Follow The Money, a nonprofit advocating for judicious utilisation of public funds by tracking aid meant for local communities in Nigeria, has expressed shock over the failure of the Nigerian government to announce a specific date for the commencement of remediation work in Shikira community, a year after lead contamination ravaged the small rural mining community located in Rafi local government area of Niger state, in north central Nigeria.
This was contained in a statement made available to journalists by the Team over the weekend and signed by Follow The Money’s co-founder, Hamzat Lawal, which described the situation as “even more worrisome considering the fact that the Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed recently visited the area and declared it a national disaster”.
“It is noteworthy to highlight here that the minister during one of her meetings with civil society bodies and other relevant stakeholders in the sector disclosed that the sum of N300 million has been included in the 2016 budget for clear-up of the contaminated site,” said the statement. “But the truth is that time is running out as the rainy season has just begin and would disrupt the exercise and spread to other neighbouring communities if remediation do not commence immediately.”
It added that it was on record that the Team, after discovering the epidemic in April 2015, alerted pubic officials of the incident and called for urgent intervention to enable occupants of the community adapt to the ugly event that claimed 28 lives and infected over 300 children mostly below five years old.
The statement decried the fact that whereas Doctors Without Borders, had indicated interest in providing free health services to the members of Shikira community, it couldn’t do so as the environment was yet not cleared of any contaminants.
“While we acknowledge the minister for the move demonstrated by visiting the impact site to assess the level of devastation, a sign that reinforces hope that work may begin soon, we are also very concern about when the funds would be released to commence the actual clean-up. Furthermore, we want the government to be open, transparent and accountable on how the funds are expected to be utilized including a work plan specifying project timeline, data and concrete steps on execution of the exercise,” the statement read.
The Team also called on the National Assembly, whom it said had recently committed to reviewing the 2007 Mining Act to ensure artisanal and small scale miners were empowered so as to mitigate risks and ensure safety in mining practices, urging the Nigerian government to prosecute individuals who were “out rightly reckless about their jobs to serve as deterrent to others and foster sanity in the system”.