Renevlyn Development Initiative

Oil extraction mistakes already being replicated in lithium mining communities – RDI, NEW Foundation cautions Presidency

The meeting of the Presidency and Chinese mining companies last week in Abuja has continued to generate questions about the commitment of the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration to avoiding the mistakes that created distrust between oil corporations and Niger Delta communities.

Particularly worrying to the Renevlyn Development Initiative (RDI) and the Neighborhood Environment Watch (NEW) Foundation is the noticeable absence of community representatives at the meeting which had in attendance Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State and companies extracting and processing lithium in his State.

The meeting had Hi Yongwei, chairman of Avatar New Energy Materials Company Limited, and Zhenhua Pei, chairman, Canmax Technologies and Minister of Solid Minerals, Dr. Dele Alake on the government side.  Avatar built the lithium processing plant which produces about 4,000 metric tonnes daily in Nasarawa while Canmax Technologies which is responsible for over 30 per cent of global battery material production, is investing $200 million for another lithium processing plant in the state.

President Bola Tinubu, who hailed the inauguration of Nigeria’s largest lithium processing plant in Lafia, Nasarawa State as a clear indication of the country’s attractiveness for foreign investment, urged the Chinese firms to prioritize environmental protection, community engagement, and corporate social responsibility initiatives as integral parts of their operations. He also asked them not to leave the community in ruins as they explore high-grade minerals.

But in their statement criticizing the absence of community representatives in the highly publicized meeting, RDI and NEW Foundation noted the same approach adopted by the government heralded the resource control crisis in the Niger Delta where oil-bearing communities were never part of the decision making processes on the exploration and extraction of their oil and gas resources.

RDI Executive Director, Philip Jakpor said:

“Here we go again. It is worrisome that such a high level meeting with the Chinese miners did not have a single representative from the communities where lithium is now being mined. While we welcome the charge that the president gave to the miners to safeguard the environment, there is nothing to show that the companies involved are even engaging host communities in any of such discussions”

Jakpor pointed out that locals in Uke district, one of the sites approved for lithium mining in Nasarawa State are already complaining that miners have started encroaching on community lands and polluting ground water.

The RDI boss revealed that a field monitoring exercise carried out by his organization to Uke showed that provisions in the Nigeria’s Mining Act 2007 which stipulates that no reconnaissance activity shall be carried out and no mineral title shall be granted under the Act over any area that is designated as closed to mining may have been breached.

NEW Foundation Executive Director, Kelechi Okezie said:

“We are very skeptical about the benefits that lithium will bring to the host communities. From Ebonyi to Enugu and other parts of the country where different solid minerals are mined we see a pattern of non-engagement and ruination of the local environment while the miners rake in profits that our government cannot even account for”.

Okezie pointed out that Chinese firms in the extractives sector are not known to be accountable to host communities even as he stressed that, “We expect to see communities that are better than the miners met it, not the master – slave relationship that is already being noticed in the mining fields and host communities”

The two organisations said that the introduction of a condition that mining firms must put in place viable and sustainable remedial measures before their fresh applications for mining are approved is good but also demanded that there must be clear engagement policies with communities.

“A situation where the discussions are top level and only between the government and the mining firms is unacceptable and will create the same crisis as is happening in oil-bearing communities. Obviously the government has not learnt any lessons,” they insisted.


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