Geography: Ebonyi state is one of the states in the southeast of Nigeria. It lies between 703 N longitude, 50 4 E with a landmass approximated at 5.932 Sq.Km. The population of the state by the 2006 census is put at 3 million inhabitants. The state has boundaries in the North with Benue state, in the east with the Cross River, south with Abia state and west with Enugu state.
Mineral Deposits: The state is blessed with rich mineral resources such as Lead, Limestone, Zinc, Marble, Gypsum, granite Quarrying reserves, lignite, coal, salt, copper, kaolin, false gold phosphates etc.
Granite Quarrying Activities: Of all the mineral constituents, granite is widely mined and is in large quantities scattered in various communities of the state such as Ishiagu in Ivo LGA, Ngbo in Ohaukwu LGA, Ezzainyimagu in izzi LGA, Nkaliki Unuhu and Enyigba in Abakaliki LGA, Umuogharu in Ezza North, Ameta in Ezza South LGA; Ameri in Ikwo LGA, Amike Abba in Ebonyi LGA, Akpoha in Afikpo North LGA and Nkalagu in Ishielu LGA Most of the extractive activities is done by local people except in few areas such as at Ishiagu where Crush Rock industries ltd is operating and Akpoha still negotiating with Julius Bergers.
Extraction Process: A prospective site is cleared of vegetation and later a hole is drilled deep into the rock and wired with dynamites ready for explosion. The dynamites are detonated with ear-deafening noise that shock the foundation of buildings, crack the walls, and break glass louvers. In one instance that happened in the day, a lorry driver lost control and knocked down a cyclist severing his leg from the knee and flung him into the Azuiyiokwu River. It took immediate rescue of passers-by to rescue him from the river but to date Mr. Nwikpe limps on one leg. Similar incidents are rampant together with the careless driving of the tipper and trailer drivers. These extractive activities in most of these communities are uncoordinated with no supervision or requirement for environmental impact assessment. The resultant effect is that most of the time, the lands are degraded and prone to gullies and erosion besides leaving the soil infertile.
Workforce: Women account for over 80% of the cheap labour. Widows, pregnant women, children of school age, and out-of-school youths are a common sight in all the extracting and quarrying sites. While the men are into drilling tiny holes into the granites using Monday hammer and detonating the mines with grenades, the women and youths are involved in carrying the blasted chippings from holes of over 50meters deep and in some areas over 10 hectares wide. The lumps and crushed chippings are loaded in 10-15tons tippers and long trailers that take to them to either the final processing sites or to buildings and road construction sites where the end products are utilised.
Work at the sites start as early as 7.30 am and could last till 6.pm. Dust particulates consisting of silicates and other cancerous minerals are inhaled by these workers and children that accompany them to sites freely.
Earnings, Livelihood, and Hazards: These groups of workers earn between Four Hundred (400) and Five Hundred Naira (N500) daily, and from this sum, they are expected to fend for their families and meet their health challenges. Most of the women that work at these sites are from polygamous homes where the woman are left to fend fr themselves and their children. Pregnant mothers and nursing mothers also work at these locations further exposing the health of their unborn child and the under-five olds to skin, lung, and pneumonia infection. They are exposed to such risks as industrial accidents from the pulley machines they operate, drowning from abandoned burrows, noise, dust, and water pollution. They also complain of severe body pains, cough, and constrictions. They aggravate their condition by taking snuff (Tobacco and potash) which they claim helps them to clear the nostrils, chests, and lungs.
Through interviews conducted by N.E.W at the various sites it is obvious that the casual labourers working in these sites do so out of frustrations and lack of meaningful engagements or employment. They are aware of the hazards of their work and could count colleagues who had died from work but do not have viable alternatives due to illiteracy, lack of skill acquisition, and family demands. Owners of the land where the granites are extracted could sell an acre of land for such pittance as N200, 000. There is no policy or institutional protection for these casual workers who suffer and are abandoned to their fate by the government. The few environmental Non-Governmental Organisations working in the state lack the funds and capacity for persistent advocacy for inclusion of this vulnerable group into government programs or to train the workers in skill acquisition enterprises.
Environmental Impacts of the Mining: After the minerals are extracted, there is no fill back or any remediation to restore the lands to previous positions. Trees cut are never replanted. The burrows serve as artificial lakes that drown children, livestock, and the unwary. Many homes suffer from collapsed buildings occasioned by cracks on the walls and on their foundation. In a reported case during a HoCoN meeting at Umuogharu, it took the villages six tedious days to recover a corpse that got drown, resulting from unexpected flooding that trapped the workers down the gorge.
Poverty: Ebonyi state has a poverty index of 33.3%, the highest in the whole of the southeast. The predominant occupation of the people is subsistent farming. With the coming of civilian democracy, politics offers the next alternatives, and lives are lost in a competitive bid to be in a political position. The rate of poverty remains high in the various communities as the lands are no more fertile for agriculture. The chemicals used in the rock blasting and the particulates of sulfur and silica are carried into the artificial ponds that serve both domestic and livestock use resulting in gastroenteritis diseases.
Lack of Government Presence. Most of the communities, where these extractive activities occur, lack government presence. Water remains a dire need of the people. Boreholes serve as the major source of water yet many of these communities lack these provision or other sources of potable water. Even where the boreholes are provided, the quality is poor that the people revert to the contaminated ponds for use as the mineral deposits underground affect the water quality. Access roads and health facilities are other challenges. Only tippers, trailers, and project vehicles of strong quality could access some of these areas. Unfulfilled government promises and harsh environments to which the people work sometimes make them hostile to visitors whose intention to these communities is not well defined.
However these communities would appreciate any genuine efforts to improve their living standards, provide them with basic social amenities and connect them to government programs.
We conducted interviews with some of the workers at the various sites and below is their responses as translated by me, Okezie, kelechukwu
Annex A: Interviews
My name is Precious Igwe. I am 25yrs old. I am a school cert holder (SS3), working as a labourer at this mining site. I am doing this job because my parents can’t afford to train me further. I can do business if I am giving money or if the government can give me employment. This work is tedious and I use to feel pains at the waist, chest, and all over my body. Sometimes I feel cough.
My name is Blessing Alieze. I don’t know my age. I am from Enyim Ukwunbosi village. I have been working here for the past 3yrs. I started this work at 8 am and close by 4.30 pm. I have six children. I cater for since the death of my husband. I earn four hundred Naira (less than one Dollar) at the end of the work assuming there is ‘market’. I always have 'pepperish' pains all over my body. To treat myself I visit the Chemist and ask the chemist to mix drugs for me. I have never gone to the hospital for medical attention due to a lack of money. I am requesting for assistance. Even in my village, we have no boreholes and so travel long distances to fetch from neighbouring community or drink from stagnant ponds call ‘okpuru’.
My name is Chijioke Nwafor. I am 25years. I have worked here for the past 8 months. I dropped out of school due to a lack of money from my parents to train me. I dropped in JSS2. We are eight (8) in my family and I am the firstborn. I earn between 400 to 500 naira daily and I use the money to fend for myself alone. I am not doing this work because I want to do it but because I have no other alternative. This is not a work you can use to cater for your family or make a meaningful living. The risks are many. After the work, I feel as if someone is using a hammer on my body. I feel body weak daily from this work.
My name is Theresa Nwakpa . I am a widow with four children. I am from Ediaji Village. My husband died four years ago. I earn about four hundred Naira daily from this work. This my four children are in public school and I train them. One of my children is sick for the past two weeks and I am doing this work to see if I can raise money for her hospital bill. I suffer from heart and chest pains.
Sunday Nwogwu. I carry the stones from the holes to the top and I receive about 500 Naira. I am from Enyim village. We have this solid minerals and it is from this village that major lumps are taken to the sites, yet we do not have even a borehole, a road, or a health facility. We do this work both in the dry and rainy seasons. During the rains, we use an electric motor engine to drain the holes so we can go down and carry out the lasted lumps to the surface and to load them in a waiting tipper. We appeal for assistance to improve our living; we suffer so much from this work.