Tuesday, 8 October 2019


Dr Raphael James standing in front of the remains of the first coal mine in Enugu
The Onyema mine 

The discovery of coal in Udi, Eastern Nigeria, by the British Geological Expedition in 1909 was accidental. The expedition had gone out to the hills to explore for silver which was not found. On their way back, the geologists saw a ten-year old boy on the fringe of a thick forest. He had under his arm a parcel of coal. The little boy who had not seen an European before took to his heels at the sight of the scientists. An armed guard gave him a chase and caught him. He led the geologists back into the jungle and pointed to where he had dug up the carbonaceous mineral. As compensation, the boy received five shillings. That was how coal, popularly known as “black gold”, was discovered in Enugu, by Europeans for exportation don’t forget that the people of Enugu made use of coal   long before the British Geological Expedition came across it. 

Ukwak or coal 

The British colonial explorers had begun inquiry into the Eastern heartland from Onitsha. The inquisitive party arrived Onitsha and decided to set up its administrative headquarters there. Along the line, two geologists in the group, while taking a walk down the valley from the Udi Hills reportedly discovered coal which the natives branded “UKWAK.”

Workers in Ogbete mine

Mining started in 1916 at Ogbete in Enugu. As early as 1920, about 200,000 tons of coal, representing one third of total production was exported to French West Africa and the Gold Coast. However, following the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the production level fell in the 1940's and 1950's. The coal industry was a unit of the Marine Department and in 1937 it was jointly managed with the Nigerian Railways. 

Miners walking out Iva Mine in Enugu

The coal industry began as an arm of the Marine Department and the coal produced was supplied to the British Navy for the steam boats. Other supplies were to the Nigerian Railways for the steam locomotive engines. As it grew, the coal industry got excised from the Marine Department and established with the Nigerian Railways in 1937.

Statue of the Coal miners shooting in Enugu

Following a strike action which resulted in the death by shooting of 21 coal miners in 1949, the colonial British authorities as a result set up the Fitzgerald Commission of Inquiry. The commission recommended that independent bodies be set up to manage government established businesses.  That was how the Nigerian Coal Corporation (NCC) was established by an ordinance No. 29 in 1950 and charged with the responsibility to prospect, mine, treat and market coal and its by-products.

Chief C.C. Onoh

Chief C.C. Onoh was appointed the first Chairman of the Nigeria Coal Corporation on September 10, 1959, that appointment was renewed on September 10, 1962 for another three years till the first military take-over on January 15, 1966. In the 1950's, coal was the major source of energy for industries before the discovery of petroleum crude oil in commercial quantity. Coal at a time was the greatest employer of labour with about 10,000 miners.

Lord Frederick Lugard

With the discovery of coal in Enugu, Enugu came into limelight and attracted human settlements from all works of life. Lord Frederick Lugard in his assessment of the importance of coal and Enugu to the United Kingdom in his December 1919 report of the Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria presented to the British parliament. In a paragraph titled: Value of the Colliery, he wrote:
"To the energetic development before the War of this coalfield and the railway which serves it, Nigeria owes more than is easily calculable. Without it, the Western Railway, which is earning 1,200,000 pounds a year could not have been kept running at full capacity even at enormous expense, and the supply of indigenous produce and of tin, so much needed in the United Kingdom, would have been greatly restricted, the exploitation of local timber would have been impeded, and the administrative machinery would have suffered the greatest inconvenience.  Great as these direct advantages are, the indirect and permanent results are hardly less. A particularly turbulent tribe has been taught to seek labour for wages and has earned not less than 34,000 pounds in cash, with which to purchase imports and improve its standard of living. The new railway has been able to pay its way, instead of being a burden on the depleted revenue; a new outlet has been afforded   for native skilled labour with a new means of training it and a coin currency has been promoted through a large densely populated district."

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