Tinubu commissions Lithium processing factory In Nasarawa

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Excavating for lithium

By Sunday Isuwa and Charles Asiegbu

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has commissioned a lithium processing factory built in Nasarawa State by a Chinese firm, Avatar New Energy Materials Company Limited.

The commissioning, which took place at Kama Otto in Nasarawa local government area, was in collaboration with the state government. The President was represented at the occasion by the President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio.

In attendance were the Nasarawa State Governor, Engr. Abdullahi Sule, his Kogi State counterpart, Governor Usman Ododo, Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dele Alake, some federal lawmakers, former leaders of the state and traditional rulers.

In his address, Tinubu said the commissioning of the Avatar New Energy Materials Company Limited was an example of good partnership between the federal government, states and investors. The President said the establishment of the company would not only create employment opportunities for youths but would also position Nigeria as a key player in the global lithium market. This, he said, was in line with the government’s Renewed Hope Agenda of diversifying the nation’s economy by leveraging on the mining sector in order to expand the country’s sources of revenue for socio-economic development. “Realising the benefits of lithium and other mineral resources, our administration will continue to pay particular attention to the maximum utilisation of the product for the benefit of our people. While we appreciate this investment in the first phase of the processing of lithium, our goal is for investors to establish factories for the complete value chain processing of lithium and all other minerals,” the President said.

Tinubu called on all Nigerians to support the policies of his government and urged local and international companies to patronise Avatar Company for the growth and prosperity of Nigeria. He acknowledged the support of the people of Nasarawa State during the last presidential election. He said: “Today, we are here to thank you, not just in words. We are thanking you with a massive project, the commissioning of the state-of-the art lithium processing factory, the first in this state and one of the best in Africa. What does this mean to our people? Lithium is a critical component in the production of batteries for electric commodities.

Mining for Lithium in Nasarawa State of Nigeria

 

 “Our people have been using phones, vehicles and other appliances powered by lithium batteries as consumers. For the first time in the history of our technology, we are becoming partners and partakers in the production value chain of this mineral. It is a historic leap because we now have opportunities to know how it is done, to own and home the skills.”

Earlier, Governor Abdullahi Sule said they would not have been able to open the state for such investment without the support of President Tinubu and the support of the local communities. The governor also appreciated the security agencies because, according to him, the site of the factory used to be a “no-go area” on account of banditry activities but the area is now well secured.

Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dele Alake said what Avatar New Energy Materials Company did with the commissioning of the factory was to show that it is not only possible but also profitable.

Newly discovered reserves of lithium – a highly reactive metal used in energy-dense rechargeable batteries used in cell phones, electric vehicles, and grid storage – are raising hopes of a new mining boom in Nigeria. But this also has the potential to lead to violence as people fight for control of the new commodity. Nigeria is known for its substantial oil reserves. But beyond petroleum, the country has over 40 commercially viable natural resources. Given the ever-increasing interest of stakeholders in renewable energy, the lithium market has surged as governments seek to phase out fossil fuel vehicles in favour of emissions-free electric cars. The cost of a tonne of Lithium has risen from £4,600 in 2020 to over £61,000 in 2022.  According to the World Bank, the demand for essential metals such as Lithium and cobalt will increase by roughly 500 per cent by 2050. The global electric vehicle market alone is projected to reach £646.23 billion by 2030

Most of the world’s Lithium is produced in four countries: Australia (the world’s largest producer), Chile, Argentina, and China. However, these countries do not produce enough to fulfil the expanding worldwide demand. As a result, the search for Lithium has moved to Africa and is already being extensively mined in Zimbabwe (Africa’s largest producer), Namibia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, and Ghana.

Today, the quest for Lithium is gaining traction in Nigeria, with competition becoming increasingly fierce. In Nigeria, lithium is currently mined in Nasarawa, Kogi, Kwara, Ekiti, and Cross River States. In 2018, Kian Smith Trade & Co, a Nigerian mining company, announced the discovery of 15,000 tonnes of commercial lithium in Nigeria.

Tesla, the electric vehicle manufacturer and clean energy company, expressed interest in forming a trade relationship with the Federal Government of Nigeria to mine lithium, but the offer was declined. The government stated that it would agree to this request only if Tesla established a battery factory in Nigeria. But Kaduna State in Nigeria has authorised a Chinese company to build a lithium-processing factory to create batteries for electric vehicles. There is growing demand for Nigeria’s lithium and interest in control of the resources, how they are exploited, and by whom.

However, Nigerian history is strewn with conflicts over natural resources. These range from low-level tensions to large-scale insurrections and are aggravated by disagreements over access and management of the resources and the unequal distribution of the benefits generated by them.

Nigeria has long been a case study for the “resource curse” where despite large amounts of natural resources the country gets poorer, not richer. Despite substantial revenue earnings, Nigerians suffer from poor infrastructure, insufficient healthcare services, and a dearth of basic necessities. Over time, Nigeria’s reliance on its ample natural resources such as oil has resulted in growing poverty, unemployment, and official corruption.

The presence of large amounts of in-demand resources also attracts groups looking to fund illegal activities. According to the United Nations, terrorist groups benefit from the illegal trade in natural resources, including gold, precious metals and stones, and oil. This is already evident in Nigeria’s Zamfara state, where illegal gold mining has become a major driver of banditry. The collaboration between some high-profile Nigerians and foreigners has festered this activity. Across the country, illegal resource extraction is deepening conflict requiring urgent intervention. Across the globe, countries that have discovered Lithium have become susceptible to violence. In India, the People’s Anti-Fascist Front issued a threat, stating that it would not tolerate the “exploitation” and “theft” of Lithium discovered recently in Jammu and Kashmir. According to historical and empirical evidence, the discovery of high-grade Lithium in Nigeria is likely to trigger violence. Lithium-fuelled conflict could manifest itself in three ways. First, there may be intra- and inter-community disagreements about who owns the land where the resources are located and who should benefit from the exploration. An example is the lethal conflict between Enugu-Otu Aguleri in Anambra East Local Government Area of Anambra State and Ashonwo/Odeke in Ibaji Local Government Council of Kogi State over oil-rich boundary lands. The violence resulted in the killing of seven people and the destruction of 52 homes.

Second, there may be a conflict between the communities, exploration companies, and the government due to neglect, contamination, or non-payment of reparations. Disputes between oil companies and host communities in the Niger Delta region have resulted in violent attacksprotests and, in many cases, legal tussles after land was taken over for oil exploration and local people didn’t get what they felt they deserved in return.

Illegal mining activities will form the third flash point. Organised armed groups, especially terrorists, may be at the forefront of this violence because of their proclivity to invade areas where natural resources are found. As seen in Zamfara State and other parts of Nigeria, terrorists had infiltrated gold and lead-zinc mining sites, causing legitimate investors to flee the sector.

The Nigerian Geological Survey (NGSA) is the government body responsible for mineral exploration and mapping. The NGSA focuses on projects that create data, particularly on important minerals, to increase investor interest in the mining sector. The main thrust of the government has been to focus on apprehending illicit miners and defaulters. But the government lacks a holistic response to managing lithium and mitigating violence. As a result, the potential for the escalation of lithium-related violence needs to be taken seriously. As a matter of fact, it may already be happening. The governor of Nigeria’s Nasarawa state recently raised concerns over the violence that lithium mining is attracting to the State.

Many stakeholders have already recognised the significance of lithium and are urging the government to make relevant interventions. For example, the chairman of the Solid Minerals Development Fund, Uba Sa’idu Malami, has requested that the Nigerian government formulate policies to control lithium exploration, mining, production and  exportation, in Nigeria. This suggestion requires significant legislation covering lithium exploration, production and use. Environmental impact assessment, safety regulations, community involvement, and equitable benefit distribution must all be strictly enforced by legislation.

Lithium is a valuable mineral with multiple uses in the emerging green economy. Nigeria can potentially become a major player in the global lithium market, but it faces several challenges and risks. Improved regulatory frameworks and rigorous monitoring of Nigeria’s natural resources, particularly lithium, are essential to ensure sustainable growth, environmental preservation, ethical trade, and national security. If proper regulation and supervision are not adopted, Nigeria’s lithium treasure may be lost owing to unlawful mining, instability, and violent conflict. Nigeria has the opportunity to learn the lessons from its oil boom, but it must do so quickly to seize the opportunities. from this new commodity and prevent violence.

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