On June 11, a Trans-Niger Pipeline operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of Nigeria Limited burst open, spilling crude oil into the environment in Aleto, a community in Eleme Local government in Rivers State. The spill also contaminated Okulu River, the only source of drinking water for five communities, threatening residents’ health and affected farms. Arinze Chijioke was in Aleto to capture the level of impact. 

A typical day in Aleto and other surrounding communities in Eleme, which occupies the Western end of Ogoniland land in Rivers state, begins with residents working on their farmlands and young men casting their nets into the Okulu River.

Farming and fishing have been the predominant sources of livelihood for residents of these communities for decades. The river-which extends to over five communities, is always a beehive of activities.

Families living along its banks always come out to relax in the evening hours. Apart from fishing, residents of the communities also drink from the river.

But that was just before a Trans-Niger Pipeline operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of Nigeria Limited, operator of the NNPC/SPDC/Total Energies/NAOC Joint Venture burst open, spilling oil into the environment and the Okulu River.

The point from where the spill started

Now, nobody gets close to the river; it is almost like a ghost town. Many households living close to the river are relocating to avoid the health risks arising from inhaling crude. Some residents have fallen sick as a result. Fishermen have lost their livelihoods. Crops damaged.

In 1993, Shell ceased active exploration and production in the areas covered by Oil Mining License 11, following the unresolved issues between the government and the host communities of Ogoni, which fuelled resistance and restiveness among the people. The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), led by environmental rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa organised protests of around 300,000 Ogoni people against the company.

However, pipelines are still active, including the Trans-Niger Pipeline (TNP), which traverses Ogoniland and is used to transport crude from oil fields in other areas through the communities to export terminals.

As it happened

It was on a Sunday morning in June, Gomba Oluka, a resident, recalled. He had woken up and perceived the smell of crude, and when he came out, he saw that the river was gradually being covered by oil sheens, dead fishes, and other sea creatures mired in sticky crude.

“I could not draw close because of the heat. My eyes started hurting me,” he said. “I returned home and thought we could manage, but it became worse, and my wife and children could not breath well”.

Oluka says the spill impacted on his farmland

The next day, Oluka and his family escaped to Aleto town, where they spent three weeks

“By the time we returned, my sources of livelihood were gone because I fish and feed from the river, “a distraught Oluka said. “My cassava and plantain farms close to the river have also been damaged as a result of the spill, even the economic trees”.  

At least five communities through which the river runs, including Aleto, Ogale, Agbonchia, Onne and Akpajo have been impacted as a result of the spill and more than a month (since June) after the incident occurred, the acrid smell of crude is still fresh in the air, the water surfaces still covered by oil sheens.

Till now, the volume of oil spills has not been determined. Communities’ members say this is not the first time Aleto is experiencing an oil spill. However, it is the biggest in terms of impact.  

An environmentalist whose non-profit, Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre, (YEAC Nigeria), monitors spills in the Delta region,  Fyneface Dumnamene described it as the worse in Ogoniland in the last 16 years after the 2007 crude oil spill in Bodo community.

“Nobody from the company has come to find out how we are surviving following the spill,” Oluka the fisherman said. “I now buy bags of water because our water source is gone, and our boreholes are not even working due to years of exploration. I also buy Fish, all of these things we used to have,”.

Nobody has accepted responsibility for the latest spill. But community members say its equipment failure as the pipeline is hardly maintained or renewed by the company. Every year, several hundred oil spills are recorded in Nigeria, causing significant harm to the environment and putting human lives at risk, but oil companies operating in the region often blame pipeline vandalism by oil thieves or aggrieved young people in affected communities for spills, which could allow the companies to avoid liability.

While there are currently no legally binding regulatory penalties or fines for oil spills in Nigeria, the oil company whose facilities have been compromised are always responsible for the clean-up, regardless of the cause.  The company is also required (by law) to close off/stop the spill within 24 hours of being notified of an oil spill in its jurisdiction.

Working to prevent spills?

On its website, the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) claims that it demonstrates a commitment to improving the quality of life for all those who live and work in the Niger Delta by listening and responding to issues and concerns of host communities of the joint venture operations and facilities and cleaning up all spills from its facilities, irrespective of the cause

It also claims that it continues to undertake initiatives to prevent and minimise spills caused by theft and sabotage of its facilities in the Niger Delta. In 2017, it reported sustained on-ground surveillance efforts on SPDC JV’s areas of operations, including its pipeline network, to prevent incidences of third-party interference and ensure that spills are detected and responded to as quickly as possible.

“We continue to sustain our regime of daily over-flights of the pipeline network areas to identify any new spill incidents or activities,” it said. “We have also installed state-of-the-art high-definition cameras to a specialised helicopter that greatly improves the surveillance of our assets and have implemented anti-theft protection mechanisms on key infrastructure”.

But an environmental activist, Johnson Frank, told The ICIR  that while the company tried to stop the spill days after it occurred, no clean-up has been undertaken so far.  

“We are really angry because the spill has cost the community a lot, and the environment has been damaged,”.

Shell spokesperson Michael Adande said that the Joint Venture and other stakeholders have commenced an investigation to unravel the cause of the incident.

However, Frank does not think any ongoing investigation or negotiation is yielding results because the spills are still visible more than a month later. He says it shows a high level of irresponsibility and disregard for the people and their environment by the company.

“What is most worrying is that the company has not provided water for the people, and they are destroying the one we are using to survive, “he said. “They are only exploiting us and do not have regard for our wellbeing.”.

Health threatened

Martha Egbe, a resident of the community, has been stooling and vomiting ever since she ate a fish she bought from the local market to prepare soup for her family.

“After using it to cook, I felt crude in the soup and had to pour everything away, “But it had already got into my system and destabilised me, “she recalled. “Now, I am taking some drugs so I can regain my health”.

Egbe, who also suffered shortness of breath, lost her Cassava farm as a result of the spill.  She said that the community has recorded several illnesses and even deaths in the past due to oil spills.  

“When I dig the ground, I discover that my Cassava tubers are rotten. It is the same thing for households who have farmlands close to the river”, said Egbe, who was part of those who protested, demanding immediate action from the company.

Crude on debris from the river

She spoke of how she noticed the spill that Sunday morning on her way to Port Harcourt for a meeting and quickly called some young men in the community who mobilised to the location where the pipeline burst open.

“Now, our young men are without jobs because their source of livelihood, which is fishing, has been destroyed.

 “We cannot even go to our farms again because there is nothing to harvest” she explained. 

Joy Sunday owns mini provisions store close to the river, and her customers are usually those who come to relax and others who used to sell fish caught from the river.

“That is what I have been using to survive and train my children. But the spill has sent many of them away from the community, and that is affecting my income. Some days, I don’t make sales” Sunday told The ICIR.

Ogoni, a land still waiting for clean up

Since 2010, there have been 11,309 documented oil spills in the Niger Delta Region.  Out of this number, 2619 have been recorded within Shell’s jurisdiction, according to data from the website of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA). 

In 2022, the agency recorded a total of 596 oil spills, resulting in 18,855 barrels spewing into the environment. Shell alone had 160 spills and 1186 barrels.

In 2006, the Nigerian government commissioned the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to conduct an environmental assessment of Ogoniland, the epicentre of spills with over 261 communities. Its report released in 2011 criticised Shell and the Nigerian government for 50 years of pollution, recommending the creation of a USD 1 billion Environmental Restoration Fund for clean-up.

The government announced a clean-up in 2016 after the relaunch of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP).  But activists like Morris Alagoa, head of field operations, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), say that both clean-up and remediation have been very slow.

In 2020, an international coalition of civil society organisations (CSO) consisting of Amnesty International, ERA/FoEN Europe and Milieudefensie/Friends of the Earth Netherlands released a report detailing the extent to which the government and the Anglo-Dutch oil giant have implemented UNEP’s recommendations.

Titled No Clean-Up, No Justice: An Evaluation of the Implementation of UNEP’s environmental assessment of Ogoniland, nine years on, the report also confirmed that progress has been slow, lacking transparency and accountability as HYPREP has only focused on a fraction of the total area-67 sites, covering a surface area of 943 hectares-identified by UNEP as needing clean-up and remediation, with only a few sites appearing to follow the required remediation procedures.

This is even when the Ogoni Trust Fund received the first payment of US$10 million from the oil industry in 2017 and further payments in 2018 and 2019, bringing the total to US$360 million.

Alagoa adds that the community entry issues and stakeholders’ disagreements also affect the pace of work in Ogoni. He said there were distrust and misunderstanding regarding the scope of work and what needed to be done.

“Some community stakeholders were seeking explanations, especially as to how it affected their communities,” he said. “They were either trying to ensure they were not shortchanged or for their benefits as per the entire project”.

The programme manager, Portharcourt Office of ERA/FoEN, Kentebe Ebiaridor says that the latest spill has a significant impact on the ongoing clean-up efforts in Ogoniland because there ought to be a decommissioning which is the strategic approach to deactivating a project or facility from service as required by the UNEP report while the clean-up is ongoing.

“Sadly, they have boycotted that process, and that is why we have spill almost every week in the region, which continues to increase the poverty rate of the people and reduce the economy of the communities and also threaten their health”.

Ebiaridor said that the Nigerian government must start thinking about alternative sources of income and energy outside of oil which should remain in the soil, especially since it has impacted lands, water, air and livelihoods.

NOSDRA accused of deliberately delaying report of the spill

Members of the affected communities and environmental activists are accusing the NOSDRA of deliberately refusing to conclude and release its Joint Investigative Visit (JIV) report from the community more than a month ago.

On its website, the agency states that a JIV must (by law) be carried out as soon as possible after a spill has been identified and containment measures are taken. The JIV involves oil company representatives, community representatives, and appropriate government agencies visiting the oil spill site to agree on the spill’s cause, impact and scale.

After the visit, the resulting JIV document is signed by all parties present and forms the basis of any legal proceedings or compensation claims. But it has been more than a month since the spill was reported. Yet, NOSDRA has not concluded its JIV.

The Trans-Niger Pipeline

When contacted, Zonal Director of NOSDRA, Ime Ekanem said, “We are yet to conclude the JIV, as at Friday, July 14 and Saturday, July 15, what we were doing was the delineation and mapping of the impact areas”.

Reacting, Fyneface of the YEAC said that NOSDRA’s prolonged silence on the oil spill calls to question the agency’s capacity to still be trusted with the responsibility of oil spill detecting and response.

“It is worrisome and unacceptable that till now, NOSDRA has not been able to synergise with community people, Shell and other stakeholders and agree on the cause of the devastating crude oil spill in Eleme,” he told The ICIR.

He also said that the Eleme spill portends what is to come for host communities in the Niger Delta because obsolete pipelines would continue to burst and spill crude into the environment. This, according to him, is despite the coming into force of the Petroleum Industry Act (2021).

“The Indigenous companies buying the divested facilities of the International Oil Companies are inheriting liabilities with meagre resources, technology and manpower to manage the facilities and address incidences of oil spills when they occur,” he said.  

Shell refuses to react to spill

In order to get Shell to respond to questions regarding the spill, this reporter contacted three workers at the company, including Osilaollor Dabor, Sunny Abuede and Babalola Akinpelumi. But all of them refused to speak on the matter, insisting that they were not in the position to respond.

However, Shell’s spokesperson, Adande was quoted as saying that they were working closely with a multi-stakeholder Joint Investigation Visit team led by NOSDRA, in collaboration with Rivers State Ministry of Environment and community representatives, as the investigation into the cause and impact of the incident progresses.


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By Frederick Clayton and Sonja Smith

Photography by Margaret Courtney-Clarke

Ever since independence, Namibians have sought education, employment and better lives in Windhoek, the country’s political and industrial epicentre. It’s harder to make a living in rural Namibia – southern Africa’s driest savannah – where there’s little to no infrastructure, investment or industry. With so few opportunities to work and study, thousands leave for the city every year, and the capital’s population has tripled since independence.

2022 – In Max-Mutongolume, an extension of the Havana informal settlement outside of Windhoek, toilets built by Development Workshop Namibia in 2019 for the Smart Kindergarten preschool are kept locked at all times for fear of vandalism. To use the toilets, which are painted with instructional graphics on how to use them properly, children are accompanied by a volunteer supervisor.

This influx of migration has stretched the city’s limits and worsened sanitation. Informal settlements, like Havana, have expanded uncontrollably as people arrive faster than Windhoek can provide services. These newcomers build shacks in tiny pockets of space without any regulation, arrangement or design. 

“There’s no structure, no planning; you cannot put in water pipes,” said Sebastian Husselmann, Windhoek’s chief engineer for bulk and wastewater. “How do you put a sewage network in an unplanned area?”

Conditions here are perfect for the spread of disease as overcrowding leads to the cross-contamination of faeces, water and food. “Some of them are 19, 20, 35 in one house. One toilet for 35 people – it’s not healthy or hygienic,” says Councilor Rodman Katjaimo.  

This is where Hepatitis E hit hardest, accounting for 62% of confirmed and suspected cases during Namibia’s recent outbreak, which started in 2017.

2019 – An oryx suffered a common fate for many wild animals in the arid Namib desert of western Namibia. The poorly maintained fences surrounding the national park separate wildlife from the few sources of water that exist on neighboring private land. In their search, the animals will try to jump the fence, only to end up trapped and mauled to death by jackals, vultures or hyenas

In the run-up to the 2019 elections, President Hage Geingob declared living conditions in informal settlements a “humanitarian crisis” and promised to rid cities of shacks before 2024. But this hasn’t happened. In Windhoek, they are now growing at a rate of 10% each year, according to Sade Gawanas, the city’s former mayor and member of the Landless People’s Movement Party. 

Namibia’s urban and rural development minister, Erastus Uutoni, declined to comment on the government’s failure to slow the growth of informal settlements, but, in February 2023, he said Namibia faced serious sanitation problems if urbanization was left unchecked. He called on local authorities to direct budgeting toward sanitation infrastructure and upgrading the informal settlements. 

Ten years ago, Letisia Nghiondjwa, 44, moved to Havana with her husband from Okanguati village in northern Namibia “for a better life.” She makes a living selling fat cakes — fried dough coated in sugar — and oshikundu, a traditional Namibian brew. But she and her husband are two of many who have been squeezed into dangerously squalid conditions.

“We live by the dumpsite, and when it rains you cannot sleep [because of] the smell,” she says. “It’s been 10 years now, and nothing much has been done by the government to make our lives easier… We sleep in sewage.”

Across the political spectrum, ministers, politicians and councillors have called for greater investment in rural areas, and yet Namibia’s rural development and coordination budget dropped 33% between 2019 and 2022, according to CCIJ’s analysis.

2022 – Martin Bonafatius, 32, and his neighbors work to extend a communal water point to the next neighborhood in Kavango East in northern Namibia. The government installed one tap for a large community, and so residents have chipped in to buy pipes and dig trenches to extend the line. Two 100-meter pipes cost N $5800 (or about $400), as well as a free dayÕs labor from six men. The first tap was installed in the 1990s. The residents have built seven more since 2020. ÒWe donÕt want to die waiting for [the] government,Ó he says.

“Everybody over the years has just been centralizing into Windhoek,” said Archie Benjamin, SWAPO member and CEO for the municipality of Swakopmund. “The intention of the government at independence was to develop the rural areas to such an extent that people don’t feel the need to relocate, but that has not really worked out.”

The government must act soon if it wants to address this growing issue. Urbanization is creating conditions that lead to more death and disease as settlements like Havana expand, and climate change is exacerbating the problem as persistent drought conditions for the past seven years have left many in rural Namibia who depend on crops and livestock jobless.

Simon Dirkse, head of climate at Windhoek’s Meteorological Institute, was pessimistic in his assessment of Namibia’s future and the impact of more extreme weather events. “Yes, climate change is forcing migration,” he said, adding “our poverty levels and these extreme events don’t go together.”

But people need to work. Selma Mpasi, 21, who sits in the shade selling oranges by the side of the road with her two-year-old daughter sleeping on her lap, said business is slow, with fewer tourists passing these days. “Our lands are so dry,” she says. “I want to go to Windhoek.”

2022 – Two typical government toilets in a state of disrepair in Havana, an informal settlement on the outskirts of Namibia’s capital.

Namibia is one of many countries in Africa struggling with the harshest impacts of climate change, but here the issue is amplifying the lack of adequate sanitation in and around cities.

Attempts to fill the sanitation gaps

 Ndahambelela Indongo, 39, lives in Max-Mutongolume, a community inside Havana informal settlement. She used to walk for an hour into the hills to find a safe space to defecate, but after learning about the negative health effects, she built her own toilet and tippy tap – a hygienic hand-washing mechanism that uses running water.  

Indongo got her information from a sanitation center run by Development Workshop Namibia (DW), an NGO that has helped communities across the country become open defecation free (ODF) – status granted when a community shows an ongoing adoption of good hygiene practice and all its members have access to sanitation facilities, with at least 80% of residents using them.   

DW does this by using Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), a collaborative, bottom-up approach aimed at achieving and sustaining ODF free status by focusing on “igniting a change in sanitation behaviour through community participation rather than constructing toilets.” Facilitators trained on CLTS help community members understand the consequences of open defecation, which they hope will lead to mobilization, a demand for sanitation and the community deciding for themselves what action they will take.  

Since its inception, DW says it has built 66 sanitation centers in public spaces that each include a demonstration toilet to incentivize residents to build their own. To date, it claims it has trained 323 local brick-layers in toilet construction, who can then offer their services to assist residents. (CCIJ has not been able to independently verify those figures.)

 In the absence of government-backed sanitation services and information campaigns, schemes like these have helped transform informal settlements and rural communities by creating a demand for sanitation and motivating residents to invest in solutions. But only 13 areas in Namibia are currently ODF. 

2022 – Roughly 90 kilometers outside of Rundu, Namibia, Mr. Hangura, 84, was en route from his far-off resettled farm to collect water for his family but got stranded with a punctured tire. While his oxen graze in the bushes, he waits for a grandson to return with a repaired inner tube, which he says could take two days.

 Organizations like DW and UNICEF cannot facilitate this kind of change nationwide, and Shuuya is realistic about what Namibia can accomplish without government support. “We are not going to be able to achieve the SDG6 goal unless something drastic happens,” he said. “We need a national campaign with proper government leadership to promote the importance of sanitation. That would really make a change.”

Reasons for hope 

Since the turn of the millennium, the number of people using basic sanitation services in Botswana has increased by 28.1%, and the country was among just a handful of sub-Saharan nations to achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goals of halving the number of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015, doing so five years ahead of schedule.

Botswana continues to improve sanitation by actively advocating and improving legislation while promoting hygiene. In 2017, the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services laid out its responsibilities of “coordinating and monitoring sanitation services,” managing “on-site sanitation” and improving WASH services alongside the Ministry of Health. 

Botswana has also invested in both wet and dry sanitation. And, since 2001, the government has allocated almost a fifth of its budget to health care every year.

The nation now faces its own challenges in reaching zero open defecation by 2030, as diarrheal diseases remain a prominent concern, and there is still a stark gap between urban and rural sanitation levels. But Botswana’s government understands that prioritizing sanitation and public health underpins economic growth and better living conditions, which is reflected in deliberate strategy and policy. 

By contrast, progress in Namibia has faltered. However, there is still a chance that the country will embrace more aggressive investment and focus on improving sanitation by raising awareness and working with communities.  

SWAPO’s 2021 Harambee Prosperity Plan II allocated N$120 million ($8 million) to officially launch CLTS in Namibia and “increase WASH awareness through the community construction of latrines.” The government has also trained staff from four ministries on CLTS, while the latest draft of Namibia’s 2022-2027 National Sanitation and Hygiene Strategy combines “awareness development” and “changing social norms” with providing infrastructure.

Later in 2021, the government also launched the Namibia Water Sector Support Programme (NWSSP), one of the nation’s biggest ever infrastructure projects aimed at directly improving sanitation for 1 million Namibians, funded by a $121.7 million loan from the Africa Development Bank in 2019. Targets include reducing open defecation in rural areas to 55% by 2025 and ensuring access to improved sanitation services for all Namibians by 2030.

2019 – Though living in a country plagued by hardships, Selma Jacobs performs a traditional rain dance across the barren Omongwa (ÒSaltÓ) Pan in eastern Namibia. Of prime importance to the Kalahari bushmen/San groups are ritual dances that serve to heal the group. Here Selma goes into a trance dance while women clap their hands and chant to her altered state of existence. Birth, death, gender, rain and weather are all believed to have supernatural significance.

When the project was launched in August 2021 by Calle Schlettwein, Namibia’s Minister for Agriculture, Water and Land Reform, he urged service providers, contractors and consultants not to cut corners and appealed for “accountability, transparency and a corruption-free atmosphere to prevail.” 

This sounds good on paper, but after more than a year, the scheme’s major projects are still in the design and procurement phase. Schlettwein’s office admitted that the NWSSP had had “a slow start” and that “much more funding” would be required to meet SDG6. 

Lukas Shilongo, 21, who lives in Havana, is already skeptical. “They make campaigns, lie to us, then they forget,” he said. “They promise us water, electricity, toilets. [They don’t] come.”

Gawanas, the former Windhoek mayor, agreed that leaders had used sanitation as a campaign tactic during elections and later broke their promises. “I don’t think [politicians] want to solve the problem,” she said. “They want to keep people begging for more because it is their tool to stay in power.”  

Geingob was reelected as president for a second term in 2019. However, that election saw SWAPO’s vote percentage drop significantly from 87% in 2014 to 56% — its biggest loss of support in the nation’s history, as drought, recession and a massive corruption scandal weighed on voters.

2022 – By this time of year, in the rural Kavango East region of northern Namibia, residents would usually be plowing their farms. Now that the rain arrives two months later, their only business is to sell oranges on the roadside.

As Namibians return to the ballot box in 2024, they may be tired of begging for their human rights, too. As SWAPO’s electoral dominance fades, politicians of all parties and at every level could be forced to keep their promises on sanitation services, or risk being held accountable at the polls. 

Alfons Kaundu, a Mbunza traditional authority chief in rural Namibia, thinks that’s a possibility. “People are suffering here,” he said. “The government is not respecting people’s rights. [But] maybe the next election is going to be different.” 

Namibia’s rural development and coordination budget drop was calculated using Vote 17 found in Government Accountability Reports from 2019-2020 and 2021-2022.

This report was produced by the Centre for Collaborative Investigative Journalism (CCIJ), a non-profit organisation that brings together investigative reporters, visual storytellers and data scientists to investigate key global issues affecting communities. This report was supported by the Pulitzer Centre.


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Coal was first discovered in Nigeria in 1909 at Udi in Enugu, south-eastern Nigeria. The country’s first coal mine, the Ogbete mine, opened six years later. The Nigerian Coal Corporation (NCC) was formed in 1950, taking on operations of Ogbete and other major coal mines across the country. 

Coal was one of Nigeria’s primary exports for much of the 20th century. However, significant changes in the Nigerian energy market increased the utilization of petroleum as a fuel source. Further disruption to the coal industry due to the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War in 1967 and the Nigerian Enterprise Promotion Decree in 1972, which sought to transfer business ownership to Nigerians, contributed to significant declines in foreign investment and many foreign mining companies left the country. 

The Nigerian Coal Corporation eventually went bankrupt in 2002, leaving many of its mines abandoned without proper closure. The country has considerable remaining coal reserves. Production has dwindled over the past 20 years, hitting a record low of 40,000 metric tonnes in 2012. Olajide Adelana reports.

Abandoned coal mines: Enugu’s charred past hurting its present

Enugu – A once-forested valley sits silent as a graveyard. The scars left by heavy machinery on the swaths of forest are still evident, with chunks of coal waste littering the ground. Once seething like a beehive, the now abandoned Onyeama Coal Mine in the southeastern Nigerian city of Enugu, has become a shadow of itself.  The coal mine is one of Nigeria’s derelict coal fields which was closed in 2002 when the Nigerian Coal Corporation went bankrupt. Now the area is mostly farmland.

But the land is not fertile.

Sunday Okeke, a farmer, walks along one of the narrow paths into the mine looking very upset.  The maize he planted sprouted into healthy green stalks, and there was hope for a moment –until the stalks started wilting. Unemployed and with dim prospects of getting a job, Okeke and some residents of Onyeama, who once worked in the mine resorted to farming to feed their families. This decision was their undoing as they rarely make a profit. 

“The land is not very fertile. I only plant vegetables and some crops that are not deep-rooted, because they do not require as much nutrients and fertilizers,” he says. “I tried planting maize and I am disappointed at the outcome.” 

Many farmers in the areas are unaware that mining activities in their community years ago removed the topsoil, which contains much of the moisture and nutrients that crops need. They end up spending money on fertilizers, which reduces their profit. The Onyeama mine also polluted the water used for farming and household use. Bright-orange runoff from tunnels at the abandoned mine drains into local water sources. 

Communities across Nigeria face danger and pollution from abandoned mines

As of 2017, Nigeria had an estimated 1,200 identified abandoned mining sites—sites where mining activities ceased without proper closure or reclamation and continue to degrade the environment and pose physical dangers in the form of weakened and collapsing mine shafts, sinkholes, and water-filled pits.

The 2007 Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act, requires “progressive reclamation” – reclamation activities carried out simultaneously with mining operations – in newly approved industrial mining projects. The act also calls for mining companies to establish a reserve fund for environmental protection, mine rehabilitation, reclamation, and closure costs.  Although most of the now-abandoned mines in Nigeria, including in Enugu, predate the 2007 legislation, there have been few material changes in practice since the act was passed.

Section 30 of the Act stressed that, “a tax deductible reserve for environmental protection, mine rehabilitation, reclamation and mine closure costs shall be established by companies engaged in the exploitation of mineral resources.”

Reclamation includes filling depressions or hollows with soil or rock removed during excavation and planting trees to stabilize and restore the mined area. Best practices also include repairing wildlife habitats; removing office buildings, processing facilities, and transportation equipment; and sealing mine shafts and other openings. 

In Akwuke community, Enugu South Local Government Area (LGA), Enugu state, close to Okpara Mine, there is a complete collapse of mining infrastructure years after mining activities had taken place. The mining site was abandoned by the operators without efforts to address impacts on the community, residents alleged.

“Except for those who were employed when the coal mine was still active, there is no tangible benefit our community has gained from mining,” says youth community leader Sunday Nsude, pointing to an untarred road that has deteriorated due to flooding and poor maintenance.

Simon Ude, a resident, who worked as a security guard at the mine from 1996 and 2006, says he was laid off after the mine closed and given no severance pay. 

“I was not compensated and I am not the only one. I have a friend whose years of service was just 9 years and 9 months and he was also laid off without pay.”  Nigerian labour laws require compensation for laid-off employees based on the length of their employment. 

“I had to restart my life from scratch. I started a firewood business, but the income is insufficient to take care of my family’s needs,” Ude says with a tinge of regret

Since the Onyeama, Iva Valley, Ribadu, Okpara and Ogbete Mines (all located in Enugu) were abandoned, locals have had to contend with varying degrees of environmental and physical hazards. 

Mike Achio, who once worked in the Onyeama Coal Mine and now heads a community-led security team, says that the abandoned mine is now a hideout for criminals. 

“We regularly contend with criminal elements who have mastered the art of coming into the community to inflict pain on residents and escape through the abandoned mine,” he says. “Recently, we arrested some people at night peddling hard drugs, including cocaine and heroin, in the community.”

Achio, pointed out that respiratory diseases —including coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly known as black lung disease —are also common among miners, due to long-term exposure to airborne coal dust.

 “Although I am lucky and have no issues with my health, many of my colleagues are not,” says Achio. “They are battling with different health problems such as chest pains and breathing problems. The majority of them were left to bear the consequences of long years of working at the mine without any help.”

Dr Onwubere Basden Jones, a medical expert specialising in cardiovascular and congestive heart diseases, says that elderly people in mining communities are likely to have co-morbidities associated with mining. 

“Years back when mining was still actively going on in these communities, there was an upsurge in the number of patients seeking medical attention for different diseases, including respiratory diseases,” he says. 

A city on the verge of collapse

Communities along the mining corridors in Enugu are also facing a range of environmental challenges, including flooding and landslides and significant erosion. Residents of Enugu-Ngwo, Amuzam, Agbaja Ngwo, and Nsude said that houses and properties have been washed away by gully erosion caused by heavy rains and landslides.

Despite these challenges, little research has been conducted on the impact of these abandoned mines on the environment. 

“A lot of people do not know the extent of the damage mining did to Enugu,” says Chinedu Nwafor, executive director of the Africa for Africa Initiative. He adds a warning about the state’s capital city of Enugu: The city is sitting on a ticking time bomb. If nothing is done, Enugu might collapse. “I don’t know why the government is yet to see this as an emergency.”

In particular, the network of underground mining tunnels in Enugu is poorly mapped so no one knows their full extent or how it may be exacerbating flooding and erosion issues. The local media have reported that the area is at risk of cave-ins. “Sometimes in the city you will notice a lot of earth movements and the land will collapse inward. This shows that that place is empty below,” says Nwafor.

Local sources including former miners estimate that the underground tunnels from Onyeama and Ribadu mines lead to Nsude (18 miles) and Abor (12 miles) respectively.

Lack of government action 

State and federal officials have paid some lip service to the impacts of abandoned mines on human health and the environment but have made little effort to address them. Ayodeji Adeyemi, a special adviser to the minister of mines and steel development, did not respond to requests for comment, despite promising on several occasions to forward queries to the appropriate desk and provide a response.

Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and one of the three senators representing Enugu State in the National Assembly did not respond to multiple emails. His assistant, Mr Uche Anuchukwu, acknowledged receipt of the inquiries made but did not reply.

Enugu state’s Environment and Mineral Resources commissioner, Mr Chijioke Edeoga denied knowledge of any challenges posed by abandoned mines in his state. He maintains that his office has never received an official complaint about the matter. 

“I am not aware. There is no official complaint from these communities to my office. “The state government cannot be blamed, as the mining sector is under the federal government. They (federal government) should be the one to put things in order.” 


Abandoned mining pits on farmland near a stream in the Sabon Barki area of Plateau State

The federal government is undertaking some interventions to mitigate the impacts of abandoned mines in Enugu State as part of the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP), but experts say that an expansive and thorough environmental audit needs to be conducted across the entire mining corridor in Enugu to inform strategies for long-term, sustainable solutions. 

“Any palliative or reclamation done without a comprehensive environmental audit to ascertain the level of devastation and the funding required to remedy it is unlikely to be a sustainable solution,” says Nwafor. “It is superficial and amounts to poor utilization of funds.”

Residents consider the government’s efforts to be merely cosmetic. A resident of Enugu- Ngwo, who identified himself as Chinedu acknowledged the efforts but said more funding and commitment are needed given the number of affected sites. 

Nigeria’s Small-Scale Mines Leaves A Legacy Of Ruin In Ebonyi, Enugu, Plateau, Nasarawa, Others

Nigeria also has many artisanal and small-scale mines that provide a livelihood for thousands of people, most of them mining gold, gemstones, and cassiterite (a tin oxide mineral). This segment of the extractives industry employs an estimated 400,000 and 500,000 people and currently accounts for more than 90% of solid mineral extraction in the country.

However, this activity is poorly regulated by the government. Most miners operate outside the formal regulatory regime, without licenses or permits.  As a result, communities suffer from environmental degradation and negative health consequences. These mining sites are rarely properly closed or remediated, creating hazards for communities long after miners have moved on. 

In Ebonyi state, the landscape is punctuated with pockets of abandoned mining pits. Two kids while away time in one of them near the town of Ihotor-Ameka, singing as they run in circles and then collapse on a heap on the muddy soil, giggling.

Okeh Gloria, a resident, recalls the day in 2019 when her third child, 2-year-old Sylvanus, was in pain and fighting for his life. His eyes had rolled back in his head, his mouth closed. His muscles tightened and he struggled to breathe. Gloria and her husband were distraught.

Jittery, Gloria squeezed his jaws open and poured palm oil down his throat. She had seen many others in the community use this remedy and thought it might help. But Sylvanus’s condition only worsened. 

“I cried and prayed when I saw him convulsing. I could not believe what I was seeing,” says Gloria. Sylvanus was later rushed to hospital, where he stayed for six days before he regained consciousness and began his journey to recovery. The family had to pay N50,000 for his treatment.

The couple suspected heavy metal poisoning as the cause of their child’s sickness. Ihotor-Ameka has huge deposits of minerals, notably lead and zinc, and is littered with mining pits from both abandoned and active artisanal and small-scale mines. 

When the pits are flooded after heavy rains, the miners pump the water into the surrounding environment, including rivers and streams. The risk of water and soil pollution with heavy metals is high. 

“Although we could not explain it, we knew the reason for his ailment cannot be dissociated from our environment,” Gloria says. Several weeks after her son became sick, other residents began to show similar symptoms. 

“My neighbour’s son was sick and convulsing,” she says. “Two days later, he died. He was only 3 years old.”  

Water samples collected from the area and tested at the Institute for Agricultural Research, Zaria and the National Research Institute for Chemical Technology (NARICT) had a lead (Pb) concentration of nearly 408 parts per million (ppm); for reference, a U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule requires systems to monitor drinking water if lead concentrations exceed 0.015ppm. 

Heavy metals can harm the body even in small doses. Lead exposure can be especially dangerous for children, causing damage to the brain and nervous system, stunted growth and development, behavioural and learning challenges, and hearing and speech problems. Seizures and convulsions are among the more severe neurological symptoms associated with lead overexposure. 

Diagnostic capacity is a challenge in Nigeria, including testing for heavy metal poisoning. People come down with strange illnesses that often are left undiagnosed, even after evaluations by experienced physicians. 

But this is not news. In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a high incidence of convulsions and death in young children due to lead poisoning in five mining villages in Zamfara State. The number of children affected continues to grow

Many blame the informal and unregulated activities of artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM) who make up 85 per cent of miners in Nigeria’s extractive industry according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Artisanal and small-scale mining differs from medium and large-scale mining. There is limited available information on production, revenues, operations, and location of their activities.

“The havoc that these artisanal and small-scale miners cause is often overlooked because they don’t necessarily carry heavy machinery to the site,” says David Bade, a farmer whose land is threatened by abandoned mining pits in Yelwa community, Kokona LGA, Nasarawa State.

“They came in droves, took over our farmlands and started digging for tourmaline, a gemstone,” he adds. “Several months later, they vacated the site and moved elsewhere.”

Bade says he has noticed a sharp decrease in his harvest because his farmland is no longer fertile. As lead deposits are common in the area, it is also possible that the miners may have kicked up lead-contaminated soil and dust in their search for gemstones. 

“Before, I used to harvest up to 300 bags of maize; now I rarely get up to half of that. I have also been attacked by snakes and other reptiles that hide in the holes. I have lost two of my dogs to snake attacks.”

This is not unexpected, says Ibrahim Yahaya, an official of Nasarawa State Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. “Mining can severely alter the soil and reduce its fertility. When miners dig into the earth for these minerals, they inadvertently dump the excavated materials on the topsoil. This is called over-burden and it makes it more difficult for crops to access nutrients,” he says.

Soil samples collected from Bade’s farmland and tested at the Institute for Agricultural Research and the National Research Institute for Chemical Technology showed levels of metals that are poisonous to plants, including 1,350 ppm of copper. According to the U.S. EPA, normal soil has a copper content of 1 to 200 ppm. The concentration of zinc in the soil was 2,090 ppm, also much higher than normal levels. The concentration of lead was 1,560 ppm; the EPA recommends avoiding growing vegetables in soil with lead concentrations of more than 400 ppm.

How large companies enable informal mining 

Artisanal and small-scale miners operate as part of a broader mining ecosystem in Nigeria. With limited access to capital, they are often financed by sponsoring companies that take a large cut of their profits. The sponsors have mastered the art of profiteering from Nigeria’s weak mining regulations and enforcement. In the states visited, the number of artisanal and small-scale miners continues to grow due to the availability of a ready buyer.  

Some larger mining companies have reportedly given artisanal miners access to concessions that they are not actively mining. A Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) audit report covering activities in the extractive sector from 2007 to 2010 found that only 30 per cent of the companies holding mining titles were engaged in active quarrying, mining, and exploration.  

In Ebonyi State, most big mining companies with or without licenses grant access to their mining site to artisanal miners, often members of the local community. The company pays a negotiated fee to the landowner and local authorities but retains exclusive rights to the mined commodity. One source noted that many of these companies are Chinese. 

“They send scouts to the community to negotiate with individual landowners who believe they have mineral resources underneath their properties. Afterwards, they agree on fees to be paid to the landowner and local authorities in the area, often the traditional heads,” says Chikezie, a miner in Ameka.

The government has signalled intentions to formalize the sector, improve revenue collection, and increase the contribution of solid minerals to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). But progress has been slow and uneven, complicated by a lack of geological information and limited government capacity. Mine closure and remediation do not appear to have featured heavily in discussions about formalization. 

One small-scale granite miner in Umuogharu, Ezza North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, who declined to give her name for security reasons, said the state government is aware of their informal mining activities.

“We pay the necessary levies and go about our activities,” she says, adding that discussions on abandoned mines and proper mining site closure were rare in their interactions with the state government.

In Wamba community, Nasarawa State, large mining corporations and the locals agreed on a sharing formula for the proceeds from mining activities.

One of the locals, Kasim Usman said, “When they (mining company) came in 2019, we agreed that a certain percentage of the mineral resources mined would be given to the community. One-third is paid to the local government as royalty, one-third is paid to the owner of the land owner where the resources were mined, and one-third is paid to the community.”

Neither the mining companies nor the artisanal miners take responsibility for the proper closure and reclamation of mining sites. They simply move on to another location.  The exploitative behaviour of these large-scale companies is often the root cause of community corruption and violence, and it results in a massive loss of revenue to the government. In turn, poor revenue from the sector makes budgetary allocations and funding for the reclamation of abandoned mines difficult for the government.

Lives lost, livelihoods affected in Plateau, Nasarawa, others

In Plateau state, years of complaints by mining communities about the wreckage caused by abandoned mining pits have fallen on deaf ears. Belied by its beautiful scenery, abandoned mining pits in Jos city are now potential death traps for residents of the area.

Tin was discovered in Jos plateau at the turn of the 20th century and colonial mining began soon thereafter. These tin mines were largely abandoned following the 1972 nationalization policy, which broke the monopoly of foreign interests, particularly of British firms. Decades later, tin mining communities are still struggling with the negative effects of mining on human health and the environment. 

Today, informal artisanal and small-scale miners operating on meagre profit margins work in these abandoned mines. This carries a unique set of risks and dangers. 

In December 2019, an inactive mining pit in Zawan community, Jos South LGA, collapsed, killing six people who were illegally prospecting for tin and other minerals. Eyewitnesses said that more than 50 people were in the pit before it collapsed. 

In Sabon-Barki, Jos South LGA, residents are fearful when it rains because of how abandoned mining sites channel floodwaters. In April 2021, a 4-year-old girl was swept away after a heavy downpour.

“She was returning from school alongside her brother when the flood carried her from Dadin Kowa to Muchogopyeng,” says Belinda Yusuf, a resident of the area.

In Keffi, Nasarawa state, the Five-Star Mining Company allegedly vacated its mining project without reclamation after an outcry by residents of the area over the incessant blasting of rocks. The abandoned site sits behind Keffi Secondary School.

“Each time they blasted the rocks, strong vibrations reverberated throughout the entire area,” says resident, Garakuwa Zubairu. “Our buildings began to crack from the foundation.” 

He said residents complained to the company and asked them to reduce the blasting activity but to no avail. The company maintained that it was licensed by the federal government to carry out its activities. They brought their complaints to state government authorities, who inspected the site and directed the company to stop work. The company then vacated the site without doing reclamation work. 

Abandoned silver mining pits in Keffi area of Nasarawa State

Checks at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), showed that the company is inactive and was incorporated on January 6, 1993.  The company is headquartered in Calabar with Janet Okok, Effiong Effiong, George Effiong, and Nkoyo Effiong on the board of directors. 

Slow progress on reclamation

Government remediation efforts date back to 1955 when the federal government reclaimed abandoned mining sites managed by Northern Regional Government at the time. The reclamation of several other abandoned sites followed in 1980. 

In 2017, the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development (MMSD), which oversees the solid minerals subsector in Nigeria, said it would spend N1.67tr to reclaim more than 1,600 abandoned mine sites across the country. 

A total of 32 mining sites were reclaimed between 2007 and 2019 for N2.39 billion naira or about N75 million per mine – less than the amount originally projected.  (In 2014, a ministry official named Salim Adebgoyega,  had put the reclamation cost per abandoned mine at N80m to N100m, depending on the size of the site.*

Progress has been much slower than expected. The ministry initially projected that 100 sites would be reclaimed annually between 2007 and 2020. An inventory of abandoned mines and quarries commissioned by the ministry in 2017 to evaluate the environmental and social risks associated with past mining activities is yet to be released officially. The Environmental Protection and Rehabilitation Fund (EPRF) called for in the 2007 Nigeria Mining Act is not fully operational.

The ministry did not respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted on September 29, 2021, asking for specific details about progress on mine remediation and closure – including a list of all abandoned mining sites identified by the ministry, reclaimed abandoned mining sites, the cost of the reclamation of the sites, and the status of the EPRF. The ministry acknowledged receipt of the request and asked for ample time to compile the required information, adding that the process of revalidating abandoned mines and quarries was ongoing.

The federal government has allocated significant funds to the reclamation of abandoned mines but has achieved little in terms of value for money. Analysis of the ministry’s budget showed that at least N2.43bn was spent on activities related to reclamation between 2015 and 2020. A further breakdown revealed that N1.90bn was budgeted for the actual reclamation of an unspecified number of abandoned mines during the same period. In 2018 and 2019, the government spent N78.3m on revalidating abandoned mining sites nationwide and a whooping N463m on logistics support for a special mines’ surveillance task force in 2020.

One of the reclaimed sites in Barkin Ladi area of Plateau state is still prone to flooding and ecological problems years after the purported reclamation in 2017. Residents who spoke with this newspaper were critical of the work done.

“We cannot farm on these sites. The land is not fertile. No bioremediation was carried out,” says Dafum Chung, a resident. “They just came to sand-fill the site and went away. Although the gully erosion subsided, the problem of flooding is still persistent.” 

He adds: “I used to farm close to my house until flooding and erosion caused by mining destroyed my farmland. Although I have relocated to another area to continue my farming, my friends who still farm there are always complaining of poor harvest.”

The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development acknowledged receipt of a FOIA request for procurement records, including budgetary allocations and lists of contractors engaged but the request was not fulfilled by publication time.

Can communities sue?

Nigeria has a federal system of governance but states have limited power. Mining is on the exclusive legislation list – a list of issues over which the federal government has exclusive legislative powers. This means states cannot advance their legislation governing mining-related issues, including mine closure. State governments cannot enforce federal legislation.   

“You really cannot blame the state governments,” says Abiodun Baiyewu, Nigeria’s country director at Global Rights. “The federal government is quick to remind you that the benefits of the minerals primarily belong to the commonwealth at the federal level. It was not until 2017 that benefits started to trickle down to the local communities. Even so, the benefits have been negligible because the government still earns so little from solid minerals due to massive haemorrhages in revenue.”

However, one potential avenue for states to regulate their mining sectors remains unexplored. Section 19 of the Mineral and Mining Act of 2007 provides for a state-level governance apparatus for mining, known as Mineral Resources and Environmental Committee (MIREMCO). To date, this apparatus is yet to be fully explored. 

Communities that have been negatively impacted by abandoned mines have limited avenues for recourse, including through national legal systems. Chinedu Bassey, a program manager at the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, argues that several international human rights instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory are yet to be properly legislated in the country. These include the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Ten years after endorsing them, Nigeria is yet to develop a national action plan to implement the principles, which allow aggrieved communities to seek redress in court. 

Hamzat Lawal, chief executive of Connected Development (CODE), a nongovernmental organization that works to empower marginalized communities in Nigeria, says the real question is whether the Nigerian justice system is reliable. “If we’re being realistic, these communities do not have the resources to pursue a case against the government, and while that reflects the weakness of our judicial institution, it also shows the extent of the failure of leadership in the country,” he says. 

Regardless of the challenges, human rights lawyer and activist Inibehe Effiong believes that mining communities can sue the government or businesses if they can provide evidence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt of their culpability.

Effiong is right. There are quite a few justiciable clauses to rely upon. Beyond the Mineral and Mining Act of 2007, Section 17 (2d) of Nigeria’s constitution states that a community’s natural resources must not be exploited except for the good of the community. 

A tin miner at an artisanal mine in the Wamba area of Nasarawa State

Some international avenues are also available, particularly if a multinational mining company has violated the rights of communities through inadequate mine closure. For instance, communities could file a grievance with the National Contact Points (NCPs) that are responsible for business conduct in the company’s home country or they could request a UN Special Rapporteur investigation. 

These avenues are rarely explored, however, due to a lack of information and low literacy levels among residents of these communities.  Communities can only seek redress if they are aware of their rights and are empowered with the information, they need to demand justice, accountability and transparency from government entities and other stakeholders in the extractive industries.

For this to happen, knowledge and participatory dialogue platforms are important, says Baiyewu.

 “Let’s start with providing a basic knowledge of what mining entails, the likely impacts, and the rights of mining host communities,” she says. “Mining host communities need to access information on how to air their grievances, and ensure ease of access to the relevant agencies of government.”

Lawal has a similar view. Rather than sue the government, he says, leaders of mining communities would do better to learn how to engage the government as partners.

“It’s the first step in the right direction, and it disarms a government that is quick to defend itself against its own citizens.”

This report was supported by Result for Development (R4D) under its Leveraging Transparency to Reduce Corruption (LTRC) project. 


Olajide Adelana is an investigative writer and editor who is passionate about advancing accountability and transparency in the service of social justice. He recently served as a field communications officer for the United Nations Office for Project Services, where he focused on water supply and sanitation issues.

All Photos are by Nelson Owoicho.

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In this report, Arinze Chijioke looks at how delays in the evacuation of waste in Enugu State encourage indiscriminate waste disposal, its health implications, and how the practice impacts the environment.

As Benjamin Eze walked towards a waste dumping site in the Asata Area in Enugu State, South-eastern Nigeria one afternoon in early January 2022, he discovered that the five waste dumpsters were filled and overflowing and that residents were beginning to drop their waste on the ground.

Quickly, he threw the two nylon bags he had used to pack his waste close to the dumpsters and left, covering his mouth and his nose. The stench emanating from the dumpsite was unbearable.

“I had intended to use the bin but when I got here and discovered that they were all filled up, I decided to drop it like every other person, “he said. “I could not have taken it back home”.

It had been four days since the dumpsters were filled up with heaps of littering wastes around. But the workers who would always come with trucks to clear them had not come. The situation makes work difficult for Okafor Chiemelie who offers graphics design services close to the dumpsite. He says it’s difficult to work inside his office whenever the wastes are left unpacked.

“Whenever it rains, it is hard to pass through the area, “he said. “Most of the time, rain pushes the wastes into water channels, making it hard for water to freely flow to its destination”.

Overflowing dumpsters at Ebelane

Heaps of waste at Enugu’s main market

Like Chiemelie, residents living close to the dumpsite and business owners, particularly food sellers who shared their experience with this reporter said they have had to endure days and weeks of unbearable stench. They say it affects their business because those coming to eat would always complain about the smell and find alternatives.

But the situation is not peculiar to the Asata area of the state. Today, It is common to walk around Enugu State and find wastes generated from households, eateries and offices strewn everywhere, on both sides of some roads, some of them making their way into water channels.

From streets to motor parks and from markets to schools and hospitals, the indiscriminate dumping of refuse- occasioned by delays in evacuation has increased to a devastating and uncontrollable rate, contaminating the environment and exposing residents to serious diseases.

Heaps of waste at Obeagu

An overflowing dumpster at Okpara Avenue

Health and environmental concerns

Improper disposal of waste particularly plastic waste, typified by overflowing dumpsters, and mountains of open refuse dumps, remains a major environmental and public health concern prevalent in most developing countries.

Apart from causing damage to the eco-systems and accelerating the destruction of the environment, the situation exposes humans to widespread diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and typhoid fever.

Waste inside the University of Nigeria, Nsukka

Waste inside Parklane, Enugu

Gboyega Olorunfemi, Principal Consultant, EnviromaxGlobal Resources Limited, Ibadan, said that improper waste disposal also causes malnutrition and stunting in children as well as respiratory illness, risk and exposure to contaminated water and food.

“Waste dumped indiscriminately clogs the drainage channels and leads to flooding during the wet season and could also lead to fire outbreak,” he said.

Apart from institutional weaknesses on the part of the government, as is the case in Enugu, uncontrolled population growth and lack of awareness increase the rate of Improper waste disposal.

Marine species under threat

About 300 million metric tons of plastic waste are produced each year globally. But out of the more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic estimated to have been produced since the early 1950s, about 60% has ended up in landfills, dumps or the natural environment. Only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled.  About 12% has been incinerated, according to a report by Science Daily.

Much of the world’s plastic- an estimated 8 million metric tons every year- has ended up in the world’s ocean. Of major concern is the fact that these plastic items do not fully disappear.

Although they have a lifespan of mere minutes to hours, they often contain additives that make them stronger, more flexible and durable, persisting in the environment for at least 400 years, a national geographic report shows.

As they get smaller and smaller, they are swallowed by farm animals or fishes in the river who mistake them for food.  Millions of these animals are killed by plastics every year, from birds to fish to other marine organisms.

The report shows that nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by plastics. It is feared that If the current trend of waste mismanagement continues, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050.

A more worrying concern

Apart from delays in waste evacuation in Enugu State, there is a more worrying concern about the open burning of wastes. It is common to walk across streets and find dumpsters burning, posing serious risks to the environment and public health of residents. Those being burnt close to buildings are beginning to affect them and there are fears that some of them might begin to fall.

According to Olorunfemi, the open burning of wastes releases substances into the air that are toxic, many that are carcinogenic and are also called short-lived Climate pollutants e.g.: black carbon, dioxins, Mercury, Furans and PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls).

He said that these substances lead to cancer, asthma, heart diseases, skin and eye diseases, causing damage to nervous and reproductive systems, although it is difficult to determine the true level of impact of open burning of waste on public health because not much data is available in Africa.

“The black carbon contributes to climate change by warming the earth through direct and indirect interactions with clouds and rainfall patterns “he added.

Overflowing dumpsters at Asata

One of the rickety trucks used to evacuate waste

When contacted, the former Commissioner for Environment in the state, Chijioke Edeoga said that the government was aware of what was happening, describing it as an act of mischief.

“It is usually done at night and we are not happy about it,” he said. “But we cannot police all dustbins in the state and even when people see the bins burning, they don’t care to put it out”.

Edeoga who resigned following his interest in contesting for the governorship position said that the government had tried severally to end the burning, yet it continues. But while the former commissioner claims the government is not aware of those setting the wastebins on fire, many residents claim they have seen those in charge of evacuating the wastes burning them.

Where the Enugu problem lies

The reason for the recent wave of delays in waste evacuation is said to be linked to the decision by the state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to create a committee on waste evacuation out of an already existing waste management body, Enugu State Waste Management Authority (ESWAMA) according to a source who would not want his name mentioned.

While the government stopped ESWAMA from carrying out its primary responsibility of evacuating wastes, it handed it over to the committee which went ahead to hire trucks-which break down regularly- and workers who take weeks to clear wastes.

He explained that while ESWAMA- which is under the ministry of environment collects levies from households, it asks the committee- which is now directly under the governor’s office- to evacuate wastes, which they often fail to do.

One of the rickety trucks used to evacuate waste does not have a fuel tank

“After the levies are collected from households and given to the government, the government, in turn, hands the money to the committee and they are still not working,” the source said. “And there is no form of collaboration between ESWAMA and the new committee”.

He told Econai+ that the State House of Assembly had invited the two bodies after it received several complaints of delays in waste evacuation. But the chairman of the committee refused to say what the problem was and insisted that he was only answerable to the governor.

A former senior staff of ESWAMA, who prefers not to be mentioned confirmed that the delay in waste evacuation began after the state government decided to strip the agency of its responsibility for waste disposal and handed it over to a committee.

“I cannot exactly say why the governor asked us to stop doing our work,” the former staff said. “ He is aware of what is happening to waste management in the state and what ESWAMA does not is to basically supervise and generate revenue for the state”.

Now, households who are paying levies at the GRA, New Haven and Independence Layout areas of the state are complaining that even after paying N10,000 to 15,000, there is a delay in waste evacuation.

Impact on climate change

Several reports have shown that unmanaged dumpsites are major sources of Green House Gas emissions (GHGs) and emission of water/atmospheric pollutants as well as odours in developing countries.

About 80% of solid waste in African countries, for instance, is dumped indiscriminately in open spaces, streets, stormwater drains, rivers, and streams thereby, contributing to an estimated 29% of the global GHG emissions which is expected to increase to 64% by 2030.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had warned that if actions are not taken to prevent the continual increase of GHG emissions, the Earth’s temperature will increase by 6.4 °C in the 21st century. Without improvements in the sector, solid waste-related emissions will most likely increase to 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2050, according to a world bank report.

What happened to Enugu’s waste compactors?

When the administration of former governor Sullivan Chime came on board in 2007, it introduced a modern scientific approach to refuse collection, disposal and solid waste management by procuring more than 15 waste disposal compactors and over one hundred dumpsters which were deployed in all parts of the state capital and Nsukka Urban.

In collaboration with other departments and agencies, the Environment Ministry, which had the responsibility, introduced programmes and projects for the promotion of regular environmental sanitation and pollution control in Enugu state.

The Ministry had been established in Enugu State in 2004 to improve the beauty and aesthetics of the physical environment and adequate protection of the ecosystem and effectively manage solid wastes in the state.

A building affected by open burning of waste

The Enugu State Waste Management Authority (ESWAMA) an establishment under the ministry also introduced monthly sanitation exercises and street by a street collection of refuse on daily basis.

In 2011, the administration took a delivery of 285 refuse bin holding pads, built 283 conventional refuse bin slabs and fire motorized bin slabs on major urban roads in the state capital and Nsukka.

The governor also approved the purchase of earthmoving equipment for ESWAMA, including three tippers, two bulldozers and pail loaders each, reportedly worth three hundred and twenty-two million naira (N322 million).

According to Chuks Ugwoke, who was the State Commissioner for Information at the time, the decision to purchase the equipment was in keeping with the resolve of the Chime administration to ensure and maintain a very clean and healthy environment in the state.

Sadly, seven years after the Chime administration left power, the current administration has failed to effectively manage waste in the state, depending on rickety trucks which take days to clear waste.  The administration has also failed to maintain the waste disposal compactors which had been provided for waste management.

Burnt dumpsters at Independence Layout

Beyond Enugu, there is no commitment to tackle plastic waste in Nigeria

A 2018 report by the World Economic Forum estimates that Nigeria for instance, generates some 32 million tonnes of waste per year, out of which a staggering 2.5 million tonnes are plastic. While the country’s annual plastics production is projected to grow to 523,000 tonnes by 2022, it is estimated that the country discharges 200,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste into the Atlantic Ocean each year.

But In 2018, the minister of State for Environment, Alhaji Ibrahim Jibril, said the federal government was working on a national policy on plastic waste management to regulate the use and disposal of plastic waste in the country.

At an event to mark the 2018 World Environment Day, Jibril said the ministry had collaborated with stakeholders and developed a national strategy for the phase-out of non-bio gradable plastics as well as developed a national plastic waste recycling programme, to establish plastic waste recycling plants across the country.

The facilities were expected to complement the efforts of various state governments at facilitating a clean environment and preventing environmental pollution from solid waste disposal in Nigeria.  Jibril announced that a total of eight plants had already been completed and handed over to the states while 18 others were at various stages of completion.

However, investigations have shown how some of these plants reported having been completed in Osun, Ekiti, Lagos and Kaduna or ongoing were wasting away despite the government’s huge investment in the project.

With inefficient disposal, recycling, and waste management system, an overall 70% of plastic and non-plastic waste produced in Nigeria end up in landfills, sewers, beaches and water bodies.

Nigeria’s plastic bag prohibition bill

The House of Representatives in 2019, passed a bill banning plastic bags in the country. It was intended to address the harmful effects of those plastic bags on the oceans, rivers, lakes, forests, environment, wildlife as well as human beings and to relieve pressure on landfills and waste management.

The Federal Executive Council (FEC) had also approved the Solid Waste Management Policy for Nigeria to provide a framework for a comprehensive integrated solid waste management which the federal, state and local governments, MDAs, institutions and NGOs will be part of.

The bill provided for: “An act to prohibit the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging in order to address harmful impacts to oceans, rivers, lakes, forests, environment as well as human beings and also to relieve pressure on landfills and waste management and for other related matters.”

Littering waste at New Haven

It described as an offence the failure to provide customers with paper bags, manufacturing plastic bags for the purpose of selling, and importing plastic bags “whether as a carryout bag or for sale”.

Any person found guilty of the offences shall be liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding N500,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both such fine and imprisonment, according to the bill which also prescribes a fine of N5 million to companies guilty of the offences.

But two years down the line, the Nigerian Senate is yet to consider and transmit the bill to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent. If drastic measures are not taken, It is estimated that Nigeria would be the nation producing the largest amount of mismanaged plastic waste in Africa by 2025.

Another waste dumpsite in Enugu

Need for Investment in the waste recycling value chain

A 2018 World Bank report projects that rapid urbanization, population growth and economic development will push global waste to increase by 70% over the next 30 years to a staggering 3.40 billion tonnes of waste generated annually.

The same report showed that successful interventions are needed to improve waste management which will help cities become more resilient to the extreme climate occurrences that cause flooding, damage infrastructure and displace communities and their livelihoods.

Responding to this, Olorunfemi said that state governments must realize that waste recycling is one of the numerous value chains in waste management and it is one of the ways materials can be recovered, reused and repurposed.

“Waste recycling enterprises will bring about improvement in air and reduction in carbon emission”, he said. “When you recycle, there is a reduction in the volumes of waste that gets burnt or goes to the dumpsite, reduced stress on the exploitation of natural resources. It creates the prospect for wildlife and ecosystem protection and it provides an opportunity for generating employment”.

He said that the Federal government must review existing policies to accommodate global best practices with the integration of native intelligence and innovation, and provide tax incentives to entrepreneurs who are willing to commence or augment their enterprise in the sector to scale.

“This may not create a waste-free environment immediately, but it will build a foundation to which its success will depend, he said, adding that consistent and sustained advocacy and engagement with the government will make them realize the need to fund the sector that is currently suffering for lack of creativity and capacity on the part of the regulators.  

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