Livingstone Akanni lives in Kubwa Extension II Residential Area, a suburb some kilometres from the Abuja city centre. The serenity cast by the shadow of an imposing rock was an attraction for many of the about 5,000 people who built their homes in the area. But since a quarry firm arrived to alter the ambience of the area, the residents have been fighting to reclaim their paradise.
The quarry site is adjacent Livingstone’s parents’ home. The predicament of the 13-year-old boy started two years ago when his eyes started itching from persistent redness. His parents first took him to Kubwa General Hospital, the main public health institution in the sprawling satellite town. They have since moved him from one hospital to another but a solution to the boy’s aliment has remained elusive. He now takes daily medication to soothe the itching, says his father, Abiodun Akanni.
Mr Akanni recalled the eye problem started after the family moved to the house in Kubwa, some metres from the quarry site operated by a company called Zeberced.
“It was some months after we moved to this house that we noticed that his eyes suddenly became red and kept itching him,” said Mr Akanni.
“The doctors who examined him said he is reacting to something in the environment. However, they were unable to say what exactly he is reacting to. We are suspecting it is the sand dust from the quarry as it started when we moved here. The doctors said either we take him away from this area or we stop the activity that is producing the allergy.”
Livingstone is not the only child in the area suspected to be affected by the activities of the quarry.
How Students Suffer
Zeberced’s quarry mining company operates on Arab Road directly behind the Kubwa Extension II Relocation Residential Area, near the community market. Its activities envelope the entire area: the interminable blasting of rocks, constant stone milling and noisy heavy machinery. The shrill sound from the milling runs nonstop. For a new comer to the area, the noise can induce headache.
Trucks transporting granite and sand from the quarry to other areas are a daily sight.
Explosions from the quarry are a constant distraction for students of King’s Gems Montessori School, located some metres from the hill where Zeberced carries out its quarry activities.
“We have already oriented the children about the blasts,” proprietress of the school, Mojisola Oladele-Joseph, said. “However, it distracts them. But for the blasts, this was a lovely environment for education. We had to fortify the buildings as in an earthquake prone area. This gulped a lot of money during construction.”
On the day PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter first experienced the blasts from the quarry, they were like bomb blasts and she felt the buildings shaking. The reporter noticed that a blast often sends a cloud of whitish stone dust into the sky, which hangs there for about five minutes.
Mrs Oladele-Joseph lamented that quarry activities were being carried out in a residential area.
“It is only in Nigeria things like this can happen. In a more civilised clime where they are concerned about the health of citizens, such activities would not take place,” she added.
A resident of the area, Tina Sunny-Oba, agreed with Mrs Oladele-Joseph.
Mrs Sunny-Oba said when her son started attending King’s Gems some years ago, he would return home to complain about his hearing.
“He always complained of not hearing well, due to the constant milling of stones and the blasts,” she said.
Praise, a six-year-old boy in the area, said he was always scared every time there was a blast.
“I don’t know what it is. I always run inside the house if I am playing outside. The sound is so loud, like a gun,” he said.
Residents Cry For Help
Fed up by the quarry activities, residents of the area have called for the intervention of government. But this was after their attempt to engage the company failed.
The chairman of the residents’ association, Moses Anyaoha, described the quarry activities as a major source of concern for residents.
Mr Anyaoha said the company’s activities were causing health hazard, environmental pollution, degradation of buildings and destruction of public infrastructure in the area. He said the association wrote several times for a meeting with the management of the company, but all the letters were ignored.
They then complained to the Divisional Police Officer at Kubwa Police Division, Phase 4, but this too had led them nowhere, he said. In fact, Mr Anyaoha accused the police of conniving with the company against the residents.
He said the residents wrote to notify the police that they would embark on a protest to the company site one Saturday, but officers led by the DPO, Ayobami Surajudeen, swooped on their take off point and dispersed the residents.
“The DPO came with his boys to arrest me. He said we cannot protest because he cannot allow us shut down the activities of the company for one minute. I was detained till 9:30 p.m from 8 a.m when he came to arrest me. He said we were constituting unrest in the environment and if we want to protest, we should go to the Unity Fountain (kilometres away in the Central Business District of Abuja) to do so,” Mr Anyaoha told the reporter.
The deputy secretary of the association, Simon Ukwuoma, who confirmed the arrest of the chairman, said they decided to involve the police because the residents felt it was a public matter. Mr Ukwuoma’s house shares a fence with Zeberced’s site.
Police Take Chairman To Court
Mr Ukwuoma said the DPO twice invited the association and the company for a meeting. Unfortunately, he said, the meeting never held.
“The first time, the DPO said he was not around when we got to his office. And the second time, we met the DPO with the management of Zeberced, but no meeting (was held). The DPO only told us to go and be living amicably.
“It is surprising when the DPO led his squad to arrest the chairman. The DPO has taken the chairman to court, he was charged for disturbing the community among others,” he said.
The DPO, Mr Surajudeen, said Mr Anyaoha was arrested for organising an unlawful protest and disturbing the peace of the neighborhood.
He said the dispute between the residents and the company has been on for over five years. He said it was reported to the station by the residents and he tried to mediate by inviting the executives of the residents association, the management of Zeberced and officials of the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development for a meeting in his office.
Mr Surajudeen said the meeting advised the residents to write a petition to the ministry, which is in charge of mining activities in the country.
The police boss said he was sure the residents did not write the petition before trying to stage the protest, a move he said constituted public disturbance.
More Anguish For Residents
The reporter attended one of the association’s meeting. Some of the members who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES lamented they had been trying to engage the management of the company in a dialogue to adopt safer means of blasting, to no avail.
Tawakalitu Shonibare, a retired civil servant, moved into the area February 2014. She said it was after moving into her house she realised there was a quarry nearby.
“Even if you are sleeping you just have to awake from your sleep,” Mrs Shonibare said. “I lodged a complaint with the residents association in 2014 and the former chairman told us they were doing something about it. But up till today, nothing has been done.”
She said Zeberced never issues warning before embarking on blasting.
“It is always sudden and mostly done in the afternoon and night. Two children once almost ran into an oncoming vehicle due to the sound of a blast.
“Government should relocate the company, this is a residential area and we paid for the land; it is not like we are occupying freely. We paid to the government and the government should see to our problem, not until they kill one of us before they come to our aid.”
Mrs Shonibare said her son was injured by the police on the day of the aborted protest. “They wanted to protest at the gate of the quarry so that they can get audience of the management to do something about the mining, but they were attacked with the police,” she alleged.
“The effect of the quarry activities has been enormous on us,” another home owner, Emmanuel Sawyer, said. “There are times I wake up with migraine headache and at times I find it difficult to breathe properly because of the pollution in the air from the stone dust.
“At times the blasting of rock is at odd hours when you are sleeping, at midnight they are still working. You will be hearing machines. Our buildings have cracks. In my compound most times when they are blasting, children start crying and we cannot determine the type of effect it is having on the children.
“We know that if immediate steps are not taken to address the situation, our internal organs will be affected.”
Oluwafisayo Ayita, also a resident, said the activities of the company go on for 24 hours daily, explaining, “if they are not blasting, they will be milling stones as well as the constant movement of trailers.
“Coping with the noise has not been easy. We want the quarry management to look for a sustainable way of mining their raw materials which would not be a nuisance to the environment or they should relocate. It is even pathetic that a major market is situated near their activities. This could contribute to poison as food stuff are sold openly,” he added.
Mr Ayita added that physical structure such as roads in the area are being destroyed by the company’s activities, which he said was “doing nothing about it.
“It is not just about us, even the government is being affected,” he said.
Company Keeps Mum
Security officials at Zeberced did not allow this reporter to enter the company’s premises to speak with the management. The security men at the gate refused to give the reporter a phone number of any of the management staff to call. The company also did not reply to a letter by PREMIUM TIMES on its activities.
Nigerian Agency In Charge Of Mining Reacts
The Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, in reaction to a letter from PREMIUM TIMES, denied receiving any petition from the residents.
But the reporter sighted a copy of the petition the residents wrote to the agency. The letter dated July 1 was acknowledged by the office of the Minister of State, Ministry of Solid Minerals Development on July 2. In the letter, the association complained about the impact of the aggregate mining in the environment by Zeberced Nig Ltd.
The ministry, in its letter to this newspaper dated August 8 and signed by the Director, Mines Inspectorate, K.F Wuyep, insisted that the community should write a formal letter informing the ministry of the problems they are having with the company.
In the letter, the ministry urged this newspaper to “request the residents of the area of Messrs Zeberced quarry site to forward their complaints if any formally to the ministry on the effects of its operation in their vicinity; as a formal presentation of the residents’ complaint to the ministry would enable it take appropriate action on the matter.
“It should be noted that mineral titles issued by the Mining Cadastre Office are for mining/quarry operations that are not detrimental to the people but for the economic benefits of all and sundry,” it added.
Why Quarries Use Explosives – Mining engineer
A mining engineer who asked not to be identified said most quarries in Nigeria use explosives in blasting rocks. He said these are specially made explosives for quarries and are often mixed to reduce cost of production and maximise profit.
He explained that though there are other ways to crush rocks, the fragments would not be good for construction purposes, which is the reason for their activities.
“Laser cutting is rarely used in cutting rocks for construction purposes. It is not aggregate like our own. But our own, we need to blast it into fragments for construction purpose.
“There are other ways of blasting and that is the use of chemical, but stones blasted with chemicals are not good for construction purposes. The chemical used for blasting would have interfered with the chemical properties of the rock, thus affecting the binding properties of the stone. The chemical composition can be altered and this affects buildings built with it. That is one of the reasons why some buildings collapse,” he said.
Health Implications Of Air Pollution
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated seven million people die prematurely every year from air pollution related diseases, including strokes and heart disease, respiratory illness and cancer.
“Many pollutants which damage health also harm the environment and contribute to climate change. These include black carbon from diesel engines, cooking stoves and waste incineration, and ground level ozone, which are harmful but are short lived in the atmosphere,” WHO said.
A report by the global agency on air quality states that 92 per cent of the world’s population live in places where air quality level exceeds WHO limits. It added that air pollution in most major cities exceeds WHO air quality standards.
According to the latest urban air quality database, 98 per cent of cities in low- and middle income countries with more than 100, 000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines.
Health Expert speaks
A general medical practitioner, Tevarshima Adongo, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES said air pollutants are of different types but are all harmful to humans.
Mr Adongo said in the case of mining activities, which includes splitting rocks into tiny particles with the dust being spread into the air, the vicinity would not be conducive for living because the atmosphere would contain major dust particles which could be harmful, causing different types of diseases depending on the mineral contents of the rock.
He said because of the contamination of the air, people living in the vicinity would be predisposed to airways infections.
This he said, could be acute in the short term. Living in such area over a prolong period of about 10 to 15 years could predispose people to other chronic forms of illness such as lung diseases that can lead to cancer and other respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), which can lead to asthma.
Mr Adongo said air contamination can also affect the eyes.
“People living in the area can also get eye infection as a result of the dust particles in the air. Those tiny bits of rocks can also get into the eyes and in the long run they would have some minor eye diseases such as pterygium or pinguecula. These are growth in the eyes and are commonly found among people who are basically exposed to dust particles. Though not basically connected, it can also lead to cataract,” he said.
Mr Adongo said Master Livingstone, the 13-year old boy in Kubwa, could be reacting to the mineral in the dust from the blast he is exposed to.
He explained that aside the eyes, the ears are also prone to be affected or damaged if exposed to large excessive noise. He said though those doing the blast might have protective equipment, for those living around, their ears is at risk.
Mr Adongo explained that people in such area would have challenges with hearing.
“This will also have a psychological effect on the people as it creates some form of irritation for them. The people living in the area would become more irritable than normal people and might not be able to place their hands on the cause. They will just realise that they seem not to be ever comfortable, not knowing the noise is affecting them negatively.”
He said a quarry should not be sited in a residential area.
The medical doctor, however, advised the residents of the area to always close their windows and seek alternative source of air, such as air conditioners.
Mr Adongo said they should also as much as possible wear protective eye glasses to reduce dust getting into the eyes and ear muffs, especially for those whose houses are close to the quarry site.
“They should also try to get some breaks from the area by getting activities that would take them out of the vicinity for at least six hours a day,” he added.
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