- Okobo coal producing community writhes in pains, left dusty
- We’ve employed 55% indigenes, doing projects – Zuma 828 Coal
Okobo Okpiko community is one of the eight sites endowed with vast deposits of sub-bituminous coal in Kogi State. In spite of this blessing, residents in the community said their plight was contrary to the blessings natural resources can fetch.
Wallowing in poverty, lack of electricity and complexities of hazardous environmental conditions following the prevalence of black sooth, Okobo community is a 25-minute drive on intersections of un-tarred roads from Ankpa town and local government headquarters of the state.
The plight of this endowed community and its vast coal resource represents the wastage and idleness at 27 other coal blocks and sites across 12 states, despite the huge reserve that could generate 10,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity daily for the next 30 years.
Sadly, most of these identified blocks are lying fallow, and the few that have been tapped in Kogi-Awo and Okobo have not been used for any known on-grid electricity generation.
Huge coal deposits can generate 10,000MW power in 30 years
Statistics from the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing show that Nigeria is endowed with an estimated coal reserve of over two billion metric tons. The deposit of 12.8 million metric tonnes (MT) of sub-bituminous coal alone can produce the 10,000MW across various coal-fired plants for 30 years.
There are existing coal mines in the country, most of which are under concession by the Federal Government, but moribund. However, there is no operational coal-fired power plant in Nigeria as the Oji River Coal Plant in Enugu State has been moribund for decades.
Records obtained from the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development show that from a proven reserve of 639m MT, the production activity is only at 400,000 MT.
Coal is one huge source of royalty and ad valorem tax – Value Added Tax (VAT) as it attracts three per cent VAT for every N2,500/ ton. This means that a royalty rate of N75 is payable for every ton of mined coal, the royalty rates for minerals produced in Nigeria, which came into effect on April 22, 2015, it was revealed.
The Ministry of Mines said it had covered 100 Cadastral Units each for identified blocks of coal. These include Ashokpa-Odolu coal block in Idah; Awo and Okobo coal block in Ankpa, all in Kogi State. There is the Owukpa coal block in Benue State, and the Kumuyel-Futuk coal block in Gombe /Bauchi states, which it said were suitable for coal-to-power project investments.
An investment report from the ministry in 2016 identified 28 coal blocks across 12 states, from which Kogi State leads with eight coal blocks while Enugu trails it with six blocks. Behind these are Gombe, with three coal blocks; Benue and Nasarawa states have two coal blocks each.
There is one coal site each across Imo, Delta, Anambra, Ebonyi, Adamawa, Plateau and Kwara states, the data proved.
In spite of these huge coal deposits across one-third of Nigeria, mostly in the North, no electricity is generated from this Fossil Fuel (FF) source. The country has resorted to overdependence on gas, another fossil fuel sourced from the Niger Delta to operate the about 24 operational thermal (gas-fired) Generation Companies (GenCos). This comes with attendant vandalism and periodic disruptions of oil and gas sources and their pipelines by militant activities in the region. Gas-to-power is at an estimated 4,172MW electricity capacity this year. It is the only fossil fuel being harnessed as coal and nuclear power is missing.
FG projects 255MW coal power in 2019, 3200MW by 2030
The Power Sector Investment Guide from the power ministry projects a 30,000MW power generation by 2030, with renewable energy reaching 30 per cent. The document obtained by our reporter showed that from next year (2019), coal will start contributing 255MW to the electricity grid when the total electricity grid would have been at 8,969MW.
The contribution of coal is expected to reach 3,200MW by 2030 when electricity generation from gas would have hit 13,000MW, and the total grid capacity would have been at 32,00MW, if attained.
In the first five years (2023), coal power generation is expected to be at 1,063MW, the document also tagged Nigerian Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) action agenda indicated.
Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that the 255MW coal power generation target for 2019 could be the coming on stream of the first phase private investment of Itobe Coal Power Plant in Kogi State, being developed by Eta Zuma Group Limited.
The firm, for over four years, has been developing the on-grid coal power plant in Itobe town with a proposed 1,200MW installed capacity and provisions for expansion to 3,000MW, their records indicated.
It has five coal exploration licences and a gold exploration licence in Kogi State, “duly issued by the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development.” The Eta Zuma Group, under its client company, Zuma 828 Coal Ltd, mines the Okobo Okpiko coal block in Ankpa Local Government Area of Kogi State, about two hours from the Itobe power station.
The many travails of Okobo mining community
Little was known about the community until large deposit of coal was found there and a private investor, Zuma 828 Coal Limited began mining activities over five years ago. Now flooded by over 15 trucks daily to load mined coal, Okobo has been left with more than it bargained for, the Daily Trust on Sunday observed.
It was learnt that there are two active coal mining sites in Ankpa Local Government Area, comprising Awo and Okobo. This is apart from Odagbo mine, which was left to die after it was concessioned to private investors by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) years ago.
Zuma 828 Coal operates the about 380 million tonnes of coal mine with the licence: Zuma 828 and that could be fuel source for the first private coal power plant if it begins operation next year.
Unfilled promises worry Okobo residents
In March, 2017, the company announced a N500million package to support development in the operational areas of Okobo community and the nearest Enjema town for five years, including building schools, providing water and other social infrastructures and empowerment means.
Okobo residents said that since the company started mining in the community, nothing feasible has been done, and they are left for the worse with hail of dust, contaminated water and poor welfare conditions.
“The borehole they gave us is just one, and the water is bad because anywhere they test the water, there is oil in it and it is not fit for drinking. They had to go to Okobo Ate, near Enjema to pipe water to this place, and it only terminates at the workers’ camp,” Onuh Enema, a resident said.
Another resident said the company had reassured them on delivering the promises, but that has been the same information every time they cry out while the firm rips the soil of coal worth millions of naira.
No action from state on our plights – Elders
Some of the elders in the community said they had taken their complaints to the chairman of Ankpa Local Government Area about the failure of the company to fulfill their part of the agreement, but nothing much has been said on it.
They claimed they had visited the company’s office in Lokoja, the state capital severally to press home their demands.
“Once you go there, the officials of the company will tell you soothing things, but they don’t come to implement them, and that is our concern,” another elder noted.
The senior Gago (deputy village head) of Okobo Okpiko, Ijachi James Opalo, who spoke on behalf of the community head, said Okobo had a Community Development Agreement (CDA) with Zuma 828 Coal.
He said, “They agreed to construct the road, connect the community to electricity from the nearby Enjema community and provide boreholes because the water sources have been contaminated by their coal mining activities. They also promised to provide school.”
He, however, noted that nothing much had been recorded about that. “Out of these, they constructed a block of three classrooms, sunk just one borehole, which is not functional now, and the ground water is contaminated. They sunk another borehole near Enjema where the groundwater is good and piped it to their own camp. That is where our people now go to fetch water, as well as the contaminated streams around,” the disappointed elder narrated.
Okobo youth frown at projects delay
Among the youth of the community is Yusuf Sule, whose father’s farmland is now part of the mining site. After dropping out of school in JSS 3, Yusuf said he became a motorcycle mechanic in the village.
“My late father’s farmland is near that of Jachi Opalo, but that is the present coal mining site. I was not taken for the job and we cannot farm there. Yet the company is not implementing the agreement that should at least improve the wellbeing of the people,” he said.
Joseph Onuh, another youth, said his colleagues who work at the mining site had not been paid. He, therefore, called for intervention.
“Some of us still have our farms, but we are all subjected to huge noise from the mining site, cloud of dust mixed with particles of coal from the site, and the many trailers that litter the red, un-tarred road.
“Our streams are contaminated, yet we don’t have access to potable water all the time. The borehole at the community centre is limited and our women go all the way to their camp to fetch from the single tap,” Onuh lamented.
A lady in her prime, Amina Amodu, who was seen fetching ground water near the company’s camp, lamented their inability to get potable water; they had to resort to what was available.
“Our rivers are polluted, so we come to fetch from a leaking pipe, which we feel is cleaner,” she noted as she lifted a basin of water on her head.
Black soot, noise trail Okobo community
At the site, which is about 500 meters from the community centre, one could hear the engines roar and see the hail of dust that could almost disrupt the breathing of an asthmatic patient.
Workers are given safety kits, including wears, boots and nose cover. However, quite a handful of the workers despised the nose cover despite the huge rain of soot and coal dust that littered the area.
The mining site is segmented into two sections: the extraction section, where heavy equipment, including bulldozers, forklift and payload machines mine the coal from a very wide and deep earth crust on the mountainous range of the community. The other section is where the mined coal is deposited, with pay loaders feeding steadily into trucks that drive in from queues at the trailer park, where about 10 trucks, including some from Dangote Cement come in to be loaded.
The expanse park is just by the community and has a scaling area, where the trucks are weighed to gauge the average load of coal they convey from the site. Beside the park is the company’s fenced camp; it has air-conditioned container houses with a clinic, water facility, canteen; and is where the administrative activities take place.
Rush for mangoes over salaries’ hook
The poverty and pain in the community was replayed before our reporter at the mining site, where some of the workers scrambled for fresh mangoes, which they said would suffice as lunch.
Among those who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday is Audu Edeh (not real name), who said he had worked with the firm as one of the heavy equipment operators for the coal excavation section for several years. His major pain is that the firm has not paid them for about six months, since November 2017, but the administrative officer on ground, Precious, kept reassuring them.
Edeh said, “We have not been paid since November. They promised to pay in March, but this May, work has continued and over 20 trucks load from this site daily, but we have not seen our money.’’
Another worker, Faruk Adaji noted, “The main point is salary, and the basic amenity is not done as supposed. There is no clean water and other amenities for the community. We have complained and they keep telling us “next week.’’ We are tired of complaining; our family is suffering. Help us fight that salary issue.”
‘We’re executing development projects, engaged 55% of indigenes’
Responding to questions on operations at the Okobo site and the efforts in fulfilling the Community Development Agreement (CDA), the Zuma 828 Coal Ltd said, “The CDA has been signed, and it has gotten the minister of mines and steel’s approval. Two days ago, we inaugurated the CDA Implementation Committee, and the projects are ranging from water (borehole) to school projects.”
From the Corporate Relations office of the company, Ukaegbu Blessing, who provided responses to Daily Trust on Sunday’s enquiries last weekend said the company had paid the salaries of its workers up to April while salaries for May 2018 were being processed.
The firm said it had paid all compensations on land to landowners of its coal mining project area from 2013 to 2017, adding that while the Phase 1 landowners were fully compensated in 2013, the phase 2 landowners were compensated in 2017.
On the CDA to develop the community, he said it was signed on March 15, 2018 and was given ministerial approval on April 17, 2018. “In fact, the CDA Implementation and Monitoring Committee was inaugurated on May 31, 2018 at Ankpa. The implementation of the CDA has commenced with completion and handover of water borehole projects at Enjema, Okobo Ate and Okobo Okpiko,” Ukaegbu noted.
He said the mining firm had signed two previous CDAs with the communities in 2013 and in 2017, but they had no ministerial approval.
On the engagement of indigenes, Ukaegbu said over 55 per cent of the workforce were from Okobo and Enjema, which is more than the 20 per cent stipulated in the CDA.
“The company has put mitigation measures in place against dust pollution, including dust suppression through tankers with water sprinklers. Water from mining pits is captured, so there is no issue of water from mining pits running off and polluting rivers and streams,” Ukaegbu explained.
This investigation was done with support from the Daily Trust Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation.