The 30 month old Nigerian civil war ended in 1970. But 39 years after, more lives are still being lost throughÂ Â Â unexploded bombs and land mines that wereÂ abandoned byÂ both sides (Nigeria and Biafra) involved inÂ Â the conflict.Â
In this interview with our Correspondent, CHIDI NKWOPARA, the Chief Consultant of Humanitarian De mining Services, Dr. Bala Yakubu,Â contracted by the federal Government toÂ defuse the bombs speaks on the issue. Excerpts.
When did you start this de mining exercise We started the de mining exercise on March 1, 2009.
We have scanned Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Benue, Delta, Cross River, Rivers, Imo, Ebonyi, Nasarrawa, Enugu and Bayelsa States
What successes have you recorded
A total of 4, 623 land mines, bombs and other explosive remnants of war were discoveredÂ in the 12 states, as at the time of calling for a break. In specific terms, 2014 bombs were recovered from Rivers, 368 from Imo. The heaviest bombs weighing 250kg, 175kg and 150kg were recovered from Benue State.
When we came in, we were clutching a record of 1,350 spots where we had the mines. But by the time we went into action and involved the press, the number went up to 1,800.We destroyed the first set of bombs that we recovered in Enugu.
We have a contract with the Federal Ministry of Defence to carry out a partial de mining. Partial or selective de mining is the most harmful form of de mining that you can ever do because it putsÂ you in a very difficult position to say which area do you remove the mines and which areas you donâ€™t
So, what is the Solution
It is either done completely or not done at all. So, we had an understanding with the Federal Ministry of Defence as professionals that we donâ€™t do what is against our ethics. We cannot do improper de mining that the Ministry says we can do.
Why did the Ministry take this unprofessional stand
I think I understand the problem of the Ministry. It has to do with funds. They had fund for just what they could afford and that was the partial de mining. But as professionals, while in the field, we didnâ€™t do partial de mining. We were doing exactly what it is expected of us.
Are you implying that you lack funds to complete the assignment
Exactly so. The lack of funds is giving us a little problem.
How many bombs were destroyed in Enugu
We initially removed over 3,600. The day of the blast, we had 600 bombs at the blast site but we destroyed only 183 publicly
If we had destroyed all, the place would have been untenable for the people. So, we had a piecemeal destruction. We eventually destroyed allÂ piecemeal. The press was present in all cases. I recall that even with the first blast, there was problem within Enugu.
Have you completed the job
I know that we have done quite a lot. United Nations recently sent a representative, Mr. Tim Lardner. He came to Nigeria to verify all these allegations that were contained in various newspapers. He came with the newspaper cuttings and what they have observed on ground in Nigeria.
Surprisingly, the case in Nigeria was a bit different because aside of having the conventional landmines, which were made by the English, we also had the problem of the locally manufactured landmines, which are more harmful, more deadly than the conventional land mines.
Lardner was confused when he saw the Igbo made land mines. He did not cease to wonder how the contraptions were classified as landmines because he saw the ones that contained stones, bolts and nuts. We had one opened for him to see.
It was at this point that he knew that Nigeria had a peculiar case. The same thing happened when I explained the case of land mines and unexploded ordinances in Nigeria at a meeting organized by the United Nations and European Union in Ghana.
They wondered how they will tackle the issue of conventional land mines, particularly within the West African sub region.
Why this fear
They are afraid that Nigeria can mass produce these explosives for sale. People definitely will buy and that will mean the introduction of a different kind of anti_personnel mine. The white man was impressed seeing them and also noting that these explosives were manufactured by black people. He took so many pictures of the â€œOgbunigweâ€, which he wanted to show his people. He was privy to the blast in Enugu and after which we took him round Imo, Enugu, Anambra and Ebonyi, for him to personally see where we removed these mines. He was aware that when you remove a landmine, the evidence will always beÂ there for sometime.
Is there any other striking thing Lardner witnessed
We took him to the bridge that we eventually cleared of UXO. This bridge links Imo and Anambra communities. This bridge had been mined for 39 years! And it was ready to go. The mine was put under the bridge and it remained like that for 39 years.
The only thing lacking for this thing to go off was battery. A 12 volt battery was the only thing needed to blow off the bridge and whatever was on it. We cleared this in the second phase of this exercise.
Can you please speak more on your experience in Rivers State
In Rivers State alone, we have recovered over 2,014 bombs. These 2,014 bombs were recovered from Igurita axis and Rison Palm Plantation. We cleared a minefield, almost 100 metres wide, in Rison Palm. It was facing a strategic approach to the area. Militarily, it was strategic. Interestingly, we found out that Governor Rotimi Amaechiâ€™s Greater Port Harcourt Programme needed to useÂ Igurita axis.
This area was dense with UXOs and landmines. This area was even classified as â€œan evil forestâ€ by the people until we got in there and cleared the place. We carried out intermittent detonations there because some of them were unstable.
We donâ€™t keep them because if you keep them among the others, it could cause unimaginable disaster.
Governor Ameachi had been very wonderful in this exercise. He did a wonderful job. He stood by us. If we were waiting for the Federal Ministry of Defence, we could have closed down since but he made us stay in Rivers State.