The report which was published in October detailed how residents of Maiganga and its neighbouring towns complained of severe stomach pains and other health issues as a result of contaminated water from the Coal mine belonging to AshakaCem, which flows into the a brook that is incidentally the only source of drinking water for the people.
According to our reporter, “the people started noticing changes in the taste of the water from their only source of drinking water, a brook, in 2009, two years after AshakaCem started mining operations” in 2007.
“You know, a Fulani man hardly falls sick and rarely goes to the hospital,” one of the villagers, who gave his name as Zubairu, told our reporter, “but we noticed more and more people were falling sick and they all complained of stomach pain.”
A medical doctor would advise the villagers to change their source of drinking water.
“I was born here and I grew up here. This is the water everyone depended on and we never had problem with it,” complained 38-year-old Jauro Goma, whose wife also suffered miscarriages.
Goma recalled that they brought the issue to the attention of the management of AshakaCem.
“They came here and assessed the place and promised that they would provide us solar-powered borehole and other things,” he added. Nothing has been heard from the company since then, according to the villagers.
But managing director of AshakaCem, Umar, promised that the new agreement will reflect the company’s environmental policy as well as its commitment to sustainable development and approach to meeting new challenges in environmental protection.
The residents had also complained to our reporter that the Cement factory had reneged on all its promises to the community on resumption of its activities.
Gibar Tsabta, a teacher and head of the Maiganga Community Development Association, said: “They told us we should prepare for enjoyment, as they would build us good houses and roads. They also promised us 60 per cent employment opportunity.”
According to him, “there are only 34 youths from the village employed by the company despite the promise that 60 per cent of the workforce would come from the village. Out of the 34, only five are permanent staff.”
“Go in and see the kind of houses they built for us. Over there is my mattress. It stays outside because it cannot fit into my room,” he lamented.
But after the new agreement was signed on Tuesday, Tsabta told newsmen that the agreement was reached through proper negotiations, as the community representatives were involved in preparing and finalising the document.
“We have put the interest of all stakeholders into consideration in arriving at the document (and) we will remain dedicated to its full implementation to the benefit of all,” Tsabta said.
The chairman assured the concerned communities of better days with increasing and value adding benefits in the agreement.