Coal mining in Enugu accelerated development of two great cities, a rail infrastructure and Nigeria’s quest for independence.

Coal mining began in Enugu in 1909 when a British mining engineer, Albert Kitson, found the mineral in commercial quantities. The site was at Iva Valley, on the foot of Udi Hills in present day Enugu State. Kitson was prospecting for silver but found coal instead.

The colonial government, headed by Governor-General Frederick Lugard (later Lord Lugard), took an interest in the mineral and made efforts to develop it for export. The colonialists also found many local uses for the mineral.

Nigeria coal is in hot demand worldwide because of its environmental-friendliness. It is reputed to have low Sulphur with a medium to high calorie value in addition to its low ash and low moisture content. Coal producers worldwide use Nigerian coal to blend high Sulphur content coal to make them more environmentally friendly.

Officials put the country’s coal deposit at nearly 3 billion metric tons. Although coal was first discovered in Enugu, it features in the area known as the Anambra belt, stretching from Enugu to Benue and Kogi States. However, the first and most sustained commercial efforts to mine the mineral occurred in Enugu, precisely in four mines from which Nigeria recorded its production peak in the years before the civil war began in 1967.

The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) estimates 22 coalsites spread over 13 States in Nigeria. However, BPE also puts the proven reserves at about 639 million metric tonnes and the “inferred reserves” at about 2.75billion metric tonnes.

Miners took five years to export the first consignment of Coal to the United Kingdom. The colonial authorities also built the infrastructure to support coal export. The infrastructure made it possible to deliver coal for local power generation and export it as well. They developed Enugu as a township to serve as the capital of the Eastern Region. Simultaneously, they constructed a xxx km single-guage rail to connect Enugu to Iguocha, an Atlantic Ocean seaside town in the Niger Delta where they equally constructed a port.   

The colonial government completed the Eastern Line (Enugu – Iguocha rail line) between 1913 and 1915. In August 1913, Lugard renamed Iguocha as Port Harcourt, in honour of Sir Lewis Harcourt who was the British Secretary of State for the Colonies.

In 1914, the foreign miners sent their first shipment of coal from Enugu through the Eastern Rail to Port Harcourt for export to the United Kingdom. Altogether, they progressively developed four fields for mining, including Onyeama, Ogbete, Iva Valley, and Okpara mines.

By 1916, the colonialists exported over 25,000 metric tons of Coal from Ogbete mine. With more mining fields added, production capacity rapidly rose to 180,122 tons by 1920 and peaked at 790,030 tones.

It was the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) that disrupted coal mining operations in Enugu.

Nigeria used Coal to power two heavy infrastructure – power generation and fuel for locomotives. Coal powered the trains of Eastern Rail. It was the same with power stations. The colonial authorities constructed the Oji River power plant in 1955. Queen Elizabeth II commissioned it on 28 January 1956. Oji River, h is about 50 kilometers from Enugu served as location for the 10MW coal-fired thermal station. The coal it used for fuel was transported to the site through overhead cable buckets.

The discovery of oil sounded a death knell for local uses of coal. First, the Nigerian Railway Corporation, the biggest consumer of coal locally, replaced its coal with diesel-powered engines. Additionally, the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria also converted its power-generating equipment from coal to diesel and gas, leaving the mineral only good for export.

Nigeria established the Nigerian Coal Corporation (NCC) in 1950 to bring coal mining operations under one umbrella. Naturally, Enugu became the headquarters of the Corporation. Although it enjoyed a period of boom, the discovery of oil and poor management after the war led to the decline of coal production. Further efforts to save the Nigerian Coal began in 1999 when government attempted to privatize the Corporation. The corporation folded up in 2002.

The discovery of Coal in Enugu created far-reaching positive impact not only in the city but throughout the old Eastern Region and nationwide. The exploitation of Coal led to the creation of two of Nigeria’s popular cities – Enugu and Port Harcourt. Enugu was created as from a virgin land. Iguocha (renamed Port Harcourt) became a port city. A rail line was constructed to join the two cities, easing transportation burdens for people of the Eastern Region living along the rail track.

Enugu was named capital of the Eastern Region in 1938 and enjoyed the distinction of being developed as the first planned city in Nigeria.

Finally, the Iva Valley Massacre of 1949, following a coal miners’ strike, accelerated the agitation of independence. Nationalists seized on the mistake to pillory the colonialists as a brutal occupation force in Nigeria.


Share this knowledge