NIWA, Sand dredgers lament invasion, demolition of their properties by Onitsha council chairman...NIWA overstepped its bounds - council chairman

NIWA, Sand dredgers lament invasion, demolition of their properties by Onitsha council chairman...NIWA overstepped its bounds - council chairman

By Chinwe Nwacha Onitsha

National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA, and Sand Miners at the bank of River Niger in Onitsha, Anambra  state, have lamented their losses in the hands of the chairman of Onitsha South Local Government Area, Hon. Emeka Orji as their properties were reportedly demolished and smashed beyond recognition during what they termed sudden invasion on their domain by the council.

Among the items demolished included, miners' installation, dredging equipments and their mining activities along Niger Street, Ose Ekwodu market and other parts of the River Niger banks, allegedly sealed, as the council described  the buildings and equipments  damaged as constituting nuisance and at the same time defaced the topography of Onitsha as a commercial city.

In a stakeholders meeting held  weekend between the Miners and NIWA, the sand miners, under the aegis of Onitsha Sand Miners Association said they were deeply devastated by the demolition exercise.

President of the association, Chief Chris Mbaegbu who spoke to newsmen shortly after their meeting with NIWA, lamented that during the demolition exercise, more than 10 crafts and sand dredgers worth N30 million each were destroyed, while buildings worth billions of naira were pulled down and looted by the agents of the local government officials in the process of selling their dredging businesses.

Mbaegbu further noted that to worsen the matter, the action of the local government officials has rendered more that 2000 persons in the sand mining business jobless as a result of it's multiplier effect.

He therefore urged Governor Chukwuma Soludo to intervene and restore them back to business since the miners' are paying revenue to both the state government, NIWA and federal ministry of mines.

Also speaking, NIWA Area Manager for Onitsha. Area Office, Suleiman Athanasius Nicholas said he convened the meeting of stakeholders when he saw a news circulating in a social media that NIWA sold the land to some of the sand miners.

Suleiman insisted that the meeting was equally convened to debunk such allegation of NIWA selling the River bank to sand miners, adding that the fact remained that the miners are tenants to those. who acquired the lands from the original land owners.

"It is not in dispute that some people like Lake Petroleum and Ugofoam who aquired the lands from Onitsha people many years ago are landords to the sand miners who may have rented individual portions of the lands from the various landlords  and then apply to  NIWA which has the control of 100 meters from the River for certification and if their application is granted by NIWA, they would commence mining operations and at the same time pay revenues to both NIWA and other statutory bodies.

He lamented that 75 percent of all the revenues generated by NIWA from all business activities at the river banks in the country formed part of revenues being shared between the federal, state and local governments in the country on monthly basis as federal allocation and wondered why the local government should interfere in sand miners' businesses.

He therefore urged Governor Soludo to consider the huge losses being incurred by both the miners, NIWA, the state and federal governments in closing down business activities of sand miners and reopen them for business, particularly in consideration of the fact that the river banks belong to NIWA territory.

Also speaking, two other members of the sand miners association who identified themselves as tenants to Lake Petroleum Limited, Chidi Iheme and Uche Okafor noted that legitimate business activities of sand miners spanned across Nsugbe, Otuocha, and Atani units, adding, "we have the NIWA permit to carry out mining businesses at the river bank, just like our counterparts in Delta, Kogi, Rivers and other states that have riverrine areas.

Iheme and Okafor disclosed that the Onitsha South Local Government authorities may have been infuriated by the refusal of sand miners to be paying them extra revenue, apart from the ones they are already paying to NIWA, the state government and the federal ministry of mines.

Insisting that they never granted any interview to social media operators to the effect that they bought the land from NIWA with huge amount of money as they were erroneously quoted by the social media, they pleaded with Soludo to intervene and reopen their mining businesses at the river bank in the interest of peace and tranquility. 

Reacting to the development, Secretary to Onitsha South Local Government council, Paul Onuachalla told newsmen on phone that NIWA over stepped it's bounds and abused it's right of way as contained in it's establishment act by going out of it's way to build parks, markets and warehouses for rents and for the purposes of collecting revenues from the traders which is under the state and local government acts.

Onuachalla who denied committing contempt of court by ignoring an interlocutory injunction restraining the local government from carrying out the demolition exercise, as alleged by the sand miners said the exercise was already completed before the arrival of the court order.

He recalled that the local government had warned tipper drivers against over loading their vehicles with sands as sand usually fall out of the tippers and damaged the roads but to no avail as the drivers boasted that they must continue to over load their vehicles.

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