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Life on the lake that never dries

The popular artificial lake behind the Bukuru stadium in Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State has coughed out millions of naira worth of…

The popular artificial lake behind the Bukuru stadium in Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State has coughed out millions of naira worth of iron ore and tin for over 60 years or even more. Known as the lake that never dries, it is a place where men and women, the young and old converge   daily to dig out, wash, package and sell solid minerals for mostly buyers from the southern part of the country, especially those coming from Port Harcourt in Rivers State.
The ‘tin-shed’, as it is called by miners, had once been a bee hive of activities, but gradually as tin mineral became tough to extract, the lake had lost its attraction. With no more tin to be mined, most miners had left the area in search of other, better pounds leaving those interested in extracting iron ore to scrape from the scattered remnants within the surrounding earth and the bottom of the lake.
At present, children take their bath on one side of the bank, while the other surrounding areas are occupied by   busy miners, shoving, scraping, washing and pilling Karfe as they call it in Hausa. It is also here that 60-year-old Sabo Chung has made his second home since he was ten years old. Having learnt to mine from his late father, Chung told Weekly Trust that “I used to school when I was a child, but when the financial burden became too much for my father I had to stop and join him by this lake. Then there were so many people around and tin was found both in the lake and inside the earth and since then I have been into this profession.”
While showcasing his heap of iron ore packaged in sacks, he explained that “I come here every morning as early as 8am with my wife and sometimes we don’t leave here until 9pm. By the end of the day we must have gathered and packaged about ten bags of iron ore which we usually sell within two or three days.”
Most of the excavators at the tin-shed usually start the day’s work with digging of the soil within their individual portions, the sand is then gathered and taken to the river for washing popularly called Buggu in Hausa, which is the process of pouring water over the sand to separate the iron.
He said “once you start Buggu, you will see the sand coming off and the black substance which is the iron will remain. We then pile the ore in one place and   later package and sell them for N200 a bag to the local buyers who sell them to the buyers from the south.”
Chung, however, said the price of the ore had recently depreciated as against the N300 they sold a few months back. “We used to sell the bags for N300, but the price recently plunged and we now sell them for N200. We don’t know why the price of the iron has depreciated, but the local buyers insisted that the demand for it has lessened this season and so we had to reduce the price,” he said.
As everyone works within his or her marked out portion on the bank of the lake, Chung said “everyone has a separate portion where he or she excavates and no one is allowed to venture into another person’s territory. This is to avoid disputes, because you cannot go to somebody’s house to look for something. That thing must definitely belong to the owner of the house.”
He, however, said for those who may be interested in excavation “we don’t own this place though some of us have been here for over 50 years, but anyone who wants to excavate can come and start. The materials here are almost finished; we are only managing, that is why we are appealing to the state government to find a better place for us because this is what we use in feeding our families and sending our children to school.”
However, the Plateau State Commissioner for Mineral Development Mr Sani Adubok recently warned that the activities of illegal miners in the state was posing a major concern to the state government and will no longer be tolerated.
Adubok had stressed that “the illegal miners activities were having devastating effects on people’s lives and the environment. Therefore we will soon commence arresting and prosecuting illegal miners in Plateau State.”
He said “we cannot allow people to keep threatening the environment under the guise of mining especially since the state has many yet to be reclaimed mining ponds littered around. All prospective miners in the state must obtain licence before going into the mining business.”
Law enforcement agents, Weekly Trust gathered, had in the past curtailed the activities of miners in the area, but undeterred, the miners had simply returned to continue their activities a few days later. Juliana Abraham, one of the local buyers of iron, told Weekly Trust that “the police officers have come here to chase us, but soon after we will return because this is what we do to feed our families.”
While explaining the importance of iron to the buyers from Port Harcourt, Abraham said “the oil companies use this ore in the south-south, especially people who come from Port Harcourt. They melt   and layer it over the pipelines that are being vandalised by the militants, because this iron is very strong and hinders vandalization.”
She said the lake is protected from vandals by the excavator’s association who collect as much as N20,000 from every truck leaving for Port Harcourt. “The union leaders are not here presently; they have travelled to the village to farm, but they usually guard this place at night because the excavators leave their iron here. They also collect about N20,000 from each truck that comes here from the south. As soon as the trucks are loaded with the iron, they pay the required amount before they leave,” she added.
The miners seem to be oblivious of the detriment of their profession to the environment and their health, claiming that they have not experienced any serious health challenge as a result of their activities but Dr. Everest Kemas of the Jos University Teaching Hospital says the long term effect of exposure to tin and iron include depression, liver damage, malfunctioning of the immune system, shortage of red blood cells and even brain damage.
Dr. Kemas further explained that acute side effects for miners include eye and skin irritation, headache, stomach ache, severe sweating, breathlessness and urination problems. He urged those who have chosen a long life of work in the mining industry to go for routine medical checks.

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