The unfortunate mining pit collapse

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The collapse of a mining pit at Galadima-Kogo village in Shiroro Local Government of Niger State on Monday, June 3, according to government official, claimed the life one person and left at least 14 others trapped. While a rescue effort is supposedly still ongoing, the fate of those still trapped is at best unknown, leaving their loved-ones and colleagues in a very difficult emotional state that is better imagined.

Indeed, in recent months, Nigeria has recorded a number of casualties from mining, which has become a fall back option for many rural dwellers, who are mostly unskilled. In January 2024, four women miners died at a mining site in Gudum Seyawa, an agrarian settlement in Bauchi State. In August last year, three women were killed and others injured at an illegal mining site in Bar Kudu, in Bogoro Local Government, also of Bauch State. Also on the 7th of December 2023, three artisanal miners died while 11 others were injured when a mining pit collapsed in Dan Kamfani village, Anka Local Government Area of Zamfara State. So many other cases might have gone unreported for various reasons.

However, we need to learn a lesson or two from the Galadima-Kogo pit collapse. It should wake us up from our slumber. Despite the enormous potentials in the mining sector across the country, we have never had a workable blueprint to ensure safety and standard in line with global best practices in the industry. First, the near absence of regulations and the lack of proper and immediate first responders in case of any eventuality is glaringly missing. As a widely known mining area, Galadima-Kogo should have been well policed, with access points so that first responders can always be activated when the need arises to save lives.

The Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dele Alake, inadvertently confirmed the absence of first responders in his reaction to the Galadima-Kogo incident. He said: “Upon learning of the incident, we mobilised our Federal Mines Officer (FMO) and officials of the mines Inspectorate to the site. In collaboration with the mining company, we have rescued seven victims, some with injuries. Rescue operations with excavators are ongoing to ensure we avert loss of lives.”

As noble as this assurance is, the presence of professional first responders at mining sites can never be over-emphasised. A lot can happen before federal agents can be deployed to such a scene. Each and every minute counts during rescue operations.

It is not enough for the minister or any agent of government to merely lament that the Nigerian mining sector, which currently possesses a deposit of mineral products worth $750bn, contributes a very insignificant fraction to the country’s GDP. There must also be a decision with regards to how our abundant solid mineral resources, such as gold, lead, zinc, coal, bitumen, iron ore, limestone and barite, among others, are extracted in a safe and professional manner without putting the lives of our compatriots in danger.

We also call for improvement in security at all mining sites, which are now at the mercy of criminal elements and non-state actors.

For instance, according to reports, rescue effort at the Galadima-Kogo mining pit was slow because of the presence of bandits in the area. It is even being alleged that these bandits are benefitting more than the government and the local community from the mining activities in the area. The story is the same from Zamfara to Kwara and others areas where mining activities are taking place.

Nigeria should also compare notes with countries that have much expertise in mining so as to tap from their wealth of experience and see areas of improvement. Those who have the license to operate must also be made to adhere to safety protocols. Authorities at the local government level must also be empowered to ensure effective governance at the grass root level and deny criminals the ungoverned spaces they are operating from.

Our efforts to spur development in the mineral sector will amount to nothing if we cannot ensure security across the country, especially now that we are becoming a mining hub. The sector must be properly regulated and a standard set in line with international best practices and the country well-secured before thinking of wooing investors and making enough money from the process, especially as the nation continues to find alternatives to oil as a means of income.

 

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