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Need for cautious celebration over discovery of Lithium in Kwara

by JOHNMARK UKOKO

With the recent discovery of huge deposits of Lithium in Kwara State, it was natural for most Nigerians to celebrate what would ordinarily have been a blessing to the country.

Expectedly, the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency (NGSA), the agency responsible for prospecting solid minerals in the country and the Federal Government were excited at the discovery.

This prompted most Nigerians to ask if there is the need to celebrate the find, just the way they do when crude oil is discovered in any part of the country, but which has not benefitted a majority of Nigerians, JOHNMARK UKOKO writes.

Without a doubt, Nigeria is one of the countries endowed with different kinds of mineral resources, especially the Niger Delta region, which is known largely for its huge deposits of crude oil and gas and other untapped natural resources.

Apart from the Niger Delta, regarded as the goose that lays the golden egg, Zamfara and Osun states are among states blessed with commercial quantity of gold deposits and other minerals, just as Ondo State has the largest deposits of bitumen in the world.

Also, Enugu State is famous for its coal, while some states have large deposits of uranium, just as Jos is known for tin and buxite, among other natural resources. Kogi, Ogun, Edo, Ondo and Ebonyi states are among states with huge deposits of limestone, which has helped to attract cement firms to locate their factories close to the source of their major raw material.

But in spite of the huge solid minerals and other natural resources being discovered in the country, as well as their exploration and exploitation in Nigeria apart from bitumen, the country’s treasury and inhabitants of the places where the mineral discoveries are located do not feel the positive impact that such natural resources should bequeath to them.

It should be stressed that the mineral deposits God has blessed Nigeria with in commercial quantities have not impacted positively on the host communities across the country. Only recently, Director-General of the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency (NGSA), Dr. Abdulrazaq Garba, disclosed that a large quantity of high grade lithium mineral deposits had been found in Kwara State, but most Nigerians sceptical in the face of the development, since the over six decades of crude oil exploration in the country had not benefitted them in any significant way.

Briefing newsmen on the mineral exploration activities of the agency, Garba announced that Nigeria had discovered a critical high grade lithium deposits in Kwara State and that that several investors have indicated interest to pay any amount to start prospecting the natural resource.” He explained that lithium is an element valuable for the production of glass, aluminum products, as well as batteries used in recharging mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras and electric vehicles, among other gadgets. “Nigeria’s lithium is a hot cake currently.

The mineral was discovered in Kwara State by the National Integrated Mineral Exploration Project (NIMEP) and during exploration we did our investigation and came up with analysis and discovered that it is of very high grade. “It is of high grade in the sense that the global standard for its exploration and mining starts from 0.4 per cent lithium oxide, but when we started exploration and mining, we saw one per cent and up to 13 per cent lithium oxide content.

Another advantage of Nigeria’s lithium is hard rock. The lithium find is what investors are looking out for globally. “We even discussed with some private companies with mining licences in Nigeria and they conducted tests on the lithium and we also collaborated with Canada on 100 per cent partnership,” Garba said.

He said all data received from the agency were positive and would boost the Nigerian economy, adding that a track of ‘mineralisation’ showed that the product could be found in almost two to 10 kilometers west of Abuja, adding that the resource evaluation was conducted on the area and that large deposits of gold, lead and silver were also discovered in the area.

“The gold found there has high content of fungsten, which is used as an additive for exploration of steel and therefore, any company mining there will be mining gold associated with lead, silver and fungsten,” he added. Garba maintained that local and international companies were willing to pay any amount for the product, adding that the pronouncements would be made soon on the companies that had shown interest and the data on the development.

“We don’t sell data, but we concession areas of huge deposits of natural resources such as lithium, gold, silver, uranium and others through the Nigeria Mining Cadastre Officer (NMCO) and so, interested investors can obtain licences and data and take it to the next level. These are the things we are looking at and working on to ensure that the data we generate are useful to investors,” he said.

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Garba’s excitement is understandable, considering the level of revenue that could accrue to the country through the new mineral resource if well accounted for, but as the euphoria of the lithium mineral discovery goes on, Nigerians will not forget in a hurry that many aliens and unpatriotic Nigerians have been arrested for illegally mining various mineral resources in the country, without much results in prosecuting them.

Among the worst culprits in the illegal mining are the Chinese, who have been arrested severally for illegally mining various mineral resources across the country. The sad aspect of the issue is that nothing has been achieved by such arrests, while the media had been awash with various illegal mining cases and stories across the country.

Meanwhile, some commentators are of the opinion that bandits, terrorists and armed gang across the country were deeply engaged in illegal mining, as in the case of Zamfara State where several foreigners have been arrested for mining gold for the umpteenth time. It would also be recalled that some powerful individuals illegally mine mineral resources across the country, from crude oil, gold, limestone and others without paying taxes or royalty to the Federal Government’s treasury.

However, while Nigeria is richly endowed with various natural resources and mineral deposits, one issue that continue to beg for attention that is where the revenue from such minerals are being deployed by the relevant authorities.

This has prompted most Nigerians to lament that every month when governors go for the Federal Allocation Committee (FAC) meeting to share allocations, the money the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Finance and Budget bring to the table for sharing are mostly crude oil export earnings, revenues from the Nigeria Custom Service (NCS) and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), among a few other sources.

Reacting to the development, an economist, Felix Amechi, said most of the revenues derived from the mineral resources have been appropriated by individuals, who divert the revenue into their private pockets.

He alleged that the government was mainly concerned about the revenue from crude oil and gas, adding that while most Chinese and their Nigerian collaborators line their private pockets with proceeds of natural resources, successive governments have not paid much attention to the local various minerals around apart from the crude oil and not too interested in the other minerals.

“Nigeria is endowed with numerous mineral resources, but the Federal Government concentrate more on only crude oil and gas, while foreigners and their criminal collaborators feed fat on our commonwealth. There are several minerals such as bitumen, coal, gold and others that could be exported other than crude oil, but the country does not seem to know what to do with those other natural resources.

“People are usually arrested for illegal mining, oil bunkering and oil theft, but we do not hear much afterwards. For me, the discovery of lithium is a welcome development, but will the revenue used to develop the country? I am not sure all the money realised from gold and many other minerals ever get to the federation account,” he said.

Nigerians, who reacted to the development, argued that the discovery of lithium was a welcome development to the country, but they appealed to the Federal Government to initiate measures aimed at making the revenue accruing from the natural resources to have positive impact on Nigerians. They urged the government not to let the ugly experience of the degradation of environment that happen in Niger Delta be replicated in Kwara State and part of Abuja where the lithium deposit had been discovered.

They also appealed to the Federal Government and other relevant authorities not to allow the money from the new mineral discovery to end up in private pockets, insisting that the discovery of lithium mineral would be meaningless if the proceeds from its exploration do not benefit the entire country and the people, especially the host community in Kwara State.

The respondents, who charged the government to initiate processes and use the proceeds from the mineral instead of constantly seeking foreign loans to finance its budget deficits, however commended Garba and his colleagues at the NGSA for their efforts that led to the discovery.

They also charged Garba and his colleagues to intensify efforts at discovering more mineral resources to develop the country and urged the Federal Government to support the agency through improved funding and provision of modern equipment for effective discharge of its duties.

In the final analysis, the years ahead will determine if the discovery of lithium would be a blessing to Nigerians, Kwara State, Abuja and particularly the host communities or a curse like the case of crude oil in the Niger Delta region.

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