FeaturesGas as Game Changer And Catalyst For Industrialisation

Gas as Game Changer And Catalyst For Industrialisation

GTBCO FOOD DRINL

March 24, (THEWILL)- Sometime in May 1989, a news bulletin triggered the kind of happiness people experience when they have had a major breakthrough in life. The bulletin itself didn’t mean much to the ordinary Nigerian on the street. But it meant a whole lot to a team of engineers from NNPC/ Shell on that day. One of them was Charles Osezua a 35-year-old natural gas engineer from the famous Texas A&M University in Houston and author of this fascinating book The Rise of Gas: From Gaslink to the Decade of Gas.

Months before in cloistered seclusion in far flung posh offices in London, The Hague and closer home in Lagos, the engineers beavered away formulating a Gas Policy and Pricing to leapfrog the industrialisation process in Nigeria. In the course of their study and data collection, the team toured the industrial zones of the 19 states in Nigeria – Aba, Kaduna, Kano, Jos, Offa, Onitsha, Port Harcourt, Warri to conduct a “market survey to establish the potential gas market in Nigeria, determine the cost of infrastructure required to deliver, and establish the commercial prices for its realisation.”

Done with their assignment, they made persuasive presentations to stakeholders in the Oil & Gas industry, NNPC, Shell, NEPA, industrialists and relevant government ministries “to ensure their buy-in.” And, of course, the Armed Forces Ruling Council the highest decision-making body in the country presided over by military President Ibrahim Babangida who was also Commander-in-Chief. The team’s argument was straightforward: for the government to consider gas a better, cheaper source of energy for economic development and not focus only on crude oil at the expense of what scientists call the queen of the hydrocarbons.

Glo

AFRC gave their thumbs-up thus prompting the midday jubilation in May by the engineers. It was going to be a new dawn for the country and they were understandably over the moon.

“I was excited and felt very proud to be a Nigerian and I could envision, immediately, the economic development and transformation of my country facilitated by gas which would fuel power and petrochemical plants, as well as fertiliser companies with other multiplier effects,” Osezua gleefully recalls following the approval. “It was an opportunity for Nigeria to industrilise, stamp her authority as the leading economy in Africa, and perhaps dictate the pace of, or become the go-to-nation for Gas Policy and Pricing dynamics.”

Alas, the team’s happiness was premature and short-lived. As the author tells it in his riveting account, the new law on gas had to be documented in a Federal Government Gazette. It never go to be. Why?

The Minister of Industry, Power and Steel at the time an Air Force chief who was absent from the AFRC meeting when the approval was given, arbitrarily overruled his superiors (including the C-in-C) insisting that his ministry “cannot pay the approved tariff.”

To the author’s utter dismay, the AFRC reviewed and reversed the policy bringing to an abrupt end a master plan for Gas Policy and Pricing painstakingly put together over a period of nearly three years. Responding to the reversal, Osezua says they were all shocked, asking rhetorically: “Have we suspended our future as a nation that was set to dictate the pace for other emerging economies in Africa?”

Apparently, the government of the day did not think so, neither did successive administrations. It was not until President Muhammadu Buhari declared the turn of the 21st century as the Decade of Gas – part of the subheading in the title of the book – that Nigeria had a comprehensive gas policy in place.

As the title suggests, Osezua’a book chronicles the history of the bride of the hydrocarbons from its very beginning, his role in it and early enthusiasm shown towards a workable national gas policy, the consequences of not tapping into it early enough, the crude politics and power play involved, the betrayals and in-fighting among the big players in the sector. But most shocking to the author is the total disregard by successive Nigerian governments for the vast potentials of gas as an alternative energy source for economic development.

Refining crude with its attendant gas flaring has its environmental hazards. It is not so with gas. Gas is a more effective and cheaper means of running factories compared to diesel or petrol. In fact, Osezua makes a persuasive case that most of the moribund industries in Nigeria today, especially textile, may still be in operation if they had not been totally dependent on diesel and petrol.

“What has happened since President Babangida’s junta suspended the national gas policy?” The expert on gas provides an answer. Think of the frequent collapse of the national grid, he urges readers. “What about the regular scarcity and shortage of cooking gas? Or the textile mills that have all ceased to exist in Kaduna, Kano and Katsina and fertiliser scams that have bedeviled the country? Spare a thought for all the factories that have shut down over the past few years because diesel has surged past N700 per litre. These were all problems that the gas policy which had positioned gas as alternative to fuels and feeds was hoping to avoid.”

Part of Osezua’s solution was to set up Gaslink Nigeria Limited, a pioneering company to “show the world that I could walk the talk.” Along with some like-minds, Osezua made a bid for a franchise on gas distribution by Nigeria Gas Company in 1996. It was precisely what he and his team suggested on Gas Policy Pricing which the AFRC rejected. Joining the bid, according to the author, “was to prove that it was possible to translate what we had on paper into reality” and, ultimately, “have industries in the industrial clusters switch their fuel sources from diesel or fuel to the cheaper, cleaner, more efficient alternative gas.”

But for willing and supportive financiers, Gaslink may never have existed. A major backer is Chief Ifeanyi Ochonogor who gave a loan of $3m, pointedly telling Osezuwa that “we invest in character, not in presentations! Anybody can make a good presentation, but it is the character of the person that make things work.” Another is Tony Elumelu who also offered loan facilities to the young company.

Once Gaslink got under way, civilian governor of Lagos State Bola Ahmed Tinubu, ever receptive to progressive ideas, gave Osezua full backing following a presentation by the Gas Man to the governor. “I am looking for people who will help me build a state the black man would be proud of, and what you have told me fits in right there,” Asiwaju pointedly told Osezua. Of course, Gaslink got its “Right of Way” and “No Objections” from Governor Tinubu to laying pipes across roads and streets in the entire state. What’s more, Osezua admits he never bribed anyone in the state for the approval by the governor. “I did not give a dime to anyone in the Lagos State Government. I thank God that there were very good and decent people there.”

The Rise of Gas is not only about Nigeria’s disinterestedness in tapping the vast deposits of gas down below. It is also the compelling story of how Osezua himself became a thoroughgoing professional on anything about gas in Nigeria leading to one of the oracles in the O&G industry Aret Adams nicknaming him “Gas Man.”

Becoming Gas Man

Osezua’s road to becoming Gas Man started way back as a 17-year-old in secondary school at Annunciation Catholic College Irrua. It was 1971. In Form 3, he was part of a debating team to Ughelli scheduled to also visit a Shell facility in the town. Touring the plant, an engineer pointed to an unquenchable tongue of flame and told the students: “This is a gas flare,” continuing that “if properly harnessed, Nigeria can make a lot of money from this gas that is being flared.”

The teenage student was fascinated by what he saw from that moment on, he was hooked. “They had taken us around the plant but it was the gas flare that finally caught my attention and the gentleman who was explaining that there was a lot of potential in the gas being flared. Using slides, he explained all that could be done with natural gas…the chemistry behind it and how hydrocarbons are the building blocks of the petrochemical industry.”

Post-secondary school, Osezua worked at Nigerian Broadcasting Station in Benin City where, as if predestined by fate, one thing led to the other resulting in him getting a government scholarship to study abroad. He opted to study Natural Gas Engineering at Texas A&M University – one of two institutions where the course is taught in the United States – instead of a school in the U.K. For Masters’ degree he read Business Admin and International Law. Already aware of his entrepreneurial bias, Osezua chose to read the three courses “to prepare me to view things better from both an Engineering and business perspective. The truth is, you could make an excellent design, but unless it makes economic sense, it will not be implemented.”

By the time Osezua returned to Nigeria for his mandatory one-year youth service, he was posted to the Gas Unit of NNPC, not a full Department, mark you. There was his boss Olukoga and his peer Ajade, Dr. Iheanyi Ohiaheri from Imperial College London, Saidu Mohammed a Chemical engineer.

There wasn’t much to do in the Gas Unit of NNPC. Even so, Osezua never lost focus of its huge potential for economic development, writing articles and publishing them in O&G journals thus cementing his reputation as the man to chat up on anything gas. So, when NNPC/ Shell formed a team of engineers to come up with a policy statement on gas, Osezua was a natural choice. “I believed that an awareness of the quantum of gas that we had, and a consideration of the commercial potentials would help bring not just awareness, but tilt the policy direction towards gas commercilisation,” the author writes presciently.

For his commitment and knowledge of gas matters, Osezua would rise to become Technical Adviser to Aret Adams GMD of NNPC, a position he describes as “a high profile one with responsibility for advising the GMD on all the business activities (internal and external, including operations, finance, commercial, and joint ventures) and managing the staff in the office of the GMD.”

In that position, Osezua witnessed some of the power play at NNPC, the forceful removal, in 1990, of Adams who rooted for meritocracy against the mediocrity canvassed for by Rilwan Lukman as Minister of Petroleum.

By the time Osezua left NNPC, another offer was waiting, an invitation to help start up Educational Cooperation Society (ECS) on recommendation from Reverend Robert Lozano vicar of Opus Dei in Nigeria, an organisation the author claims to have benefitted from. Now called upon to assist in setting up an educational institution, Osezua gladly took up the offer. At the time in 1994, Nigeria was in an economic tailspin, leaving hundreds of parents unable to fund their ward’s education abroad. The idea, then, was to “set up a business school in Nigeria that could cater to the training needs of that segment.” Thus was Lagos Business School at Victoria Island born and Osezua a pioneer once again.

Despite such digressions, The Rise of Gas is basically about gas and harnessing it in Nigeria. Since the discovery of crude not at Oloibiri in 1956 as the history books have it, but at Dahomey Basin and Akata near Eket, according to Osezua, Nigeria has focused more on exploration and marketing of crude oil instead of gas despite its availability. Associated gas, mostly flared (literally burning money, to the author) is what comes out while drilling for crude. Non-associated gas is what you get in quantum when you drill. To Osezua, both are useful but the “industry and policy makers have not paid the kind of attention they ought to have paid gas. There is opacity and lack of direction and it all started from the definition of what gas means in the oil and gas ecosystem.”

Quoting Dr. Ogbonnaya Orji, Director of Communications of NEITI, Osezua claims that Nigeria’s major foreign exchange earner remains crude oil but argues that gas could easily displace it. For instance, in a 21-year period from 1999 – 2020, Nigeria earned over $741.8 billion from oil but statistics indicate that “gas may well be our Eldorado.” It is not hard to see why.

In a presentation last year by Mrs. Monilola Udoh Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Nigeria has the ninth largest proven natural gas reserve in the world with approximately 200trilion cubic feet. Despite this, “only 25 percent of those reserves are currently being developed.”

Assured a shelf life in libraries in O & G and engineering departments in schools and as a first of its kind in the history of publishing in Nigeria, The Rise of Gas is all the more important not just because a pioneer wrote it but because of its timeless value to students, researchers and policy makers. Like the untapped vast gas deposits in the Niger Delta, the book may just have remained in the womb of time without ever coming to life where it not for Gloria, Osezua’s wife, who asked for the publication as a birthday gift. It is a birthday gift like no other.

About the Author

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Michael Jimoh is a Nigerian journalist with many years experience in print media. He is currently a Special Correspondent with THEWILL.

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Michael Jimoh, THEWILLhttps://thewillnews.com
Michael Jimoh is a Nigerian journalist with many years experience in print media. He is currently a Special Correspondent with THEWILL.

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