At one time the lifeline of people of the South-Eastern Nigeria, fortunes of the coal mining industry, along with other precious stones, dimmed drastically after the discovery of oil in early 1960. Miners made redundant by the oil boom that displaced the coal business, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s lament the tragedy that befell them shortly after the Nigeria attained her independence.
Why mining dwindled
Daily Times investigation showed that Nigeria was a major producer of tin, columbite and coal from the 1940s, but after the boom of the 1960s, mining of minerals generally dropped to only 0.3% of the gross domestic product (GDP), leading to importation of minerals that could otherwise been produced in abundance locally.
The Nigerian civil war did not help matters as it led many expatriate mining experts to leave the country. Abandoned mineral cadastres in the Northern states and in Plateau State is full of abandoned mining sites, some since the independence. Environmental officials with the government of Plateau state believe that over 1,100 tin and columbite mines, abandoned after the mining boom of the 1960s, now pose serious health risks to as many as 2 million people living in the area. Radioactive mine tailings were reported to be a danger to local people living around mining fields in Jos, Barikin-Ladi, Bukur, Bassa and Riyom districts. In Bauchi State up from Jos, over 800 mining sites abandoned since the civil war also pose serious health and environmental problems in all the mining towns and villages stretching from Zalau Rishi to Rishi, a border town with Kaduna state.
Historically, Nigeria’s mining industry was monopolised by state-owned public corporations. This led to a decline in productivity in almost all mineral industries; the Obasanjo led administration started a process of selling off government owned corporations to private investors in 1999, compounding the woes of local mining workers in the country. Memories of forceful disengagement still hunts mine workers evicted from their quarters after the civil war. One of the miners made redundant without pay at the famous Iva mine, octogenarian, Nze Nwokoye, told Daily Times in Ihunoma village, Enugu how Enugu State government forcefully evicted retired mine workers without providing alternative accommodation for them and without paying their severance
“We were not given any notice; one day bulldozers came and destroyed what have been our homes since our young days. They didn’t care where we went or what happened to us. It was horrible. “They promised to reinstate us when government begins to generate 1,000 megawatt of electric light from coal, but that was a lie. Akuko (story!).”
A new hope in mining
Following up on the electioneering promises of President-elect, General Muhamadu Buhari during his campaign in Enugu prior to the election, the Miners Association of Nigeria (MAN), has reminded the incoming government of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) of his promise to prioritise development of the solid mineral sector. Speaking in Abuja last week, MAN President, Alhaji Sani Shehu said the association was optimistic that Buhari would fulfill his presidential camptaign promise to develop the sector for
economic diversification and job creation.
The APC presidential candidate had said he would bank on huge coal deposits located at Amasiodo, Inyi and Leje axis of Enugu coal belt to generate 1,000 megawatt of electric power and export coal from the region. At the campaign which took place at Enugu West APC Zonal Rally held in Orie, Awgu Market, Awgu Local Government Area of the state, Buhari had promised he would, if elected president, award contract for mining and construction of coal- fired-power-plant. In his words, “We believe that coal is the most abundant fossil fuel in Enugu State and Enugu Coal is one of the most qualitative brands in the world, which means that while some are used to generate electricity, some will be exported.”
A member of the campaign team had told the mammoth crowd at the rally that an APC led federal government if elected will cash in and use the coal industry to drive economic expansion that would ultimately lead to higher levels of social and economic well being for the South-East and to Nigerians in general. The MAN president also stressed the need for the incoming government to urgently diversify from its mono to multi- economy through development of the coal and other solid mineral sector. “Forty four minerals have been discovered in commercial quantity across the country, so the priority of the new government is to develop industrial, metallic and energy minerals.”
Shehu listed minerals the government should focus upon to include gold, iron ore, coal, limestone, kaolin, lead/zinc, bitumen, cassiterite, columbite and copper. He concluded that the development of the solid minerals sector could only be achieved through the encouragement of mechanised mining of industrial minerals by local industries. Daily Times investigation revealed that intellectual debates, party politics and arguments have hindered the progress of the coal industry since the end of the civil war. It would be recalled that organised mining began in 1903 when the Mineral Survey of the Northern Protectorates was created by the British colonial government. A year later, the Mineral Survey of the Southern Protectorates was founded.
Rights to ownership of mineral resources is held by the Nigerian government, which grants titles to organizations to explore, mine, and sell mineral resources. But under the old regime prior to 2006, the MCO operated under the mines department, not as an autonomous body. The mines department at that time concurrently supervised mining activities, which was characterised by a multiplicity of functions; outdated mineral titles that rendered the entire cadastre system opaque; and the issuance of mining rights without recourse to the Mining Act. Thus, the Nigerian mining cadastre was symbolised by policy inconsistency, where the policy makers had undue regard for the law.