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. Read the part 1 here
Lafarge Pays Lip Service to Her Environmental Policy
Lafarge’s failure to adhere to mining and environmental laws of the land, stands as a contradiction to its own environmental policy graciously displayed at her operational base at the community. The company’s environment policy dated February 2020 and signed by the country’s Chief Executive Officer, Khaled El-Dokani states: “All our operations shall comply with environmental laws, regulations and standards applicable to our products and operations, and subscribe to leading industry initiatives and internal regulations.”
Ironically, Lafarge boasts further on the company’s policy on the release of pollutants.
“We shall develop and implement effective controls to monitor, minimize or prevent the pollutants to the environment (air, water and soil) in our operations. We shall continuously assess our operational impacts to the environment and respond immediately to any significant incidence.”
Years after complaints and protests by members of the Mfamosing community about the negative hazards of their operations, Lafarge has not responded.
Mfamosing’s Struggle For Survival
The people of Mfamosing through their leaders and legal representation have written to Lafarge Africa several times, to complain about the level of the environmental menace caused by their operations.
They have equally written to state actors to intervene. In some of the letters made available to TheMail and spanning over five years, the community claim none has yielded results.
According to the Youth Secretary of Abimfam community, Okon Asuquo “Most times, Lafarge does not respond to the community’s letters. They only seldom respond to the ones that would be written by lawyers. And the highest they would say is that they have received the letter and would investigate. After that, you would never hear from Lafarge again.”
TheMail accessed one of the company’s responses to a petition written by a law firm, A Inyang and Associates, on the devastating effect of their operations dated February 13, 2019. The letter signed by the Senior Legal Counsel of Lafarge, Nnamdi Esionye, the company claimed it would investigate the concerns in the letter “with a view to resolving the same as soon as possible”. Abimfam community head says Lafarge never visited or resolved the concerns after the letter.
Section 9 of the National Environmental (quarrying and blasting operations) Regulations, 2013, stipulates that” It shall be the duty of quarry operators to pay compensation for ecological destruction as specified and as valued by the appropriate authority.”
However, a document gathered by TheMail suggests that compensation was paid to 206 persons by Lafarge Africa in June 2011 for a portion of the area it intended to mine. The document claims that the Cross River State Ministry of Lands and Housing monitored, supervised and implemented the process.
Yet, a freedom of Information request to both Lafarge and the Cross River State Ministry of Lands and Housing seeking information on the compensation and resettlement of the host community was not obliged.
The request specifically demanded information on the date of the compensation, numbers and names of beneficiaries, the total amount paid, method of disbursement, the area covered by the disbursement and names of government officials who implemented the disbursement.
Ntuen, who showed TheMail around the community, admitted that compensation was paid for only a few houses in 2011.
“Lafarge actually paid compensation to some houses in 2011. Where those houses were located is mostly the main place, they are currently mining with about few buildings at the edge of the mining site,” he noted.
He added: “We are not demanding compensation on those ones again although paltry sums given were not sufficient for those compensated to get new houses. The compensation we are asking for is for other houses that were not captured but seriously affected by their operations. We are seriously suffering here and we want to leave.”
Cross River State Government keeps Mum Over Illegal Mining
With the availability of knowledge on the hazards of pollution and the level of the havoc caused by Lafarge illegal mining, the people of Mfamosing expected that the government should be concerned enough to intervene.
The community members told TheMail that their representative in the State Assembly and officials of the ministry of solid minerals both at the federal and state level have shown apathy over their plight. They accused the government and its officials of being more interested in the gains they get from Lafarge than the lives of host community members.
When contacted on phone in mid-December 2021, the Member representing Akamkpa II at the state assembly, Rt. Hon. Charles Ekpe said he is unperturbed about the challenges of Mfamosing people since according to him, the people refused to follow his direction.
“Anything that concerns them, I will not make any comment. When my colleague and I from Akpabuyo tried to intervene, they did not allow it. They were writing nonsense. Let them carry their cross”. When TheMail enquired how he intervened without support from the people, he said our reporter should reach back to him after the yuletide season. TheMail reached back on January 5, 10, 12, 19 and 22 but he did not respond to calls and reminders sent to his phone line.
Also, a freedom of information request and reminders to the Cross River State Ministry of Solid Minerals Development which sought information on her report on the environmental impact of the mining operation of Lafarge was not attended to even when the ministry acknowledged receipt. The ministry is responsible for ensuring orderly and sustainable development of solid minerals coupled with the task of monitoring compliance at the State level. But a senior civil servant in the ministry, who pleaded for anonymity, admitted knowledge of the hazards and human rights abuses in the community. The source said the State is helpless since Lafarge is the major multinational company in the State.
” It is not that we are not aware of the environmental challenges going on in Mfamosing. We can only appeal to Lafarge to resettle them. To be honest, Lafarge is our cash cow and biggest employment provider apart from civil service in Cross River. Besides, regulation of mining activities is more in the hands of the federal government. As a State, we can do very little”.
TheMail further reached out to the oversight arm of the Ministry, the Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum, Gas and Solid Minerals Development, Hillary Bisong.
TheMail requested to know the Committee’s finding and the Assembly’s resolution from their oversight on Lafarge Compliance to environmental standards and regulations in Mfamosing. But the Committee Chairman declined to comment. “All Committees in the House of Assembly have been dissolved. I am no longer the Chairman. I can’t speak on that, please”.
When asked to comment on the oversight of his committee when the committee was still in place, he insisted on reserving comment.
Regulators Strange Silence Over Mfamosing’s Suffering
The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) is the agency of the federal government legally empowered to protect the environment with actionable sanctions. According to section 2 of the NESREA’s Act (2007), the Agency is responsible for the protection and development of the environment, biodiversity conservation and sustainable development of Nigeria ‘s natural resources in general and environmental technology, including coordination and liaison with relevant stakeholders within and outside Nigeria on matters of enforcement of environmental standards, regulations, rules, laws, policies and guidelines.
However, over the years, the achievement of its mandate even after its Act was reviewed has been questionable. Attempt to contact the agency through the Ministry’s official phone contact and mail address displayed on the official website of the agency were unsuccessful. The phone number was off throughout the three months duration of this investigation. The message sent to the mail address found on the site also failed and bounced back.
However, NESREA is not the only culpable regulator. The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development has been found wanting to. Section 16 (1) (b) of the Mining Act states that the Minister shall establish a Mines Environmental Compliance Department which section 18 (b) notes that they will monitor and enforce Compliance by holders of mineral title with all environmental requirements and obligations.
Part of the section adds that the ministry will periodically audit the environment requirements and obligations, liaise with relevant agencies of government with respect to the social and environmental issues involved in mining operations.
The ministry did not respond to freedom of information requests seeking information on the level of the ministry monitoring and enforcement of environmental requirements at Mfamosing despite giving assurance in their letter to do so. When TheMail contacted the Special Adviser, Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, Ayodeji Adeyemi on phone on January 25, 2022, he became doggy.
After listening to the questions, he told TheMail to send the questions to his mail address. This was done but he did not respond till the time of filing this report. TheMail had specifically asked if the ministry had approved Lafarge’s EIA for mining in Mfamosing, the ministry’s findings on their monitoring of Lafarge compliance to environmental requirements and obligations and the approved mining area for Lafarge in Mfamosing.
The situation was not different when TheMail also made an attempt to contact the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Solid Minerals, Michael Enyong whose committee should oversee mining activities in the country. The Chairman of the Committee did not respond to his calls, text and WhatsApp message.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government through the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development has continued to generate money through levies on operational activities that lead to environmental degradation.
For instance, in 2019, the National Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) report notes that the ministry generated N31.7 million on blasting certificates and licenses to buy explosives from solid mineral companies in Nigeria.
The Ministry of Environment did not get much revenue from fines on environmental pollution by mining companies. According to the NEITI report of 2019, a paltry N17.1 million was generated from 702 solid minerals companies in Nigeria throughout the fiscal year, suggesting gaps in enforcement of environmental standards.
Lafarge Fail to React, Attempt Cover-up
Surprisingly, Lafarge Africa PLC was evasive in giving an explanation on their mining operations through their respective offices in Cross River State and Head Office in Lagos State acknowledged receipt of the FOIA requests which were accompanied by reminders.
The FOI request to the Plant Manager, Idara Uyok and the Country Chief Executive Officer, Khaled El-Dokani, specifically requested detailed information and documents on their mining lease, the duration and area covered, report on environmental impact assessment studies and mitigation plans approved by the Mines Environmental Compliance Department and Insight into compensation and resettlement of the host communities.
Besides the FOIA request, our reporter visited the Company’s Plant at Mfamosing, Akamkpa and Corporate Office in Calabar on December 20, 2021, and January 19, 2022, requesting an interview on the matter. On both occasions, TheMail was denied a session on the pretext that the plant manager was not on seat. This was followed up with calls, text and WhatsApp messages. Yet, the manager responded to none.
However, in a dramatic twist of the event, Lafarge Africa moved to cover up their illegal operations by visiting Mfamosing with promises of compensating them days after receiving the FOI request from TheMail.
This time, it took the country CEO to come down to speak with community members for the first time after about two decades of extraction in their community.
” The White man told me to gather my people for a meeting in the Mfamosing Community. The White Man begged us not to be angry over the damages they have caused. He said between January and March 2022, the company will compensate and resettle us,” says Chairman of Compensation and Settlement Committee, Asuquo Asian.
Ecological Assault On Mfamosing Must Stop- Environmental Justice Advocate
An Environmental Justice Advocate and Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey commented on the environmental violation experienced in Mfamosing, after assessing TheMail’s investigation on the issue weighing it against the Nigerian Environmental and Mining Laws.
He said although the stories of destruction and lack of care at Abimfam and by extension Mfamosing community is appalling but not surprising, communities, where solid minerals are extracted in Nigeria, are all at the mercies of corporations and complicit governments who focus on the extraction of profit with little care for the environment or the people.
Bassey explained that the process of ecological assault commences when the requirements of environmental impact assessment (EIA), as well as socio-economic impact assessment stages, are not strictly adhered to.
He noted that the EIA process ought to be done with the participation of communities that would be affected.
The environmental justice advocate, however, pointed out that mining companies and regulators often see the processes as merely perfunctory exercises and concerns of communities are routinely ignored.
Bassey added “The outcome of truly inclusive impact assessments should give the concerned communities the right to accept or reject mining activities in their territories. Where that right is denied through non-inclusive assessments that do not allow for prior informed consent or rejection from the people, the process is irredeemably flawed from the onset and throws up a disastrous outcome as we see at Abimfam and Mfamosing as a whole.”
He identified divide and exploit systems by companies as a strategy that sometimes allow the environmental assault to go on unchallenged.
” Companies utilize divide and exploit systems by sometimes co-opting a few community members and leaders while ignoring the masses, assaulting their health and leaving them to face destroyed livelihoods and infrastructure. This is highly colonial and obnoxious and must not be allowed to continue to hold sway here.”
The Director of HOMEF said Nigeria’s Mining Act, while not perfect, has provisions that should safeguard communities and provide a fair level of protection to the environment. Yet, he explained that these provisions are routinely ignored as is the case at Mfamosing.
He added, ” In no circumstance can a mining company engage in activities that damage the homes of community people, pollute their environment and expose them to other harms with no respite. The prolonged silence of the government in situations of this nature is absolutely unacceptable and stokes the fires of conflict in otherwise peaceful communities.
“The companies involved have a horrendous social impact track record and have only manifested their colours in this impoverished community. The Government of Cross River State should urgently come to the aid of the people by getting the offending companies to halt their destructive activities, decommission, restore the environment and compensate the impacted people and communities for the impacts suffered.”
*This investigation republished from TheMail is supported by Policy Alert with funding from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA)*