How FG destroyed Enugu money-spinning empire

KayCee
By KayCee August 20, 2014 07:16

Before the discovery of oil Nigeria depended  on non-oil mineral resources. The economy was good and the citizens were generally happy. But in the 1970s oil came to replace the other mineral resources and the consequent abandonment of the others to the detriment of Nigerians who were engaged in the various sectors utilizing natural resources.

One of such negative effects of dependence on oil was the neglect of coal mining, which dealt a devastating blow on the Nigerian Coal Corporation (NCC).

In Enugu where coal deposits were in abundance and served as money-spinner for the  Government,  the neglect is today evident as the vast coal mine   now lies waste.

Last week, Oriental News visited the coal mine locations in the state and the mining sites have become a ghost area with facilities of the NCC now dilapidated.

People who saw when the going was good in the corporation who spoke to Oriental News were bitter and full of regrets that the  goose that laid the golden eggs has been left to die, blaming the Federal Government for the woes of NCC in Enugu.

First is Mr Charles Okeke, a 78-year-old retired coal miner, who worked in the electrical department of the moribund Nigerian Coal Corporation, Enugu.

He relived to Oriental News his experience as a coal miner and how he enjoyed working in the mines in Enugu.

“I was more or less an electrician; in every mine, it is the electrician that shows the way inside the mine and we are usually fewer than other mine workers.

“It is the management and Federal Government that brought about the end to mining of coal, not that the workers got tired, but the management started saying they could no longer maintain the staff of Nigerian Coal Corporation. For me at that point I was transferred to the North where they wanted to do an extension, but on getting there, they said the Federal Government said they should close it, that they don’t have money and I came back, that was between 1978 and 1979, and I came back to our workshop in Enugu,” he said.

Okeke believes that anybody who goes into the mine and came out should be given triple ration anywhere palm wine was shared as the person would be regarded to have come back from the land of the spirit.

According to him, while entering the mine in the day time, if you do not have good lighting facility, you would not be able to see inside the mine.

“There is a place we call mine entrance on going in, you will see a stretch of electric light, that one is the football field until you get to the phase where the coal is. There is a place we call long wall, in there if you say that you don’t know God that means you will never know God again in your life. There you will see different machines and belts. There is a place you will get to and you will see a height like in the long wall supported with pillars for the roof.

Sometimes the weight from top will break down the supports and bend them to V-shape. You wear only pants with your tool bag, you will wear a mine helmet, but if the mine collapses by force, it will smash the mine and flatten the person to the ground. Those wages for support on top of the mine sometimes collapse and flatten the miners. That is when you here that one died in a mine,” he said.

He narrated how coal miners in those days suffered; saying that if they shook your hands, it was like a dried hand of a chimpanzee or a mason’s concrete because the miners were using pikes, which was later modernized into detonators that were used to blast the coals.

“The surveyors will come to use chalks to mark some spots where the coal is and you don’t go beyond their markings. There is what we call electric Boeing motor used with twist drill, high carbon, to drill around by the shoot farers; they are the ones that will fire the detonators connected with cables.  It is usually  dug long on the ground of about four feet, well loaded, bring out the cables and when it is time to shoot, he will connect it. The roads will be blocked that nobody comes close. Whenever you hear the whistle, you know the detonator is about to go off. All these activities are inside the mine. The shoot-farers are the ones that shoot the coal. They block all branches before they fire the coal. The mine is not like this outside world. It has corners. He will stay in a corner, mine the battery and you will hear huge sound.

“They will count the number of shots. If anyone refused to explode, that is very dangerous, it must explode, you can’t leave it because it may explode at any point in time and kill any nearby person. That place that the coals were shot down, some people will come and pack the coals using mine car or tub. They will put the coals inside the tub and a locomotive engine will come to drag it outside the mine and you will see it is real coal; they will be tipped in a hip. Wherever the coal is fired with that detonator it is allowed to cool down before it is packed because the fume of that detonator can cause tuberculoses. That was the work I was supposed to do, to pack the coals, but I told them that I cannot do that because I am the only son of my mother,” he said.

Throwing more light on how coal mining affected life in Enugu, His Royal Highness, Igwe Tony Ojukwu, the Igwe of Enugu urban and the traditional ruler of Ogui Nike said:

“We have been calling for the reactivation of the coal industry because of the benefits we reaped from that deposit when it was booming. Coal was everything to Enugu; we never had oil except the big tanks being brought around through the railways when the railways were there. They later gave way to tankers and the thing flooded every

place. And later there was this channelization through the pipes to refineries, and depots and that allowed us some leeway in terms of free traffic on our roads. Otherwise formerly it was tankers everywhere.

“But, while coal lasted, while the excavation and activities of the coal mine lasted the people of Enugu enjoyed the boom because the coal industry provided a lot of jobs. It wasn’t a matter of academic or qualification, but by ones strength to dig and bring out the coal to the refinery and that gave a lot of people jobs. Either you are an artisan or a labourer; whatever you are called upon to do you earned your living, you earned your stomach; it was sure to feed you.

“In fact, when the coal was booming, their pay day was usually ceremonial. It was usually announced two or three days ahead of the time; you will hear that colliery people will take their salary. Even people in employment used to abandon their world to look for something to sell to collieries as they come out from their pay office. Anythingyou had in your hands to sell will be bought; we had field days during that period. Once it is pay day for colliery, ah! Everybody will be going towards the Iva Valley; if they go there they will bring out their items, everywhere will be market.

“From the roads to the lawns in the offices; everything you had in your hands somebody will be prizing it and somebody will buy it. And for almost a week within the period of their pay day everybody enjoyed; people had something to eat; people were marrying. They were well paid and they were ready and willing to spend the money. Some of them used to move from their pay office through the main market at Ogbette to go and buy a bicycle which was not an easy thing to do at that time.

“But today, we have all returned home in penury; no available jobs and those who worked with the Coal Corporation that time wouldn’t come back now to start going to school in other to fit into the system; the jet age have come. So that is what is most regrettable and it is pinching on us and the economy in the state. We are all crying and wishing that the hands of the clock could be wound back so that yesterday will come and we will make some merriment again.

“It is possible to revive the coal industry here; yes it’s very possible; nothing happened to it. You know from the coal industry they

used to bring a material that was sent to the Nkalagu Cement factory to enhance the production of cement. That one has also declined

because there is no source again. When the coal was there the railways were also at its peak transporting coal to the cement industry and other places.

“The coal did not collapse, the government stopped it and we are appealing to the Federal Government to reconsider its stand on coal industry in Enugu. Nothing happened to it; the dump is still there unexcavated, untapped so if the government re-opens it now the government can afford to use more scientific mining methods. That is what we have been praying for because it will provide jobs, it will boost the economy. There is no way the government can reopen the coal industry now and regret it or fall short of progressing. No, the government will enjoy some boom in the economy. People will be empowered. We are talking of power supply, in those days coal was being sent to Oji-River power station and there was electricity. And even now that coal has multi-merits, so this is the time to re-activate it,” Ojukwu said.

The traditional ruler expressed belief that the government would one day remember the coal industry because of the economic value attached to the industry.

“There was hardly any family that did not have somebody working in the coal corporation; every family benefitted from it. You need to see their office any day they announced they were going to pay. There were people who would crawl out in the morning to get there and wait.

People from distant communities around here used to work to the place; the lucky ones had bicycles to ride to the place. Motorcycles and cars were not many then but still people managed to get to that place.

People will wake up at night and cook all these delicacies and carry it to that place and be sure that the first set of colliery staff that comes out will finish whatever you have. They will be rushing out; that was the position then and this is the type of experience we want to enjoy now even in a more advanced and more technological pattern, that is what we are yearning for; and this government has always said it is for the people and that is why we have been waiting and yearning for the industry to be opened,” he said.

In an attempt to put the records straight, Mr Ibe Everest, acting Managing Director, Nigerian Coal Corporation who was posted to Enugu 26 months ago and on secondment from the Ministry of Mines and Steel

Development noted that the Nigerian Coal Corporation since 2005 has been undergoing privatization.

This, he said, was necessitated by the fact that generally government is seen to be a poor businessman.

“So, government started divesting most of its activities….See NITEL, for instance, and a couple of them, putting them in private hands. So, Nigerian Coal Corporation came under one of those government corporations that were to be divested. More so that government became very interested, renewed interest came up that Nigeria must move away from its mono cultural economy and diversify. So government started putting an eye that we could generate revenue from solid minerals and coal was seen as one of those solid minerals that Nigeria has high potentials and that we could best harness those potentials if private sector came in.

“So in 2005 the government felt okay, let us divest, put it in private hands coupled with the fact that in the past, prior to this period management had been a problem. If you can recall Nigerian Coal Corporation before 2005 we were owed 39 months’ salary arrears. You can imagine the frustration for the workforce and how ugly the situation was. So, what we are doing is to try to put activities in the coal sector in private hands and this has been going on maybe rather slowly, but we will get there.

“What appeared to have gone wrong in the coal industry was not in isolation; that good old days referred to was when coal actually was the main primary source of energy. With the advent of oil and gas it affected coal in not a very small measure and then too Nigerian Coal Corporation was the main supplier of …Nkalagu Cement Company was running, the railways were running on locomotive, Oji-River was running on coal. So, all of these that were running on coal then depended on the Nigerian Coal Corporation so you could understand that whatever affected any of these three will certainly affect Nigerian Coal Corporation, that’s what happened.

“At the same time there was a downturn in the global market for coal but it’s picking up again. It’s picking up because the world has found out that gas and oil are not renewable source of energy and that we must bring in other sources into the global energy mix. Coal is picking up again and international agency for energy predicts in their 2012 report that there will be an annual growth in the demand for coal as a primary energy resurge at the rate of 2.4 or 2.8 per cent annually till the year 2018. So you can see what potentially holds if we can do the right thing, put it into private hands as quickly as we can and private sector brings in their skill and their competence into it, coal will come back again and Enugu will be revived once again and we will no longer talk about the good old days we talk about the present good days.

“The retired workers are getting what is their due, pensioners are paid as at when due, maybe I am lucky since my advent here pensions have been coming as at when due. As I speak with you they have been paid up till June, we are expecting July. In fact, their pension comes as if it’s salary, maybe that good luck came with me. Their arrears are not so much; the only thing is that there may be small hiccups here and there because a whole lot of financial liability was on because of the frustration there they took whatever they got later

they now found out…people who were omitted here and there all of that we are addressing.”

An anonymous retired coal worker told Oriental News in confidence that their condition is not very clear because according to him some of their benefits are pending and nobody is talking about it.

“Also the issue of sales of our quarters, since it was talked about we have not been told if they will sell to us or not. We have been struggling for them to hand over the buildings to us as the right people who have been living there. However, they appear to be more concerned with the sale of the spaces within the quarters.”

Source The Sun newspaper

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KayCee
By KayCee August 20, 2014 07:16