In the second of this three-part series, Arinze Chijioke was in communities most impacted by the 2022 flooding in Delta State to document the pains and losses of the people and how they are struggling to survive.  He also looks at how the state government is failing to provide a solution to the challenge.

Ebimode Ebowm was in his family house in Odoburu, a community in Patani Local government in Delta State when the flood began exactly a year ago (in August 2022). But because he could not walk, he stayed indoors, on top of his bed and watched as the water level increased.

Soon, the water found its way into the house, a one-room thatched building, constructed with mud and held together by bamboo. The room was gradually being covered; his bed was soaked in water. Still, he remained indoors.

“I was helpless and cried every night for over two months, “recalled Ebowm. “Me and my family could not move to the roadside like others were doing,”.

Ebowm caught a fever because of exposure to cold. He was vomiting, peeing and pooping in the same spot. He could not visit any hospital and had to depend on herbs to get back to normal.

Ebimode Ebowm could not run when the flood came

New Year, Ebowm’s father said that the flood went away with household items and also destroyed foodstuffs. He said it destroyed his Cassava, Pepper and Potato farmlands which were completely submerged.

“We started begging for foodstuff from neighbours who still had some to spare, the water level got to my waist,” said New Year. I stayed in my room with my seven children till the water dried up,”.

His wife, Finere had to go fishing to fend for the family.

Ebowm’s family is only one out of hundreds of households in Odoburu whose livelihoods were destroyed, following the 2022 flooding in Delta state.  According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at least 78,640 individuals in 12,070 households in Delta State, were affected In the aftermath of the flooding seven local governments accessed.

Ebimode’s family house after the flooding

Since 2012, flooding has been a usual occurrence in Odoburu and other lowland communities which lie on the bank of the river Niger, making it easy for farmlands and houses to be completely submerged.  Before 2012, it was not common but as the intensity of water increased, it became easy for the houses to be submerged.

Worse in a decade

The 2022 flooding was the worst in a decade, with 662 people reported to have lost their lives while over 2 million were displaced. A report by the World Weather Attribution showed that it occurred as a consequence of above-average rainfall throughout the 2022 rainy season exacerbated by shorter spikes of very heavy rain leading to flash floods as well as riverine floods and the release of the Lagdo Dam in Cameroon.

New Year, Ebowm’s father

“The devastating impacts were further exacerbated by the proximity of human settlements, infrastructure (homes, buildings, bridges), and agricultural land to flood plains, underlying vulnerabilities driven by high poverty rates and socioeconomic factors (e.g., gender, age, income, and education), and ongoing political and economic instability,” the report found.

Nigeria’s Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouk said that the country lost between US$3.79 billion to US$9.12 billion in economic damage due to the flooding.

Sleeping by the roadside became the only option.

Ebiere Bunu lost her Cassava, Pepper and Plantain farm to the flood which also affected her house. She, her husband and five children constructed a makeshift tent covered with mosquito nets by the roadside where they spent the whole of September and October.

“When it started coming in at first, we raised our beds and other household items. But it soon became serious and crossed window level and we escaped to the main road. My big foam spoilt and we had to squeeze ourselves into one,”.

For Bunu’s family, feeding was not much of a problem at the time because she brought out some Cassava before the water completely took over her house. But her clothes and other property in the house were all gone.

Ebiere Bunu lost her entire farmland to the flooding

Apart from Odoburu, communities in Bomadi, another local government were also submerged by the flooding. Sadly, in the entire period the flood lasted, there was no form of intervention by the government, whether state or federal.

A resident of Bomadi, Fufeyin Zachariah said that In the entire LG for instance, only three bags of Rice came in as palliative from the government. In Kpakiama community, individuals contributed about 7 bags of Rice which were shared and households got 3 cups each.

“It was a mockery on the people who had lost everything they had to flood, “he said. “Apart from the main town, other communities in the LG were submerged by the floods,”. Most of the houses constructed are with mud and thatch and that makes it easy for the rains to wash them away.

He explained that the challenge of flooding in Odoburu and other flood-prone communities is partly a structural issue because most houses are built under the road level and that makes it easy for water to flow into people’s homes.

The flooding surpased the window level at Bunu’s house

“But these days, people are beginning to raise the levels and it requires a lot of sand filling to get the level where water cannot penetrate, “he said.

Massive hunger

As soon as Lucky Rachael, a resident of Kpakiama Community noticed the rain entering her house gradually, she packed some of her things and went to a secondary school in her community.

The flood destroyed the farmland where she planted Cassava and over 500 Yam tubers and plantain. It destroyed her house too. At the school, where other residents of the community found refuge, Rachael said they always saw snakes.

“Yet, some households were managing till it was submerged too,”.  “I escaped to my grandmother’s house with my husband and children,”.

Where Bunu and her family slept while the flood lasted

During that entire period, Rachael and her husband always stayed up at night, thinking of how to start rebuilding her life again. They barely fed daily because there was nothing to eat. Now, she sells Rice in her community while her husband moulds blocks so they can feed. They are rebuilding their house again.

All the farms in Kpakiama and Odorubu communities were swallowed up by the floods and that meant that farmers had to buy food items- like Garri and Rice-which more than doubled in price. As a result, there was widespread hunger because many households could not afford the amounts. Some of them went for days without food, except when NGOs came around to distribute packs.

The traditional ruler of Kpakiama community, HRH. Bunu Abakederimo said that the 2022 flooding cost his people a lot of their fortune. He said that most households are still trying to recover from the devastating impact of the incident.

Traditional ruler of Odoburu, Bunu Abakederimo

He regretted that till now, residents of the community have yet to receive any form of help from the government to help cushion the effect of the flooding on them. This is even after the release of billions of naira by the federal government.

“We only heard on the radio that the government was bringing relief items, but we have not seen anything,” said Abakederimo. “Now, we are beginning to experience the rains again and we don’t know what will become of our houses and farmlands,”.

A review of the 2022 budget for Delta shows that the state government spent more than its budget for flood and erosion control, yet, it was a major challenge in the state.  Out of N307 million (307,700,000.0) budgeted, the government spent N1.7 billion (1,724,583,173.16) in the first quarter, N22 million (22,798,277) in the second quarter, no amount for the third quarter and N958 million (958,445,569.15) in the fourth quarter, taking the total amount spent to 2,705,827,019.81 and surpassing the original budget with N2.3 billion (2,398,127,019.81).

Between 2021 and 2022, the state government received a total of N1.4 billion as its share of the ecological fund. In January 2023, it was given another N123.2 million. Yet, floods wreaked havoc across communities.  Out of N305 million (305,700,000) budgeted for flood and erosion control in 2023, N177.9 million (177,935,075) has already been released in the first quarter.

Disease outbreaks

While there is no data on the number of deaths following the flood, residents say sicknesses such as Cholera, malaria Typhoid and other water-born diseases increased. The rivers were contaminated, yet the people drank from them as they had no other option.

“They bathe and poo inside the same water they drink, said Zachariah. “What is most worrying is that our hospitals are bad, with no workers. In the health centres, there are no drugs and so, many people had to rely on local herbs throughout the duration of the flood,”.

Both the International Rescue Committee IRC and UNICEF reported that cases of diarrhoea and water-borne diseases, respiratory infection and skin diseases rose, following the 2022 flooding.

UNICEF’s Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI) launched in August 2021 showed that Nigeria ranked second out of 163 countries considered at ‘extremely high risk’ of the impacts of climate change.

Lucky Rachael escaped to her mother’s house following the flooding

The CCRI is the first comprehensive analysis of climate risk from a child’s perspective which ranks countries based on children’s exposure to multiple climate and environmental shocks combined with high levels of underlying child vulnerability, due to inadequate essential services, such as water and sanitation, healthcare and education.

Titled the Climate Crisis Is a Child Rights Crisis: Introducing the Children’s Climate Risk Index, the report found that Nigerian children are highly exposed to air pollution and coastal floods.

It however suggested that investments in social services, particularly child health, nutrition and education can make a significant difference in our ability to safeguard their futures from the impacts of climate change.

Extinction just by the corner

Catholic Bishop of Bomadi, Most Rev. Hyacinth Egbebo said that communities in Bomadi and other locations that are prone to flooding will go into extinction if nothing is done to deal with the perennial flooding issue.

“People will be forced to migrate because it has become a yearly occurrence, he said. “It makes life difficult because water bodies are polluted, even the gas that is being emitted by oil companies comes down as acid rain and with no other option residents drink all kinds of contaminated water,”.

Catholic Bishop of Bomadi says extinction just by the corner

He explained that Bomadi town is usually not badly affected because there are roads which stand against the water finding its way into people’s homes, adding that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), which should provide some of the roads across communities is non-existent.

According to him, the way out will be for the government to expedite action in the construction of a dam that will receive water each time it is released from Cameroon and also dredge the river Niger which usually overflows its banks.

In Kpakiama and other communities, residents are already bracing up for another flooding season. They are harvesting their Potato, Cassava and other crops prematurely for fear that they might be destroyed by flooding. Usually, it takes six months after planting before harvesting starts, but in May, the fifth month of this year, the rains came down and crops were being affected, hence the decision to start harvesting early. They planted early too.

The National Emergency Management Agency has already warned residents in flood-prone areas/ states, including Delta to relocate, following the expected release of the dam. Even the state government has warned residents in low-land and flood-prone areas to relocate to higher planes due to expected floods from the release of water from Cameroon’s Lagdo Dam into the Rivers Niger and Benue.

“The Delta State Government will provide support to those displaced from their homes by the rising water level occasioned by the overflow of the River Benue and River Niger,” the Chief Press Secretary to the State Governor, Festus Ahon was quoted as saying in a statement.

In a letter dated August 21, 2023, the High Commission of Cameroon wrote to the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs as regards the opening of the dam. However, the Director-General of the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency, Clement Nze, noted that the dam had been releasing water even before the letter was sent to Nigeria by Cameroon.

With no alternative residents of Odoburu and Kpakiama still drink from the conterminated river

“I got in contact with the manager of the dam and he confirmed that they opened the dam on August 14, 2023, at 10.10 a.m., Nze said. “He said they had been spilling water at the rate of 200 cubic metres per second, which is about 20 million cubic meters per day,”.

Way forward

Flood risk expert, Taiwo Ogunwumi said that the government needs to develop a sustainable drainage system and also improve flood early warning communication by adopting all media outlets including Radio, community campaigns, schools, farmers’ groups, women’s groups and TV.

He also said that the government needs to initiate a mangrove restoration program, most especially the planting of trees along the shoreline of the major cities (Delta, Lagos and Kogi State) and other riverine communities as mangrove has the capability to retain water.

“Cameroon will continue to release water from the Lagdo Dam, hence The Nigeria government must expedite efforts in completing the dam project and work towards building more to save the country from riverine flood disaster,”.





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In this report, Arinze Chijioke takes a look at the devastating impacts of the 2022 flooding in Kogi State and how the state government is not showing a clear commitment to forestalling a recurrence.  This is the first of a three-part series on the 2022 flooding in Kogi, Delta and Anambra States.

Iko Sunday and his family were harvesting Rice on their farmland in Onyedega, one of the communities in Ibaji local government in Kogi State when the flood came last September. He had planted eight basins, hoping for a bountiful harvest.

“We managed to harvest only one basin before the flood took over our farmland, destroying everything, “recalled Sunday.  “Me and my family and four children- could not return home because everywhere had been submerged,”.

From their farm, they escaped to a mountain close to the community where he constructed a makeshift tent with bamboo and palm trees. There, they spent over two months, other households also ran up to the mountain. It was a safe haven.

Iko Sunday escaped to the mountains with his family

While most parts of his Onyedega remained submerged, Sunday always came in with a Canoe to borrow money and buy food which he took back to the mountain.  The flood also submerged his house and most of his property-cloths and household items were gone.  Only a few houses were spared.

A source in the community said that at least six persons died following the flooding.

Sunday’s family is only one out of hundreds of households whose livelihoods were destroyed, following the massive flooding in Ibaji, a littoral local government area in Kogi state, located along the banks of the rivers Niger and Benue, and their tributaries. Till now, several houses across the communities still lay in ruins. Schools and other public buildings were destroyed.

Communities at the mercy of floods

At the start of each harvest season, the rivers overflow their banks, flooding farmlands and houses in Ibaji.  Farmers are put in a precarious situation where they have to begin premature harvest while seeking food and emergency shelters for their families.

Bordered to the east by Enugu and Anambra states and to the South by Edo state, Ibaji- the southernmost part of Kogi is made up of over 100 communities, with more than 90 per cent of the population predominantly farmers.

Usually, the farming communities are cut off from other parts of the state because the floods destroy the major roads leading to the area. This makes the movement of people and farm products hectic and sometimes, nearly impossible, with no intervention from the government.

Road destroyed by flooding

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that at least 19,439 persons across 3504 households were affected by the floods while 13,636 were displaced across eight local governments.  Climate variability and the release of excess water from the Lagdo Dam in northern Cameroon are said to have worsened the flood situation, resulting in widespread displacements across the country.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) estimates that 662 people lost their lives while over 2 million people were displaced across 34 of the 36 states in the country.

When the flood reduced in November and he returned home, Sunday borrowed N100,000 and used it to plant Beans.  He said he has harvested some of it and that is what his family has been surviving on.

Before the flood, Sunday was a commercial motorcyclist. Now, he has resumed work but with the only access road to his community damaged, residents prefer to trek long distances to their farms than pay for a ride. He said he had fallen severely while trying to navigate the bad sections of the road.

Another road completely cut off by flooding

Most parts of the over 10 km road leading to Onyedega, Iyano and Echeno, three of the communities that make up Ibaji LGA have been chopped off, making it difficult for cars to ply on them.  Ibaji has muddy soil that retains water.

It is common to see motorcycle riders navigating through the bushes to find their way into the communities. Onyedega is the headquarters of Ibaji.

“Even the price of transport has gone up because of the bad road and the people are finding it difficult to pay, “he said.  “It used to be N1500 to Idah, the closest LG to Ibaji, now, it is N2500,”.

A resilient people, trading by barter to survive

As the flood persisted, most residents of Onyedega switched over to fishing with their Canoes which they often took to Elushi, a local market in Edo State for trade by barter as a means of survival. They were exchanging Fish for Rice, Beans and other food items.

Motorcyclists trying to navigate through the bushes

While some residents escaped to communities in Idah, another local government, others stayed back and made rafters of three fits at the beginning of the flood which they increased as the flood rose.

“On top of the rafter, they prepared a place where they poured sand, put mud so that as it increased, they had a place to prepare their meals and put their bed,” Traditional Ruler of Ibaji, John Egwemi recalled.

He said that some people borrowed money on interest to be able to return the farm. Some collected 1 bag of Rice and promised to pay back with three at the end of the planting season.

Four hectares of farmland destroyed

As soon as Benjamin Offor heard his fence fall around 2 a.m. in September 2022, he and his family- his wife and seven children- started packing their property into a Catholic church where they stayed till November.

Standing in front of his new farm, Offor told this reporter that he could not harvest a single tuber of Yam out of the 800 he planted and five measures of groundnut. His Cassava farm planted across four hectares of land- was destroyed too. As a result, it became difficult for his family to feed.

Benjamin Offor lost four hectares of farmland to the flooding

“Oftentimes, my wife borrowed to buy Cassava Flakes (Garri) and Fish which she sold in our local market, whatever profit she made was what we used to eat, “he said. Sometimes, we went days without food,”.

To be able to plant this year, Offor borrowed money from people he will pay back with interest after he has harvested his crops. He regrets that during the flooding period, the government did not help the community.

“I hope that the flood will not come again so that I can harvest and pay back my loan and cater for his family,”. I am also monitoring to see when my Rice farm and yam tubers and other crops will be ready because we are harvesting earlier than normal in case the floods come again,”.

Govt lacks commitment to deal with flooding

The Kogi State government has severally said it is committed to dealing with the flooding challenge in the state. However, a review of its budget performance over the years shows a lack of seriousness on the part of the government.

For instance, the budget performance report for Q1 2023 showed that out of N101m budgeted for erosion and flood control, N36.9m budgeted for post-flood housing estates and social amenities and N53.8m for procurement of emergency tender for flood-related disasters, no money has been released, according to a Dataphyte report.

Farmers try to push their Tricycle through the road

In 2021, N105.480 was budgeted for the same purpose but only N26.908 million was spent, according to the state’s budget performance report. In 2022, the state government budgeted N106.3 million for flood and erosion control But only N4 million was spent.

What is most worrying is that the state has also failed to utilise its share of the ecological fund. Between 2021 and 2022, the state received a total of N1.3 billion from the fund- N634.67 million and N667.38 million respectively. However, it only spent N30 million on flood and erosion control. In 2023, another 134.1 million was given to the state.

Dredging of River Niger, way out

Egwemi said that over the years, the government’s flood intervention often comes too little too late and only after NGOs have stepped in to provide succour for the people. He said that the people of Ibaji are the real victims of the flood in Kogi state.

“But what you mostly see in the media are reports from Lokoja, we have been largely neglected by the government, “he regretted.  “The first point of call should be to provide boats that will convey the people to highlands after which they settle them in camps and supply relief materials for them,” but you don’t find the government doing this, instead, they bring flat matrasses and food items that are hardly enough for the people,”.

House completely raised by flooding

He explained that Ibaji has never had to wait for the government’s intervention during flooding because they do not care about the welfare of the people and always associate their delays with bureaucratic bottlenecks.

According to him, while the government often claims that it is providing aid to those affected with huge funding from donor agencies, the money hardly gets to these victims.

“Not even one boat was sent by the state government to rescue residents, “he claimed. “Many lives would have been lost during the 2022 flooding had the church not intervened and accommodated everyone, regardless of religion,”.

The traditional ruler also said that he had severally written to the Federal government to properly dredge the River Niger and make it deeper and more difficult for water to overflow and get into communities.

Community members try to construct roads with woods

“It is beyond just throwing sands by the banks of the river because when it rains, it will wash them into the river again, “he said. “After Cameroon built their years ago, they told our government to build one so that when they release water, it will flow into our own dam and gradually released downstream,”.

The traditional ruler said that failing to construct a dam to take in water from Cameroon shows that the government is insensitive to the plight of the people, adding that when constructed, the water from the dam can be released gradually during the dry season for irrigation farming and when the rivers begin to dry for people to travel.

Egwemi has also proposed to the government to build houses on the few highlands in Ibaji so that people don’t have to relocate to Idah or Edo State due to flooding.

Flood risk expert, Taiwo Ogunwumi said that a lot also remains to be done in the aspect of capacity building on the flood preparedness process and quick response for state emergency management staff.

“We must also transition to the use of renewable energy and drastically minimise the emission of fossil which also contribute to the changing climate especially increasing rainfall, “he said.

John Egwemi says dredging of River Niger remains only solution

In Onyedega, some farmers are yet to recover from the losses of last year’s flooding. But the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) have already warned that the floods might be more devastating this year. Residents in flood-prone areas in Kogi state have also been asked to relocate as the Lagdo dam is gradually being released.

“Many of them are harvesting their crops early enough to avoid losing them to flooding, said Fr. Leo Idama who resumed In September, exactly when the floods came. He had to escape to the Minor Seminary in Idah where he stayed through November because the floods entered his parish house.

“I had packed my property inside the church which was spared and used the speed boat to escape, “he recalled. Since then, I have not driven my car out of the community because the roads are bad,”.




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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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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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