Nicholas Ibekwe

The failure of President Goodluck Jonathan to sign a $4 million intervention fund to clean up lead contamination in communities in northern Nigeria exposed to lead poisoning due to small scale and artisanal mining has contributed to the death of several hundreds of children and the maiming of thousands others, the Human Rights Watch has said.PRESIDENT-Goodluck-Jonathan

A statement by the global human rights watchdog said, in 2012, Mr. Jonathan delayed for months to authorise the release of the fund that was meant for cleaning up the communities and saving the lives of hundreds of children that are most vulnerable to lead exposure despite assurances that he was committed to solving the problem.

The organisation says the recent outbreak of the disease in Niger State, where 28 children were exposed to lead used in illegal and small-scale mining, could have been avoided if the Jonathan administration had acted on warnings and released funds earmarked for clean up early.

HRW says the Federal Government ignored warnings from environmental and occupational rights organisation such as, Occupational Knowledge International, the Blacksmith Institute, the Environmental Law Institute and the United States Centres for Disease Control, to act fast to curtail the outbreak.

It says the government also failed to act on advice from the above organisations “to conduct awareness campaigns, promote safer artisanal mining practices, and reduce the exposure of children”​.​

For instance, a 2012 investigation in various Nigerian mining communities by OKI revealed that the areas of the recent outbreak have the “highest amount of lead exposure​”​.

“The organization recommended blood lead testing of all children and workers at two of the sites they visited,” the report said. “ They also suggested that a survey be done in additional mining areas around Niger State, and that interim measures be taken to reduce exposure to lead while long-term plans for clean-up were developed.”

HRW says even as more children continue to die of lead exposure,​ the government is yet to grapple the enormity of the problem. It says if nothing is done now other outbreaks are bound to happen and more children will be die or be maimed. It called on the incoming administration of Muhammadu Buhari to act without delay in addressing the issue.

“The issue of lead poisoning is not going away on its own,” he said. “If it’s ignored, there will be another tragic episode, and then another. The only question is if Nigeria’s president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, will act more expeditiously.”

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