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Need to regulate exploration, mining of lithium

Nigeria is home to commercial quantities of lithium spread across states of the federation. It is mined by artisanal miners in Nassarawa, Kogi, Kwara, Ekiti…

Nigeria is home to commercial quantities of lithium spread across states of the federation. It is mined by artisanal miners in Nassarawa, Kogi, Kwara, Ekiti and Cross River states. 

Lithium is replacing oil and has become very strategic the world over therefore Nigeria must be in full control of the entire lithium value chain through the formulation of policies that will control its exploration, exportation, and mining. 

Lithium is the new oil that could significantly control global wealth and economy of nations in the coming decades and the new economic order will be largely dictated by the ability of nations to take advantage of emerging opportunities afforded by lithium resources. 

Any foreign investment in lithium must be controlled in a way that prioritises the political and economic interest of the country so the current regime where a company gets a license and starts mining lithium without some other control and regulation is not in the best of the country. 

We must be jealous and quick to develop very intentional policies that will protect this prime mineral resource (lithium) like we did for oil and gas decades ago and Nigeria should lead the way for the governments of African nations to take advantage of this opportune moment in history. 

If this is not done, it is disservice to the nation and the continent of Africa. If Nigeria controls local and foreign investments in lithium with patriotic fervour, it will attract enormous wealth to the country and strengthen her position in the emerging global economic order as did crude oil. 

Lithium is too strategic to be left open for exploration without control especially that it is in global demand. I believe that lithium is the new oil in the emerging global economy. 

The price of lithium has risen from $500 to $5, 000 within three years.  

Now, cars have migrated from the hydrocarbon to battery-charged cars otherwise known as electric cars. So, the energy required by cars is the batteries, while lithium is the key component of batteries. 

Nigeria must key into the emerging economic order being ushered-in by advancements in technology made in the energy sector using lithium. 

Advancement in technology shows that the world is progressing to a future where diesel engines and petrol will be phased-out and replaced with cars that are powered with lithium batteries. 

When this happens, you can imagine how much lithium resources will be required to fire the electric vehicles that will be in use across the world. 

The climatic resolutions of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (commonly referred to as COP 26) aim to safeguard the environment and called for production of lithium battery powered cars that will gradually replace the hydrocarbon engines. 

We must be ready and deliberate in developing funds for lithium exploration and exploitation in Nigeria, just like we have the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF). A special purpose funds for lithium exploration and exploitation must be urgently made available to relevant authorities in order to ensure that Nigeria is positioned to occupy its prime place in the committee of Nations in near future. 

Nigeria must regulate the exploration and mining of lithium, its export, processing and production of lithium powered devices in the interest of patriotism, and Nigeria must do this in order to be able to become the lithium hub for Africa.  

We must also be deliberate in designing a marketing strategy that will help us to control the rush for lithium that will come upon Nigeria and in fact Africa, so that we can attract the deliverables of the emerging global rush and trade with regards to lithium. 

In the world today, the petroleum producing economies are the biggest and most envied. If Lithium is going to replace petroleum the way electric vehicles are hopefully going to replace fuel, then lithium is undoubtedly the new oil. 

The Chinese are here for lithium; the Americas are here too and even the Europeans. They are all here for Nigeria’s lithium resource. We must safeguard our future even though we desire foreign investment. We need to control foreign investment so that we don’t embrace investments that will take away our mineral wealth while impoverishing our people and country. 

Uba Sa’idu Malami, a geologist, is Chairman, Solid Minerals Development Fund (SMDF)