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In Okobo Kogi state, life revolves around endless machine grunts, a never-settling haze of dust and a seemingly hopeless battle for crops, rights and sanity.
The young, old, senile, and children walk around with a defeated gait, like a people facing an immovable wall who still must try to survive.
“They are cheating us… they are cheating us,” a teenage boy says with agitated fervour, perhaps hoping it would help drive home his anger about the “injustice”.
Huddled in a bunch across the village square were elderly women who clasped their palms, and stretched them towards the sky in supplication — in sheer hope that the presence of the visitors could herald the beginning of the end of a long list of injustices they had suffered.
PAINS, DISEASES, SLEEPLESSNESS, DEATHS
“If I keep looking at my people like this, we will die in vain. We are now in danger over this matter,” said Angeyi Onegema, the community head.
In the sparsely-populated community, coal is more a curse than a blessing.
The five-year presence of Eta Zuma mining company in the community, located in Ankpa local government area of Kogi state, has brought with it deaths, diseases, pains and sleeplessness.
The town’s water supply has been contaminated by mining. Babies and little children are hardly able to sleep at night. Elderly women are left awake with series of internal and external pains, while coal dust periodically swirls around the town as trucks trudge in and out.
Presently, the only health facility is the ETA Zuma company-owned staff clinic, which community members lack access to. Consequently, those who fall ill are often transported to the poorly-equipped general hospital in Ankpa — a journey of more than two hours.
In five years, Okobo people have not seen the benefits of the company that makes its bread from their land.
Everyone in Okobo appears to have a personal tale about the effects of mining activities. One by one, they had all been affected; not even the community head had been spared of the ripple effects of coal mining.
Every question elicited a chorus of responses, each listener struggling to paint their version of events of the last five years.
Onegema said the vibrations of heavy equipment used in the mine led to the collapse of the only primary school in the community. His son, Adamu, was one of the casualties of that incident.
As a result of the continuous excavating of coal with heavy equipment, it was only a matter of time before cracks began appearing on some structures in the village. The foundation of the school weakened gradually, and ultimately collapsed, killing Adamu.
The school was eventually rebuilt but Onegema’s son was gone for good.
“We are here living just like the colonial times. They didn’t build the school to compensate us. They built it because their machines destroyed the old one. Their heavy equipment killed my boy,” Onegema said.
“The company refused to build borehole. There’s nothing like hospital. The company even planned to set me up.
“Water from our stream can’t even be used for bathing. When they employ our boys, they turn them against us or threaten to sack them.”
For a few seconds, everyone remained still, as though digesting Onegema’s account.
NO QUIET, NO SLEEP, NO PEACE
To sleep seamlessly, many who reside in Okobo often go into neighbouring communities to find quiet and peace — away from the grinding noise of the coal-processing machines.
The Eta-Zuma coal mine is said to work round the clock, so it’s virtually impossible to catch a break or have a quiet nap.
Such free gifts of nature have become unaffordable luxuries to the Okobo people. The women bitterly complained that they were no longer able to farm on their lands, as they were gradually becoming fruitless.
“No water, land to farm, no job, no support from the company. We are very sad. It’s too much to bear,” said Salamatu Sule, the woman leader.
Their economic crops, which were almost due for harvesting around the time Eta-Zuma arrived Okobo, were taken from them because they fell within the confines of the mine location. The crops — cashew nut, Kolanut, etc — were later harvested and sold to the real owners by representatives of the mine company.
This is unfair, these people need a savior, they are been rendered helpless in their own land.
Source: The cable report

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