The Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) has cautioned 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 nonprofit 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, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was quoted as commending their efforts and investments and 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 her 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.

“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 extractivist in the country’s Niger Delta region.

“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.

“The plant in Nasarawa may debut as the country’s first lithium plant, but across the country, the indiscriminate mining of this resource by foreign actors (allegedly by the Chinese) has been ongoing for donkey years, fueling rural banditry, environmental disasters, insecurity, deprivation, and violence in many communities,” CAPPA stated.

“We are concerned about the implications of these lithium investments for communities, given the systemic flaws inherent in Nigeria’s mining governance. Nigeria’s mining sector has historically favoured the federal government’s interests over those of local communities, creating a fundamental contradiction in resource ownership.

“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 federal government, whose responsibility is often only felt when it comes to administering mining leases, has spelt much trouble for vulnerable communities across the country.

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Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation

“These communities who, though, are the true custodians of these minerals, are effectively locked out of important conversations that affect their cultural identities, livelihoods, and social space. Already, 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,’’ noted Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of Corporate Accountability and Public Participation. 

“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 benefits and protection it provides for local communities, especially with the limited 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. Mr. President’s assurances to the lithium investors of cheap labour in Nigeria present another dimension of worry.

“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 observed.

CAPPA cautioned against the government greenlighting Chinese and foreign investments without robust local control and responsibility to communities and the environment. It 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.                                

“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.

“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.

“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.

“Corporations must be held accountable for their actions, and transparency must be demanded and enforced in their operations. 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,” CAPPA concluded.

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