By Owolabi Ajibade
As the global focus on sustainable and clean energy intensifies, and in the wake of changing economic tides, the landmark decimation of Nigeria’s Petroleum Ministry and subsequent creation of a standalone Ministry of Gas Resources was indicative of Nigeria’s readiness to harness a sustainable alternative to the extant fossil-fuel-driven economy which is prospected have a huge impact on the country’s economic trajectory and a pivotal moment in the country’s history.
Throwing Obongemem Ekperikpe Ekpo into the deep end with his appointment as the Minister of State for Gas Resources when he is better known for delivering gargantuan results, working from behind the scenes, sparked both anticipation and speculation considering the enormity of the unique task of tending to this vision. But being a former Federal Legislator in the Green Chambers between 2007 and 2011, Ekpo is however, not stranger to the challenges of the Nigerian state and so has duly folded his sleeves and gotten down to the business of expanding energy accessibility towards expanding the nation’s revenue stream.
Accordingly, the 100 days since his appointment have been a very defining one for the nation’s energy in terms of redirecting the existing landscape, given the unprecedented and renewed focus on the gas sector.In an era of interconnected economies and shared environmental challenges, the Minister has acknowledged the need to work beyond national borders.
By presenting a clear vision and roadmap for the future, he has actively sought to attract both domestic and foreign investments in the gas sector.
At the 13th Nigeria Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association (NLPGA) Conference and Exhibition held in Abuja, Mr. Ekpo solicited the cooperation of private sector investors in deepening the utilization of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) in Nigeria. Minister Ekpo has also tabled the offerings of the Nigerian gas project before industry players and key stakeholders at the continental level. During a meeting of the West African Gas Pipeline (WAGP) Project Authority Committee of Ministers in Cotonou, Benin Republic, he restated the commitment of Nigeria to supporting the West African Gas Pipeline (WAGP) Project realize its full potential and objectives, while also assuring other member countries (Benin, Togo and Ghana) of uninterrupted gas supply from Nigeria to meet their domestic needs.
He led the country’s delegation to the Gastech 2023 Conference and Exhibition in Singapore (touted as the world’s largest meeting place for the global natural gas, LNG, hydrogen, low-carbon solutions, and climate technologies industries) where he urged investors to avail themselves of tremendous opportunities that the Nigerian gas sector offers the global market while informing the forum that Nigeria is playing a leadership role in Africa for an inclusive energy transition that considers a central role for gas as a transitionary fuel and some of the key objectives of Nigeria’s decarbonization plan.
The first 100 days of Ekpo’s stewardship have witnessed tangible economic benefits arising from his proactivity. Job creation and infrastructure development have boosted a positive economic ripple effect within the country.
Aside from meetings with various local and international investors geared at unlocking the potential of the sector for national growth, the Minister also undertook tours of infrastructure projects, one of such being the NLNG plant in Bonny Island, Rivers State; Obrikom, Obiafo, and Oben (OB3) gas pipeline project, where he urged contractors handling the project to ensure its completion by December of 2023. The 48 × 1.8km gas pipeline project is designed to run across the River Niger conveying gas from the South-South and South-East of the country to the South West and the Ajaokuta, Kano and Kaduna (AKK) Project where he also told contractors that the July/August 2024 deadline is sacrosanct, among others.
Ekpo has also assured that the construction of the Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline project, which targets connecting the European market, is expected to begin in 2024.
Under this project, Gas will be transported through several African countries, including Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania and Morocco.Under Mr Ekpo’s watch, the gas sector has witnessed reforms to modernize and streamline it.
Moves have been made to resolve all challenges, stifling efficient gas supplies to consumers in the country at both the upstream and downstream levels.
During a meeting with a delegation from Shell Petroleum Development Company Nigeria in Abuja, he announced the roll out of initiatives to improve distribution networks and encourage private sector participation, towards making gas available as a source of fuel to the Auto, Power and industrial consumers.
On the domestic front, Minister Ekpo has timely waded into the challenges bordering on the supply and pricing of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) in the country’s domestic market. The intervention follows the rise in recent months in the price of LPG from about Seven Hundred Naira (N700) to above Nine Hundred Naira (N900) per kilogram in some parts of the country.
He has swung into prompt action by setting up a committee to look into issues around the increase in the price of cooking gas, with a view to identifying and proffering solutions that will drive down the soaring prices of this essential product in the local market.
While the initial strides have been promising and there is transformative potential inherent in the Minister’s crucial 100-day timeframe, challenges persist. Fluctuating global energy prices, geopolitical uncertainties, and the need for sustained policy implementation pose ongoing hurdles. The minister has, however, laid a foundation for economic growth and resilience.
He has earmarked security enhancement and industry-based partnerships as areas that will help drive the Ministry’s vision and his socio-political capital while serving as the Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Industry, as well as in the Customs Service, National Security and Intelligence, and Power Committees during his time at the National Assembly, will provide him the opportunity for collaborations in the areas of regulatory enforcement and security, as well as for other strategic partnerships that will catalyze the development and industrialization of gas resources.
As the nation looks ahead, whether the focus is on sustainable energy practices, economic growth, or international cooperation, the plans and actions of Obongemem Ekperikpe Ekpo, in his capacity as the Minister of Gas reverberate with a sustained commitment to initiatives that balance energy security, economic growth, and environmental sustainability; initiatives that will be pivotal in establishing Nigeria as a prominent player in the global energy landscape.
Dr. Ajibade is a gas expert and writes from Lagos.