By Ekemini Simon
WHILE Lafarge Africa PLC boasts of a humane environmental policy in her mining operations, this investigation by TheMail unravels the nexus between illegal and unhealthy practices by the company, the government’s gross regulatory failure and untold hardship in Mfamosing, a solid mineral-rich community in Akamkpa, Cross River State.
Idaraobong Udo a mother of seven woke up on the morning of October 23, 2020 in Mfamosing community, located less than 100 kilometres south-east of Calabar, capital of Cross River State, a property owner but by night she was homeless wandering with her family from house to house to find who would shelter her and her seven children. After she had gone outside to carry out house chores, without a prior sign, her mud house caved in. She lost all her property and was only lucky that the ravaging landslide did not strike when she was inside with her children.
The night before the day the disaster struck, Lafarge Africa, a limestone mining company operating close to her house had blasted rocks in their limestone quarry. This was not the first time Lafarge blasted for extraction nevertheless. Their blasting only kept drawing closer to residential areas.
Now, where Udo and her family once had a home has been overgrown with weeds while she and her seven children patch up with a good Samaritan. Udo, with a voice saturated with agony, told TheMail that although officials of Lafarge in company with community leaders visited to see the havoc their operations had caused, that was the last time she ever saw and heard from the company officials.
Into the Crack Houses
Udo mentioned in the outset is not alone in the unfortunate experience of the resource curse in Mfamosing. Many houses in Abimfam, a sizable community within the Mfamosing community are either on the verge of caving in or falling apart.
Since it began operations in Mfamosing through different consortiums, Lafarge Africa PLC has been blasting rocks to source limestone beneath it at least thrice weekly. The blasting is accompanied by heavy vibration underneath which causes cracks and compromises the structural integrity of houses and sometimes landslides.
“Anytime they blast the rocks, it is like a bomb thrown inside the ground. The whole house would be shaking like an earthquake has occurred. It has caused cracks in all our houses here; be it mud or houses built with blocks. None is safe from the damage,” says the community head, Abimfam, Joshua Ntuen.
With his face drenched in anguish, Ntuen showed our reporter his house which he built to lintel level before he noticed serious cracks around the house.
TheMail also discovered that the mining operations of Lafarge are responsible for several landslides recorded in the community. Most residents have abandoned the houses they built with their hard-earned resources to become tenants in other communities where mining operations are not taking place. Their fear? One day, their house may collapse and crush them to death.
Daniel Udobong is quite popular in the Abimfam community. He spent six years building a five-bedroom bungalow with the hope that he will cease being a tenant. This was cut short since he had to vacate the house to a safe area after cracks began to surface.
Insight into Mining Asset in Mfamosing
Lafarge has six communities of Mfamosing as its host communities. They are Ekong Anaku, Mbobui, Akansoko, Akwa Ikot Effanga, Diamond and Abimfam (Camp II). Among these communities, Abimfam is where Lafarge mining operations exist. The community has an estimated limestone reserve of 30 million tonnes. For about two decades, mining companies with different nationalistic interests have scrambled to explore the million tonnes of limestone beneath Mfamosing’s land.
This mineral resource used for the production of cement is extracted in the Abimfam community to feed its 5 million metric tonnes per year cement plant located at Lafarge’s single largest cement production site, in Mfamosing.
Although information at the Corporate Affairs Commission shows that Lafarge Africa registered to do business in Nigeria on February 24, 1959, with registration number 1858, it started exploring Mfamosing’s limestone in 2002.
According to Lafarge 2020 Accounts and Annual Report, the company was originally established in 2002 as United Cement Company Nigeria (UNICEM) Limited, after the acquisition of the moribund Calabar Cement Company (CalCemCo). The company, UNICEM, a joint venture amongst Lafarge, Holcim, Dangote and Flour Mills.
Eventually, Lafarge Africa, a subsidiary of Lafarge Holcim which is based in Zurich, Switzerland, acquired all the assets.
Flying Rocks and the Pangs of Distress and Death
The tales of sheer horror, fear of impending doom and forced evacuation from one’s house and community are not limited to the cracks. Another distressing effect of Lafarge’s operations on the community is flying rocks that stem from rock blasting. This has made residents of Mfamosing turn part-time occupants even in their homes.
In rain or blazing sun, asleep or awake, sick or dying; residents of Mfamosing must scramble out of their homes and head towards the main road once they hear the company’s alarm indicating that blasting is about to commence.
Residents disclosed that the company does not have a specific rock blasting routine for the community to plan their activities. Day or night, anytime convenient for the company, blasting can take place and they have few minutes after the third siren and in some cases, orders from the company’s military officers to get out of the blasting area.
Being alert for the sound of a siren is a very important survival skill in Mfamosing.
” When we hear the alarm, we all run to the main road close to the market to be safe from the flying rocks. After that, we return when the thick dust subsides. There are days that they blast twice daily and sometimes even at night”, Iquo Akpan, a resident disclosed.
The community head, Abimfam, Joshua Ntuen laments the discomfort caused by the blasting operation even to animals. “The blasting comes with a heavy vibration. Even a dog won’t be able to stay. Our domestic animals often join us to run”.
Another resident, Uduak Saviour says: “Even if you were cooking at hand, you just have to leave your food and run. My main problem is that I have an aged mother who is 83 years of age staying here with me. You can imagine the stress of taking her to run almost every day. I don’t want the flying rocks to kill her for me”.
Saviour’s mother may be lucky to have someone take her to safety zones when the blasting commences but Okon Okoko was not that lucky when rocks from the blast led to his early grave. The Abimfam community council briefed TheMail of Okoko’s death when he was hit by a flying rock in late 2020.
“One night, Lafarge blasted their rock as usual. We all ran out and went to the main road. We didn’t know Okoko was still inside. It was in the morning that we saw that his leg was crushed by a rock that hit through his thatched house and met him”, says the Council Secretary, Simon Effiong.
He added that Okoko was a man without a family who probably wasn’t sound in health the day the disaster struck thus limiting his ability to run for safety as usual. Effiong said tetanus later affected the crushed leg and this led to his death because of his inability to afford treatment.
The flying rocks from Lafarge do not spare the roofs. Nkoyo Nkennang is 60 years old and also a widow. She has had countless encounters with rocks destroying her roof.
” You can see the holes on our roof yourself. This is caused by the rocks they blast. When it rains, our house is usually flooded with water. If it rains at night, I just have to wake up and stand throughout the night and the sleepless nights usually cause me severe health issues during the day”.
Health challenges attributed to limestone mining in Mfamosing
The environmental situation in Mfamosing is far worse and more pathetic than what one could ever imagine. Members of the Mfamosing community say that when limestone mining started in their domain, they gradually became victims of strange diseases.
They identify the dust that hovers after blasting and their water bodies which have been polluted as the main source of their plague.
Findings showed that Lafarge constantly drains water held up inside the mine into the surrounding environment. The water eventually finds its way to the community, where it pollutes the major source of water for residents and their livestock.
In their stream, to the ordinary eyes, the water sparkles as it flows and it doesn’t give concern to the taste bud that much except for the clay-like taste experienced, residents said.
A resident of the area also stressed that owing to the contamination, the water does not lather easily for washing, and often requires more detergents before a good wash can be achieved.
Earlier, this reporter had sighted boreholes branded as being sponsored by Lafarge. Members of the community admit that the borehole was a relief until all the taps ran dry. The three boreholes they have were not functioning as of early December 2021 when the reporter visited. Residents say none of the boreholes lasted beyond a year.
” None is working again. The borehole stopped functioning because of the blasting. The level at which the water was has gone down hence when we pump it, we can’t have water,” says Youth Secretary of Abimfam Community, Okon Asuquo.
Privileged members of the community now resort to getting to a nearby community to buy water at an exorbitant rate. Three 25 litres sell for N500.
Sadly, those who cannot afford the essential commodity are left with a Hobson’s Choice but to rely on the polluted stream for drinking and domestic purposes.
Community members reported that health problems such as cough, catarrh, eye irritation and heart disease, miscarriages, among other gastrointestinal ailments are now common among them.
Destruction of Crops and livelihood
Mfamosing community is largely agrarian. The environmental impact of limestone mining in the community is often cited by villagers for their poor farm yields. The vegetation is covered with dust and plants destroyed by blasted rocks. In separate interviews, farmers recount how heavy limestone dust covers their farmlands in the dry season leading to poor growth of their crops.
” During the rainy season, limestone particles from the extraction site flow with rainwater into our farms. This has made our cassava not grow well. We now have poor yield. It wasn’t like this before the days Lafarge began extraction. Past companies were more responsible than Lafarge”, says the Community Secretary, Effiong who is also a farmer.
Controversies over Encroachment from the mining area
While the company continues to extend its mining operations into the community forest and also residential areas, the people of Mfamosing feel short-changed that the company is encroaching into lands that are not part of the sites given to them by the government for mining.
The Secretary of Abimfam Community Council, Effiong notes ” Lafarge by the day keeps mining into our forest area. Although we have not seen the area covered by the mining lease given to them by the government. We strongly doubt they have kept within the approved limit”.
This is corroborated by the Village Head of Mfamosing, Mfam Clement Ekpe Emayip, who is also the Paramount Ruler of Akamkpa local government area. ” They have encroached into our forest reserve. We did not give them the approval to mine where they are mining. If we had given, I would be the one to sign”.
A freedom of information, FOI request to the Director-General, Nigerian Mining Cadastre Office, Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, which sought information on the mining lease to Lafarge Africa although acknowledged was not acceded to.
The request specifically demanded information on a copy of the mining lease, duration and area covered by the mining lease. A reminder sent to the office was not also attended to. According to section 5 (b) of the Nigerian Minerals Mining Act (2007), the Mining Cadastre Office is responsible for the relinquishment of mineral titles or extension of areas for mining.
This same request was also contained in an FOI request to the Plant Manager of Lafarge Africa in Mfamosing, Idara Uyok. Although the request and a reminder sent at the expiration of seven working days provided for in the Act were acknowledged, the request was not responded to.
Lafarge Breaches Environmental and Mining Laws
The Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act, which came into effect in 2007, does not only seek to protect the environment but also communities where solid mineral resources are found. The law protects the rights of host communities and their environment, provides for rehabilitation and penalties for defaulters.
Yet, Lafarge Africa in their operations has failed to make recourse to environmental and mining laws of the land. Analysis of these laws showed that Lafarge is culpable.
According to the National Environmental (quarrying and blasting operations) Regulations, 2013, section 20 states “a person shall not locate a quarry or engage in blasting within three kilometres (3km) of any existing residential, commercial or industrial area”.
In addition, the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act, 2007, section 3 (c) identifies lands excluded from mineral exploration and exploitation to include those occupied by any town or village.
Google Earth, an open-source app using satellite imagery, aided TheMail’s investigation in ascertaining the distance between the blasting site and residences. From the blasting site to the last residential house in the Mfamosing community, it is 0.38kilometers. Measurement to the road which residents run to for safety is 0.58 kilometres, a limit that falls within the threat zone stipulated by law.
Besides, section 22 of the National Environmental Regulations adds that ” A person shall not blast in such a way that the impact of such blast will cause any form of discomfort or nuisance to the public and residents within 1,000 metres from the epicentre of the site or users of the road thereof”
Regarding water pollution, not only host communities are protected by the law but also surrounding communities near and far.
“No person shall in the course of mining or exploration for minerals pollute or cause to be polluted any water or watercourse in the area within mining lease or beyond that area,” Section 123 of the Mining Act states.
As highlighted earlier, Lafarge operations have destroyed houses, made residents be strangers in their homes, polluted their water bodies, destroyed farmlands among other discomforts.
Section 23 (2) of the National Environmental Regulations further specifies the time the blasting must not take place. “Blasting operations shall not be carried out at the rush hours of 7 am-10 am and 5 pm and beyond.” Regardless, residents report that the company does not observe these restricted times. They blast even at night.
In addition, section 23 (6) notes that the adjourning community shall be initially informed at least 48 hours prior to any type of blasting operations through the mass media and augmented locally by the use of siren, announcement, letters, warning signs and other means deemed appropriate to convey an impending operation. Members of the community report that besides blaring a siren thrice during the day signifying that blasting will take place coupled with orders from military officers working with the company, Lafarge does not give warnings aforehand.
In addition, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Act of 1992 frowns at the pollution experienced in Mfamosing. Though Lafarge Africa is duly registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), it failed to comply with the guiding principles of the EIA Act.
(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.
TheMail in a freedom of information (FOI) request to Lafarge in December 2021 and a reminder sent at the expiration of seven working days provided by the FOI Act requested a report on Environment Impact Assessment of the company’s mining operations in Mfamosing. Although the company acknowledged receipt of the letters, it did not respond. TheMail further wrote to the Country Chief Executive Officer of Lafarge Africa in January 2020. The company acknowledged receipt of the request but did not respond.
TheMail also wrote to the minister, federal ministry of mines and solid minerals development for a copy of the EIA. In a response dated December 18, 2021 but sent to The Mail on January 17, 2022, the Minister through the Director of Mines Environmental Compliance Department, Dr Okono Vivian assured of addressing the request. ” I am to further inform you that the ministry is working on your request and will get back to you in due course”.
As of the time of filing this report, the ministry did not respond despite a reminder sent to the office thus raising suspicion about the non-availability of the EIA.
The EIA is a compulsory study about the social and environmental impacts of a proposed project. It is usually a joint study conducted by environmental consultants with inputs from experts, host communities and relevant government officials to examine whatever impacts a mining project may have on the people socially, environmentally as well as remedial measures to be taken.
Section 70 (g) of the Mining Act, (2007) states the obligation of Lafarge on EIA. ” Every holder of a mining lease shall comply with all requirements for Environmental Impact Assessment studies and protection plans”.
Most importantly, Section 71 (1) notes that the holder of a mining lease shall not commence any development work or extraction of minerals resources on the mining lease area until after “the submission and approval by the mines Environmental compliance Department of all Environmental Impact Assessment Studies and Mitigation Plans required under applicable environmental laws and regulations”.
Interestingly, section 4 (2) of the National Environmental (quarrying and blasting operations) Regulations stipulates that Environmental Audit (EA) shall be conducted on all existing quarries every three (3) years.
Members of the Mfamosing community denied knowledge and involvement in the EIA process. ” We have never been contacted for any Environmental Impact Assessment before or after mining operations started. But we have heard from our lawyers that it should have been done and should always be done periodically”, the Secretary of Abimfam community says.
Read part 2 here and Part 3 here.
*This investigation republished from TheMail is supported by Policy Alert with funding from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA)*