Licensed sand burrow pits owners in Edo State, have protested the closure of their sites by the State Government.

The sand miners in a protest letter addressed to the South-South Zonal office of the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development in Benin-City, appealed for the intervention and assistance of the Federal Government on the issue.

Spokesperson for the operators and Managing Director of Jose Sharp Sand, Joseph Enaruna, said the closure of their sites have negatively affected their businesses as well as those of their employees.

He said that the State Government acted out of it jurisdiction, as the business of mining lies within the purview of the Federal Government.

It would be recalled that Edo State Government on September 11, 2018, announced the closure of 10 ‘illegal burrow pits’ in Benin-City, citing health and environmental concerns.

The Government in its statement signed by the Commissioner for Environment and Sustainability, Omoua Alonge Oni-Okpaku, said the closure was a renewed drive to safeguard the State’s environmental integrity.

But, the miners in their​ protest statement, contended that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, prescribes mines and mining activities in the exclusive legislative list.

The statement reads: “In line with the provision of the Constitution 1, the Nigerian minerals and mining Act, 2007 vested the control and governance of mines and mineral resource development activities in the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development.

“There is no doubt that the State, Local Governments and host communities are critical stakeholders in the development of the nation’s mineral resources. It is in recognition of this that the Mining Act prescribed the establishment of the Mineral Resources and Environmental Management Committee (MIREMCO) to serve as interface between the federal, state and local governments for addressing conflicts of interest arising from conduct of mining activities in the states of the federation.”

Enaruna  also noted that as a result of the provision of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act, 2007 and ancillary regulations, the state government has no jurisdiction in regulating mining activities and such, has no power to close down any licensed mining site in the state without recourse to the provisions of the act.

The Edo State Commissioner for Environment and Sutainability, Omua Oni-Okpaku, could not be reached for comment, as calls put to her mobile phone failed to connect.

But a source within the Ministry who did not want his name in print, said the closure of the burrow pits was not intended to raise any constitutional question on the control of mining activities as has been erroneously believed nor to contest the authority of the federal ministry of mines and steel development to issue license.

The source added that the temporary closure of the pits was based mainly on environmental concerns.

According to him, “Edo State is faced with a number of ecological issues especially gullies. These gullies did not just occur overnight. They are consequences of actions that were taken in time past. Such actions include improper termination of drains, abandoned and over-used burrow pits among others.

“These gullies are making a huge chunk of the states resources once they start developing. The State Government was forced to take this pro-active measure to look at the impact of these activities on the environment and identify those that have become imminent threat. Some burrow pits are located at less than one hundred feet from the road.

“The purpose of the temporary closure of the pits is to enable the State government verify that these pits have the proper permit from the federal ministry of mines and steel development and that they are operating with due regard to the future of our environment.”