FG may have prioritised project over planned $12bn Trans Sahara gas line
Chineme Okafor in Abuja
Nigeria and Morocco have entered into an initial feasibility studies agreement to advance the construction of a new coastal pipeline that would take gas all the way from Escravos to Morocco.
THISDAY learnt that following the decision to build a new gas line between the two countries as was reached during the visit of King Muhammed VI of Morocco to President Muhammadu Buhari in December 2016, funds for the project’s initial feasibility studies have been provided by both countries.
THISDAY also learnt that this was in addition to the assemblage of experts from both countries, with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) at the forefront of the studies for Nigeria.
Interestingly, this is coming at a time when the request by Morocco to join the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has unsettled Nigeria, the region’s economic power. Though, the Nigerian government has not explicitly or formally expressed its opposition to Morocco’s bid to join the 42-year-old regional body, it is not disposed to the admission of the North African country into the regional group and its subtly mounting pressure on member states to ensure that the request is turned down.
Former senior Nigerian diplomats and civil society organisations (CSOs) have warned Nigeria about the threat to its influence in ECOWAS should Morocco’s membership request be granted, and have therefore called on Nigeria to oppose the admission of the North African nation.
The ECOWAS bid by Morocco, which is a member of the Arab Maghreb Union, is also seen as capable of whittling down Nigeria’s influence in the world – an influence substantially derived from its dominant position in the West African region.
Despite this brewing diplomatic tension, the Coastal Gas Pipeline project is of great importance to both countries, with reports noting the tacit priority placed on the project by the federal government even to the detriment of the $12 billion Trans Sahara gas pipeline, which from its conception would take gas from Nigeria to Algeria and then Spain.
The Trans Saharan pipeline was planned to start from Warri and run up north through Niger to Hassi R’Mel in Algeria, from where it will connect to the existing Trans-Mediterranean, Maghreb-Europe, Medgaz and Galsi pipelines. The length of the pipeline would be about 4,128 kilometres (2,565 mi), of which 1,037 kilometres (644 mi) will run through Nigeria, 841 kilometres (523 mi) in Niger, and 2,310 kilometres (1,440 mi) in Algeria.
Unlike the Coastal Gas Pipeline which will go along the West African coast from Nigeria all the way to Morocco and then into Europe, the Trans Saharan Gas Pipeline project is faced with some challenges because as designed, the project, which is a surface pipeline network, would pass through restive areas in the Niger Delta all the way up, through some states in the North-west, then to Niger and Algeria. It is thus seen as having more risks.
Sources close to the new coastal pipeline project informed THISDAY that Morocco was quite determined to get Nigeria to ditch the Trans Sahara gas line and concentrate on the coastal line because of its diplomatic differences with Algeria. Relations between the two North African countries have been dominated by rifts, including the lingering issue of Western Sahara. It was gathered that this development could set off fresh diplomatic spat between Morocco and its neighbour, Algeria.
Sources explained that Morocco had expressed its desire to have Nigeria play down its commitment to the Trans Sahara line, and accord the new coastal gas line top priority.
Based on this, the sources explained that Morocco had also made available its share of the funds needed to undertake the feasibility studies as well as continued its supply of urea phosphate to Nigeria for fertiliser blending.
When contacted for clarification on this, the Group General Manager Public Affairs of the NNPC, Mr. Ndu Ughamadu, confirmed to THISDAY the commencement of the feasibility studies on the coastal gas line.
He, however, stated that it was a federal government project, and that he could not confirm the cost of the studies. Ughamadu, also noted that the project would not affect the execution of the $12 billion Trans Sahara gas pipeline.
At a recent meeting with the National Coordinator of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD-Nigeria), Ms. Gloria Akobundu, NNPC’s Group Managing Director, Dr. Maikanti Baru, reaffirmed the commitment of the corporation to the $12 billion Trans Saharan gas pipeline.
Baru disclosed at the meeting that Morocco’s supply of phosphate to Nigeria to rejuvenate her agriculture sector with the availability of affordable fertiliser was yielding results and had created up to 50,000 jobs.