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Gov’t crackdown illegal mining operations

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By Usman Oladimeji

32 individuals, including two Chinese nationals, were apprehended.

The Nigerian government has been taking a hard stance against Illegal Mining activities, with numerous individuals being arrested for illegally extracting Lithium since April, an essential Mineral for producing batteries in electric cars, mobile phones, and power grids. These recent arrests coincide with Nigeria’s efforts to supervise its critical mineral mining sector, clamp down on unlawful practices, and maximize the advantages gained from its mineral reserves. The rise in the global demand for lithium, tin, and other minerals has been driven by the transition to clean energy, which involves moving away from coal, oil, and gas towards Renewable Energy sources and battery Technology.

Corruption is widespread among regulatory officials in the country’s new industry, where illegal mines thrive in remote areas devoid of government oversight. Militia groups in the north are reportedly being funded by profits from illicit mining activities, officials claim. During a recent operation in mid-May, a combined force of soldiers and police executed a surprise raid on a secluded marketplace in Kishi, located in Oyo State. Residents reported that the market, which was previously recognized for its sale of agricultural products, has now transformed into a hub for the illegal trafficking of lithium extracted from remote and inaccessible regions.

Legal proceedings for these cases are currently underway.

It was reported that 32 individuals, including two Chinese nationals, locals, and mineral traders, were apprehended during a three-day operation. A significant amount of lithium was confiscated during the operation. This marks the third instance of Chinese nationals being arrested for illegal mining within two months, which the Chinese embassy in Abuja have refused to comment on. However, the embassy responded to a report by The Times of London last year claiming that Chinese miners were bribing militants for access, stating that they consistently emphasized the importance of Chinese companies and nationals in Nigeria following the laws and regulations of the country.

In April, just before the Kishi raid, two trucks filled with lithium were captured by the mining corps on the outskirts of Abuja. Shortly after, the corps conducted a raid in Karu, near Abuja, resulting in the apprehension of four Chinese individuals and the confiscation of a large amount of lithium. The spokesperson for the solid minerals ministry, Segun Tomori, confirmed that legal proceedings for these cases are currently underway. Also, two Chinese nationals were found guilty of illegal mining in the north-central region by a federal court in Ilorin on April 22. They were given a one-year prison sentence, but were also offered an option to pay a fine instead.

Nigeria now a significant lithium producer in Africa.

Moreover, the solid minerals sector in Nigeria has been historically overlooked, leading to communities such as the tin-rich town of Jos in the northern-central region relying on subsistence mining for their survival. Tomori revealed that the government is endorsing the formation of legal cooperatives for artisanal miners in these communities whose livelihood is intertwined with mining activities. President Bola Tinubu has been vocal about the impact of illegal mining on the increasing conflicts in the northern regions of the country. He has called on the global community to assist in addressing this issue, as it enables armed factions to fund and equip themselves.

With the increasing global demand for lithium, which big producers such as Australia and Chile struggle to keep up, Nigeria has recently become recognized as a significant lithium producer in Africa. However, illicit practices rampant in Nigeria’s mining industry are impeding the country from benefiting hugely from these vital Revenue streams, according to Emeka Okoro, founder of SBM Intelligence in Lagos. The persisting conflict coupled with Climate Change impacts has led to a surplus of idle labor at mining sites in northern Nigeria as previously fertile land transforms into barren desert sands.

Related Link: Lithium mining: CAPPA caution on environment

Impacts of conflict and climate change have led Vulnerable Populations struggling to survive due to socioeconomic pressures. To tackle the issue of resource theft, which costs the government $9 billion annually, a West African country established a team of 2,200 mining marshals earlier this year, as reported by the nation’s extractive industry transparency watchdog. Segun Tomori, the spokesperson for the ministry of solid minerals, stated that the new corps is focused on minimizing the unlawful actions of illegal miners, in addition to the efforts from current Law Enforcement Agencies.


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