Nigeria is indisputably a country blessed with vast deposits of mineral resources strewn across nearly all of her states, from Plateau in the north to Ogun in the west, with this sheer magnanimity of fate seemingly leaving open the door for the perils of negative mining impacts on the environment.
Mineral exploration and processing are still in infancy and in the hands of small and artisanal miners who although oftentimes are intuitively skilled in the art of mining, having been born to a generation of miners, are ill-equipped with the machinery and education needed to effectively dimension the far-reaching impact of their work. Although the big mining companies are monitored more closely by law, the small miners are largely allowed to suffer in their ignorance, their environmental impacts in steady droplets, overlooked by regulatory agencies and the big buyers who patronise the miners. All parties miss out on the potential to create a thriving economy around these miners.
At the risk of sounding germane, weak legislation regulating mining operations, and even weaker implementation, has not only failed to not close this gap in health, safety and even sustaining entrepreneurship, but it has also resulted in varying degrees of pollution across the country. Air, soil, and water contamination, as well as damage to vegetation, ecological disturbance, natural habitat degradation, radiation risks, geological hazards, and socio-economic issues, are all examples of the pollution experienced.
In Plateau State, for instance, one of Nigeria’s foremost mining regions, there are many mining ponds that have polluted the area and are pollutants for both humans and animals. Deforestation has had a significant effect on natural ecology, and mine sites are vulnerable to erosion due to a lack of vegetation in the region. The contamination in the mining areas is caused by tin waste that was deposited in tailing ponds or abandoned in mines.
Decommissioning and remediation is another matter, as although some of the abandoned mine ponds have been remedied, many others are being used for irrigation and block making. Same difference with the Enugu mines that close and reopen willy-nilly as a result of heavy contamination with toxic metals that are harmful to humans, plants, and water. Groundwater contamination, landscape or land destruction, air pollution from coal dust, and flooding were all popular hazards at these mining sites, the latter two malaise quite common among cement manufacturing, which is the biggest official mining sub-sector in the country. Just to be clear, according to a study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2012, nearly 7 million people died in 2012 as a result of air pollution
Gleaning widely from the Mining Law Review done by the Law Business Research, The Nigeria Minerals and Mining Act, the Minerals and Mining Regulations, the National Environmental Impact Assessment Act and National Environmental Regulations 2009 govern environmental and social considerations for mining activities in Nigeria. The laws require that a mining titleholder send an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report to the Ministry of Environment for approval prior to beginning a mining project. Following the submission of the study, the Ministry will seek input from all public stakeholders on the mining project’s location and the potential negative effects, if any, on the immediate environment. When a project is expected to have a significant environmental effect with no way to mitigate it, it will be referred to mediation or a review panel, which will be the ultimate arbiter of whether the project will be authorised. Subsequent to approval from the Ministry of Environment, the environmental impact report must be sent to the Mines Environmental Compliance Department before the start of mining activities or, as the case may be, when renewing mining titles.
In theory, all of the above is laudable, but in practice, it can be a moral morass to work through, with inter-agency challenges and implementation oversights, particularly with the actual engagement of legitimate and integrous community representatives or with actual mind paid to possible challenges identified during an EIA.
For instance, in the provisions available for Environmental Impact Assessment in these laws, it is not clearly stated as to whether the host or impacted communities make up the committee that assesses what possible effect would arise as a result of a project. And during CSR-in-Action’s engagement with key government staff – across all oil-producing states – during the development of the Community Engagement Standards, state permanent secretaries within the ministries of environment, bemoaned the fact that they never got to eyeball the reports of these mandatory EIAs within the host states, as companies were expected to share such reports directly to the federal oversight body, without recourse to their state counterparts.
None of the community members that CSR-in-Action has ever spoken to has been privy to an EIA, a process which ought to have been concluded before the commencement of a given project. This is especially important because it helps to build trust and could lead to long-lasting collaboration. It is in consideration of this that the Community Engagement Standards recommends that communities be involved in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, seeing as they would bear the brunt of any environmental hazards. This recommendation is in compliance with a government directive asking companies to publicly make the result of an EIA available to the impacted community for at least 21 days.
The Federal Government of Nigeria, with the support of the World Bank, has made many bold moves in the last couple of years, approving research into practices and developing what I would believe to be world-class policies for the mining sector. Although if you were to ask me, without undermining the need for needs analysis and guidance documents, I would say that an inadequacy of laws, is not the primary reason for environmental mismanagement in Nigeria; we can achieve a 180o turn around through sincerity of purpose, collaboration, cultural and technical reorientation, holistic coordination of processes across and within agencies, and commitment with intentionality. Perhaps, if there was a simplification of the process, a process flow for grievance mechanism that cuts across all caders, departments, ministries and states, budding environmental hazards could be nipped in the bud. Perchance the mining sector would one day realise that they are sitting on a minefield of gold: artisanal miners.
Author ~ Bekeme Masade-Olowola