CSOs Flay Tinubu’s Meeting With Foreigners Without Nasarawa Host Communities

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The Renevlyn Development Initiative (RDI) and the Neighborhood Environment Watch (NEW) Foundation have expressed worry over the noticeable absence of community representatives at last Friday’s meeting of the Presidency and companies extracting and processing lithium in Nasarawa State.

The meeting which was held at the State House in Abuja had in attendance President Bola Tinubu, Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State, who was accompanied by Hi Yongwei, chairman of Avatar New Energy Materials Company Limited, and Zhenhua Pei, Chairman, Canmax Technologies as well as Minister of Solid Minerals, Dr. Dele Alake.

At the meeting, President Tinubu hailed the inauguration of Nigeria’s largest lithium processing plant in Lafia, Nasarawa State, as a clear indication of the country’s attractiveness for foreign investment.

Avatar, a Chinese firm, built the lithium processing plant which produces about 4,000 metric tonnes daily, while Canmax Technologies, another Chinese firm responsible for over 30 per cent of global battery material production, announced a new investment of $200million for another lithium processing plant in the state.

In his remarks, President Tinubu urged the Chinese firms to prioritise environmental protection, community engagement, and corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives as integral parts of their operations and asked them not to leave the community in ruins as they explore high-grade minerals.

But, in reacting to the engagement, RDI and NEW frowned at the absence of representatives of host communities at the Aso Rock meeting, cautioning that the same approach heralded the resource control crisis in the Niger Delta where oil-bearing communities were never part of the decision-making processes on the exploration and extraction of the oil and gas resources.

In his remarks, RDI Executive Director, Philip Jakpor, said: “Here we go again. It is worrisome that such a high-level meeting with the Chinese miners did not have a single representative from the communities where lithium is now being mined.

“While we welcome the charge that the president gave to the miners to safeguard the environment, there is nothing to show that the companies involved are even engaging host communities in any of such discussions.”

Jakpor buttressed that locals in Uke district, one of the sites approved for lithium mining in Nasarawa State, were already complaining that miners have started encroaching on community lands and polluting groundwater.

On his part, NEW Foundation Executive Director, Kelechi Okezie, expressed scepticism about the benefits that lithium will bring to the host communities.

“From Ebonyi to Enugu and other parts of the country where different solid minerals are mined we see a pattern of non-engagement and ruination of the local environment while the miners rake in profits that our government cannot even account for,” he stated.

He, however, pointed out that Chinese firms in the extractives sector were not known to be accountable to host communities even as he stressed that, “We expect to see communities that are better than the miners met it, not the master-slave relationship that is already being noticed in the mining fields and host communities.”

Both civil society organisations (CSOs) reiterated that the introduction of a condition that mining firms must put in place viable and sustainable remedial measures before their fresh applications for mining are approved, clear engagement policies with communities must also be in place.

“A situation where the discussions are top level and only between the government and the mining firms is unacceptable and will create the same crisis as is happening in oil-bearing communities. The government has not learnt any lessons,” they insisted.

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