By Sodiq Adewale Chocomilo
ITAGUNMODI is an ancient town with ‘large deposits of gold’ located in Atakunmosa West Local Government in Osun State with geographical coordinates (7° 32′ 0″ North, 4° 39′ 0″ East). Nigeria is blessed with abundance of natural and mineral resources. Itagunmodi, ‘land of gold and peace’ is one of the host communities of these mineral resources. Unfortunately, the presence of gold has made mockery of peace in the land.
Mineral resources like gold are expected to be blessings to their host communities. Residents of these communities are expected to benefit via job creation, social amenities, infrastructural growth among others. For the people of Itagunmodi, a gold community in Osun state, the story is different. A rather sad resident told WITHIN NIGERIA that the large deposits of gold in the ancient town is a CURSE. Besides the neglection of the community and visible signs of poverty, presence of illegal and local miners have not helped the situation too.
WITHIN NIGERIA reporter left Osogbo, the capital of Osun and travelled down to Itagunmodi to access the situations and make findings about the alleged cholera outbreak that reportedly killed three people. From Ilesa to Itagunmodi, one would pass through five communities who share same tales of bad roads, dirty environment, contaminated water supply, epileptic power supply and low standard of living. From Ibodi to Igila to Iyeere to Ajinde to Oke-Ipa, it was indeed a story of absolute neglection despite millions government generates from these communities.
This reporter firstly alighted at Iyeere, a community close to Itagunmodi, the city of gold. Apart from the heaps of waste which dominated the roadside, a group of six young men suspected to be local or illegal miners could be seen digging laboriously with pickaxes. Headpans, pipes and a water pump were also seen at a mining site situated at the entry of Iyeere community. In their efforts to search for gold, they have made farmlands barren, leaving the big and wide holes they dug filled with water.
After witnessing the degradation of farmland by local or illegal miners in Iyeere community, this reporter also observed that there is no functioning public toilet in the community and watched how some residents in turn ease themselves at a corner. It was completely an eyesore.
As the journey into Itagunmodi continues, the ‘motorcycle rider’ was busy decrying the extent of destruction of farmlands especially how the actions of miners have polluted water supply and the ‘worrying’ negligence of government till we got to the entry point of the gold community.
When contacted, the Honourable Commissioner for Environment and Sanitation in Osun state, Sola Atanda Oladepo complained bitterly about the sad development especially the heaps of waste dominating the community.
Oladepo cited ignorance as a factor responsible for the compilation of wastes at every corner. Although it is duty of the local government but we will assist or probably take over if its beyond their powers.
“We have already mapped out plans to visit the place, work alongside other agencies in the state, clear the community and enforce new rules that would possibly guide against such occurrence”, he said.
Reacting on the degradation of land, Oladepo attributed the cause to activities of local and illegal miners and further stated that the state has not gone to bed over the matter.
He said the entire communities Ijesaland where mining activities are in progress only Itagunmodi are experiencing land degradation. This among others are issued to be raised and discussed at the national council of environment.
“I believe that federal government must have probably gotten some funds from people who registered for mining. We will present our matters and if possible access the fund or allow them to come and do the necessary”, he added.
INSIDE KOSILE MEMORIAL GRAMMAR SCHOOL WHERE STUDENTS ENGAGE IN OPEN DEFECATION AND LEARN UNDER BROKEN CEILINGS
At the entry point, there is a block-made signpost boldly written on ‘ITAGUNMODI, CITY OF GOLD AND PEACE’. Few metres away lies another signpost of a citadel of learning known as Kosile Memorial Grammar School’.
The school was founded in 1980. The whole Kosile Memorial Grammar School’ is completely irritating and extremely terrible. If there was no signpost, it would have passed for a jungle or hideouts for criminals.
Apart from the bushy environment, the school has no fence which gives room for unlimited access by strangers and exposes students to kidnappers. The school is also characterised by broken louvers and broken ceilings.
There is a particular building that has no ceilings and there are many openings in the roofing sheets. Three out of four blocks of classrooms have no doors and chairs. Some walls of these classrooms are used as boards for writing. Only the administrative building appears intact and the doors were closed as at the time of reportage.
Inside this school, there are sad and untold tales at every section of the school. As at the time of visitation, this reporter observed that there is no functioning public toilet in the school and there are visibly caked faeces lying freely in some section of the school.
This reporter could not stay long in this school due to security reasons. The school is not only kilometres away from the main town but the only police station in the town is in a deplorable state which means it is likely impossible for the police to successfully engage in rescue mission if this reporter is abducted.
Some of the residents who spoke with WITHIN NIGERIA said they have lost hope in the restoration of the community. They decried the increasing rate of land degradation and expressed concerns on how farmlands have become barren as a result of aggressive miningof gold.
A 30-year-old man identified as Olamilekan Kolawole who is a resident of Itagunmodi expressed his grievances and still wondered how a gold community could be in such deplorable condition.
“Itagunmodi is a mining site. They do not value the lives of people in the community. They only want gold and they are ready to do anything. It is quite disheartening that the government is doing nothing about it”, a rather sad resident concluded.
WITHIN NIGERIA contacted the Honorable Commissioner for Education, Bamisayemi who promised to get in touch with this reporter after the party’s state congress. As at time of reportage, he has not contacted this reporter
INSIDE DIRTY ‘OSUN-GOLD COMMUNITY’ WHERE RESIDENTS DRINK CONTAMINATED WATER
Itagunmodi community is an extremely dirty one. It is very difficult to walk at least 100metres without seeing heap of wastes.
Offensive odour oozing out of heaps of waste covered by overgrown bushes dominated some sections of the town. Most of these heaps of waste can be seen at the roadside and the negligence of both community leaders and residents make one wonder if living in dirty environment is part of their lifestyles.
WITHIN NIGERIA reporter toured the entire town in his quest to make findings on alleged cholera outbreak which led to the death of three persons and many others hospitalised.
Apart from a ‘flowing water’ surrounded by faeces, thick bushes and possible debris from gold mining, there are six boreholes in the entire town.
Three boreholes were constructed by the government while two others were constructed by a resident of the town. One out of three government boreholes eventhough leaking is working while the others including the one sited infront of the only renovated primary health centre in the town are not functioning as at the time of reportage.
The main source of water for most residents of the town is the flowing water surrounded by faeces, thick bushes and possible debris from mining of gold.
This reporter passed through the slippery, rough and undulating road which leads to the said flowing water. There are deep pits covered by bushes which can swallow up any person walking carelessly around the vicinity.
WITHIN NIGERIA met a yet-to-be identified young man who brought a big stainless bowl to fetch water from a hollow-structured cave. The young man in his early thirties told this reporter that many residents have fetched from the said flowing water before his arrival. Most times when there is no power supply to pump water into tanks and we have exhausted water we saved up during rainfall, we fetch water from here, he added.
This reporter visited the town’s primary health centre which is one of the recently renovated ones in the state, the health officers.
The primary health centre is a three-bedroom apartment which has a water supply temporarily not functioning as at time of visitation. There are two community health workers and a student who were attending to patients during the visit.
WITHIN NIGERIA interviewed one of the community health workers who dismissed report of cholera outbreak in Itagunmodi. She told this reporter that they did not receive any cholera patient either dead or hospitalised. She further stated that there is possibility that the patients are patronising chemist stores or indulging in self medication.
A resident of the community identified as Ifeoluwa Irewole confirmed that there was truly a cholera outbreak which claimed peoples lives but could not ascertain the number of dead people.
According to Ifeoluwa, most water sources in the community have been polluted by the activities of gold miners and the available boreholes are not functioning well.
Ifeoluwa also pointed to unhealthy living and extremely dirty environment as part of the causes of the cholera outbreak. He decried the presence of heaps of wastes at every corner of the community, blaming the lifestyles of the northerners and carefree attitude of some natives too.
When there is no electricity, we experience water scarcity. Yes, we experience power outage often which creates panic and sometimes force people to use contaminated water for domestic chores, he added.
Another resident simply identified as Tope decried the sorry state of infrastructure in the community. He mentioned bad road networks, poor electricity, poor water system and deplorable conditions of two public schools in the community.
Tope said the only social amenity in the community is the road full of potholes which was constructed during the military era. We have used several means to call the attention of the government but it seems they are only interested in the gold not peoples lives.
A woman in her late fifties simply identified as Omolola also confirmed the cholera outbreak and further stated that majority of the cholera patients are Northerners not natives of the town.
Omolola who appealed to government at all levels to come to their aid also decried the dominating presence of Northern youths who are majorly labourers at the mining sites in the community.
According to Omolola, the rate at which northern youths troop into the community is alarming and most of these northern youths engage in illegal mining.
Omolola further stated that these northern youths go into farmlands in groups with weapons, dig any farmland suspected to have gold deposits and threaten farmers or owners of land who do not cooperate with them.
In a telephone interview with WITHIN NIGERIA, the Honourable Commissioner for Health, Dr. Rafiu Isamotu also dismissed the reports of cholera outbreak in Itagunmodi.
Isamotu said: We received a phone call from a resident of the community that his ward was sick then; stooling and other symptoms that pointed to diarrhoea were enlisted. We visited the community with state epidemiologists and other essential workers. We brought the ward to the state hospital for medical treatment.
‘Eventhough the father abandoned his ward but we later got in touch with him. That was the only reported case we had and it has been resolved. We are also working with other agencies and our officials on ground to curb the situation if it arises’, he added.
Reacting to the development, the Honourable Commissioner for water resources and energies, Tadese disclosed that the activities of gold miners in Ife/Ijesa senatorial district have dramatically affected our water bodies and eco-system in this area.
According to Tadese, Chemical effluents and other impurities are being discharged into these rivers daily.
Tadese stated that the state government has taken proactive step by setting up a committee that is looking into the mining activities and seeking solutions to issues of pollution, and how our river regimes can be restored for free water flow.
Speaking further, Tadese said the state government is streamlining the activities in such a way that will prevent pollution and restore our rivers awesome and had embarked on continuous repairs/renovation of boreholes across the State.
“The State is making frantic efforts to meet ODF target by ensuring the provision of sanitation and water facilities per each household. We are not going to rest on our oars until hundred percent success is achieved”, he added.
UNAVOIDABLE ‘DEATH TRAPS’ IN FARMLANDS
Several farmlands have suffered severe damages in the hands of gold miners. Besides digging of massive holes by local gold miners in their search for gold, the extent of land degradation following the exploitation of commercial quantities by groups or firms is quite worrisome. This reporter trekked and covered some mining sites who were once fertile lands used for the cultivation of crops.
These farmlands have not only suffered degradation but there are some deep pits filled with water and others covered by bushes which have become ‘death traps’ for guests or carefree travellers or innocent residents roaming around the vicinity. Most lands are now barren but it is quite unfortunate that there is no specific plan put in place to cushion the possible effects of land degradation.
Findings revealed that apart from illegal miners who invade peoples farmland to exploit gold, some land owners willingly sold their lands. It was also assembled that people who sold their farmlands to miners do not live in the community. They sold their lands and abandon the town to live in comfort zones.
Residents who spoke with WITHIN NIGERIA called for the total ban of mining activities in the community. They argued that there is no benefit or positive impact gold as a mineral resource has brought to the community except hardship, land degradation, contamination of water sources among others. ‘It is better to ban mining and continue to live in peace than to allow it to thrive and end up in pieces’, a resident identified as Segun said.
There are also abandoned mining sites too. I nearly fell into one of the deep pits some weeks ago. I decided to pass a short route after a long day in the farm. I luckily escaped the deep pits. Only God knows how people have fallen into some pits and died there, Segun added.
This reporter visited the palace of Alagunmodi of Itagunmodi, Oba Famurewa Kosile Micheal Olalekan JP but the palace was under lock. The bushy environment is a clear pointer that nobody stays there. A resident told WITHIN NIGERIA that the royal monarch does not live in the palace again. He vacated the palace after he was kidnapped and beaten by hoodlums suspected to be northerners living in his community. Efforts were made to get the contact of the monarch.
In a telephone interview with WITHIN NIGERIA, Oba Kosile Olalekan JP disclosed that he never wanted Hausa people as residents in the community because he has lived with them and he knows their characters very well.
‘But the people of the community especially women accused me of working against the prosperity of their businesses. Eventually, I allowed them to come into the town after much pressures from indigenous groups’, the monarch added.
The traditional ruler further disclosed that Itagunmodi became dirty after we allowed Hausa people to live in the community. I have called the chairman of our local government several times to come here with payloader and clear these wastes but he chose to do nothing.
There was a time I took some health officials and leaders of indigenous groups to a particular dumping site along Ife road. I directed that they should be dumping their wastes there but they ignored my directives.
The monarch also complained bitterly about scarcity of water, forcing some residents to fetch waters from rivers suspected to be contaminated by mining activities. Some local miners especially labourers defecate on water way.
I have raised this issue in the presence of the governor and local government chairman. They only vowed to work on it. All boreholes constructed by government are faulty. The functioning ones are constructed by a native simply addressed as Dare Gold. We appeal to the government to repair faulty boreholes and construct new ones to make life easier for the people.
The royal monarch also decried the increasing rate of illegal mining of gold which is worsening the security situation of the community. He also alleged that some natives sold their lands at the rate of N10,000 to the illegal miners, directly promoting the menace.
One of the youth leaders of the community simply identified as Alapa told WITHIN NIGERIA that the natives of the town have overtime watched and hoped our life will be better and standard of living improved in our community.
But we have only waited against hope. Despite our mineral resources been daily plowed, and our environment been daily degraded, we have not gotten better as a people, he lamented.
He further decried that the people of Itagunmodi have experienced constant neglect from the successive government.
Itagunmodi lacked infrastructure and plagued by land degradation. Apart from a road constructed during the military era, which sails into the town from Ibodi, social amenities are alien to the town, he added.
‘Saddens we don’t have a good water running system which is inimical to the populace of the entire village. The mining activities in Itagunmodi village had led to the contamination of nearly all the streams where residents fetch water. The few boreholes in the village had long packed up’, a rather sad Alapa told WITHIN NIGERIA.
This reporter toured the entire community, interacted with the people both natives and residents of different tribes. From infrastructure to health to education to security, the question on the lips of this reporter is; Is gold deposits in Itagunmodi truly a curse?