Daily Trust Saturday
‘Radiation has been killing Adamawa villagers for years’
Babies born deformed in Michika areas
Effects of suspected radiation from uranium deposits has been causing death and deformities among villagers in northern Adamawa, say residents who spoke to Daily Trust in Michika. A number of them claim to have witnessed cases of deformity in newborns, and even animals around the affected villages.
The Director of Geology at the Ministry of Solid Minerals who is the former Manager of Adamawa Mining Company, Dama Zira, had a few weeks ago during a presentation at the Government House Yola, disclosed that radiation has killed many villagers in specific certain locations.
The villages include Garta, Futudou, Himike, Sina-Kwande Nkala and Ghumthi, all in Michika area.
Zira, a geologist from one of the affected villages, drew the attention of his audience comprising of a group of American investors, scientists, government officials and journalists to an unnoticed environmental disaster that he says has been going on for several decades.
In the late 1950s when Zira was a primary school pupil, helicopters conducting aeromagnetic survey to search for uranium hovered above the rocks, frightening him and the animals he tended to. By early 1980, as a young geologist, he witnessed the exploration activities in the villages by the defunct Nigeria Uranium Mining Company (NUMC). He often observed that the trees and grasses on the rocks were yellowish and poorly grown, one of the effects of uranium on the environment.
According to him, there were several deaths from strange illnesses that caused migration from communities near the uranium deposits while the villagers sacrificed animals to appease deities, as they attributed the problem to evil spirits.
Zira said: “The people of the affected communities for many years sacrificed hundreds of goats to appease a deity, seeking for protection from evil spirits which they believe are causing unidentified illnesses, and sudden death in the communities. Little did they know they are sitting on, and drinking, water from a huge uranium deposit which was identified by radiation experts as the cause of illness and rampant deaths among them.”
His presentation drew the attention of the Federal Government and on Wednesday scientists from the Nigeria Nuclear Regulatory Authority went to inspect the area. The geoscientist, who took a medical trip to Dubai in 2015, said he is himself a victim of radiation, an after-effect of several field trips to the various sites.
When approached by our correspondent, Zira declined to be interviewed on the issue, saying he had no permission to speak to the press.
Reacting to media reports on Zira’s claim, the Commissioner for Solid Minerals, Barrister Shanti Sanshi Victoria said an expert team from the nuclear agency from Abuja had already arrived the state to inspect the site of possible radiation. She however denied reports that radiation had recently killed several people in five villages, saying only the outcome of the scientific tests by the experts could provide a clue as to the possible health problems in the area as there was still no proven scientific evidence upon which to draw conclusions.
Corroborating Zira’s claim, a retired journalist from the affected area, Emmanuel Y. Kwace said villagers sought spiritual intervention against high rate of death, miscarriage and deformed babies. He expressed fear that Boko Haram bomb attacks in the villages may have aggravated environmental conditions and health problems in the villages.
“Uranium was discovered a long time ago, but we did not know the effect. Children were born with four legs, four eyes, with no eyes or with an enlarged head. Animals were born with six legs. Because the residents were illiterate, they thought it was the influence of some demonic forces. Even churches prayed to cast out the evil from the communities. The earlier the government verifies the quantity of the uranium, the better. There are Improvised Explosive Devices in the area, which I believe may compound the radiation problem,” he said.
Recently, the Federal Government commenced moves to generate electricity from nuclear materials, particularly through the exploration, exploitation and utilisation of uranium. Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, stated that it was important for Nigeria to exploit available resources in order to meet its power needs.
In March, the Federal Government announced that it
working towards generating 4,000 megawatts of electricity using nuclear energy.
The Director-General/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority, Professor Lawrence Dim, when asked about the safety of exploring uranium across the country, replied: “Uranium exploration in Nigeria is quite safe. We have not had any cause to find out that there is any high level of radiation or exposure relating to that.”
Dim added: “The issue is that the uranium we get in our soil is the natural uranium; although it has radioactive material, the concentration is low. So we don’t have any situation where the level of radiation coming out from it is detected to be harmful.”
A title-holder from Garta, Yakubu T. Tumba, the Chiroma Garta told Daily Trust that exploration activities have started at Mbororo in Michika in 1983 by a team of foreign scientists. “They drilled eight boreholes and conducted some tests at Mbororo, where we believe they exploited the resource. They set up camp two kilometers from the site and were flown in by helicopters and other vehicles. One day, they assembled representatives of the communities and informed us that when mining started several communities would be relocated. The site is 10 kilometers from Michika,” he stated.
A medical worker at the General Hospital in Michika who sought anonymity because she is not authorised to talk to the press, confirmed that the hospital had on a few occasions in the past recorded cases of babies born with a single leg, or without eyes or nose.
“Although we have not recently witnessed cases of strange sicknesses from radiation or of children born with deformities, in the late 1990s a baby was born with a single leg, just like a fish, with no private parts, so it was not clear whether it was boy or girl and another baby was born with a smooth, feature-less face, with no eyes or nose,” the worker stated.
Joseph Takwale, the first council chairman of the old Michika local government area comprising of Michika and Madagali districts said he was aware of exploration activities by a foreign company at Mbororo in the early 80s when samples were taken by foreign scientists who flew helicopters over the rocks. He called on federal and state governments to take comprehensive assessment of the area with a view to guaranteeing safety of the population. “Government should bring experts to assess the quantity of the minerals and give advice on the minimum distance the communities need to settle from the uranium deposits,” he said.
The Village Head of Michika, Abubakar Liman, also the Mukaddas of Michika, said he knew about the uranium deposits and exploration activities in the 80s but was not aware of the said health problems.
Uranium is among the officially listed minerals found in Adamawa State in North Eastern NIgeria. Experts have explained that the uranium deposits extended from Central African Republic and sank underground across Cameroon only to rise again between Michika and Madagali in Nigeria, and parts of Niger Republic.
Uranium is the heaviest naturally occurring element on earth and is a metal. Canada is the first country to produce and process it, and provided the material used to produce nuclear explosives for the atomic bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The beginning of the nuclear weapons program marked the beginning of the uranium industry. The commercial value and the dangers of uranium are based on two characteristics which it has: It is radioactive and fissionable.
In the late 1990s a baby was born with a single leg, just like a fish, with no private parts, so it was not clear whether it was boy or girl and another baby was born with a smooth, featureless face, with no eyes or nose