July 31, (THEWILL) – One Monday morning, a 76-year-old, Mallam Yahaya Ado, a community head of Kaura-mata, stood at the eroded bank of Challawa River with his subjects, gesturing as he spoke about the challenge of environmental degradation facing his community.
Kaura-mata is one of the riverine communities located in the Madobi Local Government Area of Kano State, northwestern Nigeria. Its residents have continued to suffer in the hands of illegal miners.
“Our farmlands have been taken over by these illegal sand miners. Their illicit activities have continued to expand gully erosion and affect our source of drinking.
“During the rainfall, the flood will push more sand to them to evacuate and this continues till dry season when most of the sand must have been dug and caused erosion,” Ado said.
The problem of the community started sometime in 2011, when some young men discovered the river was enriched with ‘river sand’. The sand is usually found near river banks and streams and used in the construction of buildings.
Ado recounts that until now, the section of Challawa River that passes through his community was just narrow in nature. “This river that they (illegal miners) now encroached was narrow in nature but you can see that it has been expanded and caused many erosion channels,” he said.
“Before, we used this river shore to cultivate our vegetation crops for both wet and dry seasons. We have enough food to feed our family and also sell for personal income generation.
“But these sand miners have destroyed the wetlands since they discovered our community as a suitable area to encroach sand and this is affecting our farming,” said Habib Suleiman, a farmer who has since abandoned farming to work as a security guard.
MINING FOR CASH
Several young men were seen near the bank of the river. Each of them was armed with shovels and moving in canoes towards the bank. There appears to be a competition among the men and the winner takes it all.
Every day, young men, armed with shovels, go out on the river and return with their canoes filled with sand. The dredging is tedious, but it does not diminish the competition among the young men.
Iliyasu Usman, a 25-year-old sand dredger, told THEWILL that he earned a “fortune” daily from dredging sand.
“On a good day, I make between N2, 500 to N3, 000 from digging sand from the river to where trucks unload it to the final destination.
“At times, it could be a joint effort with some friends and that could earn us bigger money. It is a lucrative menial job someone introduced me to a few years ago.
“We have more than 100 people mining in this location. Each day, we make such amount of money, depending on how fast you can sail your canoe deep in the middle of the river,” Usman said.
Asked if the quest to make money is not impacting on the livelihood of the host community, he added, “This water belongs to God, it is a natural gift. We have no explanation. We are only looking for our daily bread.”
Usman and his cohorts are unaware of the harm that indiscriminate mining activities were causing poor communities like Kaura-Mata.
Many states, including Kano, are hard hit by the menace of illegal mining activities. An estimated 80 per cent of mining in the state is conducted illegally by youths who depend on it for their survival.
“These wetlands are a source of water and vegetation production for many rural people in Kano State. Some also use such rivers for fishing,” said Dauda Aliyu, a commercial driver that conveyed this reporter around the localities.
Dauda believes that illegal miners are everywhere in the rural areas committing all forms of environmental offences, while government officials are in their luxurious offices without taking proactive measures to curtail the illegal acts.
FEELING THE PAIN
In 2018, Kano was one of 12 states in the country struck by an outbreak of cholera. The state recorded no fewer than 28 out of 400 confirmed patients, according to a report.
Hajara Ali, a physically challenged person in her early 20s, was one of the survivors of the outbreak.
Hajara said that she fell unconscious one day while helping her mother with the household chores at sunset. “It came suddenly when I started running a temperature and vomiting at the same time. I thought it was just a feverish condition that could be handled easily,” she said.
At first, she began taking medicines prepared by traditional healers. But when the condition worsened, someone suggested she visit the only healthcare facility in the community for proper medical treatment.
An auxiliary nurse, Muhammad Aliyu, who attended to Hajara at the Primary Health Centre at Kaura-Mata village confirmed that she took ill and was admitted to a hospital, treated and discharged.
“I was told the illness was as a result of contaminated substance intake; either food or water I took. They said it might be the stream water that we drink from.” Hajara had suspects.
Aliyu also informed THEWILL that frequent cases of cholera, hepatitis, and typhoid are high among out-patients who visit the health centre.
Musa Ado, the community’s youth leader, said Hajara’s experience was one of the many health challenges facing residents of the community. “This is what is left for us to drink. They have contaminated our source of water in the community. We have suffered a lot. Our children and women are now vulnerable to all kinds of water borne diseases,” 30-years-old Musa said, while taking THEWILL round a pond he claimed was left for residents to use for drinking purposes.
Ado further emphasized indiscriminate encroaching of the river by sand dredgers is affecting the people livelihood, income growth and health wellbeing.
He said, “We are really suffering in this community. Our drinking water has been contaminated and we are not happy that we are at the receiving end. Government should do something.
“We have made frantic efforts in informing the local government authority but nobody listens to us. We have left everything to God for divine intervention.
“Since you are here for the purpose of helping us in the community, we want you to tell the government concerned to as a matter of urgency put a stop to the activity of these miners.
“We also want the government to care for our welfare priorities by assisting both our farmers and youths with livelihoods. We have been neglected for so long.” Musa further laments.”
GOVT MUTE ABOUT RESIDENTS’ PLIGHTS
Rabiu Ibrahim Kaura-Mata, a resident, said that the Kano State Government was not unaware of the illegal mining activities going on within the community.
The 60 year-old farmer insisted that the residents’ ordeals in the hands of illegal dredgers started during the second tenure of former Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso in 2011.
He said, “They can’t stop those illegal miners because of the reason best known to them. We have been experiencing this for so long. As true Muslim, we have left everything to the hands of God. That is what we can say.”
Ibrahim Umar, the head of Geremi village, a sub-domain within the Kaura-Mata community, also accused government officials of illegally mining the area. “We have tried our best to put a stop to this menace but were in vain. Have you seen what we are going through as citizens of this country? The present government is aware of our plight, but may be those that should take action have been compromised. Even the Kano State Water Board is aware that the mining is contaminating the source of potable water and boreholes in this community. They want us to die, but everyone will all taste death at an appointed time,” he says.
An unnamed official of the Kano State Environmental Planning and Protection Agency (KASEPPA) office, an agency responsible for issues of environment, said its mandate included planning of urban centres and the control of development in urban centres. He directed THEWILL to redirect any official enquiry to the Kano State Ministry of Environment.
Several efforts made by THEWILL to get an official statement from the ministry were unsuccessful, as calls and messages put through the verified phone number of the Commissioner for Environment, Dr. Kabiru Getso, were not replied.
When contacted for his comment, the Executive Chairman, Madobi Local Government Council, Muhammad Lawan Yahaya, said the issue of mining was the exclusive responsibility of both the state and Federal Government.
Yahaya said, “We at the council level have no say on the issue of mining, whether it is legal or illegal. Go to the state ministry of environment or federal mining to ask your questions please.”
Reminded that the recently amended Mining Law in Nigeria empowered both the local community and the state government incentives to abide by and enforce the rule of law in the sector, he merely responded: “I don’t know what you are talking about. Besides, I have no answer to this. Go to the authority concerned and get your answers. What I know is that we don’t intervene in any mining issues within the community.”
MINING AGAINST THE LAW
In 2007, the Federal Government announced its plan to revise the crucial mining law, the Nigeria Minerals and Mining Act (NMMA).
This was in response to the nation’s underdeveloped mining sector where it currently generates just 0.3 per cent of the GDP and leaves the country scrambling to import minerals that could be produced domestically.
In 2018, the law was passed on the condition that power and revenues would shift from the regulating body, the Nigerian Mining Cadastre Office (MCO), an arm of the Federal Government, to the local level.
It also availed both the local and state governments some incentives to abide by the law and enforce it in the sector.
According to Section 44 (3) of the Mining Act as amended, any operator without a licence is, therefore, considered to engage in criminal activities and may be arrested and tried in a court while chapter (4) dwells on the environmental considerations and rights of the host communities.
The Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Uchechukwu Ogah, warned that anybody involved in such illegitimate activities risks being jailed for a minimum of two years without any option of fine.
Aminu Sada, an environmental analyst, however, attributed the environmental deterioration caused by unlawful sand dredgers to lack of enforcement of the existing laws in the country.
He noted that inefficient development control in the environmental sector was impacting negatively on other human endeavours. “It is a fact that government at all levels must put mechanisms in place to reverse this ugly trend.
“The case of Kaura-Mata is just one of the many communities troubled by these miners. If you go to southern states, it is also the same lamentation from these innocent citizens that ought to be protected by the authorities concerned.” Mr. Aliyu submitted during a telephone interview with this correspondent.
WHY RURAL COMMUNITIES BEAR THE BRUNT
The Executive Director, Friends of the Community Organisation, a nonprofit outfit in the state, Hassan Ibrahim, noted that over the years, rural communities had continued to bear the brunt of environmental impacts caused by unscrupulous actors who exploited their natural resources to their detriment.
“So these criminals are always taking advantage of their ignorance to exploit their environment thereby causing degradation and other ecological problems,” he said.
Hassan confirmed that Madobi Dawaki Tofa and Gezawa were top local government areas prone to environmental degradation in the state.
“We have researched and discovered that illegal mining activities are prevalent in Madobi, Dawaki Tofa and Gezawa. We know the negative effects this mining is causing to our communities. Is it to talk about the health or economic effects on the vulnerable people?
“We must rise to the task and help to defend these communities through empowering them with necessary information that could build their capacity,” he emphasised.
Hassan, who focuses on issues of water sanitation hygiene and environmental impact on communities, said his team would build on the citizens’ capacity of the affected communities.
He said, “We need to focus on how these communities can take ownership of their environment and not allow these criminals to take advantage of them in the name of mining for selfish gains.
“We are setting up committees across these affected communities who are facing environmental degradation. The members of this committee will comprise traditional rulers and religious leaders, youths and women.
“We want to engage them on how to get feedback on issues going on within their domains. We will also take their plight to the appropriate authority for accountability. As for the residents of Kaura-Mata community, we are going to support them and present their concerns before the Ministry of Environment.”
•This story was supported by the Africa Data Hub Community Journalism Fellowship.