Foreign firms operating mining sites have been making lives unbearable for residents of the Chachi community, Zuma Rock Estate in Niger State. DAMILOLA AINA writes on the effects on the people

Chididum, a seven-year-old boy, is afraid. He is seated with his elder brother, Emmanuel, outside his father’s residence without any impending attack from kidnappers or bandits, but he is scared. Trying to explain the cause of his fears, the young boy pointed at a heavy-duty machine dissecting rocks from 200 metres away. To him, the stones are another form of insurgency.

“The stones are too big, and it affects our house. If it falls on your head, you will die,” Chididum said.

As our correspondent was pondering his utterance, he continued, “The vibration from there is very bad. Sometimes, we think it is a bomb, and it has started affecting our houses too. They just break the rocks anyhow.”

For decades, the Chachi community and Zuma Rock Estate have enjoyed God’s gift of nature, Zuma Rock. While the estate is sparsely populated with little or no economic activity going on, Chachi is an agrarian community.

But the livelihood and lives of the residents are being threatened by the presence of Huatai Construction Ltd., Lian Hua Quarry, and Construction Product Nigeria Ltd., which are owned by foreigners who arrived in the community about two years ago.

The quarry is close to the UNESCO-certified Zuma Rock, which contains a large natural “monolith,” or “inselberg,” an igneous intrusion composed of gabbro and granodiorite, located in Niger State.

Zuma Rock stands tall and majestic, bequeathing the landscape the gift of its presence. Regal in its appearance, the other mountains in and around Abuja and Niger State stay a respectable distance from it, paying a kind of obeisance to its royal presence.

The rock is located immediately west of Abuja, the nation’s capital, along the highway to Kaduna off Madala, a dusty town referred to as the “Gateway to Abuja from Suleja.”

It rises approximately 300 metres (980 feet) above its surroundings. It is said to be taller than two national monuments—Aso Rock and Olumo Rock—combined.

But for the residents of Chachi community and Zuma Rock Estate, the hitherto idyllic setting of Zuma Rock has literally become a valley of fear due to the threat to life posed by the mining activities in the area.

Our correspondent was denied access to the mining site, but with the use of Google Earth, the large-scale mining operation going on could be deduced.

Halimat and Umar, who are siblings, may be considered lucky. Their saving grace on that fateful day was the extra lesson they had with their teacher after school hours. Due to the heavy vibration from the quarry, the walls of their home caved in after a series of explosions earlier this year, but luckily, they were not back from school when the incident occurred.

“Our house collapsed partly because of explosions from the quarry. Immediately after the blast that day, the back of our house collapsed. Thank God, my mother was at home; she noticed that the room was shaking with small stones falling from the roof. She was able to pack some of our belongings. “The walls collapsed before she could call our neighbours for help,” Umar recalled.

Halimat explained that no form of compensation was offered by the companies to her parents despite several appeals by the community leaders.

She said, “Yes, our house collapsed early this year because of an explosion at the mining site. The wall separating our three rooms collapsed. When it happened, an old man tried to help us get justice, but he couldn’t do much, so we didn’t have any option but to rebuild it ourselves; we didn’t even plaster it, and that is how the matter died down.”

When our correspondent visited the rebuilt house, a visible crack was noticed in the renovated section.

For Christian, who looks to be in his early teens, nothing seems to bother him about the rippling vibrations and ear-shattering sound from the rock blasting.

“No, it doesn’t affect me,” he stated when our correspondent questioned him. He, however, expressed fear over the durability of the houses in the area.

“Our windows shake seriously when there is an explosion. I am not okay with it because it can damage my ears, but there is nothing I can do,” he stated.

More agonising stories from residents

The perturbed expressions of the residents of Chachi community and Zuma Rock Estate revealed that they have a lot on their minds; a burden they wish could be miraculously resolved.

Maryam explained that it was a struggle to keep the household items safe when an explosion goes off. She narrated that her radio and television set had been damaged by the heavy vibration from the quarry.

Speaking in broken English, she stated, “I don’t forget the time wey (the company) them come but e never reach two years. We dey this area before them come. The noise and vibration dey affect us well well. Dem fit blast rock two times a day. We are already getting used to it.”

She added that the blast goes off twice a day sometimes and up to four or five times a week.

Another resident, a middle-aged man who declined to disclose his identity, confirmed the ugly situation, saying the evidence could be seen in the cracked walls.

One of the houses

A man whose wife is pregnant said no form of compensation had been paid to them, noting that the community lacked electricity and other amenities despite its proximity to the nation’s capital.

“Hmmm, e dey disturb well well. If you dey inside the room, you go see as the house dey shake (demonstrating with his hands how it happens). I started living in this area four years ago. E never tey wey dem come, it’s up to two years,” he disclosed.

He further stated that his wife and children are used to the explosion but insisted that a change must happen soon.

Narrating his experience, Tosin, a student who is still at home due to the Academic Staff Union of Universities strike, stated that residents live in constant fear as they are unable to distinguish between a blast from the quarry and bandit attacks.

He said, “This area is susceptible to attacks, and the moment an explosion at the mining site goes off, we are afraid. I have witnessed it several times, and in a week, it happens four to five times a week. The stones don’t get here; we only hear the sound and feel the vibration evident with the shaking of windows and walls.

“About a month ago, bandits attacked a military checkpoint close to this place. Due to the attack, our fears are heightened whenever there is an explosion, as we are not certain if it is a bandit attack or not. We are actually scared.”

Traditional rulers’ houses

The community leader, Jonathan Yakubu, was sitting under a mango tree, discussing with friends, when our correspondent engaged with him.

Yakubu asserted that the cracks on his walls were evidence of the devastation wrought on the community by the quarry blasts.

“There are visible signs of cracks in my parlour or even room; if you look at that house over there, you can see that there is a crack and there is a patch, it was not like that before the mining started. Mining activities blew off that roof (pointing to another house). There is another house down there, the mining activities removed its roof too,” he lamented.

He also stated that residents were moving out of the place due to frequent explosions.

When asked what he is doing to address the situation, the community leader stated that it is difficult to do anything as the foreigners managing the site are rarely seen.

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According to him, anytime there is a blast, dust fills the air, and it is almost impossible for residents to breathe well, adding that they stay indoors once they hear the blast warning.

He added, “Well, it is true. If you met me at home, I would have shown you my TV and radio that got spoilt because of the noise and vibration. You know that kind of vibration affects radio and TV. I am even tired, and I’m not going to spend money to repair it again.

“Most of us here are police officers, with a few civilians. This issue is affecting everyone here, especially our electronics.

“Anytime they start blasting, dust would cover the whole area, making it difficult to breathe, and this is very unhealthy. Some people have already started moving out to Giri.

“The children run for shelter anytime it starts; how I wish you would witness what we go through here. We have light, but it is not stable; we don’t have water or a hospital. The government just abandoned us here with no compensation or corporate social responsibility from the companies.”

“The owners of this place are not Nigerians, but the people working there are Nigerians, so we will end up fighting our brothers because of a foreigner. That is why we have been silent about it.”

On his part, the Seriki of Chachi Community, Musa Chachin, blamed the government for their plight, stating that it was aware of the situation and adding that officials had once cautioned the quarry workers to reduce the blasting intensity.

The Seriki, who spoke through an interpreter, said, “This has been happening for over five years now. I can tell you categorically that we are not happy about this blasting because it has destroyed houses and we have to build them back ourselves. I can count up to 10 homes that we had to rebuild. Our lives are in danger because of this.

“The elders of the town have taken reasonable steps by taking our cries to the government, but the commissioner was here once with his entourage and advised them to reduce the blasting.

“Since their arrival, they (mining companies) have given us nothing. We’ve not gotten anything from them. The blast happens during the day. It makes us feel very uncomfortable, and we always panic whenever there is blasting because it’s not an event you’ve already planned for or have in mind that would happen. Till now, this hasn’t stopped.

“On a final note, I will appeal to the government to construct our roads because this is one of the major challenges we face in this society.”

Making money

Our correspondent counted no fewer than 20–25 heavy-duty trucks loaded with granite going in and out of the quarry site. But many of the residents said the number was low compared to what they witnessed.

“The number of trucks has dropped. I think sales have dropped due to the rainy season. The blasting has also decreased. Once the rain stops, they will continue, and supply will increase during the dry season because of road projects,” said Mummy Imran.

Firms contravene law

According to the National Environmental (quarrying and blasting operations) Regulations, 2013, “a person shall not locate a quarry or engage in blasting within three kilometres of any existing residential, commercial, or industrial area.”

Using Google Earth, an open-source app using satellite imagery, our correspondent discovered that the distance between the blasting site and the community runs contrary to the law.

Findings indicate that the blasting site is about 1,838 feet away from houses in the community.

Blasting is generally adopted for rock excavation, and the level of the resulting ground vibration and the structural response depends on the explosive type and weight, delay time, blasting technology, soil properties, the distance between the structure and the blasting centre, the susceptibility ratings of the adjacent and remote structures, and the age and type of the structure.

Further checks on the Nigerian mining cadastral office website showed that none of the companies in the area had been issued a licence to operate.

According to the website, 1,124 companies had been issued licences as of July 30 for different mining activities across the federation.

Experts reactions

Reacting to the findings by our correspondent, a public health expert and Senior Vice President for Africa, Human Health Education and Research Foundation, Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor, enumerated the numerous implications associated with such activities.

Speaking in a telephone interview, he said, “The first implication is the noise pollution; the noise from cracking stones will definitely affect people’s hearing, and apart from hearing, it will disturb people’s sleep and rest.

“Also, when the rocks are broken into pieces, part of it becomes dust and is easily blown away by the wind. When people in the vicinity inhale it, it would have consequences for lung diseases.

“That kind of dust may also affect their water. I can imagine in those kinds of communities, people fetch water from wells; it can be contaminated, and this will have a greater effect on their health.”

He added that the residents of the communities are equally prone to life-threatening diseases such as hypertension, high blood pressure, asthma, sleeping disorders, and other respiratory diseases.

“Another thing to be mentioned is that sound can lead to hypertension and high blood pressure. It can also create anxiety, like today’s insecurity, when you hear those sounds; you think it is an attack. This is not good for their health.

“For children and pregnant women, the consequences won’t be different from other adults, although they have a longer time to live with the consequences compared to adults. For pregnant women, childbirth may be stressful; it could affect the progress of pregnancy and might lead to hypertension or induce premature labour. There should be a standard distance for quarry operations. A quarry should never be situated in a residential area.”

Government, company’s reactions

When contacted, the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development’s Mines Inspectorate department noted that it was aware of the company’s activities and added that none of its laws have been violated.

It said this in a statement signed by its Federal Mines Officer, Daniel Gazdama.

It read, “We are aware that there are miners in that environment. Currently, there are two companies engaged in quarrying activities near Zuma Rock, namely, Hua Tai Construction Nig. Ltd. with licence number QLS 1656, which has been working at the site since 2015, and Lian Hua Quarry Nig. Ltd. with licence number QLS 33546, which started work in 2021. These companies are licenced and have extant quarry leases.”

Checks, however, showed that the companies are missing from the list of licenced firms on the mining cadastral office’s website. Furthermore, findings revealed that the quarries were less than 3 km from the residential area, which is the required distance.

Gadzama maintained that the host communities have maintained an amicable relationship with the companies.

He added, “Host communities around the quarrying sites have been engaging with the companies ever since the commencement of their operations. The Niger State Mineral Resources and Environmental Management Compliance Team have also played its part in ensuring an amicable relationship between the companies and the host communities. We have not received any reports or complaints about collapsing buildings from community representatives or individuals since 2019.”

But the Seriki of the Chachi community insisted that several complaints levelled against the mining firms remain unaddressed.

The chairman of the Nigerian Union of Mines Workers, Al-Mustapha Shehu, absolved the companies of allegations of wrongdoing.

“Bring the task force to see if what they are doing is right or wrong,” Shehu, a quarry manager, said dismissively.

By Vision

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