Nigeria: the fight against the illicit mineral trade Nigeria: the fight against the illicit mineral trade

Nigeria: the fight against the illicit mineral trade

Nigeria: the fight against the illicit mineral trade
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The Nigerian government is cracking down on illegal mining. Since April, it has made dozens of arrests of unlicensed miners who allegedly stole the country's lithium, a critical mineral used in batteries for electric vehicles, smartphones and power systems.

The recent arrests come as Nigeria seeks to regulate its mining operations for key minerals, curb illegal activities and better leverage its mineral resources. The clean energy transition , which involves moving away from coal , oil and gas in favor of renewable energy and batteries, has exploded global demand for lithium, tin and other minerals. 

Illegal mining is common in the country's fledgling industry, as corruption of regulatory officials is common and mineral deposits are located in remote areas where government presence is minimal. Authorities say profits from illicit mining practices have helped arm militia groups in the north of the country.

Illicit market
In the most recent arrests, in mid-May, a joint team of soldiers and police raided a remote market in Kishi, Oyo state, in the southwest of the country. According to locals, this market, once known for selling agricultural products, has become a center for illicit trade in lithium mined in hard-to-reach areas. The three-day operation resulted in the arrest of 32 people, including two Chinese nationals, local workers and mineral traders, according to the state government and residents. Shipments of lithium were also seized.

Jimoh Bioku, a Kishi community leader, said there had been "clandestine searches" for the mineral at remote sites, hidden in the bush, in recent years by Chinese nationals before " "They don't hire people to dig for them and turn the market into a transit point . " The community was "particularly concerned about the insecurity that usually follows illegal mining and that is why we reported it to the state government" , he said.

Desertification
China is the dominant player in the global electric vehicle supply chain , including in Nigeria, where Chinese companies mainly employ vulnerable people who are leaving the country's far north - ravaged by conflict and rapid desertification - to work in mining operations across the country. China's nationals and companies are often in the spotlight for their environmentally harmful practices, labor exploitation and illicit mining. In the space of two months, at least three cases of arrests of Chinese nationals in illegal mining operations have been recorded.

President Bola Tinubu has repeatedly blamed illegal mining for worsening conflict in the country's north and called on the international community to help end the problem. , which allows armed groups to obtain the funds necessary for their survival and arming.

Financing of terrorism
The Chinese embassy in Abuja did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press on the arrests and allegations of illegal operations . But in a statement last year following a Times of London report alleging that Chinese miners were bribing activists to gain access, the embassy said it "has always encouraged and urged companies and Chinese nationals in Nigeria to respect the laws and regulations of Nigeria .

Nigeria is emerging as a new source of lithium in Africa as the world's largest producers, such as Australia and Chile , are unable to meet growing global demand. But illegal activities are thriving in Nigeria's extractive sector, depriving the government of revenue, said Emeka Okoro, whose Lagos-based firm SBM Intelligence has researched illicit mining and terrorism financing in northern Nigeria.

The combination of conflict and the effects of climate change , such as the rapid transformation of once-fertile land into barren, useless sand in northern Nigeria, has produced cheap labor for mining sites.

The arrests of "Chinese nationals and young Hausa people from conflict-affected areas highlight a worrying pattern ," Okoro told the AP. “Socio-economic tensions resulting from conflict and the impacts of climate change have given rise to a vulnerable population desperate to survive.”

Resource theft
To combat resource theft that causes $9 billion in losses to the government each year, according to the country's extractive industry transparency watchdog, the West African nation has set up a "corps of marshals of mines" composed of 2,200 people at the start of the year.

While existing law enforcement agencies continue to combat the problem, the new body is intended to curb "the nefarious activities of illegal miners ," says Segun Tomori, spokesperson for the Ministry of Solid Minerals.

Before the Kishi raid, the mining force stopped two trucks loaded with lithium on the outskirts of the capital Abuja in April. Later that month, the corps carried out a raid in Karu, Nasarawa State, near Abuja, which led to the arrest of four Chinese nationals and the seizure of tonnes of lithium. Mr Tomori said the cases were now before the courts.

On April 22, a federal court in Ilorin, North Central Region, convicted two Chinese nationals of illegal mining and sentenced them to one year's imprisonment, although subject to probation. fine option.

Nigeria has long neglected the solid minerals sector, allowing some communities like the tin-rich north-central city of Jos to rely on mining for their livelihoods.

For communities whose livelihoods are linked to mining, Tomori said the government encourages artisanal miners to form cooperatives and operate legally.

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