28th May, 2012
Danger is imminent in Lagos, except relevant stakeholders come together to quickly nip the threat of illegal mining and dredging in the bud.
This was the view of Governor Babatunde Fashola during a visit to some coastal areas of Badagry. Surprised at the level of degradation of the environment caused by the activities of illegal miners in the axis, Fashola expressed serious displeasure at the extent of damage being done to the environment.
Operators of gas pipelines have equally expressed similar fears with regards to the operation of illegal miners, especially along Badagry axis.
Charles Adeniji, Managing Director, West African Gas Pipelines Company (WAGPCO), recently raised an alarm on threats posed to gas pipelines in the state.
According to him “sand dredgers are depleting the sand along the Iworo-Ajido-Bagagry coastal area, at an alarming rate which is threatening the operation of the pipelines system and livelihood of residents in the area”.
With continuing depletion of the coastal landscape, Adeniji claimed there is a possibility of an ocean surge which could adversely impact the livelihood of the residents.
The waterways stretching from Badagry to Epe, (with a Peninsular in between, a lagoon at the back and the Atlantic in front), Ikorodu to Marina, Badagry to Marina among others are nature’s gifts to Lagos. These are coastlines many people wish for and quite understandable too, as they are natural habitats yet to be subjected to devastation, global warming , climate change and other environmental hazards.
It is, therefore, disheartening that in spite of several warnings by Lagos State Government to illegal sand miners to desist from their ignoble acts or face prosecution and possible jail terms, the illegal activities have continued unabated and are continue to pose threats to the gas distribution channel and other buried infrastructure.
It is, indeed, depressing that some of these illegal miners dug almost four to five meters to the Atlantic. This is simply disaster waiting to happen, if not immediately tackled.
Illegal mining constitutes serious environmental threats to society. In the first instance, theactivities could aggravate flood disasters in concerned areas and expose the entire state to severe consequences. The damages done to gas and oil pipelines by illegal miners could also bring terrible disasters to those living along the coastlines, if not now but certainly in the future.
On the economic side, illegal miners are thieves who disallow government from maximizing the natural resources of the state for the good of all.
Not only are they not licensed to engage in what they are doing, they are equally denying those that are lawfully permitted by law the leeway to operate.
Illegal sand mining is equally a direct cause of erosion which has destroyed lives and property of law abiding citizens and still threaten lives and property of more citizens.
It also impacts negatively on wildlife, as sea animals that depend on sandy beaches for their nesting, are sent into near extinction. It also destroys fishery , causing economic problems for people who rely on fishing for their livelihoods. They are put out of business, worsening poverty, encouraging criminal activities as these people become desperate for survival.
Perhaps, more importantly, illegal sand mining poses a great threat to tourism enterprise in the state, as beaches and other sites people would have visited to relax, have been devastated.
These acts of illegality , run contrary to the law enacted in 2004 by the fifth Lagos State House of Assembly, entitled: “A Law To Provide For The Regulation And Grant of Permit To Any Person Conducting Sand Dealing And Dredging Operation In Lagos State And For Connected Purposes.” The law stipulates that every person, corporation, partnership or body involved in sand dealing and/or sand dredging operation should obtain an operational permit from the state.
It is in a bid to enforce this law to the letter and sanitise sand mining activities in the state, that the Lagos State Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, recently set out for a verification exercise on permits issued to sand miners operators within the state, with a view to revalidating and renewing those that had expired.
Illegal mining is a very dangerous business that nobody should be involved in and it is pleasing that the state Government is making effort to put a stop to it.
From the legal perspective, plans are in top gear to enact a more drastic and far reaching legislation that will impose more stringent punishment and penalties on perpetrators of this extremely dangerous business.
Since the crime is a local one, it is important that community leaders, representatives of the people and traditional rulers within the communities where this dangerous crime occur, rise up to the challenge. As Governor Fashola rightly said, these operators are not ghosts and community leaders cannot claim ignorance of their activities. One then wonders why they have not taken visible steps to ensure they put an end to their deadly activities.
Similarly, law enforcement agencies cannot also claim ignorance, as they live in these same communities or work there. They too should summon courage and cooperate with the communities in stemming the tide of illegal sand mining.
In orderto sustain what is left of the aesthetics of the environment and frustrate a possible disaster arising from the activities of these illegal sand miners, Lagos State Government has commenced full enforcement of related laws.
It is heart warming that the Enforcement Unit of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, has shown leadership in action, by arresting these illegal sand miners and others along the coast lines, whose activities constitute danger to the coastal communities in the state. The enforcement exercise is to ensure that sand miners and dredgers found operating illegally in unauthorised places are arrested , prosecuted accordingly and sanity returned.
It is pleasing that those operating illegally can no longer escape the long arms of the law, as they are now scared of the law enforcement officers. This is a challenge to the officers. They must not relent in their cleansing operations, till illegal sand mining and dredging is completely eradicated in the state.
To ensure that the war against illegal sand mining is effectively coordinated, registered miners should form an association to complement government’s actions. They would be able to identify and assist the state inn getting rid of these unscrupulous citizens, whose activities are injurious to their business.
On its part, government is poised to streamline the activities of sand miners and dredgers in line with international best practices . This is being done through new strategies meant to check and coordinate sand mining and dredging activities and avoid serious and irreparable catastrophe to the landscape. Existing legislation recommends a fine of N2 million or six months in jail or both for illegal dredging.
However, with the activities not abating, this penalty appears incapable of deterring those involved in the illegal practice. There is therefore the urgent need for a review.
In a world that is being intimidated by serious environmental threats from Cape to Cairo and Beijing to Melbourne, it is important that all stakeholders join hands to ensure that the danger of illegal sand mining is tackled head long in the state to avert imminent disaster.
•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.