As the world moves from fossil-fuel cars to electric cars, the federal government has been strongly advised to formulate deliberate policies to control the exploration, mining, production, and exportation of lithium in Nigeria.
Chairman of the Board of the Solid Minerals Development Fund (SMDF), Uba Sa’idu Malami, who made this call during a press briefing in Abuja yesterday, said lithium will soon replace oil as a strategic economic resource across the world, and formulating such policy would enable Nigeria to be in full control of the entire lithium value chain in order to make maximum benefit from the scramble for Nigerian lithium that is already in the offing.
Malami, a co-founder of the Geological Society of Nigeria (GSN), said: “Lithium is the new oil that could significantly control global wealth and economy of nations in the coming decades,” adding that the new economic order will be largely dictated by the ability of nations to take advantage of emerging opportunities afforded by lithium resources.
Discussing the strategic importance of lithium in modern technology and global economy, Malami said, “Diesel and gasoline were the energy source of cars for decades. Now, cars have migrated from the hydrocarbon to battery-charged cars, otherwise known as electric cars. So, the energy required by cars are the batteries, while lithium is the key component of batteries.”
He revealed that the price of lithium has risen from $500 to $5000 within three years adding that “Lithium is too strategic to be left open for exploration without control, especially as it is in global demand.”
According to him, the current regime where a company gets a licence and starts mining lithium without proper control and regulation is not in the best of the country.
The COMEG-certified geologist and businessman, who served on the Boards of some notable companies in the extractive industry before his appointment as SMDF Board chairman, said: “Any foreign investment in lithium must be controlled in a way that prioritises the political and economic interest 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. If this is not done, it is a disservice to the nation and the continent of Africa.”
The SMDF board chairman noted that Nigeria should lead the way for the governments of African nations to take advantage of this opportune moment in history, and said if Nigeria controls local and foreign investments in lithium with patriotic fervor, it will attract enormous wealth to the country and strengthen her position in the emerging global economic order in the way as crude oil.
Malami commended the minister of Mines and Steel Development, Arc. Olamilekan Adegbite, for protecting the interest of Nigeria while responding to Tesla’s bid to mine and export lithium from the country.
“Arc. Adegbite told the car manufacturing giant – Tesla – that he would not grant permission for their mining bid in Nigeria unless they will establish a lithium battery manufacturing plant in Nigeria,’ Malami said.
Nigeria is home to commercial quantities of lithium spread across states of the federation, but mined by artisanal miners in Nasarawa, Kogi, Kwara, Ekiti and Cross River states.
The SMDF board chair called for the establishment of a special-purpose fund for the exploration of lithium in the country saying: “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 fund 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 comity of nations in near future.
The geologist also called for a deliberate marketing strategy that will help the country control the rush for lithium that will come upon Nigeria and, in fact, Africa, so that they can attract the deliverables of the emerging global rush and trade with regards to lithium.
Malami who first made the call for strict control of lithium mining in 2019 after the discovery of high-grade lithium ores in the country said: “If we are going by numerical facts, there are millions of cars in use today in the world and the number may well be on the increase. These cars are in millions; they will require lithium as a source of energy.”
He explained that 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!” he said.
Malami recalled the Climatic Resolutions of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (commonly referred to as COP 26), noting that the Resolutions passed by the nations aim to safeguard the environment.
He said: ‘The COP 26 resolutions called for the production of lithium battery-powered cars that will gradually replace the hydrocarbon engines,’ adding that “by various ways, lithium is the new oil.”
Malami who has been on the forefront of the advocacy for patriotic development of Nigeria’s mineral resources, further said he foresees the scramble for Nigeria’s lithium among developed economies.
‘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,” he added.