Home Cover Women Protesters Shut Down Coal Mining In Benue Community

Women Protesters Shut Down Coal Mining In Benue Community

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By Eric Ojo

The lingering tension and agitations over coal mining activities in Owukpa community in Ogbadibo Local Government Area of Benue State, took a melodramatic twist recently when mining operations was brought to a halt by a protest staged by women from the community.

The temerity and persistence of the protesting women, who came all out to protest against the environmental hazards and devastation resulting from coal mining activities of Owukpa Consolidated Mines Limited located in Ibagba community, drove the miners out of the site which has been abandoned for a couple of months now.

The aggrieved women protested for several days, insisting that they were ready to die if the company refuses to stop and attend to the difficulties mining of coal deposit has brought upon their environment, their health and economic wellbeing in the community.

Since mining operations started in Owukpa about six years ago, there has been series of peaceful demonstrations over failure of the company to fulfill its corporate social responsibility (CSR) for the host community. Residents of the host communities have repeatedly made demands such as construction of road, water boleholes, good hospitals, electricity among others, over the years.

Moreover, the Owukpa Development Association (ODA) which ought to serve as the intermediary body has also been mired by a lot of controversies, accusations and counter-accusations. At some point, the Benue State Government had to intervene with a view to resolving the protracted contentious issues at stake.
Last year, the State Governor, Samuel Ortom had to set up a committee to look into the controversies surrounding mining activities in Owukpa. The committee which headed by the state Deputy Governor, Benson Abounu, also had the Head of Service (HoS), Mrs. Veronica Onyeke; Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Michael Gusa; and Security Adviser to the Governor, Lt-Col. Paul Membah (rtd) as members. The committee met with stakeholders as well as the affected mining companies and reported back to the government.

Similarly, the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development has also consistently played a mediating role and still doing so in this current feud which has reignited a groundswell of palpable tension in the community.

While chanting their demands during the protest, the women called for the immediate suspension of all mining activities pending when the community is equipped with basic social amenities that will life a bit comfortable for the people of the host community.

A social worker and community activist, Julie Okoh Abah, who played a leading role during the protest, said all the women of the community took upon themselves to protest against coal mining in Owukpa because, according to her, women are at the receiving end of mining activities, adding that they are the ones that fall sick, they have issue of fertility, as a result of mining their farming and small business activities are disrupted and their land is gone too.
“The community women took it upon themselves to say okay, we are not developed, you are not doing any new thing for us, no road, no water, no hospital, the environment is damaged, we can’t farm, our schools are getting cracked, so what is the use of you mining if we are not getting anything in return? So, we sat for 14 days outside the mines, we were there for 14 days, day and night, we blocked the mines, the miners could not come back to mine and they could not come to lift the what they have mined. So after 14 days, the miners had to leave.

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“The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development came back to say it is not our prerogative to say they cannot mine again, so they gave them the leeway to come back and mine, again for the second time, the women came out and chased the miners away. So, that is the point we are now, there is no mining activity in Owukpa”, she said.

Abah noted that she actively took part in mobilizing and getting the community women together, created awareness, sensitized them and made them see the difficulties mining was doing to their environment, using climate change as a benchmark.
She said the women have made point and that nobody is going against the women’s wish because the community has agreed with what the women have done so far, adding that it is the reason why there is no mining activities there now.

“We came out with the community deity, called a ‘Ekuanya’, a very fearful one. That was the last option because we you come out with the deity, everybody will scamper. It was the presence of the deity that we used to stand for us and say now no man will take anything from the miners, if you take anything from miners you go for it.

“We want our story to touch the world so that they can help us. If we have alternative business we may not have a need for the mining activities of our land. Top on the list is alternative means of livelihood, if they don’t have sustainable means that will sustain them, the miners will come back and offer them a bait.

“We have been able to work on the women to stop the miners from working in the community. WHAT we need now is stopping them completely, if they can have an alternative economy now they cannot farm, now they can’t do anything, we need something to sustain them, in order to sustain what we have done”, she added.

Another community activist, Mrs. Jane Igomu said the protest was organized solely to protect the interest of the women in the host communities, who according to her, have been grossly impacted and cheated by the mining company.

“We are protecting our women. They promised that they will give them money to start another business but they are not doing so. They are cheating our women because they are not educated and they don’t know anything. Our water is polluted. The noise from the mining will not allow the students to hear what their teachers are saying in class”, she further explained.

Mrs. Igomu also noted that the action of the women is fully supported by majority of the men in their community. She however, added that some people have been allegedly given money by the company, adding that those are the crop of people that are indifferent to their protest against mining activities.

She further warned that the women have resolved to do everything within their powers to stop mining activities in Owukpa, if the company fails to comply with their request. ”They are no longer in mining coal in our community but they are pressing buttons and scheming to come back. If they come back, we will go naked for them. We are prepared to chase them out again”, she threatened.

The Chief of Ibagba community, Godwin Onoja said the women’s protest against mining activities is fully supported by the community because the women and youth have complained severally to the company but they paid deaf ears to them.

“The women came out fully and said they were ready to die, they came out in large numbers to protest. Since the mining in Ibagba started in 2015, no road, no water has been given to us, no electricity, nothing, nothing, the only secondary school we have in Ibagba, if you go there now you will see the walls are cracked, so many things are not going on well. So the women protested, they complained to the mining company severally but they did not listen or pay attention to them, they got annoyed and said let the mining stop.

“We are predominately famers, we farm cassava and yam, as a result of this mining activities, by time you plant cassava this year before harvest time, it starts getting rotten, this is attributed to the mining, the mining has contaminated every source of water we have, if you go to the community, most of the children are sick, old women are affected. We lost ten persons two years back as a result of coal mining in our land”, he stressed.

Chief Onoja noted that the women took their protest to the site and even the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) and the Local Government Chairman had to intervene and the miners had to close the mine as the women insisted that they were ready to die.

He said the matter eventually went to the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development and the ministry also blamed the coal mining company. “Now they have agreed to a round table discussion with the host community of which a date has not been fixed”, he further disclosed.


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