From Goddy Osuji, Abakaliki
Seventeen persons have been reported dead in Amaeze community of Ishiagu in Ivo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State as a result of uncontrolled blasting of stones with explosives within the past 10 months. Consequently, the community has vowed that it would no longer allow the contractors working for the railway rehabilitation project to continue its illegal mining of granite stones in the area.
The decision by the leaders of the community yesterday, became necessary following the discovery that apart from its illegal entry into the community’s land, Eser West Africa, the prospecting company, did not follow the laid down procedures for moving and blasting explosives.
The Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), through the Eastern District Manager, Mr. Felix Njoku, had in a press conference in Enugu accused one Chief Cletus Ekene Obodo from Ishiagu of sabotaging the rail rehabilitation contract for the rail lines running from Port Harcourt to Makurdi awarded to Eser West Africa Limited by calling youths out on a protest march against the contractors.
But in a statement yesterday, the Amaeze community, under the auspices of Amaeze Development Union (ADU) said the issue of ownership of land was not the major concern of the community, pointing out that issues of illegal movement of explosives and blasting of stones without proper environmental controls and precautions had continued to affect the health of its citizens.
The statement signed by Mr. Christopher Okoro and Mr. Donatus Orji, chairman and secretary respectively stated that, “Eser West Africa Limited should, as a matter of urgency, leave our community,” adding that the community could no longer guarantee the safety of the property of the company if it decided to ignore the warning.
Part of the statement read: “Eser has been carrying out illegal mining activities on our land for nearly one year now and despite the fact that the company illegally entered into the quarry site allocated to Messrs James JS and Construction Company for which it was duly granted mining license QLS 11228, it has continued to store and move explosives without regard to the laws. “Our community has lost and continues to lose precious lives through the uncoordinated and illegal movement of explosives and blasting of stones with explosives.
The health hazards posed by this illegal use of explosives in our community are varied and of monumental proportions. We have, therefore, resolved that Eser West Africa Limited should no longer stay in our community to carry out their illicit traffic in explosives and illegal mining activities.”
It added that the security threat posed by the illegal traffic in explosives which climaxed in the Eser report of loss of more than 14 magazines of explosives makes it imperative that the Turkish company should leave Ishiagu, stressing that the nearness of Mammy Market with many Hausa itinerant traders made it possible that some of the explosives went to Boko Haram insurgents.
The Amaeze community, therefore, called on the Ebonyi State Government to act on the letter written to it by the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development regarding the illegal mining and unrestricted large movement of explosives at Ishiagu by Eser West Africa Limited in the interest of national security and public health.
When contacted, the Project Manager of Eser West Africa Limited, Mr. Mehmet Turgay Tosun, said his company had not worked at the Ishiagu quarry site in the last one month, explaining that it got the authority of the NRC to enter the quarry site.