By Gbenga OGUNDARE
Water is life. But in Ibese and its surrounding communities, lives are at grave risk as the water gets contaminated daily. Dangote Cement Company which is responsible for the pollution, is required by law to sign a Community Development Agreement before undertaking mining activity. Part of the agreement is to protect the host community. The CDA is yet to be signed, but the cement company never fails to blast rocks in the quest for a huge profit. Gbenga OGUNDARE reports.
ON the northern side of Yewa, Ogun State, in a 150-year-old community through which a cement-paved road snakes miles down the middle, potable water is hard to find.
It matters little that Ibese sits on 760 million tons of limestone deposits and hosts Africa’s cement giant, whose profit hit N191 billion in the first half of 2021.
Down the road in the old community is the Agberiodo compound. The house has a dug well, about 25-feet deep from which residents draw water for daily use. To the ordinary eyes, the well water sparkled. And it doesn’t burn the taste bud that much. Most of the water samples from deep wells at Ibese are like that. Tasteless. Colourless.
But a housewife told this reporter on July 17 that the water does not lather easily for washing.
“We use lots of detergents to wash anything well,” she said.
A chemical analysis of the water sample revealed the presence of calcium, an element of limestone that makes washing difficult and costly.
But it’s more than that.
A microbial test of the Agberiodo well water also yielded loads of microbes. If the people could see these bugs, they wouldn’t touch the water with a long pole, but “That is what we have been using for more than 20 years,” the housewife said.
For their daily supply, Ibese residents, about 10,000 in population, depended on four sources of water: the Lele stream, wells, and supplies from Ilaro.
The fourth was a borehole dug uptown at Ibese Tuntun, branded Dangote CSR, in blazing colours. It was a gift from Dangote Cement to the community, part of which Francis Awowole-Browne, the company’s Media and Community Relations Manager, told the media had gulped over N4 billion in the last eight years already.
Unknown to the communities, sections 116 and 117 of the Mining Act 2007 guiding the company’s operation prescribes some compulsory, duty-bound services. And it gives no occasion for Dangote Cement to blow its horn-like it did in the newspapers.
In a louder proclamation of its social responsibility at Ibese, the company branded a couple more structures: a health centre, with a small ward the size of a medium dining room, but without beds and drugs, four offices, some conveniences, and a plastic water tank.
There were also two blocks of classrooms for Eleja Primary School and another two blocks, with numerous cracks, for Asakanran Secondary School. Both schools are at Oke Odo, in Isale Ibese, about a 10-minute ride to the cement quarry where seismic blasting tore through the atmosphere at least three times a week.
The two water-supply facilities Dangote Cement provided the town were not functioning as of mid-October when the reporter visited again. The generators powering them had broken down. But when they used to function, youth leader Naheem Akinola said the boreholes supplied water downtown through the pipes running to two points. And that the piped water was cleaner than that of the wells and Lele stream.
Rainwater could have been an option at Ibese and its surrounding communities, including Araromi, Abule Imashayi, Maria, Balogun and other villages. But all the communities within the blast zone of quarry explosion were not only beleaguered with the shock of frequent bangs; they also suffered from suspended particles, cement dust, and other impurities which rain washed down their buckets.
The latest mining technologies the company used only checked for atmospheric impacts, but not completely. The residents of Abule Oke, Balogun and others situated around the factory narrated how they are affected by dusty air and cement suspension in rainwater. This includes catarrh, eye irritation, and other discomforts.
Findings by workplace and environmental health researchers even confirmed worse likelihood.
Olatunde Kofoworola and three others stated that lead and cadmium from cement kilns infused to Ibese soil and air could cause cancer for children and adults. They either breathe in the polluted air or consume contaminated crops. Something that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Act frowns at:
“(1) The public or private sector of the economy shall not undertake or embark on or authorise projects or activities without prior consideration, at an early stage, of their environmental effects.
“(2) Where the extent, nature or location of a proposed project or activity is such that it is likely to significantly affect the environment, its environmental impact assessment shall be undertaken in accordance with the provisions of this Act,” Section 2 (1)(2) of the Act states.
So Ibese and its satellite communities are at the mercy of Dangote Cement despite the rich mineral deposits in their town.
It’s what development experts like to call the resource curse.
Ibese people, in fact, got more than they probably bargained for.
Akinola said the late Aboro of Ibeseland, oba Joel Bamgbose, dreamed he was the king divined to bring white men en masse to develop the land. To make it real, he fished for investors home and abroad and eventually had an initial investment parley with Dangote Cement. But he failed.
As the opportunity came knocking again, the Oba got restless. He threatened to curse any of his subjects that would make the negotiation fail another time, said Akinola.
In excitement, the Oba asked Dangote Cement to start the operation first, assuring them they could talk about the exchange later.
“Even if the benefits won’t come now, our unborn generations will enjoy them,” the youth leader quoted the Oba as saying.
It was a dilemma, considering the aspiration of the traditional ruler and Ibese’s need to benefit from the resources nature blessed it with.
But the 2006 Mining Act has taken care of this dilemma.
The Act regulating the extractive industry—mining and solid minerals spells out the obligations of Dangote Cement to the host communities, including the inhabitants and the vegetation.
Among the obligations the cement giant owes Ibese and others are support systems, specifically in education, small and medium enterprise, marketing of farm produce, health, roads, and sustainable environment.
To make it effective, the law, in section 116, states:
“Subject to the provisions of this section, the holder of a Mining Lease, Small scale Mining Lease or Quarry Lease shall, before the commencement of any development activity within the lease area, conclude with the host community where the operations are to be conducted an agreement referred to as a Community Development Agreement (CDA) or other such agreement that will ensure the transfer of social and economic benefits to the community.”
The Act also provides for the CDA review every five years.
Ibese had one with Dangote Cement. But the document came well after the company began its operation. And, unfortunately, the spirit and letters of the agreement never reflected much in the lives of the host.
The cause wasn’t ignorance. The youth leader and other community leaders knew there was a CDA. According to Akeem, an industrial engineering graduate living at Ibese, leadership was the probable cause. Some of the Baales (village heads) interviewed were not well disposed to responding to questions.
To highlight their grasp of the corporate-host relationships, Ibese and other villages also drew up a joint CDA. Akinola said he sighted these documents several times. “But, somehow, the community dumped the CDA and opted for Dangote CSR.”
Yet, both the CDA and the CSR are different; the former is non-negotiable. Eniolawun Olalekan, Director of the Geological Services Department at the Ogun State Ministry of Commerce and Industry, said the CSR couldn’t replace the CDA.
“Breaking the CDA provisions is a violation of the Mining Act.”
But Dangote Cement, under the Dangote Group, owned by Aliko Dangote, the world’s richest black man, had no problem rupturing such an agreement. Getting away with it was easy.
The law is unequivocal about the CDA implementation: Refer the breach to the minister of mining and solid minerals, but it provides no sanction for not having the agreement or disregarding it. Or for ditching it for the CSR.
“It is not acceptable really,” Jacob Udoh, the Ministry’s Director of Mining Environmental Compliance told this reporter in an interview, adding that, the CDA is ‘absolutely’ more important than any CSR efforts.
Udoh confirmed he investigated many breaches of the CDAs like this. But Dangote Cement’s Senior General Manager, Branding and Communication, Sunday Esan told the newspaper his company breached no law.
When asked to explain why Dangote Cement flaunts a few CSR projects instead of implementing the CDA agreement with the host, Esan told the reporter in a telephone interview that the queries were beyond his office and that he would have the team in charge of community relations address the issue. Three months went by, and Esan would rather ignore the reporter’s several reminders via WhatsApp and text messages.
In the meantime, opting for the CSR, as an alternative arrangement, allowed Dangote Cement to operate outside the Mining Act. It equally left the community with no choice but to come, caps in hands, and present their needs. And, in its own sweet time, the company bankrolled those needs it chose, as much as it could. No obligation.
“In this arrangement, project execution is just about 15 per cent,” said Akinola.
That explained the water scarcity in Ibese.
As a community within a limestone belt, Ibese has a number of water levels at varying depths. Kazeem Dosumu, one of the politically conscious youth in the community, explained what the water engineers prospecting for calcium-free water at Ibese told them. There was a water table closer to the surface, right within the limestone bed. Then another sat outside of the limestone belt. Most of the boreholes and wells downtown stopped at the first water table. And the water bed here was largely laden with limestone that kept dissolving in the water, making it hard and irritating. With the manual drilling they used, Dosumu said those engineers couldn’t go deeper to get fresh water.
The problem, Akinola admitted, predates Dangote Cement exploration at Ibese.
So it was presented as part of the community’s needs the company’s CSR covered. They had been at it for years, engineers coming, getting frustrated, and backing out. Apart from the engineers’ equipment not being strong enough to bore through the limestone belt, the terms of contracts Dangote Cement introduced were also tough.
“Dangote doesn’t pay engineers mobilisation fees,” Akinola said. “The project must be about 50 per cent gone before they will pay mobilisation fee—for any contract.” Thus contractors abandoned water projects midway many times at Ibese.
The story of abandonment by the LGA, state, and federal governments—and Dangote Cement juggling its CDA responsibilities for the CSR makes Ibese water needs pathetic. “Water is our only problem,” said Akinola. And Dangote Cement, with all its corporate social responsibilities, could watch them gulp calcium-laden water—when a water treatment plant could have solved the problem.
“People are already leaving here for Ibese Tuntun,” he told the reporter. Ibese Tuntun was upland, and the water there was potable, compared to what they drink downtown.
The four water samples analysed—for physical, chemical, and microbial elements—revealed three of the four sources of water on which Ibese relied fell short of Nigeria’s Standard for Drinking Water Quality (Nigeria Industrial Standard: 554:2015). The Standard Organisation of Nigeria, the health and water resources ministries, put the guidelines together in 2015.
By the NSDWQ, the Lele stream was drinkable, at the source. That was in spite of its unhygienic surrounding. Some meters away from the spring was a dumpsite. The water comes out of a natural source.
All the details of the unhygienic environment didn’t matter when Remaben Scientific Services Ltd at Anifowose, Ikeja, Lagos, analysed the water sample. The lab confirmed that the physicochemical analysis and microbial examination its scientists did were in conformity with the NSDWQ.
The test indicated the sample had no taste, nor odour. Its quantities of solid particles, dissolved ones, free carbon dioxide, chloride, calcium, and others were way below or within limits. “[They are all at] maximum permitted levels for unpackaged drinking water quality from public or privately-owned drinking water systems or water supplied by state water agencies, water supplied by water vendors/tankers and used solely for the family residence or water used in food processing by food manufacturers,” the test result showed Adewunmi B.A. signed the report.
The total plate count, which is the population of microbes present, was 69. It is measured in colony-forming unit per ml (cfu/ml), according to the American Public Health Association (APHA). This is the unit the Nigerian laboratory used. The maximum is 100cfu/ml. The count is okay for the ten bacteria the lab tested for in the samples by the Nigerian standard. The standard, however, leaves out water-borne germs like Legionella pneumophila, Cryptosporidium, Hepatitis A, and others.
Potable water means many things in Nigeria. Samples certified okay by the NIS might not be exactly so.
The Nigeria Bureau of Statistics confirmed this in a 2017 survey. Of the 37,000 households from which it sampled 13,605, two-third of the population had access to pipe-borne water, boreholes, and collected rainwater. The survey also discovered that 90.8 per cent of the sampled population still drank coli-infected water. So much for potable water.
Whatever! The rural folks of Ibese land could put Lele water in their cups, and drink it. “Sample is in conformity with Nigerian Standard for Drinking Water Quality (NS 55-4:2015); hence declared fit for human consumption,” Remaben’s analyst said.
The other river outlet, Odo Osun – from which the majority of the people drink –was bad, full of faecal germs. Its figures of E. coli and Total coliform hit 7cfu/ml and 24cfl/ml respectively when the maximum for each is 0. And the total plate count was 89 cfu/ml. “The results of the microbial examination is not in conformity with NIS 554:2015 specification for drinking water due to the presence of both E. coli & total coliforms,” the analyst stated.
Its physicochemical analysis also showed that the water is unfit for a drink. Its pH value—the level of acidity and alkalinity, 5.8—fell below the NSDWQ acceptable range of 6.5-8.5 for drinking water. This means more germs could flourish there. But Ibese residents hardly cared about this.
For the well in Agberiodo, the pollutant was latent. Its hardness, due to calcium carbonate, was 201.9, higher than the 150 limit. Calcium was 80.9 when the maximum limit is 75. Quantities of sulphate, magnesium, and zinc were also beyond their limits.
“The high hardness and sulphate levels could impart objectionable and unpalatable taste and could also cause skin irritation after bathing,” the analyst stated. A hairdresser who used the well water for shampooing clients’ hair confirmed this. She said the water made hair brittle. It won’t readily form lather with soap either. The implication, according to the water analyst: “soap scum formation and excessive soap consumption to have a clean wash.”
Its microbial test fell short of the minimum standard too. Total coliforms was 12cfu/ml—instead of 0. Yeast/Mold, also—9cfu/ml, far above the 0 limit.
The result was fairly similar to the sample from another well whose groundwater many feared polluted when a fuel tanker fell down and emptied its litres of petrol all over the area years ago. The Physico-chemical analysis of the well water there indicated nothing much. But Remaben detected total coliform count and yeast, again—6cfu/ml and 8cfu/ml respectively, above their 0 limits.
So the water was unfit for drinking.
Villages in the countryside would, however, be happy to have access to sources like these.
At Araromi, for instance, there was no groundwater or river. They only caught the rain or went farther to fetch from streams. And Dangote Cement did not site any water facility in the area.
Lukeman Omidiji, a farmer in the area, said the cement company cared little for those outside of its catchment area unlike it did for Ibese, Balogun, Maria, Abule Imashayi where some of its CSR boreholes still stood. At Balogun though, retired teacher Orobiyi said the project came in 2019. Before it did, the community had been drinking polluted water similar to Ibese’s.
The baales of the last two villages where the water projects stood idle refused to answer questions when the reporter visited. Many of the villagers despised them. They said the company has bribed their rulers and offered the community CSR with a value less than they deserved.
But some other people have different views about the cement company.
“Dangote is trying for Ibese, let’s be honest,” Omidiji said. The Araromi farmer cited the blocks of classrooms, transformers, and boreholes the cement company provided for the community.
“God can’t even satisfy us, humans,” he added as he moved towards a rusty water project that stood by the roadside at Araromi. The borehole stopped dispensing water two years ago when its generating set stopped working. That was 15 years after Caretaker Chairman Semiu Adesina commissioned it.
Araromi and other villages which depended on it had to find water tankers. A 250-litre supply of water is sold for N2,500. Those who could not afford that much to buy resorted to a village water retailer who stored it in an earthen reservoir.
Ibese people also used to buy several tanks when the Lele stream and the wells dried up. The suppliers brought water from Ilaro. The quality of that supply was also in question.
Community people drinking this water are prone to cholera, typhoid, and other water-borne diseases. But Ibese and its environs claimed they were immune from water diseases.
“We thank God we have never experienced outbreaks of cholera or anything,” said Akinola and other residents. The primary health centre attendant also confirmed it.
“Not even typhoid?”
“No.” She shook her head in response.
The youth leader wouldn’t respond when asked why his townsmen complained water was their major problem. After all, the infected samples they drank never afflicted them with diarrhoea or cholera.
In case it was a soft kill, they shouldn’t expect any outbreak or consequence soon. Nothing would give. The back-and-forth over drilling for cleaner water, the politics of the elders and village heads, and the CSR replacing the CDA— all would likely remain the same for decades to come. Till, say, 2081, when Dangote will mine up Ibese, according to Ved Prakash Sarkari, deputy director, Sinoma International Engineering Co. Ltd which constructed the factory.
Akinola said the Ibese plant had four lines connected to the limestone deposits. Lines 1 and 2 will take 52 years to mine up; lines 3 and 4, 90 years. Contrary to the late Oba’s dream, generations unborn might suffer a worse fate.
The problem shouldn’t have had to drag this long, because the solution is no rocket science. “Installation of water treatment plant with a view to pH correction and effective disinfection via dosing of soda ash solution and chlorine solution is therefore considered necessary,” Remaben stated.
It’s what all other analysts will recommend in a similar circumstance. And it’s what Dangote Cement can, as a matter of duty, provide for Ibese that hosts the limestone deposit from which it mines six million metric tons of cement annually.
Whipping Aliko Dangote and his conglomerate with the rod of law for the environmental damage at Ibese will be near impossible. As much as past breaches of the CDA and mining law can reveal, the multibillionaire entrepreneur has always scorned the law and communities his companies exploited.
Dangote got away with the same infraction after his coal mining company poisoned waters and farmlands in Awoakpali and Onupi, Ankpa Local Government Area of Kogi State.
Despite the fact that “innocent people have continued to suffer and the mines have increased erosion in our community,” according to Elder Adejoh Daniel, a former school headmaster who lost his land to Dangote’s mining firm in Awoakpali, and the legal action instituted against Dangote Coal on behalf of the community, justice has remained slow and elusive.
“Anything about Dangote is power from above,” says government official
So mining companies like Dangote Cement and Dangote Coal can trivialise the EIA provisions. They only pay about N1 million fine for non-compliance.
“…The levy is a bit ridiculous but the ministry is trying to do an upward review. And the Act is already in the National Assembly,” said John Alonge, Director, Environmental Assessment at the Federal Ministry of Environment.
That was in 2019. Two years later, the residents of Ibese and its surrounding communities in Ogun State are still hoping the law will be enforced.