- Environmental concerns are mounting as the Nigerian National Petroleum Company begins drilling for oil in a new field in the north of the country.
- Video testimony has emerged about alleged police killings of five villagers near Canadian miner Barrick Gold’s mine in Tanzania.
- A local official has absconded with $14.5 million in mining royalties intended to fund community development in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Lualaba province.
- Element Africa is Mongabay’s bi-weekly bulletin rounding up brief stories from the commodities industry in Africa.
Nigeria’s new oil frontier puts communities at risk, campaigners warn
Nigeria’s state-owned oil company started drilling for oil and gas at a field in the Kolmani River in the country’s northeast in November. Environmentalists warn that the project will expose communities and the environment to harm similar to what six decades of oil exploitation have caused in the Niger Delta.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) first announced the discovery of crude oil, gas and condensate in commercial quantity in Kolmani in 2019. President Muhammadu Buhari said the field has 1 billion barrels of oil reserves and 500 billion cubic feet of gas.
The governor of Gombe state has however pledged to avoid the “mistakes of the Niger Delta,” where decades of oil and gas exploration by multinationals have severely damaged the environment and destroyed livelihoods. Governor Inuwa Yahaya has promised both a role for local businesses in the value chain and transparency that will protect communities and the environment.
“With regard to the issue of the environment, our [state] ministry of environment is working hand in hand with the Federal Ministry of Environment and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited so that we will avoid all the mistakes and pitfalls that have been the big challenge of oil exploration and implementation in the southern part of the country,” he said.
But the federal government, which has final responsibility for mineral extraction, has not published an environmental impact assessment of the Kolmani project as required by law.
Chima Williams, executive director at Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, said the organization was investigating issues surrounding the new project and would be demanding full disclosure of impact assessment from the government.
“If there is no impact assessment, how do you understand the likely problems, and the mitigation measures to tackle them?” he said.
Environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation rejected the suggestion that the NNPC can extract oil without damaging the environment.
“It is erroneous to suggest that the ‘mistakes’ of the Niger Delta can be avoided. That will be wishful thinking,” he said. “The promises are always the same and the shocks of disappointment will be the same. We have seen this across Africa and those celebrating the find are playing fossil politics.”
Barrick Gold faces lawsuit over deadly police violence at Tanzanian mine
A plaintiff in a lawsuit launched in November by Tanzanian mining-affected communities against Canada’s Barrick Gold Corporation has spoken out against the killing of her son, allegedly by mine-funded police.
On Dec. 1, Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID), a U.K.-based charity that holds global businesses to account for human rights abuses, released a video in which a resident of one of the villages near Barrick’s North Mara mine describes looking for her son following a night of violent police activity near the mine.
“In the morning we were calling his phone but it was just ringing, so we started asking neighbors where my son was because we had heard bombs and shots that night,” says a woman identified only as Mariam to protect her from possible retaliation. “We were told there was some shooting — we went to the area and saw a lot of blood.”
She says she later found her son’s body at the morgue. “The mine has brought a lot of harmful practices. Police shoot and kill people or permanently injure them.”
RAID director Anneke Van Woudenberg says Barrick has signed an agreement with the Tanzania police to pay, equip, feed and house approximately 150 police officers who operate around the North Mara mine.
Barrick Gold’s chief executive officer, Mark Bristow, has previously denied any involvement by the company in the police abuses. “North Mara Gold Mine Limited does not supervise, direct or control any mission, assignment or function of the Tanzanian Police Force. The Tanzanian Police Force operates under its own chain of command and makes its own decisions on strategy,” he wrote in a February 2022 letter to RAID.
Mariam and 21 other members of the Indigenous Kurya community in the area around the mine have filed a claim for compensation for five deaths since Barrick Gold took control of the North Mara mine in September 2019, as well as alleged incidents of torture at the hands of police.
Funds for community development disappear in DRC’s Lualaba
Local media in the Democratic Republic of Congo are reporting that the chief accountant of an area near the southeastern town of Kolwezi has vanished along with $14.5 million in mining royalties.
According to reports, the official regularly withdrew substantial amounts of money from an account holding royalties that are paid to the state by mining companies. The funds are intended to finance projects supporting communities affected by the mining industry in this part of Lualaba province.
The misappropriation was exposed by a local civil society organisation, Luwanzo lwa Mikuba, which also noted that the head of the Kolwezi sector didn’t denounce the disappearance of his colleague, whom he himself had sent to the bank to withdraw money.
At the same time, the General Inspectorate of Finance discovered other embezzlements totaling more than $400 million across Lualaba province between 2018 and 2021, according to other sources.
“The spirit of the mining code is that these funds should be allocated to community development,” says Donat Mpiana, a human rights activist with the NGO ACIDH (whose acronym in French translates into “Action against Impunity and for Human Rights”). “But it is sad to see that this has not happened. Instead, these funds are used for other things.”
Mining royalties, according to Congolese mining law, are supposed to fund quick-impact projects that benefit the population. This includes the construction of roads, hospitals, schools and water infrastructure. These social goods are lacking in many rural areas.
In 2014-2015, an acidic water retention pond at Mutanda Mining, 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of Kolwezi, spilled into the Kando River. In 2017, according to the NGO Afrewatch, acid leaks from the same mining company contaminated residents’ fields in Lualaba-Centre and Kindu.
At the end of November, President Félix Tshisekedi appointed new leaders for local governments at the sector and commune levels. Because of suspicions of misappropriation, the Inspectorate General of Finance has asked that remittances and recoveries be delayed to allow an audit of public accounts.
Ini Ekott, Didier Makal, and Anna Majavu contributed to this bulletin.
Banner image: Tanzanian police officer guarding the North Mara mine waste dump. Image courtesy Catherine Coumans / Mining Watch Canada. (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)
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