By Peter Okutu
ABAKALIKI- IT was indeed a show of patriotism, dedication to duty and call to secure the future of the younger generation that compelled Ebonyi State Government in collaboration with the Nigerian Army, the Nigeria Police Force and Department of Security Services, DSS, Wednesday, to clamp down on the activities of illegal miners in the state.
These categories of persons had over the years, before the coming on board of the Governor David Umahi-led administration, been ripping off the state illegally by making huge financial gains without recourse to the law governing such operations in the state.
Ebonyi, without mincing words, is rich in granite, zinc, lead, salt, limestone, oxide, among other natural deposits and because of its richness and naivety before Engr. David Umahi resumed office as governor of the state, many disgruntled elements who only think about their personal gains without the collective interest of Ebonyi people decided to go on rampage, making earnings without the noticeable inputs of state government.
Reacting to this ugly trend, the Governor had threatened to stop the salaries of any traditional ruler who failed to furnish the state government with the location and records of its mining sites in the state.
Some traditional rulers and stakeholders in some local government areas of the state, including Abakaliki, Izzi, Onicha, Ivo, among others, are allegedly collecting revenues from illegal miners without the consent of the state government.
The governor who handed down the warning during the handing over of staffs of office to some traditional rulers in three local government areas of the state and swearing in of liaison officers at the Akanu Ibiam International Conference Centre, Abakaliki, stressed that his administration would not mortgage the future of Ebonyi children on the platter of greed and selfishness.
He said: “We have been having battles with those who are mining in Ebonyi State without paying their levies to us; these people are working under the cover of the traditional rulers. We want to let you know that I mean business. I want the chairman of the Traditional Rulers Council to note that in the month of February, any traditional ruler that fails to give me all the mining points in his community, I will stop the person’s salary and I will be moving towards his staff of office.
“We can’t eat the future of our children. If we continue like this, the future of our children will be eroded. We can’t allow that. So let me warn the traditional rulers; you have to submit all the mining points in your communities.
“Commissioner for Local Government, Okoronkwo; will have to hold a meeting with them and let them know of my warning, because in February, I will stop their salaries and then in March, I will be moving towards their staffs of office. This is very important; all the mining sites with their phone numbers and locations must be made available to us.”
Those arrested in connection with the dastardly act in the recent raid coordinated by security operatives at Echara Unuhu in Abakaliki Local Government Area of the state included six Chinese and 16 other persons suspected to be responsible for the illegal operations in the area.
Speaking with South-East Voice, the Senior Special Adviser, SSA, to Governor David Umahi on Internal Security, Dr. Kenneth Ugbala who condemned the activities of illegal miners across the state noted that the state government would no longer fold its arms and allow the fortunes of the state to end up in private pockets.
“The future of this state is at stake because of the activities of these illegal miners. I have the privilege of being in China and Chinese don’t tamper 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 underground to Government House and every other place that Ebonyi people are living.
“So, what do we expect? A total collapse! When we are living up, another road is underground in the name of mining and there is no society or environment or state 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 seeing this thing for the first time. It is a threat to our environment,” he said.
On her part, Special Adviser to Governor Umahi on Solid Mineral Development, Mrs. Nwakaego Nworie said she had visited the site with geological experts and that the miners allowed them to enter only the premises but prevented them from carrying out a holistic overview of their activities.
“I became very curious and insisted that I must see the whole site. As I moved inside the site, I got to a place and a soldier blocked me and threatened to shoot me if I moved any further. The soldier told me, ‘don’t go to that extreme.’ That day, I saw the tunnel even though I was prevented from going close 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 said he has worked in the mining tunnel for three months.
“In the first place, I don’t know this is illegal mining. If it is 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.”
Reacting to the involvement of the military in the illegal mining, the Commander, Nkwagu Military Cantonment, Lt Col. S.O Sadiq explained that the suspects could be camouflaging as soldiers as the activities of the Army were usually well coordinated to avoid any allegation in such development.
According to him, the cantonment had put modalities in place to ensure that soldiers in the state abide by the rule of engagement as investigation into the matter was on to ascertain the identity of the said soldier.
Meanwhile, the suspects are in detention at the Ebonyi State Police Command, Abakaliki.