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The Oyo state government told us the deadly blast that rocked Ibadan last month was caused by explosives stored by foreign illegal miners. Nigerian media estimated the death toll to be between two and three with over seventy people injured in the explosion that affected seven suburbs of Nigeria’s third most-populous city. Buildings were reduced to near rubble and vehicles destroyed. Further away from the blast zone, windows were blown out of houses and rooftops damaged. We saw first-hand the indirect effect of illegal mining activities but believe me, direct mining activities are as worse as that too.

Nigeria, endowed with abundant natural resources, has witnessed a surge in mining activities over the years. While mining contributes significantly to economic development, it also raises concerns about its impact on the delicate ecosystems that dot the nation – especially when it is done illegally. This week, I will attempt to highlight the multifaceted repercussions of mining activities on Nigerian ecosystems, ranging from biodiversity loss and deforestation to water and soil contamination. But first let’s take a little step back in time.

In 2010, illegal gold mining activities in Zamfara State, Nigeria, resulted in a lead poisoning outbreak that claimed the lives of hundreds, predominantly children. The miners, using rudimentary methods, inadvertently released lead-laden dust into the air and water sources. This led to widespread lead contamination in the soil and water, causing severe health problems, including neurological disorders and fatalities. The Zamfara lead poisoning tragedy highlighted the deadly health consequences associated with illegal mining and inadequate environmental safeguards.

Also, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has long been plagued by conflict minerals, with gold being a significant driver of illegal mining and associated violence. Rebel groups and militias have exploited gold mines, leading to environmental degradation, and fuelling conflicts. The illegal mining activities in the DRC have contributed to the displacement of communities, human rights abuses, and environmental devastation, creating a complex web of socio-economic and environmental challenges. I could go on to write about more recent examples of disaster illegal mining has caused around the world. There’s still the 2014 Mount Polley Mine Disaster that happened in Canada, the 2009 Mercurial Gold Rush of Indonesia, the Minas Gerais Dam Collapse of 2015 in Brazil, and many others.

The loss the Nigerian environment suffers because of illegal mining is manifold and the government and ministries of environment across our thirty-six states must have a plan to curb this menace before the incident in Ibadan becomes a norm and the illegal activities destroy Nigeria’s critical ecosystem. Nigeria, with its rich biodiversity, faces the risk of losing unique plant and animal species due to habitat destruction, fragmentation, and pollution resulting from mining activities. One of the most apparent consequences of mining in Nigeria is deforestation, particularly in regions where large-scale mining activities take place. Forests, crucial for maintaining ecological balance, are cleared to make way for mining infrastructure and extraction sites. This not only contributes to the loss of valuable carbon sinks but also fragments habitats, isolating species and disrupting migration patterns. We can’t be talking about mitigating the effects of climate change and keep cutting down trees.

Mining activities often involve the use of chemicals and the excavation of minerals that can contaminate nearby water sources. Runoff from mining sites carries sediments, heavy metals, and other pollutants into rivers and streams, compromising water quality. This poses a severe threat to aquatic ecosystems, affecting fish populations and jeopardizing the livelihoods of communities dependent on these water bodies for sustenance. Also, in the agrarian regions of Nigeria, the presence of illegal or unplanned mining activities can alter the composition and structure of soil, leading to degradation and reduced fertility. The excavation of minerals and the deposition of waste materials contribute to soil erosion, making it vulnerable to erosion and reducing its ability to support vegetation.

Let’s not even get in depth into air pollution – mining activities release particulate matter and airborne pollutants into the atmosphere, contributing to air pollution. Dust and emissions from mining operations can have far-reaching consequences, affecting air quality in surrounding areas. The deposition of pollutants can harm vegetation, contaminate water bodies, and pose respiratory risks to both wildlife and nearby human populations. So, what is the way forward?

While the impact of illegal and unplanned mining activities on Nigerian ecosystems is significant, implementing effective mitigation strategies is crucial for balancing economic development with environmental sustainability. First, we must promote sustainable mining practices that prioritize environmental conservation. This includes adopting technologies to reduce the environmental footprint of mining, implementing efficient waste management systems, and rehabilitating mined areas to restore ecosystems. Also, integrating biodiversity conservation measures into mining regulations is essential. This involves conducting comprehensive biodiversity assessments before granting mining licenses, designating protected areas, and implementing reforestation programs to offset deforestation.

In addition, empowering local communities with knowledge about the environmental impact of mining is also crucial. Governments and mining companies should engage in transparent communication, providing communities with information about the potential risks and benefits of mining. Additionally, promoting sustainable alternative livelihoods can help mitigate the social and economic impacts of mining on communities. And finally, enhancing and strictly enforcing environmental regulations related to mining activities is imperative. Governments must ensure that mining companies adhere to environmental standards, conduct regular environmental impact assessments, and implement measures to minimize ecological disruption.

Nigeria is still trying to navigate the path of economic development through mining, but it must strike a delicate balance between reaping the benefits of its natural resources and safeguarding its precious ecosystems. The impact of illegal and unplanned mining activities on Nigerian ecosystems underscores the urgent need for comprehensive regulatory frameworks, sustainable practices, and community involvement to ensure a harmonious coexistence between economic growth and environmental preservation. By addressing these challenges head-on, Nigeria can pave the way for a more sustainable and resilient future for its ecosystems and communities alike.

Olamide is a communications professional currently based in London, United Kingdom. He can be reached across social media platforms @olamidefrancis and via



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