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Landslides, crime devastate Cross River mining communities

The abundance of natural resources in Biase Local Government Area (LGA) of Cross River State, especially in the Akpet axis, has turned out to be…

The abundance of natural resources in Biase Local Government Area (LGA) of Cross River State, especially in the Akpet axis, has turned out to be a curse and source of death.

Akpet and its surrounding communities have been taken over by miners and businessmen dealing in gemstones, especially gold, but their mining activities continue to destroy the land and cause landslides.

The natives say the miners, most of whom are illegal, have destroyed their farmlands.

The Clan Head of Akpet Central, HRH Atte Obhort Sunday Evong, raised alarm over the illegal activities of the miners, as well as the grooming of thugs in the forests.

He also said landslides were now occurring more frequently in the communities with devastating impact on the environment and the people.

He said, “Collapse of mining sites is a regular occurrence in parts of Biase LGA where natural resources are being exploited with reckless abandon by licenced firms, as well as illegal miners.

“Even a few days ago we got reports that another mine collapsed and claimed one life.”

Daily Trust learnt that over two months ago there were reports that some mines caved in and killed no fewer than 10 persons.

Lamenting the impact of mining on the locals, the clan head said, “When they just abandon the mines without covering them we no longer farm there and we cannot pass there.

“So, you see that the number of vast lands claimed by abandoned mines has impacted farming activities and by extension has reduced food availability in our markets.

“And without properly covering these mines, the risk of continual landslides in Akpet cannot be foreclosed.”

The monarch, however, announced that they had revoked agreements they had with the licensed miners.

He alleged that criminals had invaded the communities, carrying out kidnapping and robbery at the behest of the miners.

Evong, who inaugurated a 21-man committee against illegal mining and influx of unidentified people in his palace at the weekend, charged the committee led by Mr Otte Evong Ebit and Bassey Otei Egbai as secretary to utilise legal means to discharge its mandate.

He said, “In the last few months, there have been a massive influx of criminally minded, strange persons who move about in our forests with sophisticated arms.

“A giant illegal mining firm has commandeered hundreds of hectares of our community lands, and when we ask questions and challenge them, they intimidate our people.

“They have been bribing some locals who guide them. They pay fabulously to our children for measures of gemstones so that they are no longer interested in going to school.

“We have revoked earlier agreements and instituted a committee to investigate and fish out illegal miners and unidentified persons that have flooded our forests and are exploiting resources without our authority.

“We also want the committee to fish out those that have formed themselves into unauthorised mining unions or associations under which they extort money from our people for this giant mining firm which prospects our God-given natural resources with impunity.”

And there is no telling if the activities of the miners and their militias will abate.

This is because, according to findings, many more firms, both licensed and unlicensed, are daily moving into these communities.

Some of the bigger and richer mining firms are alleged to have further grabbed vast expanses of land where these natural resources have been discovered.

The firms are reported to have invaded the local community forests with armed men to enable them to exploit the resources.

They are also often seen with armed soldiers and policemen, suggesting that the miners enjoy state support.

In an interview, Chairman of the Forest Management Committee in Akpet, Abraham Urom Obo, lamented that for over five years the firms continued to grab their lands without recourse to them or the local government authorities.

He said, “They have illegally acquired our lands, having bribed a few landowners and influential persons with vehicles and tokens.

“Their activities have impacted our environment. They have grossly cheated our communities by not disclosing what they exploit and carting them all away.

 “They do not employ our people; they rather invade our lands with strange and armed fellows who intimidate and kidnap us.”

Speaking, too, Chairman of the Gemstones Tracing Committee in the community, Elder Emmanuel Ehom, said the mining firm came to them in 2017 formally but had since abandoned the agreement and illegally acquired more than half of their community using arms.

He said, “No royalty is paid. No support for public infrastructure. We don’t even know what precious stones they are exploiting. They bribe a few persons and use arms to intimidate and silence us.”

A stakeholder who is an ace broadcaster, Iwara Iwara, expressed worry that their (firms) presence with armed thugs, apart from endangering the environment, had led to increased criminality in the communities.

He said the miners and their thugs had been attracted to Ibogo and other communities in Biase LGA where the illegal mining was beginning to birth a ramshackled settlement of criminally minded youths used by the equally criminally minded illegal miners as enforcers.

He added that, “They enforce the intimidation into submission of anybody who refuses to do the bidding of their employers. They are armed, and when there is no work, they switch to robbing on the stretch between Ibogo and the Ibiae Oil Palm Estate.”

Responding to the challenges brought about by mining, the state government through the Permanent Secretary for Security Services in the governor’s office, Dr Alfred Mboto, banned mining on November 16, 2022.

The government frowned at all illegal mining activities in the state, especially in Biase and Akamkpa LGAs, which it said constituted a threat to the safety and security of the areas.

It said security agencies had been directed to seal all illegal mining sites, arrest and prosecute all illegal mining companies and persons.

Reacting, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a mining firm in the state, Lady Diamond Sekibo, dissociated her firm from illegal firms that invaded the communities.

She insisted that as licenced miners they did declare what minerals they prospected, adding that they were meeting with the authorities to resolve many issues.

 

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