By Yakubu Mohammed
Triacta Nigeria Ltd is building infrastructure in Bauchi State — giving it an outstanding look — sadly, residents of Birshin Fulani are paying the price. In this report, YAKUBU MOHAMMED documents the excruciating plights of the residents.
Muhammad-Annur Saeed was six months old when an explosive from the Triacta quarrying site disrupted his sleep. “He woke up crying profusely,” his mother said. The vibration that trailed the explosion seized his voice.
“Up till now, he cannot talk,” Idris Saeed, his father told WikkiTimes. “They told us at the hospital that something affected his brain but he will come back to his senses. But up till now, nothing.”
Now six years old, Annur is being aided by his younger brother, Musa despite the three years interval between them.
His means of communication is to cry. “Whether he wants water or food, he will just burst into a lousy cry and when no one pays attention to him, he bites his hands,” his mother said, lowering her voice.
Annur’s story was one of the many hushed ones in Birshin Fulani, a suburb of Bauchi State. With the establishment of Triacta quarrying site in the community in 2007, the company did not sign an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) pact with the community until ten years later. However, an agreement was signed in 2017. Still, residents say they have reaped more sorrows than benefits from the company’s activities which include, defacing cracks on their houses, dry wells, farming tightrope and quantum of asthmatic patients.
Triacta company works a few steps away from Mallam Muhammadu’s house. The company started operation sixteen years ago. But the old man was not threatened until they moved very close to him two years back.
“They have punctured almost every portion of my house,” said Muhammadu. “There was even a time a big flying rock landed in my compound. But we haven’t had any casualties yet and we dare not complain,” he told WikkiTimes.
Muhammadu explains that there are times dust would impair visuals.
“You cannot see anything. Dust would blur the entire environment when they are melting asphalt. And unfortunately, they don’t compensate us.”
He added that voices who stood against the violation were silenced using their parents, “The village authority would call you to warn your child and when you get home, you have to warn him as ordered.”
Aminu Musa, also known as Waziri Birshi, believes each blasting carried out by Tricta expands the cracks in his house. To him, asking for compensation is like talking to thin air. “No one will listen to you. The damage would be done and you will bear the brunt,” he said as he moved around his house, showing our reporter the “expanding” cracks.
To Aliyu Muhammad, a house owner in the community; mending cracks on his house has become a norm. “They have nothing to offer us except their inhumane acts (blasting)”.
The sound and vibration that follow the blasting, disturb not only the kids but even the adults and the aged persons. Everyone, according to Muhammad, scampers around for safety when the company blast.
He said “They destroy our houses and leave us to mend them. They don’t help with anything. Many times, we have complained, but they don’t give us listening ears. Even to the village head, he would say they will meet them.”
Battling Asthma In A Dust-ridden Environment
A few of the residents have been suffering from asthmatic attacks prior to the time Triacta situated a quarrying site in Birshin Fulani while some started having the symptoms a few years after the company came.
Forty-five years old Hussaina Ahmad started battling asthma about 15 years ago. “This thing costs me my night when it attacks,” she said, “It looks as if I am dying in a matter of minutes.”
To keep safe from the attack, Hussaina said she has to spend at least N5,000 weekly on drugs.
She could not say if the company’s activities marked the genesis of her asthma. But she believes its continued operation worsens her condition.
Keeping up with drugs, just like Hussaina is the main escape window from the unexpected attack for many of the asthmatic patients in the community.
Abdullahi Danladi was sleeping when the attack gripped him. The stunned 37-year-old man became unconscious and helpless as that was the first time he would experience such. That marked the unending visit to the hospital for him.
“When I saw that it would not stop, I went to the hospital and they gave me drugs. It stopped but resurfaced later after finishing the tablets,” Danladi told WikkiTimes.
For Sadiya Abdullahi, 37, the deed has been done. She only pleaded with the government to ease her treatment for her. “Let the company of the government help us with drugs or money to buy them.”
“When rocks explode or when they are melting the asphalt, the dust and the heat harm us,” said Hauwa Musa, a 55-year-old resident who has battled asthma for years.
Spending money to arrest the attack is costly, Hauwa told WikkiTimes, “I am financially handicapped. I want the government or company to come to our aid.”
Dr Auwal Hassan Nuhu, an Environmental Analytical Chemistry expert explained that there is a relationship between quarrying activities and asthma.
“The process has many environmental effects like air pollution and erosion,” he said. “The process of quarrying emits a lot of pollutants that contaminate the atmosphere. For instance, dust contains toxic gasses and heavy methods.”
The negative impact of the pollutants, causes health hazards including respiratory diseases, skin dermatoses, asthma, and lung cancer, according to Nuhu.
He said “The dust from the quarrying does not only cause asthma, but it also leads to asthma development and again, triggers asthma attacks. Those that do not have asthma at all could get it from the dust, and those that have it already, the dust further triggers the attack.”
On other health hazards, Nuhu cited an example of cadmium, a heavy method that emanates from beneath the earth. The cadmium, according to him, causes kidney impairment among others.
Findings from a study titled ‘Lung Function and Respiratory Health of Populations Living Close to Quarry Sites in Palestine: A Cross-Sectional Study’ showed that people who live close to quarry sites (exposed group) reported significantly higher respiratory, eye and nasal symptoms compared to people who live far from the quarry sites (control group).
The study published on the US government National Library of Medicine website notes that Asthma and bronchitis were reported in the exposed group and none in the control group of the research.
It added that 22 per cent of the exposed group reported eye or nasal allergy while only three per cent in the control group.
Other respiratory symptoms that were significantly higher in the exposed group were wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, cough at night and mornings.
In addition, several studies done in Nigeria – Abia, Edo, Ebonyi – reported the prevalence of silicosis, asthma, and adverse respiratory symptoms like cough, chest pain, and dyspnea in workers engaged in quarrying.
Between Triacta And Birshi Representatives
The 2017 agreement ends by October 2022, the Triacta Public Relations Officer (PRO), Mallam Abu (as he would prefer to be addressed), told WikkiTimes. According to him, the agreement was expected to last for five years.
“The 2017 agreement was about the provision of two hand-held boreholes to the community,” Abu said, “ But the representatives of the community came back and pleaded that we should replace the boreholes with the construction of a school. So we built the school to the level it is.”
When WikkiTimes visited the school, it was discovered that it has not been completed. Although, the company’s spokesman said the company intentionally put the construction on hold, “If you look at the cost of the building, it is more than the two boreholes.”
By implication, it means other things like the windows and doors would be fixed in another five years plan to be documented by October this year. “In our next five years working plan, we will complete the school and bring back the initial boreholes earlier struck out.”
Interestingly, residents say a hospital is their top need. This was confirmed by Isah Ciroma, the village head.
“The company had constructed a one-kilometre road for the community,” Ciroma told WikkiTimes.
This ironically is primarily beneficial to the company to get hitch-free access to its quarrying site.
He further corroborated what the company’s spokesman said earlier. “They built a block classroom for us and also this coming October, we will meet to have a memorandum of understanding with the company,” Ciroma added.
For those whose houses are cracked, Ciroma said the quarrying site was there before the houses. “There is a development and expansion, when you look at it critically you will understand that even the company was there before the houses, and all I know is that anyone that approached us with his complaint we will take the right decision for him, but if he doesn’t report or complain we have nothing to do because we don’t know what happened,” said Ciroma.
‘Farming In This Area Is Dangerous’
One must give it a second thought before farming around the site. Even as human casualty could be controlled (by staying away), crops are inevitably affected.
Abubakar Mohammed, a farmer in Birshi Fulani plants guinea corn, maize and beans adjacent to the quarrying site of Triacta company. What he gets from the farm has reduced, significantly, when compared to a decade ago.
“It has also reduced our proceeds. Then, we get up to 20 to 50 bags of guinea corn, maize or beans but now, we get 5 to 10 bags,” Mohammed explained.
“I come to farm here. But sometimes you will just hear strange sounds and we have to leave and we cannot come back until the next or two days after,” he lamented. “You wouldn’t know when the thing would happen. You can be on your farm and hear an explosion and you just find where you can hide.”
Mohammed believes the vibration from the explosion weakens the soil in addition to flying rocks damaging crops. He moves a step forward to show our reporter some pebbles. “It is dangerous for people farming here,” he noted. “The vibration weakens the soil and when it rains, the soil breaks inside and uprooted the plants.”
“They had promised to compensate us, but nothing up till now,” Mohammed added.
With More Explosions — ‘Our Wells Sink. Now We Don’t Have Water’
Only a few households still have water in their wells. Residents believe the vibration that follows rock blasting affects the well deeper and as such, water scarcity looms.
Mohammed Adamu Bello recalls a caveat given to the community some years back, “About five years ago, an expert in federal polytechnic, Mohammed Rabiu (now late) told us that there would be a water scarcity in the future as a result of blasting in the community,” Bello said.
“Now we are experiencing it. Anytime they blast, our water goes down. We suffer for water now.”
Many residents now depend on a single-hand- borehole in the community.
“When you come here early in the morning, you will see our women and children queuing up here,” Bello adds. “And it was not like this before. Everyone had water in their well, but not anymore.”
Musa Birshi, an aged man, feared the community could be hit by drought. Cracks on his house could be managed, but not scarcity of water. The old man said he had spent over N50,000 this year just to ensure his well does not lack water.
His neighbour, Mallam Abubakar Abubakar’s well has never lacked water even during the dry season. His household now joins the long queue in the heart of the village where women and children fetch water from a hand-held borehole provided by the federal government some years back.
Dr Auwal Hassan Nuhu, the chemical expert said although he has not come across such a situation, it is very possible for quarrying to trigger water scarcity. He said the vibration that follows the quarrying weakens the soil and as such could sink the villagers’ wells.
Does The Ministry Of Mining Know About Mining Laws?
The Assistant Federal Mines Officer, Tukur Tahir justifies the company’s operation in the community, despite the agonising tales by the residents.
According to him, the residents were not complaining hitherto. “Their quarrying site at Birshin Fulani has been there for a long period. So this complaint you brought now, it is recently we are hearing about it,” he said. “If they have any issue with the company, let the community write to us. But if they are making noise, we will allow them.”
Yet, the National Environmental (quarrying and blasting operations) Regulations (2013) section 20 posits that a person: “shall not locate a quarry or engage in blasting within three kilometres (3km) of any existing residential, commercial or industrial area.” Furthermore, section 3 (c) of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act (2007) validated the foregoing, saying towns and villages occupied by people must be excluded from mining activities.
The distance from the quarrying site to the nearest settlements in Birshi Fulani is 639.57 meters, not even up to a kilometre.
Despite saying that the ministry makes and enforces mining laws, Tahir said he was not aware of the above section. “I am hearing this for the first time. I will find out and if it applies to us, we will adjust.”
Going by the accounts given by the residents, Triacta brings nothing but discomfort. Their accounts further indict the company to be a lawbreaker. Section 23 (6) of the National Environmental Regulations states that a mining company must inform the adjourning community, at least 48 hours before it carries out any mining activity. However, the reverse is the case with Triacta.
“No one could tell when they wanted to blast. You will just see them chasing people away,” Mallam Muhammadu who has his house close to the site said, adding the company duly informed them but not 48 hours prior to blasting. “They alarmed us and later evicted us from our homes forcibly.”
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Act of 1992 did not only condemn pollution by mining sites, it seeks to establish the scope of the lease given to any company and ensure it adheres to impact assessments that are put into cognisance before such a company would begin operation. Furthermore, section 2 (1)(2) of the EIA Act states that:
(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.
But, Tahir, the Assistant Federal Mines Officer, would not avail WikkiTimes of the scope of the lease given to the company to operate. He also declined comments about the agreement the company signed with the community. “This is a government office,” he exclaimed. “Nobody will give you that. Nobody will give you to you to [sic] know whether they have land or not. You can’t get it.”
“Yes there must be an agreement signed and approved by our office,” he said but insisted our reporter won’t have access to it.
“Triacta complies with mining regulations. They don’t do blasting without approval. They have to come here and we have to approve it. Our officers, including police, and DSS would be there when they want to blast.”
“They carry out their activities in accordance with the law,” he continued.
So if they have little… You know sometimes people say they are cheated, maybe because the company is dealing with others and neglecting some.
“We are policymakers in mining and we make laws and enforce the laws,” he said. “The company is following rules and regulations governing mining activities.
“If their blasting is causing destruction, it has been taking place for about 16 years. Is it an old effect or a recent one?”
Tahir, referencing some other construction companies, notes that there must be such a negative impact wherever a mining site is situated.
“If they blast between 6 am to 6 pm, they are doing it within the approved time unless there is another interest there,” Tahir noted.
However, this negates the provision of section 23 (2) of the National Environmental Regulations, which states that “blasting operations shall not be carried out at the rush hours of 7 a.m.–10 a.m. and 5 p.m. beyond.”
However, the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), seems to be deaf to the cries of the residents despite writing to the agency under the leadership of Professor Aliyu Jauro, NESREA Director General. Professor Jauro was not available for comment as he did not respond to calls and text messages sent to him.
This publication republished from WikkiTimes is produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability Project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation.
Note: The report was edited to include studies done on the effect of quarrying on health.