The mining disaster in southern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a big lesson for Nigeria which is exploring solid minerals potential.
At least 41 artisanal miners were killed when part of a copper and cobalt mine owned by Swiss-based mining giant Glencore collapsed recently in southern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the governor of Lualaba, Richard Muyej, has said.
The accident was caused by the ill-equipped clandestine artisanal diggers who have illegally infiltrated mining sites, thereby digging without restrictions and supervisions causing the old terraces to give way and causing materials to fall.
Mining activities in Africa are dominated by artisanal miners who are unregulated.
In Nigeria, mining activities are largely dominated by artisanal miners whose activities are not regulated. Because of this, their activities usually pose serious risk to the environment, community, economy and to themselves as well.
Oyewola Oworu, consultant geologist, Walled Resources Ltd., said mining has different stages of development: open pitch mining and underground mining. What people engage now is mainly artisanal mining, where handful of holes are dug under the ground, known in Hausa language as “loto.”
Because these holes are not monitored and checked, they do collapse which obviously lead to disaster.
“The holes do collapse,” Oworu said.
Making sure that miners do what are expected of them and to protect miners accordingly are the responsibilities of mining inspectorate, say experts. But because artisanal miners are not within the purview of the law, they are not mandated to be protected by the mining inspectorate.
“Mining inspectorate cannot be protecting illegal operation. That is the major problem we have,” Oworu said on a telephone conversation with BusinessDay.
To curb the activities of the artisanal miners and to make sure their lives are not at risk requires conscious efforts from the government through the relevant agencies, otherwise, Nigeria may continue to lose the lives of its workforce on the ground that the miners are unregulated.
Oworu said there are adequate law in the country to regulate and monitor the activities of the artisanal miners, but Nigeria only lacks implementation and enforcement.
“The laws are there,” he said, adding that “the problem is supervision to make sure that miners are doing the right thing.”
Kabir Mohammed Kankara, national president, Miners Association of Nigeria (MAN), said Nigeria cannot experience such disaster because the mining sector of the country has not grown to such a level where big holes are dug underground, as it is in other mining developed countries such as DRC.
The big holes leading to the collapse were products of years of mining activities. Mining activities are relatively new in Nigeria, Kankara said.
“But what happened in DRC is an eye opener for us to start putting measure into place. We do not have to wait until it happens to us before we can learn,” he said.
Dele Ayanleke, national secretary, MAN, said apart from the handful of security challenges currently facing Nigeria, mining sites across the country are safe, without any fear of disaster.
“Apart from banditry and kidnapping, our mining sites are safe,” he said.
Nelson Eke, security consultant, Software Securities, said the security and policing of any nation has gone beyond mere using of hard ware equipment. The security apparatus now include listening and paying attention to the people’s needs.
According to him, a lot of people go into illegal mining because there is no job for them to do. Many of them are not lettered, who just merely need some money to survive.
“The so-called illegal miners do not even know the worth of what they carry. They just need something to feed on,” Eke said.
According to him, if alternative jobs are provided for these artisanal miners, illegality in the mining sector will drastically reduce, thereby giving room for government to properly regulate the few existing ones.
“Do not be surprised that these illegal miners are just exchanging their precious metal for a bottle of soft drink,” he deposited.
Elsewhere in the continent, mine disasters have cost the lives of numerous miners, especially unauthorised artisanal miners who operate without safety standards or regulations.
Nigeria needs to put his house in order before mining disasters catch us unaware, Eke said.
JOSEPH MAURICE OGU