*Says the wealth of mining can be enjoyed without dire consequences
“As Nigeria traverses “the road to shared mining prosperity,” we must ensure that we do it in a way that does not harm our health and our environment. Those who say the option is death by poisoning, rather than poverty, offer a cynical false choice. Artisanal mining and the life to enjoy the wealth from it, is possible, if we put in place the proper preventive measures and provide the right equipment. No country should have to pay for its economic prosperity and development with the lives and wellbeing of its people.
“I strongly believe that a carefully-thought-out and comprehensive national plan, which focuses on the populations and communities most vulnerable to lead poisoning associated with artisanal gold mining, will yield the desired results.”
SPEECH BY HIS EXCELLENCY, PROF. YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, GCON, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, AT THE 2ND INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON LEAD POISONING ASSOCIATED WITH ARTISANAL GOLD MINING IN NIGERIA, WITH SPECIAL FOCUS ON PREVENTION, HELD AT THE NICON LUXURY, ABUJA, ON TUESDAY, JUNE 26, 2018.
It is a great pleasure for me to be here to declare open this 2nd International Conference on lead poisoning associated with artisanal gold mining activities in Nigeria. May I also join in welcoming the experts from various parts of the world, who are here, to assist us in thinking through the solutions to what is a serious public health problem especially in Zamfara and Niger States, Nigeria.
I am aware that the first international conference on lead poisoning, a joint effort of the Federal Ministry of Health and Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF, was held in Abuja in May 2012. The 2012 conference mostly covered technical aspects of environmental management and the treatment of poisoned children.
Today’s event has been organized by the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, in collaboration with Médecins Sans Frontières. It will provide a platform for key national, regional and international stakeholders, to come together to develop a multisector, interdisciplinary, and pragmatic national strategy, for forestalling future outbreaks of lead poisoning associated with artisanal gold mining, and to prevent re-contamination of previously remediated sites.
While the Federal Government has pursued a National Gold Purchase Scheme, as well as the development of a National Gold Policy, gold mining in Nigeria is currently dominated by artisanal miners using rudimentary mining methods and crude processing techniques.
The obvious consequence is the exposure of miners, the environment and local communities, to serious danger. In areas where gold ores contain high concentration of heavy metals like lead, exposure to the dust released from these metals as a result of the crude processing techniques, leads to serious health consequences, not just for the persons directly involved in the mining, but also the neighbouring areas and communities. Children, of course, are the ones most at risk of death and disability.
You may recall the outbreak of lead poisoning that occurred in Zamfara State in 2010, as a result of the processing of lead-rich gold ores by artisanal gold miners, in residential compounds and village squares.
Surveys carried out in the affected villages at the time, showed that more than 17,000 people were severely exposed and an estimated 400-500 innocent children, lost their lives due to acute lead poisoning.
The combined efforts of various international agencies, including Médecins Sans Frontières, the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), TerraGraphics International Foundation (TIFO), and the government of Zamfara State and the Federal Government, helped bring that tragic episode under control.
Regrettably, five years after the Zamfara outbreak, another outbreak of severe lead poisoning was reported in April 2015 in two villages in Niger State. As with the outbreak in Zamfara State, this new outbreak was precipitated by environmental lead contamination from artisanal gold mining activities. Nearly 30 children died from severe lead toxicity and many more were poisoned. Again, Médecins Sans Frontières, working with the local authorities, commenced chelation treatment shortly after environmental remediation was completed by the Federal Government in September 2016.
To date, nearly 7,000 and 200 children in Zamfara and Niger States respectively, have received chelation treatment. I am informed that this is the largest group of children under 5 years of age with severe lead intoxication reported anywhere.
Unfortunately, treatment does not reverse the debilitating effects of lead poisoning; it only accelerates the rate at which the body expels the lead, in order to prevent further damage or death. So the thousands of children who did not die of lead poisoning in Zamfara and Niger States, may therefore have to live with cognitive and other disabilities. Many of these children may never attain their full potential as productive citizens.
We must start by admitting that current efforts to tackle lead poisoning in artisanal gold mining, have not been adequate. What better evidence do we have for this, than the fact that the Niger State outbreak happened 5 years after we thought we had contained the problem.
Indications of re-contamination in previously remediated sites in Zamfara, compel us to re-think and refocus our commitment and strategy to protecting our vulnerable children and communities at large.
As Nigeria traverses “the road to shared mining prosperity,” we must ensure that we do it in a way that does not harm our health and our environment. Those who say the option is death by poisoning, rather than poverty, offer a cynical false choice. Artisanal mining and the life to enjoy the wealth from it, is possible, if we put in place the proper preventive measures and provide the right equipment. No country should have to pay for its economic prosperity and development with the lives and wellbeing of its people.
I’m confident that this Conference will produce a federally coordinated prevention plan, that leverages all the lessons learned so far, and bring local, state, federal authorities, as well as, civil society and corporate initiatives into alignment. We must avoid working in silos and expect to solve a problem that cuts across sectors and disciplines.
I strongly believe that a carefully-thought-out and comprehensive national plan, which focuses on the populations and communities most vulnerable to lead poisoning associated with artisanal gold mining, will yield the desired results.
Let me commend the efforts of the Ministry of Mines and Solid Minerals Development, the MSF, and other ministries and actors, in convening this critical search and summit for the optimum ways of preventing lead poisoning especially of children. Permit me to especially commend the innovative leadership, and clear sense of purpose of the Hon Minister of State for Mines and Steel, the Hon Abubakar Bawa Bwari and members of his team. I also want to commend the great work that has been done by our partners, the MSF, and other the society groups that have worked with us, to resolve this problem.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, it is now my special privilege and pleasure, to declare this Second International Conference on Lead poisoning, open.