Sorrowful songs from the Valley of Iva in Enugu

IVA Valley is now a ghost town. The ghosts of 21 miners: fathers, husbands, sons, breadwinners, that fell to a hail of bullets on November 18, 1949 at the district’s troubled colliery, haunt Iva Valley even as you read. Sixty six years since their massacre, their chilling howls echo through six decades, like a falsetto of savage deaths. All those pierced torsos, skin slivers, bone splinters and bullet fragments swimming in bleeding wounds, jabber back like darksome memories of doom and death.

The grisly narrative is of course, most bizarre. Simon Asogwa, 78, recollects with grief, the tragic fate of the 21 miners brutally hacked to death by the colonial police led by Captain F. S. Phillip, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP). According to the former miner and father of nine, the slain miners had gathered to protest deplorable working conditions. Prior to their massacre, there had been cases of physical abuse. In one instance, on September 2, 1945, to be precise, Okwudili Ojiyi, a coal miners’ union leader, was slapped by a British manager called Yates, for reporting an assault case. On November 1, 1949, the frosty relationship between the workers and management aggravated when the latter rejected demands for the payment of rostering, the upgrading of the mine hewers to artisans and the payment of housing and travelling allowances. The workers then began a ‘go-slow’ strike action.

The management consequently sacked over 50 of the miners. Fearing that the strike was part of the growing nationalist agitation for self-rule, the management also decided to move out explosives from the mines on November 18, 1949. Those of the Obwetti mines were easily removed, but that of Iva Valley was not because the workers refused to assist the management to do so. The Fitzgerald Commission, which the colonialists were forced to set up to investigate the massacre, discovered that the miners objected to the removal of the explosives because they feared that once the explosives were removed, nothing stood in the way of the management from shutting down the mine. As the crisis festered, a Briton and Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Captain F.S. Philip, came to the mine to assist in the removal of the explosives with two other British officers and 75 armed local policemen. But while the workers protested, colonial officer, Phillip, saw only menace. The miners’ chatter, singing, and fraternising appeared threatening to him.

In that crucial moment, the racialised figure of the “African worker” emerged in the imagination of Phillip and his fellow British officers and fused with the stereotype of the “primitive native.” To Captain Phillip, these were not industrial men conducting a protest but savage, hysterical natives, doing “dangerous dances,” screeching unintelligible noises, poised to attack. At about 1:30 pm, Captain Phillip became worried about the numbers and the mood of the crowd. They seemed to be “pouring” out of the mines by the hundreds. In many ways, the Captain appeared ensnarled by the protesters, many of whom tied red pieces of cloth to their miners’ helmets, wrists, or knees, as a mark of solidarity. As the minutes passed, the men began to sing hymns and songs of solidarity: “We are all one!” But the Captain only heard a “tremendous howling and screeching noise going on” to which several men danced in a “dangerous” way. After ordering his men to shoot, Philip himself aimed his revolver immediately at a miner in front of him. In a second, he shot Sunday Anyasado, a hewer, in the mouth.

Anyasado was the first to fall dead. He was from Mbieri, Owerri, and he was a young man, recently married, who had come to Enugu to earn a living. He probably did not hear the warning shots as he danced, nor did he expect that the police would fire. But Philip aimed his revolver at him and shot him in the mouth, killing him instantly. Phillip then shot Livinus Okechukwuma, a machine operator from Ohi, Owerri, killing him as well. Hearing the noise, Okafor Ageni, an Udi tub man, ventured out of the mine and asked “Anything wrong?” A bullet killed him on the spot. By the time the mayhem subsided, 21 miners had been shot dead. Spent canisters and bullets littered the earth around the slain miners like glow worms and slugs. The deceased’s relatives wanted them back but with their mutilated souls intact. The dead, of course, had no more will to live. They were dead. Thus Sunday Anyasodo, the hewer from Obazu Mbezi; Levinus Okechukwuma, the machine operator from Ohi, Owerri; Okafor Ageni, an Udi tub man; Moses, the machine operator from Umuohoho; Simeon, the machine operator from Mbutu; Nnaji, the hewer from Ndibara Amaimo; Nwahu, the engine driver from Amuzi Bende and 15 others who lost their lives in the twilight of 1949 protesting deplorable working conditions at the colliery have since become a minuture of urban legend in Iva Valley miners’ Camps One and Two.

Today, they roam languidly above the evening altars and doorsills of cratered homes, where their sad fates fade away in the minds of impoverished families and friends. The latter have no use for the scraps and bits of painful memories that they have become, because in their opinion, it is wiser to forget them. But Asogwa could hardly forget the sad story of the 21 miners because it is firmly entwined with the story of his life and the tragic colliery. Looking out over pale streets into the gaunt valley, the 78-year-old bemoaned the death of the enterprise that made him hasten to become a man. As a child, Asogwa longed to join his father and uncles as a hewer at the mine. But they said he was too young, hence, he satisfied his yearning role-playing with his father’s headlamp, while the latter relaxed after a tasking day at the mine. Then Asogwa clocked 12 and he became restive to work at the mine. His passion deepened on the night of November 18, 1949. There, in Enugu, while he fiddled with his father’s headlamp, the latter lamented the execution of 21 miners by the colonial police. Armed British policemen opened fire on defenceless coal miners killing 21 and injuring 51. Asogwa’s father called the slain miners ‘martyrs.’


He said they were heroes because they gave their lives protesting poor work conditions. Although he hardly understood his father’s logic, on that night, Asogwa swore to become a miner that he too might become a hero, like the slain miners. In 1953, Asogwa secured a job as a hewer at the mine. Although he became no hero, Asogwa was content to finally live his dream. In his late 20s, he was living comfortably earning £100 monthly for working at the mine. “Life was easier then because 100 shillings was enough for me to get by and cater to my family’s needs. I even made decent savings but that was not to last. Our government and the colliery management mismanaged the mine. And when we discovered oil, they abandoned it totally,” lamented the widower and father of nine. Corroborating him, James Anoforu, who worked for 28 years as a hewer at the mine, accused the colliery management of mismanagement. Joseph Ozuka, worked as a driver at the mine and he also believes that excessive mismanagement and misappropriation of the colliery funds caused the collapse of mine operations. “They stopped paying us salaries for three years and nine months until they disengaged us. Now, many of us can barely survive. The closure of the mine has left us jobless and impoverished. Our children have all migrated to look for greener pasture elsewhere. The collapse of the mine has led to the death of business in this community. Many families here engage in petty trading and subsistence farming to survive. I am too old to fend for myself but I have no choice but to do something. I need to cater for my family’s needs, that is why I decided to become a commercial bus driver,” says Ozuka.

Marcel Okere, 75, lost his job when the mine shut down. “We smelt trouble when they stopped paying us. Life became hard and we could barely meet our needs but we never stopped working. We hoped things would get better but it didn’t. They still owe us salary and arrears. Whenever they decide to pay us, they pay us paltry sums in bits. We do not deserve the kind of treatment we are getting. Many of us have resorted to farming and petty trading and our kids have dropped out of school because we can no longer pay their tuition. Life in this place, has suffered a slow, painful death. There is no hope here anymore,” laments Okeke. It was a different situation in 1909 when coal was discovered in Enugu State. Exploitation of the hydrocarbon started in Ogbete in 1915. Among the major coalfields were those in Amansiodo, Ezinmo, Iva Valley, Inyi, Onyeama, Obwetti and Ogbette all in Enugu State. Coal is also found in Ogboyoga and Okoba in Kogi State. There are also large deposits of coal in Anbre and Owukpa in Benue State and Ogwashi-Azagba in Delta State.


The great decline

The Ogbete mine operations and others in the country were merged into a new corporation in 1950: The Nigerian Coal Corporation (NCC). The NCC was tasked with exploiting coal resources, and held a monopoly on coal and coke mining, production and sales until 1999. According to the NCC, coal can be found in 17 states of the federation. Like other parts of the world, coal is the oldest commercial fuel, dating in Nigeria from 1915 when 24,000 tons were produced. Production peaked around one million tons in 1959, before declining to the current insignificant level. Nigeria’s coal industry suffered a terrible blow when oil was discovered. Until then, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) was the largest consumer of coal in the country. However, after the discovery of oil, the NRC began to replace its coal-powered locomotives with diesel-powered engines, while the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) now Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) began converting its power generation equipment from coal to diesel and gas, thus robbing the burgeoning coal industry crucial patronage.

The Nigerian civil war also negatively impacted coal production as many mines were abandoned during the war. The closure of the Oji River coal-fired power station after the civil war similarly affected the fortunes of coal in the country. After the war, production never completely recovered and coal production levels became erratic. Attempts at mechanising production ended badly as both the implementation and maintenance of imported mining equipment proved troublesome, and hurt production. After the civil war, the local coal industry was unable to return to achieve peak production like it did in the 1950s. Nevertheless, Nigeria’s coal reserve is large, over two billion metric tonnes, of which 650 million tons have been proven. If fully revitalised, the coal industry could fetch up to N5 billion in export earnings.


Why coal died

The NCC coal venture was hastily conceived and badly executed, according to Banji Oyelaran Oyeyinka, Professor, United Nations University, Institute for New Technologies and Acting Director, Regional Office for Africa (ROAF), UN-Habitat. According to him, the firm and its supervisory government agencies did not originate explicit strategies to acquire, assimilate, and adapt technology. Increased productivity seemed to be the major reason for the acquisition; the acquisition of technological capability did not seem to be important. The practical difficulties inherent to technology were paid scant attention, and the entire transfer process was jeopardised. NCC thought of the transfer process as being simply a matter of transporting a piece of hardware from Poland to Nigeria. But Nigeria ended up with a white elephant.

The firm did not conduct an international technology search before making a choice. It did not carry out any pre-feasibility activity or detailed studies. Consequently, it failed to consider structural limitations which later created bottlenecks in the operation. There was no systematic search for alternative suppliers. No competitive tenders were requested. There was, therefore, no basis for negotiating either the technology package or the price. In the end, NCC ended up with a system that was technically unsuitable and inappropriate for the Nigerian environment, and it cost three times the world market price. The geological problems were also very severe. Very little was known about the characteristics and nature of the mine waters, the constraints the fault patterns would have on the long wall layout, or the roof and floor pressures. One consequence was excessive weight on the powered roof supports along the face line. The undulating seam floor made it impossible to establish a definite gathering ground for mine water. This posed severe problems to long wall operations and also created excessively acidic mine waters. Within two months of operation, the Polish pumps began to break down as a result of the excess acid in the water. The pumps were made of cast iron and not easily repaired.

The operations also suffered considerably from inadequate transportation. Railway wagons needed to evacuate the coal were in very short supply, and the resulting dumping of coal created blockages in the coal bunkers. Nominal production targets could not be met, and what was produced could not find its way to the consumer. Power supply was inadequate, and outages were more the rule than the exception. The estimated production loss resulting from power outages alone was about 21, 000 tons in 215 hours. Power outages also created severe flooding problems because the pumps were inoperative most of the time, said Oyeyinka. Soon, the major handicaps of the coal industry in Nigeria dovetailed to encompass prohibitive cost of production due to outdated and overstaffed mining operations.


The paradox of importing coal from South Africa

A recent move by major industrialists and electricity generating companies to import coal from South Africa to augment industrial power generation reopened the debate on the abandoned 2.75 billion tonnes coal deposits in Enugu and other parts of the country. The move, according to the firms, was to enable them switch over to coal-powered turbines, due to frustrations being experienced by operators in getting gas to fuel their respective power plants. Dangote Cement Plc placed an initial order of 30,000 tonnes of coal from South Africa to power its 60-megawatts plants, with another 30 megawatts generating facility on standby. The company had reportedly slated $250 million for power generating conversion, which would involve establishment of three plants at Dangote Cement’s facilities at Obajana in Kogi State; Gboko in Benue State; and Ibeshe in Ogun State. Explaining the rationale behind the move, the Group Managing Director of Dangote Cement, Devakupar Edwin, explained that the company had to be proactive in resolving the lingering power supply crisis in the country, as ”we cannot afford to compromise the objectives of promoting value addition and job creation in Nigeria.”

Importing coal from South Africa or elsewhere, no doubt underscores the unfortunate contradictions of Nigeria, a nation massively endowed with the mineral resource. The immediate past administration could not muster sufficient explanation for approving importation of coal for power, even as the former Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, revealed that the quantity of coal deposit in Nigeria could provide electricity for the nation for the next 20 to 30 years. Nebo stressed that when fully explored, the coal-to-power initiative could increase the country’s power generation capacity, and assist in resolving the country’s power crisis. Interestingly, former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration allocated coal-mining blocks to prospective miners, but full exploitation is yet to commence. The government reportedly signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), with HTG/Pacific Energy Company Limited, with technical partnership with Chinese experts, for a $3.7 billion coal-to-power project, which is still awaiting execution. The project is designed to power a 1,200 megawatts plant to be built in Enugu, using coal from the Ezima mine.

It is no secret that Nigeria’s coal deposit stretches across states and in reasonable quantity. These include Enugu, Gombe and Kogi/Benue axis. Cooking coal is also found in the Lafia-Obi bituminous complex. The proven coal reserve in the country is put at 639 million tonnes with another 2.75 billion tonnes inferred reserve.

Dissatisfied by the delay in commissioning work for a recent feasibility study initiated for the Enugu and Gombe coal-fired power project, an indigene of Enugu, Osita Okechukwu, petitioned the former Minister of Power, requesting him under the freedom of Information Act to furnish him with details of the project. Okechukwu said that he was making the request because “since 2010, your ministry had commissioned consultants and had budgeted for bankable feasibility study for Enugu and Gombe coal-fired power plants. “The budget record for bankable feasibility study for coal fired power plants in Enugu and Gombe show that N927million was budgeted in 2012; N1.7b in 2013 and N1.1billion in 2014; yet the contract for the survey, to the best of my knowledge, is yet to be awarded, despite the fact that on July 2013, your ministry advertised the same in the federal tenders journal for bankable feasibility study,” he said.


Where coal thrives

Coal is mined commercially in over 50 countries. Over 7,036 million tons per year of hard coal is currently produced, a substantial increase over the past 25 years. In 2006, the world production of brown coal and lignite was slightly over one billion tons, with Germany the world’s largest brown coal producer at 194.4 million tons, and China second at 100.6 million tons. More than 80% of the world’s total proved coal reserves are located in just 10 countries. Coal production has grown fastest in Asia, while Europe has declined. The top coal mining nations (figures in brackets) are 2007 estimate of total coal production in millions of short tonnes are:

Coal production has grown fastest in Asia, while in Europe, it has declined. The top coal mining nations by 2012 estimates are: China (3.6 billion tonnes), USA (922Mt), India (605Mt), Australia (413Mt), Indonesia (386Mt), Russia (354.8Mt), South Africa (280Mt), Germany (196.2Mt), Poland (144.1Mt), Kazakhstan (116.6Mt).

Most coal produced is used in the country of origin, with around 16 per cent of hard coal production being exported. Global coal production is expected to reach seven billion tons per year by 2030, with China accounting for most of this increase. Steam coal production is projected to reach around 5.2 billion tons; coking coal 620 million tons per year; and brown coal 1.2 billion tons annually. Coal reserves are available in almost every country worldwide with recoverable reserves in about 70 countries. At current production levels, proven coal reserves are estimated to last 147 years. However, production levels are by no means level, and are in fact increasing and some estimates are that peak coal could arrive in many countries such as China and America by 2030. China has been the biggest coal producing country over the last three decades. The country produced about 3.6 billion tonnes (Bt) of coal in 2012 accounting for over 47% of the world’s total coal output. The country is also a giant consumer of coal accounting for more than half of the world’s total coal consumption in 2012, importing 289 million tonnes (Mt) of coal also making it the world’s biggest coal importer. However, the situation is pitiable in Nigeria, a nation globally acknowledged for her endowment with the largest and most environmental-friendly coal deposits. This has in no small measure cost the country billions of accruable revenue in international mineral trade.


Miners’ tears

At the Iva Valley Coal Miners’ Camp, life is a shadow of what it used to be. The settlement groans under lack and disillusionment. “Since the mine stopped functioning, everything started to die gradually. Now, everything is dead. All the businesses are dead and we petty traders can barely survive. That is because the few people who patronise us can only buy on credit. They promise to settle their debts when the government settles them. But on the two occasions that they received some settlement, most of my debtors absconded from home. I lost N123, 000 to such debtors. I have written the money off as bad debt. Our husbands are no longer working. Most of them have aged and grown lazy due to unemployment and boredom. Some have become habitual drunks and every day, they constitute a nuisance to the neighbourhood. Even if the government pays them their unsettled salaries and arrears today, it won’t be enough to settle the debts they have incurred while sitting around doing nothing,” said Nkiruka Ukaga, 53, a grocer.

Corroborating her, Aris Okpai, 42, lamented that since the mine was shut down, her husband has been finding it difficult to fulfil most of his obligations and cater to their family needs. “I have six kids and they have all dropped out of school because my husband has no job and there is no way he can raise money to pay their tuition. We manage to survive on proceeds from my petty trading and retail gin business but these days, my customers have stopped coming and those that do, I can’t sell to them because they would want to buy on credit. Most of them like my husband were coal miners,” she said. Raphael Okeke, 77, used to work at the mine, now that he has been rendered jobless, he scrounges a living performing odd tasks. According to him, “I was gainfully employed at the mine, as a filler. Now I am jobless and frustrated because the government decided to neglect the mine and toy with our lives.”


The way out

Ozuka, Anoforu and Asogwa want the government to re-open the Iva Valley coal mine. They want the government to pay their outstanding benefits, review their salaries and improve their conditions of service. “It is a very simple thing, all the government need do is to follow our suggestions and things will get better. They should appoint experts and former workers in the industry to re-energise the mines. You will see that things will get better and we won’t have to depend wholly on oil. What if something happens to our oil? What if our refineries never work? What would we live on? We have killed agriculture, we have killed steel industry and the coal industry is virtually dead. Something needs to be done fast, else we will face great trouble,” says Kenneth Okeke, 53, (not related to Raphael Okeke), a farmer and son to a late miner.


But the situation is more complicated than it seems, emphasised Matthias Offodile, geoscientist and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Mecon Geology and Engineering Services. Offodile notes that in Nigeria, coal mining shouldn’t be a problem because “we have enormous deposits of coal. It is a question of having the political will to develop it and use it both for domestic and industrial use. Even for export, coal is still in high demand abroad. There is a market for it,” he noted. Offodile suggests that the government spend more money on exploration. “Despite the problem we have in the Nigerian Mining Corporation (NMC), closing it was like throwing away the baby with the bath water. NMC was supposed to take these mineral occurrences from their occurrence level to a level where the economic viability would be determined. They are supposed to go out and identify all these deposits and the ones that are not good enough, throw them away, and concentrate on the good ones. But because of the corruption and mismanagement that took place in NMC, they decided to close down everything and that has not solved the problem.


“The gap has been created between the geological survey agency, which is supposed to prepare geological maps and development of mineral occurrences which would have been announced all over the place. Those gaps need to be filled. Now that they have closed down NMC, it is either they go back to the geological survey agency and set up a strong economic geology department which they had in the early days of the Geological Survey of Nigeria. The duty of the economic geology department should be to pick up mineral from the discovery stage and make detailed feasibility study, package and make it attractive to an investor. An investor has no business going to do basic work. Nobody has the money to throw away in the bush. It is only when this has been packaged and found to be economically viable that you can sell it to an investor who can now say, whether he is interested in the report or not. These minerals cannot be said to be economic until they are explored and developed to an investment level,” he said.

No doubt, it would take more than a few drastic measures to resuscitate the nation’s coal industry and rekindle the hopes of coal miners in the country, especially the unemployed miners of Iva Valley. Disenchanted, they scrounge through each day unafraid that their lives couldn’t get any worse. Such resignation has become the hallmark of their lives, thus daily, they let go of hope that they might suffer fewer disappointments. According to Asogwa, “We have lost our jobs, our comfort, and our benefits. We have lost hope. We are wasting away in poverty. What more does the government want us to give up?” Who knows, they may never have to lose their lives to become “heroes” or “martyrs” like Sunday Anyasodo, the hewer from Obazu Mbezi; Levinus Okechukwuma, the machine operator from Ohi, Owerri; Okafor Ageni, an Udi tub man; Moses, the machine operator from Umuohoho; Simeon, the machine operator from Mbutu; Nnaji, the hewer from Ndibara Amaimo; Nwahu, the engine driver from Amuzi Bende and 15 others who lost their lives in the twilight of 1949 protesting deplorable working conditions at the Iva Valley colliery.

It’s six decades since their “martyrdom” and the situation is no better. The mines remain shut down and memories of the good old days are fast diminishing in the hearts of pioneer miners like Anoforu and Asogwa, the little boy who dreamed of working in the mine as an adult. Save a hurtful spasm in the heart of Asogwa, that childhood dream has faded now, like a forgotten miner buried in the mine.

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By 9jatravel / Administrator, bbp_keymaster

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on Nov 03, 2015

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