The Gas Chronicles of Charles Osezua in “The Rise of Gas: From Gaslink to the Decade of Gas” – Mike Jimoh

The Rise of Gas: From Gaslink to the Decade of Gas – by Charles A. Osezua, Lagos, Radi8 Nigeria Limited, 2023, 196pp

Sometime in May 1989, a news bulletin triggered the kind of excitement people experience when they have had a major breakthrough in life.

The bulletin itself may not have meant much to the ordinary Nigerian on the street. But it meant a whole lot to a team of engineers from NNPC/ Shell. 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 the  fascinating new 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 Pricing Policy 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 sundry stakeholders; 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 former military President Ibrahim Babangida, who was also Commander-in-Chief.

The team’s argument was straightforward: the government must prioritise attaention on gas as 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’.

The 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 got 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 which had been painstakingly put together. 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 (NGC) in 1996. It was precisely what Osezua and his team suggested in the 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 was 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, the 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.”

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 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. Ogbonnoaya Orji, Director of Communications of NEITI, Osezua claims that Nigeria’s major foreign exchange earner remains crude oil but argues that gas could easily trump that figure. 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.

Assured a good 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.


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