In its war against economic sabotage and illegal mining, the Ebonyi State government has embarked on sting operations, which have resulted in massive arrest of illegal miners. UCHENNA INYA, in Abakaliki, reports
Ebonyi is blessed with various mineral deposits. Some of the minerals are lead, Zinc and limestone, which in recent times have become precious commodities, attracting all manner of illegal miners from within and outside the country.
Investigations reveal that while at least, ten truck load of lead and zinc depart various mines in Ebonyi State every week, the state government gets only N96 million annually as its 13 per cent derivative.
Angered by the activities of the illegal miners, the state government embarked on sting operation in some communities in the state which resulted in the arrest of over 30 suspects, including six Chinese. It ordered the closure of Zinc and Lead mines in the state.
At one of the mining sites, a tunnel was discovered. The tunnel was created by the illegal miners with which they operate underground mining. Security agencies could not enter the tunnel as they were afraid.
It was gathered that the miners are not alone in the illegal business as some Community Leaders and politicians always go into phony agreement with them and consequently short change government in revenue generation.
The Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Security matters, Dr. Kenneth Ugbala, who led a combined team of security agents, made up of policemen, soldiers and DSS to arrest the suspects in Abakaliki and Ivo Local Government Areas of the state, explained that the state government was not aware of the sites while a tunnel they dug measuring hundreds of metres away did not go through Environmental Impact Assessment, EIA.
He expressed shock on the activities of the miners which he said has created environmental problem to the state.
“The future of this state is at stake because of the activities of these illegal miners. I have the privileged of being in China and Chinese don’t temper with their environment no matter what the problem may be. With the type of problem created here in the name of mining, it is possible that this tunnel they created must have passed to underground to Government House and every other places that Ebonyi people are living.
“So, what do we expect? A total collapse! When we are living up, another road is in the ground in the name of mining and there is no society and there is no environment, states that this type of thing
is seen. It is not as if they pay IGR and when you come to IGR, what type of IGR will even be more important than the future of our children and the entire people of the state. We will make sure that we fish-out all these people. As SSA on Internal Security, I am seeingthis thing for the first time. It is threat to our environment”, he said.
On her part, Special Adviser to Governor Umahi on Solid Mineral Development, Mrs. Nwakaego Nworie, said that she had visited the site with Geological experts and that the miners only allowed them to see the premises and prevented them from going round the whole site.
“I became very curious and insisted that I must see the whole site. I moved down inside the site. I got to a place a soldier blocked me and threatened to shoot me if I pass him. The soldier told me, don’t go to that extreme. That day, I saw the tunnel even though I was prevented from going closer to it.
“Today, I am overwhelmed that I have seen the tunnel of mining for the first time in my life. I made investigation to know if our office is aware of this tunnel and no one could give me information. Before an underground mining can take place, there must be a bye-law and mutual agreement between the host state and investor. But now, we are not aware of underground here and it is worrisome”, she said.
One of the suspects, Nnamdi Peter, who hails from Enugu State, said he has worked in the mining tunnel for three months.
“In the first place, I don’t know this is illegal mining. If I knew it was illegal, I wouldn’t have been working here. The company should have carried out Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) with NESRA before embarking on this type of mining.”
The President General, Ebonyi State Association of Town Union Presidents, Chief Ugochukwu Akpa, said illegal mining activities were part of the crisis rocking some autonomous communities in the state and called for concerted efforts to curb the menace.
On his part, Chairman Miners Association in the state, Dr Sunday Chukwu, expressed worries over revenue leakages in the sector but assured the state government of its cooperation to address illegal mining.
Governor Dave Umahi had at a meeting with all the stakeholders in the mining sector explained that the decision to seal all Zinc and Lead mines was to issue miners with environmental permit and beef up the state revenue.
Umahi also announced the reactivation of mineral buying centre in the state while a task force would be set up to enforce government policies on mining.
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