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Tinubu and his running Cabinet (2), by Clem Oluwole 


Tinubu and his running Cabinet (2), by Clem Oluwole 

While addressing staff of their various ministries shortly after their swearing-in as ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on August 28, 2023, virtually all the cabinet members echoed the mantra of their principal… to hit the ground running.
Even the minister overseeing the Marine and Blue Economy Ministry, Chief Adegboyega Oyetola, pledged to hit the ground running! Running on water? No! He should hit the ocean rowing!

The immediate past Governor of Osun state, a state named after Osun River, is going to superintend the newly created ministry with the potential to net over N1.5trn in annual revenue for the country. This is one of the huge expectations from the ministry. But Oyetola, the man who must be familiar with the Osun River, should be shifting his gaze occasionally from the blue seas to the hinterland where the nation’s major rivers, Niger and Benue, are weeping for attention.
The nation’s internal waterways have suffered neglect for decades. Successive administrations, from the late Yar’Adua to Muhammadu Buhari, at various times, made commitments to dredge the two rivers.

For instance, in September 2009, the federal government officially commissioned the herculean task of dredging River Niger. During a ceremony in Lokoja, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua vividly spoke of his seven-point agenda, saying that the project would help in the realisation of his regime’s Vision 20-2020.

As the then transport minister, Alhaji Ibrahim Bio, explained at the ceremony, 572km of the river would be dredged across eight states from Delta through Anambra to Niger, and some 152 communities. The project was to be executed within three or so years. The project was expected to provide unobtrusive, cheaper and safer means of haulage of goods and trading activities among adjoining communities and people of states neighbouring the Lower River Niger.

READ ALSO: Tinubu and his running Cabinet (1), by Clem Oluwole

About nine months after the commencement of the dredging exercise, Yar’Adua passed on. And as it is typical of the mentality of our leaders, the project was pursued desultorily and later abandoned. As at 2009, the condition of the river was nowhere as terrible as it is today. Our leaders did not appreciate the dual benefits of the exercise – boost the water transportation and free flow of water along the course of the river. But three years later, precisely in 2012, Nigeria experienced perhaps the worst fury of flood along the river in 50 years, which killed no fewer than 500 people. Economic life was halted and an estimated total of seven million people were affected, while damages and losses caused by the floods were put at N2.6trn in the 30 states affected.

Ironically, the disaster came calling at the time the dredging exercise would have been completed and Nigeria would have been spared the yearly disasters. The late Yar’Adua saw the future!

Then, in September 2017, former Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, announced to the whole world that the federal government had concluded plans to dredge River Benue in order to check flooding in Benue state. The dredging of the river was to mitigate the phenomenon that overruns Kogi, Niger, Enugu and Cross River states, along its route.

Prof. Osinbajo visited the state on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, and stressed that the initiative had become imperative in view of the havoc the phenomenon was wreaking on the communities located along its route.

I have dwelt on the need for the dredging of the two major rivers in view of the boat disasters recorded across the states in recent times, claiming several lives. They have long been overdue for rehabilitation because their paths are narrowed due to incursion of shrubs and vegetation from their banks. It is common to see sand dunes shaped like pyramids and trees sprouting from the middle of the rivers at various points or lying beneath the surface. These barriers inhibit free flow of water. The clogging is responsible for the overflow of the rivers as the water would naturally find the paths of least resistance among adjoining communities.

Oyetola must give adequate attention to these waterways the way and manner attention is paid to our highways. The beauty of the creation of the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy is that it would have the sub-sector under its thumb, unlike when it was subsumed under the Ministry of Transportation. It is a challenge he must address with all the seriousness it deserves. This is because flooding is not going to vanish anytime soon. What with the Climate Change hovering over us like the sword of Damocles and sending down the rains!
A dredged River Benue would not be intimidated by volumes of water released annually from the notorious Lagdo Dam in Cameroon. It will merrily pass the intimidating volumes down to the Atlantic Ocean!

Another position of interest in this running Cabinet is the Ministry of Gas Resources, hitherto lumped with the Ministry of Petroleum. Now that the conjoined twins have been separated, the new ministry, manned by a minister, can breathe well henceforth.

The new Minister, Mr. Ekperipe Ekpo, who reports to the President and Minister of Petroleum Resources, needs to hit the gas speeding. One of the herculean tasks Ekpo will face is the phenomenon of gas flaring in the Niger Delta Region. Some parts of the region like the Ogoni land have not witnessed a nightfall in decades because of gas flaring that illuminates the environments.

Pissed off by the terrible condition, the 9th Senate in 2019 passed a resolution for upward reviews of penalty for defaulters of the nation’s gas flaring laws. The upper chamber reached the resolution after consideration of a motion entitled: “The need to monitor the Nigerian Flare Commercialisation Programme Towards Ending Gas Flaring by 2020”.

The motion, sponsored by Sen. Betty Apiafi, representing PDP Rivers West constituency, was intended to draw the attention of the Senate to the laws against flaring of associated natural gas in Nigeria. She lamented the manner in which the laws were being flaunted by international oil companies in the country.

According to Senator Apiafi, Section 3(1) of the Associated Gas Re-injection Act that came into force in 1979 states that “No company engaged in the production of oil and gas shall after January 1, 1984, flare gas without the permission in writing of the minister in charge of oil and gas.”

She bemoaned the huge revenue loss due to relentless gas flares in the country, disclosing that in 2018 alone, figures revealed by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) indicated that the federal government lost about N197bn from a total of 215.9bn standard cubic feet of natural gas flared.

She further said, “Nigeria’s gas reserves are about three times the value of crude oil reserves with a quantum of about 202trn cubic feet of natural gas, but despite having the largest gas deposits in Africa, only about 25 per cent or less of these reserves are being produced.”

She noted that the lack of enforcement of the laws in previous years was thwarting the government’s projected deadline of 2020 to end routine associated gas flaring.

Nigeria ranks second to Russia and the largest in Africa on the global gas flaring index. Environmental experts have consistently urged the Nigerian government to caution all relevant emission defaulters to drastically limit gas emissions because of their fatal consequences on the environment. Nigeria is one of Africa’s top oil producers and the largest holder of natural gas reserves on the continent, with about 187trn cubic feet of proven gas reserves and 600 scf of unproven gas reserves.

It is curious that Nigeria was not listed among the signatories to the treaty to end gas flaring at oil production fields globally by 2030 even when our own 2020 target became a mirage. Four African countries, Angola, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo and Gabon, were among nine leading global crude oil producers that joined chief executives of major oil companies to endorse the “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” initiative.

The initiative was launched in Washington DC, United States of America about seven or so years ago by the former United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, and the ex-World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim.

Every year, around 140bn cubic metres of natural gas produced alongside oil is wastefully flared at thousands of oil fields around the world, resulting in more than 300m tonnes of carbon monoxide being pumped into the atmosphere – equivalent to emissions from approximately 77m cars.

This gas flaring phenomenon is a stubborn bull the new minister must take by the horns. He needs to dust up the legal instruments to ensure enforcement. It is a task that must be accomplished to justify the creation of the ministry. It must not be business as usual now that gas-run vehicles are hitting our roads.

Clem Oluwole is the Managing Editor of Blueprint Newspapers in Abuja.

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