Opinion (7/12/2020): A Time To Gas – By Sam Omatseye


As a little boy in the 1970’s, I was amazed at the blaze in the Ughelli sky.

“Daddy, what is that?” I asked my father as the bus creaked into town. I was showing up for the admission test and interview to Government College, Ughelli.

“It’s gas, Oti,” he said, warmly.

“Cooking gas?”

“That is not the issue, son,” said my father Moses, whose lips and eyes had run weary from my badgering of questions since the vehicle revved out of the Ibadan gate. But he never let his son’s question go without an interrogation.

“It is Nigeria’s money and the wealth of this region wasting away every second. What you are looking at could turn this country into a paradise.”

It was the first time I plucked the concept of paradise out of the Bible and plopped it in the affairs of men. I looked at the smoke pour upwards like a museum of colours. It was like a giant cookout in a big sprawling kitchen. Or a colossal sacrifice whose flames ferried its savour to the deity of the sky. At that time my father had lost his job, and had borrowed to accompany his son to that adventure. Yet this was God’s plenty frittering away in an array of colours, a brilliant tragedy. It was light as window on the darkness within the land, of incompetence and a prodigal spirit.

Over the decades, billions of dollars have disappeared to the god of the sky. We have set up commissions, held seminars, editorialised, lamented. But the sky god keeps lapping up the scent. We have seen the environment suffer, air polluted and jobs evaporated. So, how can we ever benefit from this?

We have, however, a pleasant start. A new light at the end of the tunnel. It is the car. The car came to make us move. Moving has meant danger to the environment. Crude oil made our people suffer. Farms, hunting bushes, livelihoods yielded to the march of the ravening fluid.

With the new policy to turn cars into dual-fuel capabilities, the government now says all the waste will become wealth for the mobile.

“We are giving autogas. Gas will become fuel for cars,” announced oil minister Timipre Sylva. “If you go to a filling station and you convert your car to dual capability or dual fuel, then you drive into a typical filling station and you will find gas LPG, you will find CNG and LNG being sold.”

The conversion will come for free, according to the minister and the NNPC.

It is now a move from danger to ease, to turn Golgotha into an Eden. Like all technologies, it will start slow, but it is worth encouraging. It will be an uppercut at crude oil, but it is a future we cannot escape.

It is high time we embraced the future before it blindsides us. So that is what we are seeing in the works now. Cars can now join the world in its journey into a post-oil dispensation. The Department of Petroleum Resources has ordered 9,000 filling stations across the country.

It is also cheaper. In this era of high petroleum costs and fulminating labour, cars can get on the road without griping at the purse. Sylva said the government will turn one million vehicles into dual-fuel mode by the end of 2021, and this will make it the year of gas.

If the synergy between the minister and Mele Kyari, the group managing director of the NNPC, is helping its smooth sailing, the BOS of Lagos, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is in the groove as Nigeria’s flagship state. Both have pitched in with the introduction of the 8,400 metric tonnes Liquefied Petroleum Gas terminal by Techno Oil Limited in Apapa.

With Emefiele’s CBN infusing N250 billion loan, it will enable the project to follow its lead for a cheaper, saner fuel dispensation for the people.

It is not good news for crude or oil spill, or the big majors who have for decades plundered and defended the plunder of the poor folks in the oil-rich states. It is time to move away. I wish we could follow it quickly, and let the atmosphere free from ravages. It is an irony that it is nature coming to the rescue of itself.

We have been told over the years that Nigeria has more gas than crude, and we could tap prosperity. It all seemed surrender for years. We were told there was no profit in it. Too expensive. It has first been a failure of the imagination. Technology is the cure for nature. As Karl Popper noted, we cannot predict the future because we cannot predict technology. If this works, it will be a triumph over nature. It will guarantee more job, and set in a motion a new economy, new skills, new engineers and managers, new entrepreneurs, and of course, it will reconfigure our politics. Commuters will pay less on public transport and the about two million jobs may result. The federal government wants to unveil Autogas-capable buses to labour. Few, but it is a start.

– Omatseye is a respected columnist with The Nation

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