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June 15, 2024
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Dozens Arrested as Nigeria Clamps Down on Lithium Theft

Nigeria’s government is cracking down on illegal mining, making dozens of arrests since April for unlicensed miners allegedly stealing lithium, a critical mineral used in batteries for electric vehicles, smartphones, and power systems.

The crackdown comes as Nigeria seeks to regulate its mining operations, curb illegal activity, and better benefit from its mineral resources. The global demand for lithium has surged due to the clean energy transition. However, corruption and minimal government presence in remote areas have led to rampant illegal mining, which has fueled militia groups in the north.

In mid-May, a joint team of soldiers and police raided a market in Kishi, Oyo State, arresting 32 individuals, including two Chinese nationals. The market, once known for farm produce, had become a hub for illicit lithium trade. Community leader Jimoh Bioku reported clandestine searches for lithium by Chinese nationals, who then engaged locals to mine for them, turning the market into a transit point.

President Bola Tinubu has blamed illegal mining for worsening conflicts in the north and called for international help to stop it. The Chinese embassy in Abuja has not commented on the arrests, but previously urged Chinese nationals to abide by Nigerian laws.

Nigeria is emerging as a significant lithium source in Africa, but illegal mining denies the government substantial revenues. Emeka Okoro from SBM Intelligence highlighted the exploitation of vulnerable workers from conflict-affected regions. The government estimates that resource theft causes annual losses of $9 billion.

To combat this, Nigeria has established a 2,200-strong “corps of mining marshals.” The corps has made several arrests and seizures, including two trucks loaded with lithium near Abuja in April and four Chinese nationals in Nasarawa State.

The government is also encouraging artisanal miners in communities like Jos to form cooperatives and operate legally.

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