In this interview with Extractive 360, the Convener of Women in Extractives, Faith Nwadishi, said the proposed Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline project is one that promises several benefits to Nigeria if only the project will be pursued to implementation. Providing a historical background into the project, Nwadishi emphasized the need for contract disclosure and consideration for host communities. Excerpts
Provide us some background into the Trans-Sahara and Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline projects
The idea for the Nigeria-Algeria Gas Pipeline otherwise known as the Trans-Saharan Pipeline (TSP) started in the 70’s, they kept signing Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) until about 2006 when another MoU was signed which showed more commitment. But the issue about the TSP was that it was going to take off from Kano through Niger to Algeria. So you needed to have pumped gas from the Niger Delta to Kano before pumping it to Algeria. The length of that was less than 5000km. On the contrary, the discussion for the Nigeria-Morocco Gas Pipeline (NMP) started in 2016. The Moroccan office for Hydrocarbon and Mines is in conversation with the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on the project. By 2019, NNPC and Morocco hydrocarbon office came out with the report of a feasibility study. The only difference now is that government has shown more political will towards pursuing NMP over the TSP, even though feasibility studies have also been carried and some environmental impact assessment has been done. The interesting thing is that both reports showed that they were viable, but the difference is that Nigeria has started the West Africa Gas Pipeline (WAGP) expected to connect Nigeria, Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana. That line will then extend into 11 countries before it gets to Morocco and possibly to Spain, that’s an advantage over the Nigeria-Algeria gas pipeline. It is estimated to cost $25 billion and take 25 years to complete, but experts have said that the timing may not be feasible. It is planned to follow the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, so all the countries along the ocean’s shoreline will be impacted. Have the positions of those countries be taken into consideration? Have the environmental impact assessment on communities to be affected in those countries should be considered?
Why do you think Nigeria will favour the Morocco pipeline over the TSP?
Economically it makes more sense because there is already the West Africa gas pipeline underway. So it is going to start from where the WAGP stopped to extend to Morocco and possibly Spain. Another factor to be considered is the insurgency around the Sahel region going from Northern Nigeria to Niger and Chad. So Morocco is saying it’s more advantageous if their route is followed because there is no conflict along that route compared to the terrorism along the Algeria route which can disrupt the project. Personally, having looked at both projects, the Moroccan pipeline will be more economical because it will transverse 11 counties while the other one is only going from Niger to Algeria.
The project is estimated to cost $25 billion, what do you know about the funding options?
What they are looking at now is a joint venture arrangement between Nigeria and Morocco. Nigeria has the raw material which is the gas, so they are looking at funding the infrastructure. The funding will be sourced from international organizations and Morocco is also willing to put money on the ground. But you know Nigeria’s history with joint venture arrangements; we are not funding most of our joint ventures. While the other partners fund their share, Nigeria usually does not meet their obligations, so that’s one downside. However, that funding issue has not been clearly thought out, even though the project idea has been presented to the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) and it was welcomed. But the funding will not be sourced from ECOWAS.
Given that Nigeria is now under the obligation of contract transparency, what level of contract disclosures should Nigerians expect from this project?
Incidentally, the MoUs, were signed in 2016 and the feasibility studies done in 2019. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Rules on contract transparency came into effect on January 1, 2021 and countries are expected to publish contracts signed with effect from that date. So I suppose that their argument will be that the contract was signed before January 1, 2021. But the good news is that countries are equally encouraged to disclose contracts that were signed before January 1, 2021. Also, by the time they sit down again to look at the contract, terms may change because of new realities like issues of climate change and other emerging issues that may need to be taken into consideration. So by the time they finalize on financing, we would want to see the kind of MoUs that were signed; who were the parties, what are the terms, the feasibility studies and environmental impact assessment reports. We will also be interested in knowing what Nigeria will benefit from the project, if is it going to be another case of crude swap. These are the things we will like to see in terms of contract transparency.
Do you foresee other major impediment to the project?
Recall that in 2016 when they muted this idea of the Morocco gas pipeline, the Niger Delta militants said they won’t support it unless other issues around the Niger Delta are sorted, so there is already opposition to the project. And now that we are talking about the Morocco gas pipeline, the issue with the Trans-Sahara pipeline is also coming up, because we have already signed MoUs and there’s no information to the fact that the MoU was set aside, to my knowledge that MoU was never set aside.
Are there any public document about the feasibility study report and EIA?
As far as I know nothing has been made public yet. Just that the feasibility study has been done by the NNPC and the Morocco hydrocarbons office, but no public document is available yet.
How will this project benefit the Nigerian gas sector and the economy large if it eventually takes off?
It will not just benefit the gas sector but benefit the environment because it will help reduce gas flaring. We will then be utilizing our gas and companies will no longer have excuse to flare gas. You know Nigeria has recently extended gas flaring deadline from 2020 to 2025 again. So if that project comes up and keys into the Nigerian gas commercialization project which is ongoing, it will reduce flaring and help increase revenue. Rather than companies paying to flare gas, that gas will be captured and sold through the pipeline. I expect that all the countries along the pipeline path will have taps through which their countries will be supplied. So Nigeria will stand to benefit a lot if we have good negotiators that will go into the negotiations. Over time, it is something that will help the country’s energy sector to improve, but my concern is that we usually have beautiful ideas on paper, when it comes to implementation we hardly find the political will to implement it rightly. Nigeria can easily become a gas hub if this project is rightly executed. We are unfortunately burning our gas through flaring and destroying the environment and reducing people’s life expectancy.
Given the projects many benefits, what strategies will you advise the media to adopt so as not to lose sight of it?
The media has to continuously talk about the project, for instance the Trans-Saharan project was muted in the early 70’s and that project has not taken off, now we are talking of one that just started in 2016. Interestingly, between 2019 and now the matter had actually gone under the cooler if not for the phone conversation between president Muhammadu Buhari and the head of Morocco government in February 2021 that brought the matter to the fore again. It will interest you to know that Moroccans and even civil societies in Morocco are interested in this project. I had VOA come here to say television stations in Morocco want to hear the views of Nigerians about the project. So media organizations should keep talking about it, they can reach out to citizens or government officials in Morocco to talk about it. They can equally speak with ECOWAS officials about the project, especially concerning what the West Africa Mining Code is saying in relation to the project. There are many issues that can be weaved around the project given now that the United States is back on the table for climate change conversations. Nigeria has signed onto climate change agreement and part of what they want to do in promotion of climate change is the issue of gas commercialization. We should also talk to the National Assembly about it; in fact I am hoping that they will have a public hearing on the project. The media needs to keep them on their toes and let Nigerians know about the benefits of this pipeline, it will only happen if the right thing is done. We have already started expending money on the project, the feasibility studies were not done free of charge. We have also spent money on the Trans-Saharan project, the media can find out how much was spent on the TSP that that we are just letting go like that. We need to know what impact such spending has on our economy, and talk about how we can have a more structured way of spending so that we don’t keep going on a wide goose chase without any benefit to show. In the case of the NMP, are we going to spend the $25billion before the project actually starts? Questions like these will elicit response if only the media can hype it. We must keep talking about it because if it happens it will benefit everybody. Nigeria will have electricity, meet domestic gas supply, gas flaring will do down, we will check environmental and health hazards, we will become a gas hub and more revenue will accrue to the country. But in doing all this government has to put the concerns of host communities into consideration.
If the project promises to stop gas flaring and put an end to health and environmental hazards in the Niger Delta, what other concerns should be taken into consideration?
For instance, pipes will be laid, communities will be displaced from where they have been living and farming or fishing for years. So with all the existing unresolved issues around environmental pollution that have destroyed their farms and waters, government cannot just go and lay pipes in what is left without taking the people’s concerns into consideration. Government officials need to sit with the people and have a conversation with them, if not they can disrupt the work without them understanding the benefit of what the project is about. Government may use the gas to create ovens where women can dry their fish, they can also use the gas to power communities, these are the kind of conversations you can have with host communities to get their buy-in. It’s not enough to say because it will end gas flaring the people should be happy and go to sleep.