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Field Report #209: Abandoned tin mines endanger communities
At Gyel District
Present state of affairs
All Pages

Location: Sabon-Barki and Giyel Communities, Jos South LGA, Plateau State

ERA monitors visited Sabon-Barki community and Gyel District, both in Jos South LGA of Plateau State on August 5, 2009 in response to the growing call by impacted communities for a remediation of the ecological disaster and dislocation wrought on their environment and livelihood by nearly a century of tin mining and the failure of government at the federal and state levels to address the problem.

The ecological disaster in Sabon-Barki and Gyel mirror the picture in most communities of the Jos Plateau, a region which, in its pristine state (before commercial resource extraction began), is described in the detailed classification of Nigerian vegetation as a transitional zone between the southern and northern guinea savannah.

Like other communities in the Jos Plateau, the once rich vegetation in both communities is complemented by an extensive sheet of natural minerals in the earth’s crust such as bauxite, tantalite, columbine ores, and cassiterite, among others. These were however exploited recklessly by foreign companies of the colonial era before they were forced to leave in 1972 when the Federal Government nationalized them. 

Unfortunately, the same government that inherited the mines failed did nothing to ensure ecological justice through remediation on impacted environment and its effect on the host communities and also failed to stop illegal mining.
It is on this premise that ERA embarked on the field trip to Sabon-Barkin and Gyel.

At Sabon-Barkin
The first leg of the field trip carried out in the company of a local interpreter named Desmond Datok, was to Sabon-Barkin where ERA monitor chronicled the devastation of the community brought on by unmitigated mining activity, especially huge craters that had displaced farmlands and altered what was once a beautiful landscape.

It was observed that unmitigated mining activity caused many sections of the earth to be removed and, as would not have been expected of extractive companies operating in tandem with international best practices, there were no attempts to fill the craters.

Community people that confided in ERA, lamented that heavy equipment like jig plants and draglines were used to inflict wounds on the earth and pointed to several houses under threat of caving in as gulley erosion caused by the open wounds widen by the day.

ERA monitor was reliably informed that the gulley erosion which was observed to have cut off several sections of the community from other sections, also made it impossible for people on either side to carry out normal economic and social activity.  

But this was not the only barrier to harmony in the community. Datok said the community still cannot boast of any portable drinking water, schools or medical facilities to justify the enormous wealth that was extracted from its belly by foreign companies in the colonial times and artisinal miners today, some of whom allegedly have the backing of the state and federal government.

According to him, the absence of these basic amenities forced the people to go to Jos township all the time to meet their needs.

At Gyel District

At Gyel District, adjudged one of the worst impacted communities, an independent study in the 1980s indicated that 10.3 per cent of all the arable land was already destroyed through the operation of mining companies. Accessing this community from Jos South LGA township would normally take 30 minutes by vehicle.

This, however, was not the case when ERA monitor visited. Vehicular access terminated at a near-dilapidate bridge that runs across a stream which was said to have claimed several lives in recent time. The dangerous opening on the bridge constructed with wood nearly three decades ago was yet to be repaired when the field trip was conducted.

It was observed that reckless mining activity had created the semblance of a community that had been bombed at different locations as the entire landscape was one of gorges, ponds and gulley erosion.

Jephta Ngurore, an indigene told ERA that “the soil where farming is best suited is now polluted and unusable because of gorges everywhere and fear of contamination of whatever is grown.”

Grave Impacts
Independent studies conducted in the mid-1980’s confirmed high levels of radioactive waste in the tin mine sites capable of causing brain damage and mental deficiency if there is regular human contact with the environment.
The study also noted that some base metals that litter the environment have also caused pollution of water and hampered economic activities in the impacted communities.

How it all began
History tells us that the British colonialists became aware of commercial quantity of solid minerals in the Jos Plateau when William Wallace was sent by the National African Company (NAC) which later became the Royal Niger Company (RNC) to establish a trading post at Loko on the Benue River in 1886.

The company was said to have bought a small quantity of tin ore from Kano without making any serious effort to discover its source. A more serious British interest team interested in the source of the solid mineral came up with an arrangement which saw Royal Niger Company surrender a charter of control over trade in the Jos Plateau. And with that, the British government formally entered tin mining exploration in the region.

Centuries before, the Nok people now identified as the original settlers in the Jos Plateau area were said to have engaged in bronze making and smelted beads, thus confirming the belief that a thriving tin smelting industry pre-dated the colonial times when exploitation became more ferocious without regard to the environment.

When commercial mining began, the lucrative trade started attracting laborers from distant ethnic nationalities like the Urhobo, Kalabari, Igbo, Yoruba and Bini, among others, who started settling in the Jos area and spurred crisis with the local community people on the issue of who owned the land.

Shamaki Peter of the League of Human Rights explained to ERA monitor that mining in commercial quantity in the Jos plateau started in 1902 and by the mid 1940s, it had become very evident even to host communities that controls and regulations were virtually non-existent in checking the excesses of foreign companies that engaged in reckless scavenging for tin ore and in the process, undermined livelihoods of locals who were engaged mostly in farming.

Some of the companies involved in mining at that time included: British Tin Mining Corporation, ATMN, Bisichi-Jantar, Gold and Base, Exlands, and Kaduna Prospectus.  By the late 1960s when tin mining activity in the Jos Plateau started experiencing a lull, the aforementioned companies metamorphosed into what is now known as Consolidated Tin Mines of Nigeria Limited. But unfortunately, after the departure of the former, government failed to finance remediation efforts. And rather than reclaim the land and resettle the people, government wanted them to move without compensation or arrangements to settle them properly.

Present state of affairs
Funds that were supposed to go into remediation from the National Ecology Fund which Plateau State benefits from may have been diverted to private pockets as agitation by communities for remediation for degraded land and compensation for disruption of their livelihoods is yet to yield fruit.

Reports made available to ERA by the League of Human Right indicated that that Plateau State received close to N2 billion in ecological funds between 1999 and 2007, yet, had nothing to show for such monies allocated. Demand for ecological justice on polluted communities was said to have actually started under the Military administration of Colonel Musa Sheik Shehu that got N200 million in 1999 but did not expend the money on remediation of ecological disaster zones.

A commission of enquiry set up by the civilian administration that took over the rein of power that same year and probed the misuse of the ecological funds was said to have noted that the funds were misused but did not proceed to sanction erring individuals and firms found wanting.
Official records also show that between the second quarter of 2000 and first quarter of 2001 the state received about N279.5 million as ecological funds with nothing to show for it. And this same cycle continues till today.

“Tin mining here in Nyango Community dispossessed our parents their farmlands. My own farm where I formerly cultivated guinea corn and wild rice was taken away from me and there was no form of compensation when this happened. After the white men who started mining left, the land became totally unusable but worse is the fact that our only immediate source of water was the vast location where mining was carried out so we have been left with no other option than to go very far to get water.”    

80-year old Davou Pam, farmer in Nyango Community

“Life has become very difficult for us the women and our children because we can no longer farm in our community or get water to drink. The water coming from the earth flows from where solid minerals were excavated and is now polluted so we cannot trust the safety of the water. Anytime we fetch it we observe some small shiny particles that make using it to bath or even wash hazardous.

Madam Kanjan Yop Daniel, farmer Gyel

“The land I used to farm has become unproductive and the water unusable even for washing. Everywhere in this community is degraded. Because of this, many of the youths are leaving to the bigger towns. Today it is dangerous to even walk around the areas where the abandoned mines were operated because of crevices that were not covered up after the mining stopped”

 Ishyaku Mukthar, 45-year old motorbike operator, Gyel

“Most farmlands in this community are no longer usable because the crops no longer grow well. Besides, at every short distance there is a section of the earth that was dug to extract solid minerals. Now, we have to go very far off to get food that we would normally have cultivated here in this community. Tin mining which was used to develop other lands is actually our own curse because it has brought nothing but pain to members of the community”

Jephta Ngutore, 30 year-old indigene of Jere Community, Gyel District

“Maize and vegetables that I used to grow on my farm no longer look healthy because of some whitish substances from the abandoned tin mines that flow from the ponds into the farm. It is very painful because we depend on the land for food and the rest we sell. Government should come to our rescue”

Madam Asabe Shamani, farmer, Jero Community

One thing was apparent when ERA monitor visited the two communities: The locals are very bitter about the devastation of their communal patrimony –land, water and air, by companies that engaged in tin mining and the subsequent neglect of their communities by successive administrations at the federal and state levels. 


  • Compel the federal and state government to carry out a comprehensive environmental audit of Sabon-Barki and Gyel District in the Jos Plateau and to clean up polluted lands in both communitie.
  • A comprehensive probe of all monies allocated to Plateau State  under the National Ecology Fund since 1999 and appropriate sanction for individuals and organizations found to have misappropriated the funds
  • Government, as a matter of urgency, should establish health care facilities in the affected areas


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