Pupils’ lives at risk over illegal mining in Ebonyi community | Dailytrust

Pupils’ lives at risk over illegal mining in Ebonyi community

  A loader at a mining site in front of Ameka Community Primary School in Ezza South Local Government Area, Ebonyi State
A loader at a mining site in front of Ameka Community Primary School in Ezza South Local Government Area, Ebonyi State

Ameka community, located in Ezza South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, is rich in mineral resources such as zinc and lead, among others. Our correspondent who visited the community, writes on how illegal mining is affecting the area, including the only public primary school there, among other issues.

Ameka community in Ezza South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State shares a common boundary with Ohankwu, in Ikwo Local Government Area and Enyigba in Abakiliki Local Government Area of the state.

The community, as well as its adjourning neighbours, is richly blessed with mineral resources such as zinc and lead which are sold in large quantities to potential buyers, mostly foreigners.

But not everyone in the community has the opportunity to trade with the foreigners except few persons, mostly the stakeholders in the area.

Daily Trust on Sunday observed that 75 per cent of compounds in the area have a mining site or uncovered pits either in their residential premises, community land or other family lands elsewhere.

The high deposit of mineral resources, especially lead, in the area has made illegal mining a common practice among indigenes and has continued to pose environmental hazard in the area.

Our correspondent who visited the area and neighbouring environment in Ikwo axis recently, observed that mining which has become a major source of livelihood in the area, has led to the presence of about 30 uncovered mining sites, filled with water.

Also, schools, farmlands including community lands, are not exempted from being mined by the villagers, provided there are mineral deposits there.

Our correspondent observed that over three foreign companies are currently mining lead, salt, copper and zinc in large quantities in Enyigba axis of Abakaliki Local Government Area of the state.

What is mostly of great concern is the illegal mining going on at the premises of a primary school in the community. It was learnt that illegal mining started in the school premises in 2017.

A resident of the community, Mr Uguta Afamefuna who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday over the recent mining activity, maintained that illegal mining is the order of the day in the area.

Afamefuna, who gave details of how mining began in front of Ameka Community Primary School, said the miners have severally defied the outcry of some youths in the area. He noted, however, that the miners had the support of some of the elders before they start mining.

“Few people started mining behind this school premises and in the process destroyed the school farms, toilets, and other facilities that were built for the comfort of the pupils.

“Many people, particularly the youth of Ameka community, gathered to stop the mining at the back of the school, but all to no avail.

“So, a few people under the umbrella of Favour’s Club met and agreed to purchase a portion of the land (in front of the school). The school is situated in a community land.

“God really blessed us in this village and many people in this community are doing illegal mining. In fact, families or group of individuals usually come together, own and operate a mining site, although not large enough compared to those you see along the highway.

“Again, some persons have sites in their compound, farm or on their family lands. So, it is a common practice here.

“The first site (behind the school), which already is about 20 metres deep with a tunnel route towards the school blocks, began in 2017 by one of the elders (name withheld) whose compound shares a common boundary with the school,” he explained.

On how much the commodities are sold in the market, Mr Chinedu Ukwuda said they sell the minerals in Kilos. “A kilo of zinc cost about N150 while that of lead is N450. And we trade the commodities among ourselves in this community until it gets to the hands of those who export it,” he said.

Narrating their unfortunate experiences, the school headmistress Mrs Patricon Aloy told Daily Trust on Sunday that the activities of the miners in the school premises has continued to affect the learning environment of pupils in the school.

 

“Presently, we are only using one block of the building as classroom because of fear that others might collapse due to underground mining. So, we lack the conducive environment in the school premises. There is always noise everywhere even during school hours because of the activities of the miners.

“Most times, they use explosives which puts fear in the minds of the pupils. Look at the school buildings with cracks everywhere all because of the explosives. All these are affecting studying and learning in the school. We have made several efforts to stop the mining activities here. In fact, we have begged the government to come to our aid and we thank God that they have finally responded,” she explained.

Giving a background of the school, another indigene Mr Michael Ukwuome who told Daily Trust on Sunday that he graduated from the primary school in 1978, noted that there were school gardens and toilet behind the school premises back then.

Ukwuome, who also maintained that there was no fence during the era, explained that the school in the 70s was known as St. Aloysius Primary School before it was renamed Ameka Community Primary School.

“As a child, I started my primary school in 1972 and finished in 1978. I was born in 1965. We were then in the Eastern region before Anambra State was created from then Eastern region. Our teachers then were mostly from Anambra.

“I guess the school would have been established around 1956. It first started as a missionary school popularly known as Aloysius Primary School before the name was changed to Ameka Community Primary School. There was no fence then but we had farmlands which no longer exist today,” he stated.

Speaking with Daily Trust on Sunday over the rising cases of illegal mining in Ameka Community, the commissioner for environment and donor agencies, Dr. Richard Nnabo, who condemned the act, said the state government has marked about five pits for closure.

Dr. Nnabo also warned the leadership of the community not to mortgage the future of their people for peanuts.

“What you are seeing here is illegal mining activities taking place in a primary school and this is the primary school I attended from primary one to six but some persons feel they can practise illegal mining just for peanuts at the expense of our future, but the government has said no.

“People should learn to do the right things. They should also know that there are repercussions for every evil deed. What is happening is environmental degradation and it is within my jurisdiction as the commissioner for environment to arrest it.

“The government of David Umahi would not allow them to expose our children and the teachers as well as the entire village to danger. What they are mining here are lead and zinc and they don’t use protective gadgets. Even if they use, these children are likely to fall into any of the pits.”

The commissioner stated that five persons have been arrested over the Ameka Primary School mining.

“Five persons has been arrested while others are on the run. Some mining sites have been marked for closure in the community.”

He further called on investors willing to mine in any part of the state to follow due process.