The federal government has withdrawn mining licences from two firms billed to mine solid minerals from the restricted Cross River National Parks in Oban, Akamkpa LGA of the state.
The firms were reported to have brought in hundreds of foreign nationals, erected camps inside the National Parks, devastated it and constituted security threats to locals.
The conservator general, Mrs Caroline Olory in a telephone conversation on Wednesday disclosed that she had summoned them to a meeting in her office to know how the licences emanated.
“The good thing is that the Cadastral Office in the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development has realised the error and have withdrawn the said licences.
“As we speak, they are pulling out of the National Parks. We have taken charge of the Parks.”
There was public outrage over wanton and illegal mining in the National Park and in many parts of Biase and Akamkpa LGAs.
Two environmental groups, ‘We The People’ (WTP) and Development Concern, DEVCON, had threatened to go to court if the licences issued the firms are not withdrawn, insisting that the licenses were against the law.
The Executive Director of WTP, Mr. Ken Henshaw and the Executive Director of DEVCON, Dr. Martins Egot, expressed fears that in the next two years, the park would have gone extinct with the extent of mining activities that would have happened there.
Dr. Egot who presented the position of the two NGOS, said, “We have recently become aware that the ministry of Mines and Steel Development has granted Mining rights to the two companies to carry out mining activities in the area of the National Park against all existing laws and regulations”.
The NGOs cited arrays of statutes to illustrate that National Parks are not supposed to be tampered with.
“The National Park Service Act (2006) unequivocally underscores that national parks are sanctuaries meant exclusively for the propagation, protection and management of vegetation and wildlife. Notably, Section 22 of the Act delineates the functions of Management Committees, reinforcing the exclusive dedication of national parks to the propagation, protection and management of vegetation and wildlife.
“Section 29 clearly makes it an offence for any unauthorised person to go into the National Park without the permission of the Conservator-General”.
They further argued that “mining activities are explicitly prohibited in section 30(1) of the Act” which says, “a person who, unless authorised to do so under this Act or the regulations under this Act, carries out an undertaking connected with forestry, agriculture, grazing or excavation or does any leveling of the ground or construction or any act tending to alter the configuration of the soil or the character of the vegetation; or does an act likely to disturb the fauna or flora; or engages in drilling, mining, prospecting or exploration of any kind of natural resources.. Is guilty of an offence”.
”The Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act (2007) which serves as the key legislation on mineral exploration and exploitation in Nigeria also prohibits mining activities in the National Park. Section 3(1)(d) of the Mining Act “explicitly bars mineral activities in areas under the purview of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments Act or the National Parks Service Act”, hence “no mineral title granted under this Act shall authorize reconnaissance, exploration or exploitation of mineral resources on, or in, or the erection of beacons on or the occupation of any land.
“That is subject to the provisions of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments Act, Cop Nl9 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and the National Parks Service Act, Cap. N65, laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
“With these two compelling legislative instruments, each banning mining activities in the National Park, one wonders why mining is currently going on in the Cross River National Park. One also wonders the extent to which the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development responsible for issuing mining rights can rightfully supersede the jurisdiction of the Ministry vested with environmental conservation”.
The purpose of the National Park Service according to them “is to ensure ecological preservation, a purpose that fundamentally contradicts any form of mining within its precincts.
They argued that, “there is no doubt that permitting mining activities in the National Park will seriously impact the ecosystem and destroy the essence of conservation, while opening the forest to other risks including wildlife hunting and logging.”
They have called for an independent and thorough Environmental Impact Assessment to be conducted on the affected area mined by the two firms.
“This assessment will determine the extent of damage already caused by the mining activities and provide a basis for appropriate remediation measures.”
They further insisted that the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, responsible for granting the mining lease without proper authorization, should face appropriate sanctions for this breach.
“This will serve as a deterrent against future violations and emphasize the significance of adherence to legal protocols”.
They want the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Regulations to be reviewed and strengthened to ensure that there are no ambiguities in granting mining licenses within protected areas.