Group Seeks Eco-Friendly Approach To Nigeria’s Lithium Mining

A nonprofit organisation, the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) has advised the Nigerian government to approach its pursuit of industrial-scale lithium mining with a deep sense of environmental accountability and the protection of local livelihoods.

The organisation’s advice comes in the wake of the Nigerian government’s commissioning of its first and largest lithium processing plant in Nasarawa State.

During a recent meeting with Chinese investors who built the plant, the Nigerian President, Bola Tinubu had commended their efforts and investments, urging them to take advantage of the country’s huge market and cheap labour.

The Nasarawa lithium plant, constructed by the Chinese firm Avatar Energy Materials Company Limited, boasts a production capacity of 4,000 metric tonnes daily. Another Chinese firm, Canmax Technologies, has pledged to invest over $200 million in constructing another lithium processing plant in Nasarawa State.

While acknowledging the potential of lithium to drive Nigeria’s economic growth and position it at the forefront of the global race for green transition and production of cleaner technologies such as electric cars and inverters, among others, CAPPA cited concerns regarding the lack of state oversight in mining activities across various parts of the country and its adverse impacts on the environment and local communities.

It said; “Lithium extraction activities often result in environmental troubles, mainly as mining companies have been known to appropriate local waters for its processing and even engage in the indiscriminate disposal of waste in open waters and lands utilised by locals.

“In many instances, communities have been violently displaced to facilitate mining operations, mostly driven by foreign interests, not to mention the depressing ecological damage associated with these sorts of activities, especially in our country, where environmental regulations are poorly enforced, and demand for corporate accountability is lacking as with the experience of reckless oil extractivism in the country’s Niger Delta region.

According to CAPPA, “The Nigerian government and state authorities already cut a picture of negligence and complicity when you interrogate the many unofficial mining activities happening across the country.”

It stated that though the plant in Nasarawa may debute as the country’s first lithium plant, there has been indiscriminate mining of this resource by foreign actors (allegedly by the Chinese) across the country for donkey years, fueling rural banditry, environmental disasters, insecurity, deprivation, and violence in many communities.

The organisation expressed concerns about the implications of these lithium investments for communities, given the systemic flaws inherent in Nigeria’s mining governance which has historically favoured the Nigerian government’s interests over those of local communities, creating a fundamental contradiction in resource ownership.

It said; “While the Nasarawa State government has secured three mining licenses to extract tin, gold and lithium, the decision-making authority over mineral resources placed as the exclusive preserve of the Nigerian government, whose responsibility is often only felt when it comes to administering mining leases, has spelt much trouble for vulnerable communities across the country.” 

CAPPA also raised concerns that these communities who, though, the true custodians of these minerals, are effectively locked out of important conversations that affect their cultural identities, livelihoods, and social space.

According to the Executive Director of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation, Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, there have been reported incidents and ongoing issues of land ownership tussle in Nasarawa State, with foreign Chinese corporations laying claims to local lands rich in Lithium.

Mr. Oluwafemi said; “Interestingly, the commissioning of the lithium plant is occurring at a time when discussions critiquing the outdated nature of Nigeria’s primary mining law, its discouraging provisions for joint oversight between the federal and state governments, and its exclusion of community voices have prompted an ongoing proposal for amendment through the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act (Amendment) Bill. This raises questions about the agreement between Avatar Energy and the government and what solid benefit and protection it provides for local communities, especially with the disclosure of the project’s environmental impact assessment details.”

Unfortunately, the president’s meeting with the Chinese investors revealed little about the royalties and benefits accruable to local communities. In fact, Mr. President’s assurances to the lithium investors of cheap labour in Nigeria present another dimension of worry,” Oluwafemi said.

“According to him, “We are afraid this will further consolidate the ongoing trend of exploitation by foreign mining companies, who employ locals for pittances that do nothing to improve local capacities and economies.”

CAPPA warned against the government greenlighting Chinese and foreign investments without robust local control and responsibility to communities and the environment. It also warned that such approvals could not only risk replicating familiar patterns of ecocide in the country but also further cement China’s efforts to monopolise the African lithium market while entrenching dangerous working environments.

CAPPA said; “To safeguard local environments and livelihoods, as well as ensure a sustainable mining future, the Nigerian government must review the lopsided governance structure of the sector. This restructuring must firmly implant local communities in decision-making processes.”

CAPPA stated that the government must also enforce strict regulations that prioritise community well-being, including robust environmental protections, fair compensation for land use, and opportunities for local economic development.

The organisation advocates that Corporations must be held accountable for their actions, and transparency must be demanded and enforced in their operations.

It said that only through these measures can Nigeria break free from the risk of replicating another era of state-approved eco-oppression and build a mining future that is fair and empowering.

“Chinese lithium mining operators have been indicted in countries like Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Namibia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo for their illicit mining operations which harm the environment and local people.

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