Location: Okpara, Onyeama, Iva Valley, Ogbete in Enugu North and South Local Government Areas of Enugu State.
Dates of Visit: 10th and 11th February 2014
Report by: Philip Jakpor & Akinola Tosin
Coal generated lots of revenue for Nigeria between the years 1916 and 1970 when it was one of Nigeria’s major revenue earners. In the south eastern part of the country exploration of the mineral began proper in present day Enugu State in 1909, with production at the mines in Onyeama, Ogbete, Iva Valley and Okpara climbing from 25, 511 tons in 1916 to an estimated 583,422 tons before a decline set in during the Nigerian Civil War which started in 1967 and ended 1970. At the end of the war most parts of the South east had been ravaged and many expatriate mining experts, mostly from Britain and Poland had leftNigeria. The exit of experts coupled with the discovery of commercial quantity of crude oil which made the government to abandon coal resulted in the neglect and subsequent abandonment of the massive infrastructure at the mines managed by the Nigerian Coal Corporation (NCC). The NCC tried to manage operations unsuccessfully for another 30 years but the game was up. It finally folded up in 2002. The former miners were not laid off and neither was their employment terminated. The only legacy of mining they have is the Colliery Quarters near Iva Valley that they live.
Mining is no longer carried out at the Onyeama, Iva Valley, Ogbete and Okpara mines but the Federal Government’s signing of a $3.7 billion Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a Chinese firm–HTG-Pacific Energy Consortium, to generate power from coal in Enugu has unsettled the local communities, most of whom are in the dark as regards the project and its likely impact on their environment.
The sale of two properties of the NCC – its headquarters at Okpara Avenue and Colliery Hospital, to the Enugu state government by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) under the Federal Government privatisation of landed properties in the state has remained a thorny issue among the community folks and former miners. The ERA/FoEN team learnt that in November 2013 the Enugu State government took possession of the two properties. The coalfields also have to be sold by BPE before the new owners can go into partnership or have a working agreement with Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) to generate an estimated 1,000 megawatts from coal.
Miners who worked at Iva Valley whose jobs were abruptly and only have the Colliery Quarters as the abode also learnt that the state government wanted them out of the quarters. Under the monetization policy of the federal government, the original allottees of the quarters are permitted to bid for the houses. They were however not given that opportunity and got a rude shock instead as the government began evicting them.
As at the time of ERA/FoEN visit forceful eviction of locals and demolition of their quarters in Iva Valley Colliery Quarters and other coal mine communities was ongoing. The way the state government embarked on the evictions fuelled the suspicion that the coal fields may and beyond have also been sold and the government plans to go ahead with the commencement of coal mining without the consent of the locals.
ENVIRONMENTAL THREATS STILL RIFE
Meanwhile, the open pits surrounding communities where mining was hitherto carried out continue to pose environmental and health risks to them. Estimates put the impacted at over 100,000 people. Aside the dangers posed by the open pits, the mine fields are now overgrown with tall grasses and weeds that have made them haven for snakes and other dangerous reptiles. The communities are now also harassed by roving herdsmen from other parts of Nigeria who not only destroy their farmlands with their cattle, but also kill, rape the women and steal.
VISIT TO THE MINING COMMUNITIES
ERA/FoEN field monitors visited Onyeama, Iva Valley, Okpara and Ogbete to obtain testimonies from the local folks and document the current state of affairs in their environment.
From the testimonies taken from the community folks they were in unanimity that that due diligence was not a consideration in the sale of the lands and abode of former miners by the BPE as is expected under the federal government’s monetization policy on one hand, and in the agreement between the state government and the Chinese firm on the other hand, especially in the area of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
ERA/FoEN learnt that selling of the coal fields without any consultation with the locals means that the whole area that they inhabit has been sold without any clear indication on the limits of excavations and the impact of such activity by the company. The mining deal has also increased the apprehension of the local folks who also contend with the fact that the quarters they live have also been slated for sale without their knowledge.
Iva Valley belongs to Ngwo community. The entire landscape where coal was mined was given free by the Ngwo to the Nigerian government in exchange for employment during the glory days of coal mining. But all that has changed. The first port of call for the ERA/FoEN team wasIva Valley colliery quarter. Hereit was observed that onlyoneroad leadsinto the quartersand is riddled with cratersat virtually all the sections while the estate itself is now squalor. Crammed between what is known as Forest Hills and the Iva Valley Camps 1 and 2, it was supposed to be one of the prime residential areas in Enugu going by its history. That is however not the case as it is now a place for the down-trodden; retired and old miners and peoplewith no meaningful livelihood. Indeed, Iva Valley had long lost its glorious days. It is all now begging for attention and rehabilitation. As you approach the areas the only visible signs to show that it was once a well paved settlement are the mango, the orange and guava trees indicating that this place was once a beehive of social and economic lives.
It was observed also that the road that leads to the former mining site is in a parlous state, making vehicular movement tortuous. Because of this, several times the ERA/FoEN team had to alight and walk distances before joining the vehicle again. This happened several times. At the former mining sites dilapidated infrastructure including former offices, pipelines and rail tracks for the trains that hitherto conveyed coal from Enugu to other parts of the country were noticed and captured on camera.
Our guide explained that the constant invasion of farmers by herdsmen from the northern parts of Nigeria is now an added dimension to their woes.
At Onyeama it was also noticed that a lot of abandoned facilities dot the landscape of the former mining fields. A major issue that always came up in the course of the interrogation of locals, especially the women, is the pollution of the waters from the rocks bya chemical that was used at the washery in mining process. It was learnt that the waters from the surrounding rocks were very pure even up till the Nigerian civil war, so much that the Biafran soldiers that camped nearby called it “mirin ocha” meaning clean white water. The waters from the hills in Onyeama flow through several towns and terminate at the Ekulu River.
Okpara, like Onyeama had many abandoned facilities also overgrown with weeds. The team could only go as far as the entrance of one of the mines as a few of the locals along the way warned of dangerous snakes in the environment and the presence of herdsmen from the northern parts of the country that have been associated with destruction of farmlands, stealing, raping of women and killing in some cases.
The team however spoke with several community folks including Njemanze Oriaku, a former miner who said the community folks are not happy with news emanating from Iva Valley Colliery Quarters where their former colleagues have been forcefully ejected from the apartments even when they were not given the option of buying the houses as recommended under the Monetisation Policy.
Oriaku said; “If they could swiftly throw out people who have given their best in serving the state through their work and life, then there is a real possibility that the same fate awaits us”
AtOgbete where most of the coal mine exploration will be carried out by the Chinese firm — HTG-Pacific Energy Consortium — the team observed that many of the locals live within the vicinity of the moribund mines, the team met with, and spoke with locals who said that the deal between the government and the mining companywere carried out without any consultation with them. Emeka Ugbaka, a local farmer and resident of the community said the locals only got to know that the mines will soon be put into use by some of their wards in Enugu town who read the reports in the newspaper with shock.
In Ugbaka’s words: “The report in the newspapers seemed to indicate that we had met with the government and the firm and agreed they should proceed with the plans to explore the huge quantity of coal that were found buried in the earth in the community.
He explained further that,contrary to government publicity that consultations had been carried out and the locals have given the Chinese firm go ahead on the project, nothing of such happened. Instead, he said the locals now fear that they may face forceful eviction like former miners living in Iva.
His wife, Adaeze also corroborated his assertion, We always ensure one or two of our children remain at home whenever we go out to work so that if the government wants to spring a surprise like they did at the Iva Valley Colliery Quarters we will not be caught unawares. But the sad part of all this is that if they actually storm the community we will be helpless. The Colliery Quarters example shows because they are doing it in batches and come unannounced. It is really very sad.
TESTIMONIES AT TOWNHALL MEETING
The highpoint of the visit to the communities was a townhall meeting where the ERA/FoEN mission was explained. Philip Jakpor, ERA/FoEN project officer told the gathering that globally coal is being faced out as it is one of the solid minerals that pollute the environment coupled with its emissionthat causes lung problems and chest pains.
Anene of At the event the locals expressed their views on the matter in contention:
Nze Raphael Agu, retired coal miner
The secrecy and lack of transparency surrounding plans to resuscitate the moribund mines here in Enugu are very disturbing because we the former miners are now being systematically removed from the mining quarters that some of us have inhabited for over 40 years or more. The state government in partnership with the BPE is now making life unbearable through this backdoor activity. We had anticipated that in line with the federal government’s monetization policy initiated during the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo they would allow us bid for the houses we had occupied for years and then buy. This is what we learnt happened in other sectors so why should the coal mining sites and the quarters of former miners be sold without our knowledge or consent? Some of us have put in many years in coal mining and do not deserve this kind of treatment. I was first employed as a casual worker at the Colliery headquarters on 21st November 1955. As a casual I was in charge of the works department which handled roads, buildings and so on.
Nze Nicholas Ikpa, retired staff of Nigeria Coal Corporation
I worked in the coal mines before the Nigerian civil war and even after the war when the decline in coal production started. I was the chief security personnel so I know a lot that transpired at the time especially how people worked tirelessly and got little to show for it. The quarters is all the former miners have so you can imagine the pain of knowing that the BPE and Enugu state government could wake up one day and hand down notices of forceful execution. Now we are hearing of the plan to begin coal mines to feed the electricity plant in the state and they are telling us nothing. It is very sad that we now live in poverty.
Nkechinyere Onyemeachi, wife of retired miner in Iva Valley
Our eviction from Colliery Quarters came as a shock because nobody notified us prior to the day the eviction took place. Suddenly officials of the state government came to the quarters with stern-looking policemen, ordered us to get out of our homes and then started knocking down everything. They showed us a notice of eviction which nobody had received previously and said they had given us three months prior notice. The most painful part of this all is that my husband worked at the quarries for over 30 years and now suffers from arthritis due to the exposure to cold and other bad working conditions which affected him. Yet, this is how the government now wants to pay us back.
Pictures from the Communities
Symbol of Resistance: Monument of coal miners protest at Iva in 1949
A dilapidated structure at the Okpara mines
The entrance to one of the mining tunnels at Iva Valley
Jakpor explains thrust of community visits to folks at Udi-Siding near Ogbete Market
Some community representatives at the townhall meeting
- Federal and Enugu State governments review the sale of lands in the mining communities and engage the community folks in dialogue on all matters concerning the sale and planned commencement of coal mining
- Federal and Enugu State governments make public the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Chinese company – HTG-Pacific Energy Consortium
- The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) halts the ongoing secret sale of quarters inhabited by former coal miners in Enugu, some of whom have been living in the quarters for upwards of 40 years. Families already displaced in the process should be properly rehabilitated