The coal mining communities of Ankpa Local Government Area of Kogi State have for decades remained an investors' delight. The mining communities in Ojoku district are located in a lush vegetation that splashes its green colour in a vast open undulating plain in the east of the local government area. Beneath this naturally endowed thick flora that covers the mining region is the treasure - coal - fondly called black gold. It spreads its bed in the entire district, which some project could last up to hundreds of years to come.
Alhassan Ahmed, an elder in the mining community of Odagbo, said the black gold was thought to be a harbinger of blessing by residents, but regretted that by the turn of events over the years, it turned out to be an illusion.
"I grew up knowing Odagbo settlement like this; it has not changed in any form. I came to know that the coal mining started here in 1968 by the Nigeria Coal Cooperation (NCC), but up till now, there is nothing to show for it," he said.
Daily Trust Saturday reports that the town is still wearing an ancient look. "Our residents remain the poorest of the poor. Our story is one of dashed hopes," Ahmed lamented.
The plight of the residents of the sleepy settlement of Odagbo reflects the ugly picture of the rest of the mining communities in the district. It is a community with a name that remains inseparable from coal mining in Nigeria and is said to be sitting on a coal deposit of about 72 billion tonnes. Records from the Federal Ministry of Mines, Steel Development, however, reveal that only relatively over 350 million tonnes are said to have been tapped.
Tracing its formal coal excavation history, Daily Trust Saturday gathered that the Nigerian Coal Corporation kicked off operations in Odagbo in 1967, with full operations commencing in 1968. It, however, suspended mining activities in 2001 due to issues allegedly bothering on mismanagement.
Shedding more light, a director in the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development posited that after an unsuccessful privatisation of the mining corporation by the Bureau for Public Enterprises in 1999, government withdrew all the necessary assistance to the NCC till about 2002 when the company finally shut down its operation.
Sources within the ministry said that around 2013, the federal government was forced to auction some of the assets of the NCC, including that of Odagbo, in order to pay up some outstanding debts of the cooperation.
The collapse of the NCC brought Nordic Nigeria Limited on board in a short-lived mining operation at Odagbo. However, the company later lost the right of ownership of the site in a legal tussle with Kaylor Energy Limited and subsequently stopped operation.
Our correspondent gathered that presently, Koylar Energy Limited, a Zuma coal-fired power plant, and another company said to be piloted by Dangote Group, are chief investors, with staked money in the coal mining district. And residents claim they are groaning under land degradation and water pollution.
Koylar Energy Limited, an Indian company with mining number W008123, is said to be in charge of four mining communities in Ojoku district: Odagbo, Ofanwa, Alufele and Odogomu, while Zuma, a coal-fired power plant, is operating at Okobo, Ika and Enjema. Dangote Group is operating in Awo and Olupi communities in the district.
Despite these big names in mining activities, residents have consistently raised alarm of neglect and abject poverty.
According to the youth leader of Odagbo, Comrade Saidu Haruna, the present woes of the mining communities were due to total neglect of the contractual agreement by past miners in handling the side effect of their activities. He said community development agreements, which bestowed terms and implementation of cooperate social responsibility on the mining company, were not always adhered to by investors.
He alleged that miners often colluded with some senior citizens of the communities to shortchange the inhabitants. The youth leader said youths had a few months ago protested over the refusal to fix erosion that threatened a road, which forced the mining company to roll out heavy duty machines to grade it.
According to Haruna, the defunct Nodic mining company had constructed a town hall for the community within two years of operation, stressing that a plead to the Kaylor mining company management to assist in the rehabilitation of the only primary school in the village fell on deaf ears.
The youth leader stated further that the contractual agreement with the stakeholders to employ citizens in the community was abandoned, saying the company only employed outsiders and engaged indigenes of the community in menial jobs like security and cleaning.
"At the heat of this bottled grievances, youths in the community barricaded the road leading to the mining site few months ago. I was arrested by operatives of Navy and lebelled a terrorist. I was later released after the intervention of stakeholders. But we are happy that our road was graded to allow tension to calm down and for the company to continue its operation smoothly," he said.
In Odagbo, the residents bemoaned lack of basic social amenities, such as electricity, potable water, health facilities and good schools despite years of mining activities in the area.
"The streams, which were the only source of drinking water in the communities, have been contaminated. We rely on two main streams: Aji Achokpa and Aji Oke as our source of drinking water.
"That of Odagbo Ofanwa, (Aji Oke) has been blocked by the activities of the miners, forcing the residents out to trek for many kilometres to Odagbo to fetch water for domestic use. The pressure on the stream has made it to shrink over the years," Haruna narrated.
Also speaking, an official of the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development who did not want to be named, said the Nigeria Mineral Act (NMA), 2007 had properly defined the relationship between miners and host communities.
According to NMA 2007 Act 20, section 123 124(abc) and 125, pollution of water course is prohibited by miners in given communities, and it empowers miners to keep water course purified and spelt out compensation for damages and pollution so done.
The NMA Act states, "No person shall, in the course of mining or exploration for minerals, pollute or cause to be polluted, any water or watercourse in the area within the lease or beyond that area. A licensee or lessee shall pay compensation to the owner or occupier."
According to the official, it is, therefore, an obligation on the part of the miners or investors to service community development agreements based on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), environmental obligation, contents of the environmental Protection and rehabilitation programmes as spelt out in the NMA Act, 2007, section117, 119 and 120 before they commence any mining operations in a given area.
He added that the NMA Act 2007, section 4a empowered an aggrieved community to write the minister of mines and steel development for solution if they and investors could not sort out their differences and strike a compromise.
When reminded of the instructions of the NMA Act and the need to seek redress to ease their plight, most of the residents said they had written to that effect.
"We are aware of the provision of the Act as it affects our collective destiny in mining communities, various classes of associations or interest groups. The elders, youths and educated class have done a lot of work over our plight to no avail," Jimoh Okpanachi, an elderly resident of the area said.
They appealed to the federal government and the Kogi State Government to prevail on investors to ensure social responsibility as contained in the Community Development Agreement (CDA).
The frosty relationship between the host community and miners at the Okaba- Odagbo mining axis remains the same as other two mining sites in Ojokwu district. The residents at Ika and Okobo mining communities where Zuma coal -fire power plant operates had recently demonstrated against ill-treatment by the investors saying, the CDA was abandoned by the miners.
In a brief interview over the phone, an investor, Zakari Yau, operating at Enjema, Ika and Okobo axis mining sites said the allegations of abandonment by host communities was untrue. The investor said there was no grumbling in any guise or over any grievances by his host communities, hinting that there is peace and tranquility in the area of his operation.
"We have no problem with host communities. Our relationship is cordial; we have no grievance in any form. And if you want to know more details, come for a round table discussion over it," he said.
But when our correspondent reached out for appointment with him, he failed to acknowledge a text message to that effect or respond to calls.
He said the existing cordial relationship between miners and the hosts was because over 60 per cent of the investors or miners were from the environment of the district, and as such, they would not do anything that is injurious to residents of the community.
Efforts to speak with officials of Kaylor Mining Company failed as the security head of the company, identified as Moses, at the Okaba-Odagbo site directed all inquiries to the company's administrative headquarters in Ankpa.
When our correspondent visited the company's administrative headquarters in Ankpa, officials approached declined to comment, saying, "We don't talk to the press."