Sometime in October 2015, Ibe Kachikwu, the then group managing director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) made a promise that gladdened the hearts of millions of Nigerians at the upper end of the lower income bracket.
The technocrat who had spent most of his working life in the private sector was apparently worried about Nigeria’s abysmally low consumption of cooking gas as billions of standard cubic feet of gas are flared monthly in Nigerian oil fields.
He promised to launch what was tagged cooking gas revolution to persuade most Nigerians to abandon kerosene and switch to cooking gas as cleaner fuel for domestic cooking.
Kachikwu’s plan was to flood Nigeria with free gas cylinders that would compel those at the higher end of the low income bracket to abandon kerosene and cook with gas. The deadline for the distribution of the free gas cylinders was the end of 2016.
Kerosene has been the dominant fuel for domestic cooking in urban Nigeria for decades. However, firewood has maintained its age-long dominant position as domestic cooking fuel in rural Nigeria. Most of the 114 million Nigerians toiling below poverty line live in the rural communities where kerosene is either unreachably expensive or unacceptably scarce for poor rural dwellers. Many of the impoverished rural dwellers cannot afford kerosene even at the 2015 subsidized pump price of N50 per litre. In any case, it was very difficult to obtain kerosene at the official pump price. That probably explains why most rural dwellers ignored the federal government’s campaign against deforestation which seeks to halt the Sahara desert’s menacing advance on the Atlantic Ocean.
The urban areas still have pockets of impoverished families that cook with firewood as the price of kerosene remains unreachably high for those below poverty line.
Kachikwu found it nauseating to watch Nigerians cook with kerosene and firewood in the 21st century. He abhored kerosene and firewood as domestic cooking fuel and vowed to end what has become a norm in Africa’s largest economy.
Kachikwu’s kerosene-to-gas policy was propelled more by the huge sums sunk into kerosene importation and subsidy than the billions of standard cubic feet of gas flared by the multinationals in Nigeria’s oil fields.
Lamenting that kerosene subsidy was a huge burden on NNPC, Kachikwu vowed to replace it with gas as domestic cooking fuel by 2016.
He said that by the end of 2016, NNPC would have distributed cooking gas cylinders to every household in Nigeria. That suggested that the kerosene-to-gas revolution would be extended to rural Nigeria where gas would do a grueling battle not with kerosene, but with firewood as dominant cooking fuel.
About two years after the 2016 deadline set by the minister for the supply of free cooking gas cylinders to Nigerians, the product has become even more expensive than when Kachikwu made the empty promise. Kerosene and even the gas that was to replace it as domestic cooking fuel have become unreachably expensive.
In 2015 when Kachikwu made the promise, some fuel retail outlets still grudgingly sold kerosene occasionally at the subsidized price of N50 per litre. Now the product retails in some outlets at the outrageous price of N200.
Even if Kachikwu were to distribute the illusive free gas cylinders today, few would receive them with thanks. The price of gas has escalated out of the reach of the target audience of the minister’s largesse.
The 12.5 kg of cooking gas sold for N2, 800 when Kachikwu made the promise late in 2015. Now with oil selling at $83 per barrel, 12.5 kg of gas sells for N4, 000 or N187.7 per litre. Gas and its appliances have been priced out of the reach of the target audience of the minister’s illusive gas revolution. The free cylinders have inadvertently joined Kachikwu’s long, winding list of failed promises.
Given the high propensity for failure, no one takes Kachikwu’s promises seriously. In 2017, Kachikwu who now doubles as minister of state for petroleum and largely ceremonial chairman of NNPC assured Nigerians that he was considering bids by leading international oil firms to finance the rehabilitation of Nigeria’s comatose refineries on repair-operate-and-transfer basis that would conserve government funds in fraudulent turnaround maintenance (TAM) and ensure efficient management of the grossly abused plants. The plan was designed to end Nigeria’s shameful dependence on imported refined petroleum products by 2019 as the nation’s refineries were expected to operate at 90 per cent of their installed capacities after the private sector-funded TAM.
Two years after the ambitious plan, no oil company has been assigned to rehabilitate the refineries. The minister’s 2019 deadline for ending refined petroleum products importation might have been predicated upon the expectation that Aliko Dangote’s refinery being built in Lagos would come on stream by the first quarter of 2019.
Now there are fears that Dangote’s refinery might not come on stream earlier than 2020. Again, Kachikwu’s deadline for ending petroleum products importation has joined his long list of failed promises.
Kachikwu is not altogether a colossal failure. He has managed to restore stability of fuel supply even at a deceitful, colossal cost to Nigeria’s tax payers. Petrol supply has stabilized. No one is blaming smugglers for long, winding queues at retail outlets.