Mining, death and impunity: Dangote company illegally operates coal mines for years in Kogi, pollutes water supply of host communities, environment yet government looks sideway
Coal exploration is deadly, particularly to host communities and its impact on climate change is enormously dangerous to human existence. Nigeria is a signatory to the UN Paris agreement with commitment to reducing carbon emissions 45 per cent unconditionally and 20 per cent conditionally. This investigation by Olugbenga ADANIKIN revealed how Federal Government shies away as Dangote Coalmine destroys water source of local communities, contaminates alternative borehole source causing miscarriages, health issues with disregard for several Acts including the Mining Act.
IT was in the month of September. I had set out early to Jabi Park, one of the main motor parks in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja on a mission to visit the controversial coal mine in Ankpa Local Government Area (LGA) belonging to Africa’s richest man – Aliko Dangote.
A story was spreading among Kogi indigenes resident in the FCT. It was the story of how the coal-rich host communities are exploited by the Dangote Coalmine one of the firms in Dangote Group. The reports indicate that there is flagrant abuse of Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act (2007), damning health and environmental implications.
“Do you want to buy coal? We have it in large deposit and I can facilitate a good price,” a former Chairman of Ankpa LGA asked. He currently occupies a leadership position in the motor park but prefers to be anonymous. Apparently, I was already seen as a potential client.
“There is also a large coal mine owned by Dangote. You may choose to buy from them but since they started mining, nothing significant has been done for the communities.”
As at this period, over five hours had gone at the park before getting to my destination – Ankpa Town, despite my early arrival..
Ankpa is a big town in Ankpa LGA, Kogi State. It is about 170.5 kilometres to Lokoja, the state capital. It is one of the few towns that can pass-off as urban with relatively good roads and also serves as the main town to Onupi, Awoakpali, Okaba and several other rural settlements in the LGA.
Miscarriages – many health challenges attributed to coal mining in Awoakpali
Mr and Mrs Ahmadu got married in 2017. The couple resides in the sloppy part of Awoakpali Community. They had enjoyed some good time until the wife lost her six-month pregnancy.
She is one of five other couples who had reportedly suffered the same experience attributed to the stream polluted by the Dangote Coalmine.
“She drinks from the stream and later the borehole,” says Ahmadu, her husband narrating their ordeal.
While ushering the reporter into his well-furnished one-bedroom apartment, he narrated how his wife failed to conceive after the miscarriage. “We have tried to visit the hospital they said she would have to undergo a procedure to cleanse her womb. Since then, we tried but nothing happened.”
These couples remain hopeful, yet the miscarriages had caused an unforgettable crack in their union with a burden of sterility.
Few had to vacate the community to Ankpa town before a successful conception, and later delivery.
Prior to this incident, the mining firm had resumed operations at Awoakpali village, contaminating the environment and natural mangrove. Years into its illegal operation, it decided to sink a borehole for the community. Though the firm claimed to have provided seven boreholes, The ICIR sighted just two in the two communities. But the quality of water from the borehole also has raised many questions.
Sadly, other residents who mostly rely on the same polluted stream for drinking and domestic purposes have resolved to fate. A four-tap water facility provided by the Coalmine, situated at the community centre opposite the market is believed to be serving over 5, 000 people. This no doubt, was a relief until the villagers detected that the ‘milky’ coloured water was still not pure after all. This brought about repeated interventions from the firm, yet nothing changed.
Awoakpali had existed for decades and vulnerable to water-borne diseases. But the community members said medical problems such as cough, heart disease, miscarriages, among other gastrointestinal ailments were strange until mining commenced. Unfortunately, the same polluted stream used by Awoakpali currently serves 12 other rural settlements along the plain.
“Each time we complain to them, they pay little or no attention to our complaints,” Ahmadu Fredrick Awoakpali Community representative to Dangote Coalmine told The ICIR. “Since the company came in 2016, water quality of the stream has changed.”
He said the stream source was as clean as a smaller channel that flows into the mainstream. The community representative said most of the mine’s waste dumps enter into the river and pollutes it.
Samuel Adejoh, who is Ahmadu’s predecessor, was visibly restless while Ahmadu was narrating the harms. Unknown to the reporter, Adejoh’s family was a victim of the polluted stream. His wife also had miscarriages until he stopped her from drinking from the river source as well as Dangote’s borehole. In fact, findings by The ICIR discovered that the groundwater has been polluted. Adejoh later resolved to relocate her to Ankpa town.
By the way, he had facilitated a meeting with smaller chiefs in the community, who individually narrated their concerns about the mine. “It has been polluted since 2016,” Agba David, a community chief told The ICIR.
“Innocent people have continued to suffer and the mines have increased erosion in our community,” says Elder Adejoh Daniel, one of the chiefs, a former school headmaster whose land was also captured by the mining firm but rejected their monetary offer over alleged extortion.
He grieved over the destroyed farmlands, ecosystems and alleged extortions. As a result, he initiated legal action on behalf of the community against Dangote coal but till date, no judgement has been served.
Rejected cheques by Daniel Adejoh, an indigene of Awoakpali
Amazingly, Adejoh never allowed his successor – Ahamadu to complete his thought. He swiftly added, “the water channel has been tampered with.”
“Their dumps are washed into the stream every hour. If you go there, right now, you will see it,” says Adejoh. This time, the six chiefs all stood at the stream nodding in agreement. They pointed at the river affirming the level of pollution.
Obviously frustrated Adejoh wondered how Dangote’s company is prospering in its coal mining activity at the detriment of host communities. He noted how the community was initially deceived to append its signature on the leased land to Community Development Agreement (CDA), originally developed by Dangote’s lawyers without fair representation of the community’s legal representative, yet coal deposit of the community is being mined daily with less concerns for the appropriate regulations and the environment.
“We have not tested for a waterborne disease but what we know is that, persistently, we have been registering miscarriages on the pregnant women. It was severe last year (2018) but now, people no longer complain because it is becoming rampant.
“Families are now ashamed of complaining because it is a family affair. But I was a victim last year. My wife had miscarriages as a result of the dust and water.”
Video allegation of miscarriages due to the polluted stream, borehole in Awoakpali, Onupi
He particularly emphasised on his wife’s miscarriages until he moved her to Ankpa – The same location Dangote Coalmine has its administrative office, including top management staffs of the firm, its expatriates and Dangote Mines Project Coordinator, known as Alhaji Usman Jibrin.
“When we complained at the hospital, they said she was taking unclean water,” Adejoh adds emphasising his argument. “It was then we stopped from taking the polluted water from the stream, the borehole and started using bottled water. Then I took her to Ankpa where she put to bed last month (September), and I did child dedication last Sunday.” His wife no longer visits the apartment built in Awoakpali but occasionally checks on her in the new area.
Mohammed Ogbe, the traditional ruler, Onu Ojuku was initially reluctant to speak with the reporter due to a standing instruction from the Kogi State government. But, later threw caution to the air, thus opening up on the rots.
“It is painful,” he told The ICIR.
Though, the mining exercise began prior to his assumption to office on 6th February, he was aware of the whole drama. “…there are many things they ought to do for the community but never did…, says Ogbe. “For instance, if you go to the stream, you realise that it is no longer safe for drinking.”
“They promised to dig borehole but how many have they done?” he queried The ICIR, sharing insights on how heavy trucks from the mine damaged their roads without repair. “…most of what they told you is true,” he noted with emphasis, saying, “If you visit the company, you will realise that most of our children are labourers.”
However, he vowed to take up the matter only if the affected communities officially complain to his office.
Science links miscarriages to health, environmental hazards of coal mining
“Basically these ions are called heavy metals and they are poisons that can cause a number of chemical processes in the body….they could distort the body’s biochemistry,” says Professor Olobayo Kunle, former Ag. Director-General of the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), an agency under the Federal Ministry of Health.
He was reacting to the outcome of independent water and soil test samples obtained from Onupi community, also a nearby Dangote’s mining site. The test showed a high level of Lead, Chromium, and Cadmium among other heavy metals.
“Most definitely, the heavy ions can cause miscarriages. That is why strictly speaking, in drinking borehole water, for instance, if you are in a city, you won’t want to see any heavy metals at all. That is why the world stopped using metal pipes.”
“Once you have these unwanted reactions, basically, it poisons the blood and other consequences and because the liver and the kidney are struggling to deal with these strange materials, they end up hurting themselves. You can have renal, liver and kidney failure as a result of consuming these over time, it could have other genetic effects that can be passed on to children,” the Professor explained.
Voice of Professor Olobayo Kunle
According to reports, Cadmium, Chromium; Lead among other toxic hard metals has bad effects on human reproduction and existence. Cadmium, for instance, could affect the placenta preventing the passage of food nutrients, enzymes, and hormones to the foetus.
Several other scientific reports also proved the deadly impacts of coal mining on workers and host communities. Beyond implication on the environment, coal exploration has grave health consequences on pregnant women, capable of causing stillbirths and at times miscarriages. Other impacts include reduction in life expectancy, respiratory failure, asthma attacks, congestive heart failure even loss of IQ, to mention but few.
A pre-feasibility report by the Dangote Coalmine itself obtained by The ICIR also affirms that, “liquid effluents can contaminate surface and groundwater bodies, soil and the biological environment if care is not taken.”
Nazil Hossain, an Associate Professor and Elizabeth Westerlund Triche, a Research Scientist Epidemiology, in a joint Study linked failed pregnancy in mining communities to exposures to heavy metals such as lead, mercury. The study which was to examine environmental factors that could cause miscarriages in coal mining settlements says mining impacts on host communities is capable of causing spontaneous abortion.
“Lead readily crosses the placenta, and has been found to have teratogenic effects as well as is known to affect the hormonal environment needed to maintain the pregnancy,” the report says.
“Lead has also been found to be associated with stillbirths in humans.”
A 2004 report prepared by CCSG for MiningWatch Canada titled, Overburdened: Understanding the Impacts of Mineral Extraction on Women’s Health in Mining Communities notably mirrors how contaminants such as lead, arsenic affect reproductive health in both genders.
“An analysis of the reproductive health of 131 coal miners’ wives in India (with a total of 300 pregnancies) found that there were 55 (18%) stillbirths with nearly 90% of women experienced bleeding problems following the birth.
Massive destruction of crops and rural livelihoods
Environmental impact of coal mining in host communities visited during this investigation revealed constant reduction in farm yields. Sadly, the level of destruction to farmlands in Onupi, for instance, is better imagined. Its effect on farmers, especially women cannot be overemphasized.
“Water from the coal kept affecting my farm. That is why I left it bushy”, Arameto Yahaya an elderly female farmer who grows cassava and maize shared her story. She could not entirely communicate the defects but repeatedly pointed at coal particles on her farmland.
The farmers during separate interviews recount how soot covers the farmlands in the dry season, while toxins from the coal visibly eats-up cassava roots, majorly during wet seasons.
At one of the farms located few metres to the Mine, a farmer in his 50s quickly uprooted grown cassava which normally should be ready for harvest but almost nothing was found at the root. The cassava tuber looked scrawny – unequal to cassava planted during the same season in a fertile land.
Green leaves of the cassava plants had turned yellow and withered. The stems are like tiny rods while coal particles dot the farmland. Idris Jibril, a 40-year old farmer already lost hope in farming. Toxins from the coal effluents have polluted his farmland rendering it useless.
“How can I farm here?” he queried.
“Look at it. Over three years since they came, my farmland has been destroyed,” says Jibril, father of 10 children who specialise in maize, tomato, cassava, and vegetables plantation to feed his family.
“I complained to them many times. Their manager came here like six times, took pictures and promised to send to Lagos but the problem remains.”
Pointing at a close spot, “…even here, where we stand, used to be my farm. I planted tomato and maize but they converted it to road.”
He revealed how the coalmine firm constructed waste water channel through his farmland without his consent, yet left to bear the brunt.
“The last assessment they did on my farm was just five days ago,” he told The ICIR with endless hope. “If the government can loan me money to cultivate and take care of my children, I’ll be glad”.
Video of Idris Jibril farmer whose farmland was polluted
Other farmers who spoke at different moments with The ICIR shared almost similar stories of how effluent from the Mines is washed to the farms, especially during wet season causing crop losses. Though, compensation was given by the mining firm, as revealed by two of the farmers, but claimed the pay came once after years of repeated losses.
Again, Section 61 of the Mining Act addresses concerns on the waste water from the mine. The Act charges every license holder to, “conduct exploration activities in a safe, friendly, skilful, .efficient, and workmanlike manner in accordance with the regulations;
“…not abstract, divert or discharge water or effluent from any Watercourse except in compliance with a water-use permit and regulations.”
But rather than put an end to the menace, the firm decided to include Jibril’s name among beneficiaries of the surface rent to get returns at the end of each year.
“…that is what they told us when we took his matter to them (Dangote mines) and that is the only thing they said they can do for him,” says Pastor Abraham Dominic, Onupi Community Secretary to Dangote Coalmine.
But then Dominic became worried that the compensation might become irregular after the first payment. So, he pushed for reclamation of the land as it already lost its value.
A 45-year old farmer, who pleaded anonymity, and has been farming for 17 years also belong to this category. He now relies on aides from extended families to meet his family need.
In 2017, when the initial pollution occurred, he was terribly sick that he was admitted at Enugu Specialist Hospital, Enugu State. His wife was with him then, providing needed supports until the news broke – his farmland had been flooded with coal wastes from the mine. Sadly, there was no assessment. He lost the crops with no compensation.
“The wastewater flooded two-third of my farmland thrice – 2017, 2018 and 2019,” he said. “No compensation in 2017. But in 2018, it was assessed and I got over N50, 000 as compensation.”
On 8th October, three days before The ICIR visited, Dangote Coalmines again visited his farm to assess the level of damage due to the same cause with a promise to get back to him.
But for the continuous pollutions, he said he could have made up to N500, 000 from all the crops yearly. Yet he is worried the flooded waste might reoccur next year.
“I’ve been crying over this but there is nothing I can do except government intervene.”
Sadly, nothing has changed despite the lamentation. It is now a reoccurrence with regular promise to compensate the victims rather than halt the continuous pollution.
Ironically, these environmental realities are reflected in a 2015 joint report by the Heinrich Boll Foundation in Nigeria, and the Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) which says Nigeria currently has an estimated coal reserve to the tune of 2.8 billion tonnes.
But the implications of using coal for power generation in the country, the report say are enormous.
“The health implication is the most obvious. Coal combustion accounts for 250,000 deaths per year in China. In Europe, coal-fired plants cause 2.1 million days on medication, 4.1 million lost working days and 28.6 million cases of respiratory complaints,” says Christine K of the Heinrich Boll Foundation.
“Already, millions of farmers are facing shrinking harvests, because their lands are being degraded under a scorching sun; fishing villages have been swallowed up by rising sea levels and whole roads and towns have fallen into erosion gullies.
“It cost trillions of Naira to restore livelihoods and pacify conflicts arising from resource scarcity and migration”.
A similar report by Global Rights themed: Power at all Cost! The opportunity Cost specifically says coal mining has led to drying up of wells in host communities, citing Maiganga community, Gombe State and contamination of streams when effluents from the mines are washed down during wet season due to the landscape – this, a confirmation of the reality in the host communities of Awoakpali and Onupi.
It is mainly dust challenge and soot during the dry season in these affected settlements. The report specifically listed gastrointestinal diseases, liver damage, kidney and nerves defeat among other health conditions susceptible to rural communities in coal mining villages.
Meanwhile, as at the time The ICIR visited Awoakpali community, the nearest Primary Health Care (PHC) centre was under lock at noon. No medical officials were present in the facility. As such, it could not be immediately affirmed the polluted water was responsible for reported miscarriages.
Akabo Albert, Community Health Officer, Awoakpali PHC was eventually contacted to verify the claims. He could not also categorically attribute the reported miscarriages to the polluted stream but explained that pregnant women in the village are more comfortable sharing such concerns with female nurses, mainly in the neighbouring villages – Akunkunda and Awoefiga.
“The most common ailment is Diarrhea, bacterial infection, cough, malaria and gastroenteritis diseases,” says Albert. “The issue of miscarriages is not too common, the reason is they go to female nurses in neighbouring communities because I am a man and they may not feel comfortable sharing such information with me.”
You may read the other part through the following links:
This investigation was supported by The International Centre for Investigative Reporting and 350 Africa