Illegal miners as killers
WITH 22 children dead while many others are in hospital as a result of lead poisoning from illegal mining in some parts of Niger State, what has always been a monumental economic sabotage has now escalated into a human tragedy. The illegal miners are not only depriving the nation of much needed revenue and devastating the environment, the sheer number of fatalities from their operations is such that they have conveniently unleashed mayhem on the nation, snuffing lives out of innocent Nigerians. This lawlessness is unacceptable and should not be condoned by any responsible government. An immediate end must be put to such illegal operations, their perpetrators must be arrested and be made to face the full wrath of the law.
There is a long history of this economic crime and inhumanity to Nigerians that illegal mining has become. There is not one of the 774 local government areas in the country without solid mineral deposits. And there is hardly one where these minerals are not being exploited illegally. In addition to this theft of the nation’s resources, however, are the devastating environmental and human tragedies that come with it. In June 2010, in Zamfara State, for instance, more than 300 people including children died from lead poisoning due to illegal mining.
Indeed, because of poor governance and lax monitoring, the true figure of innocent people who actually die daily from toxins through illegal mining, which is rampant in many parts of the country, is not known.
According to reports, the new wave of deaths occurred in Angwan Maijero and Angwan Karo, Madaka District in Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State.
A technical team, which has visited the affected areas, has been put in place to tackle the problem but the extent to which an ad-hoc team in one state could deal with an endemic problem nationwide is debatable. The establishment of a Presidential Mines Surveillance Task Force in June 2012 has not stopped the activities of illegal miners. So, Nigeria needs a comprehensive solution that would put a final end to illegal mining and death of innocent citizens.
Every state of the federation is bedeviled by illegal mining even though reported cases and fatalities from pollution have largely been from the Northern states, where children under the age of five are the victims. Indeed, the reported cases do not fully represent the extent or scale of the menace because, in reality, man, animals and other living things are exposed to the pollution. With people consuming these domestic animals contaminated with lead, certainly, the danger is greater and the disaster waiting to happen is far worse than the reported deaths now.
Lead is a toxic heavy metal that could accumulate in the bloodstream with exposure. Poisoning occurs when villagers take crushed lead ore home to extract the mineral. In the process, water, soil and other materials used by man are contaminated. Sometimes, hand-to-mouth contamination occurs. The implements used in mining are also contaminated without their knowledge as there is no monitoring of artisanal mining anywhere in the country.
In the Zamfara State case, for instance, it was discovered during the annual immunization exercise that a high number of children were dying in areas where digging for gold was taking place. Tests then showed a high level of lead in the blood.
Illegal mining certainly devastates the population and the environment. In Nigeria especially, there is need to research the impact of lead exposure because the fear is real that too many citizens have been so exposed and tumors, cancers and fetal deformity could be prevalent in future in the affected communities.
The problem is compounded by the fact that there is no data on illegal mining. It is a free-for-all activity without monitoring, arrest or prosecution of perpetrators to the extent that even foreigners are involved. The result is widespread exposure to poisonous materials.
Certainly, it is unfortunate that state governments, by law, cannot license miners in their domain and therefore monitoring is poor. No standard procedures are followed and no one is held responsible for violation of public health and environmental standards as a result of the retrogressive law that confers ownership of all minerals on the Federal Government. The laws that apply to oil also apply to solid minerals. A true federal system should therefore have these resources divested to the federating states or regions where they are found. The states should be allowed to exploit the mineral resources in their domain and therefrom grow their economies.
Since the Federal Government is unable to control illegal mining, even the ban it placed on it in the wake of the deaths in Zamfara State has proven to be a joke, there is need to remove the legal obstacles in order to develop a proper framework for solid mineral exploitation, particularly, artisanal mining in the country.
Now, there is the dangerous trend that the same way gold, lead and other minerals are being mined illegally, uranium, a radioactive mineral, used in the development of nuclear weapons, a huge deposit of which is known to be in some parts of northern Nigeria, is also being mined illegally and smuggled across the borders. This is dangerous.
No nation with a genuine desire for development leaves her natural resources to waste or allows thieves to have a field day. Nigeria’s case beats all reason and the time to address how the nation’s solid mineral deposits are exploited for the nation’s maximum benefit is now. The incoming Muhammadu Buhari administration should do right by changing the status quo and allowing a proper framework that makes the nation enjoy to the fullest those resources she is blessed with.