In the sparsely-populated community of Okobo located in Kogi state, coal is more a curse than a blessing.
The five-year presence of Eta Zuma mining company in the community, located in Ankpa local government area of Kogi state, has brought with it deaths, diseases, pains and sleeplessness.
The town’s water supply has been contaminated by mining. Babies and little children are hardly able to sleep at night. Elderly women are left awake with series of internal and external pains, while coal dust periodically swirls around the town as trucks trudge in and out.
Presently, the only health facility is the ETA Zuma company-owned staff clinic, which community members lack access to. Consequently, those who fall ill are often transported to the poorly-equipped general hospital in Ankpa — a journey of more than two hours.
In five years, Okobo people have not seen the benefits of the company that makes its bread from their land.
Everyone in Okobo appears to have a personal tale about the effects of mining activities. One by one, they had all been affected; not even the community head had been spared of the ripple effects of coal mining.
“If I keep looking at my people like this, we will die in vain. We are now in danger over this matter,” said Angeyi Onegema, the community head.
Onegema said the vibrations of heavy equipment used in the mine led to the collapse of the only primary school in the community. His son, Adamu, was one of the casualties of that incident.
As a result of the continuous excavating of coal with heavy equipment, it was only a matter of time before cracks began appearing on some structures in the village. The foundation of the school weakened gradually, and ultimately collapsed, killing Adamu.
The school was eventually rebuilt but Onegema’s son was gone for good.
Over time, coal mining activities in Okobo have caused heavy metals to dissolve into the water bodies around the mine site, rendering the water acidic and highly toxic.
The condition of the water makes it unsafe for domestic use and consumption and the villagers – those who can afford it – are forced to survive on sachet water.
The metallic elements found in their water have dangerous effects on the human body, animals, micro-organism, and ultimately plant life.
An analysis by Global Rights found a high level of copper, cadmium, chromium, phosphates, manganese were found in soil samples within 10 metres of the mining pit in Okobo for both dry and wet season.
These elements could lead to kidney damage, liver damage, anemia, liver disease, muscle pain, eczema, gastro-intestinal disease, hypoglycaemia.