Until May 2015, courtesy of an artisanal mining disaster that claimed the lives of scores of children and badly affected the health of hundreds of others, very little if anything, was known about obscure Shikira, a highly remote and inaccessible rural mining community in Rafi local government area of Niger State, north central Nigeria
Shikira, a community of a few thousand inhabitants has recently made news headlines courtesy of the infamous lead poisoning incident that claimed the lives of scores of its infant children and adversely affected the health of hundreds of others.
That remediation work has finally commenced in far-flung Shikira – which is 6 long hours’ drive from Minna, the capital of Niger state in north central Nigeria, due to its highly inaccessible location – after series of advocacy campaigns by various non-governmental organisations working in the area, is no doubt, a welcome development, even though it ought to have commenced much earlier.
“We are extremely excited to announce that the Federal Government has finally bowed to public pressure and commenced the clean-up of Shikira,” said a press statement by Follow the Money, a frontline NGO campaigning for the remediation of Shikira community. “One year and three months after the devastating outbreak of lead poison that killed 28 children and left over 300 hundred others below the ages of five with high level contaminants in their blood.”
Follow the Money, however, has said whereas it celebrated the commencement of remediation work in Shikira, it was urging the government to be “transparent in carrying out this assignment by coming up with a clearly spelt out work plan showing the actual amount budgeted and a definitive time frame for completion of the project”.
“It is important to mention that NGN 256,688,000 was appropriated in the 2016 budget for Characterization & Remediation of Lead Poison Contaminated Communities that was signed my Mr. President. This is important, so as to enable us effectively participate in monitoring the process and provide the public with necessary information they may require,” the statement said.
The situation in Shikira today is really pathetic as mothers who hitherto had high hopes on their children have now lost both the children and the little wealth they had, trying to save them. For the mothers of Shikira, therefore, all hope had been lost as the May 2015 lead poisoning incident had robbed them of both their precious children and the hope of enjoying their support during their old age.
Fatima Umoru is a Shikira mother who lost 4 children to the lead poisoning incident in May 2015, she said: “The boy began to vomit and then his body became hot, he was sweating and was finding it difficult to sleep and even when we managed to make him sleep, he would wake up almost immediately.”
As a mother, Fatima described as devastating the death of her children whom she said even though very young had already became part of her. “When you are used to seeing your child every day and you are always happy playing with him and suddenly you wake up one day without the child, you must be in agony,” she said.
Another Shikira mother, Huzi Adamu, said they were living in pains and agonies having sold all they had to save their children and yet couldn’t save them. “Obviously, we are in an unfortunate situation, having sold all that we had to save our children yet couldn’t save them. Before, we were hoping that when our children grew up they will be able to support us in our old age – today they are no more!” she lamented.
She also lamented the fact that whereas the government had promised them assistance since the incident happened in May 2015 they were yet to receive any such assistance from either the Niger state government or the federal government of Nigeria.
Abdullahi Katako, a community leader in Shikira decried the lack of quick attention on Shikira by governments at various levels calling on the traditional leaders, local, state and federal governments to come together and “face this menace”.
“The governor here in Niger state, the commissioner of health and any other persons that have anything to do with health and environment ought to have found time to, for just one day, come to Shikira to see things for themselves, the health of those children [affected by the lead poisoning incident] is something else even when they [survive to] grow up,” he said.
As remediation work commenced in Shikira, the global medical charity, Doctors Without Borders has expressed its willingness to render free medical services to the hundreds of child victims, as soon as the clean-up is completed; hence the need for the Nigerian government to speed up the process so that the worst affected children by the lead poisoning incident could receive medical attention.
Moreover, there are now various calls by NGOs working in the area for the Nigerian government to, as well, put in place measures that would prevent future recurrence of the lead mining incident in Shikira and other rural mining communities across the country.
For example, there are calls on the need for Nigeria to implement the recommendations of a report warning of impending lead poison explosion in Nigeria’s rural mining communities including Shikira, which was put together for the country by OK International, in the aftermath of a similar lead poisoning incident in Bagega.
Bagega is another rural mining community in Anka local government area of Zamfara state, northwestern Nigeria. In 2010, it would be recalled; over 400 children lost their lives while another 1500 got infected as a result of the lead poisoning incident in the community.
“Obviously, we are in an unfortunate situation, having sold all that we had to save our children yet couldn’t save them. Before, we were hoping that when our children grew up they will be able to support us in our old age – today they are no more!”
Therefore, that the Shikira incident still occurred long after the release of OK International’s report only shows clearly how negligent and insensitive the Nigerian government had been to the plight of the dwellers of rural mining communities across the country.
“We are calling on the ministry of solid minerals to revisit that report and ensure that its [OK international report’s] recommendations are followed in subsequent interventions and plans to avert any possible repeat of the ugly situation elsewhere in the country,” said Follow The Money’s statement.
Furthermore, the Nigerian government had been urged by Global Rights, the international human rights NGO to, as a means of preventing future recurrence of the Shikira lead poisoning incident, amongst others, actively regulate mining activities and promote artisanal mining cooperatives in the area.
Global Rights has also urged the Nigerian government to provide safer mining equipment such as wet mining machines for artisanal cooperatives as well as embark on educating mining communities on safer mining practices and regulations.