• Saturday, May 18, 2024
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Ms. Gas: President Tinubu’s new bride

Ms. Gas: President Tinubu’s new bride

By Nseabasi S. J. King

No one gave it any serious attention when the wife of the then incoming Nigerian president, Oluremi Tinubu, told a musing nation on a holy day, Sunday, May 28, 2023, that she was likely going to be one of the oldest First Ladies, Nigeria has ever had in her history.

This was not expected. And so no one saw it coming. No Nigerian First Lady before her, old or young, ever talked about her age in this manner, be it in passing or by prompting. And Mrs. Tinubu made history just by saying it.

And why did she bother? Someone could have thought to himself. Old, young, or new, we have never had cause to debate their numbers. After all age, they say, is just a number! Old is sure to be golden, and new is likely to be vibrant. So, why bring to the fore, what has never been an issue with us?

Here, the political amazon and the very visible and ranking Senator of the 9th Nigerian Senate was not mincing words. She was clear. It was not for want of words, that she inferred that she was not going to be that young and restless fashion queen, as we know it, doing photo ops for the Tinubu presidency.

This time, it was going to be far more serious than the klieg lights, one may infer. Or maybe, she was talking this way, because she had finally decided to join the debate on her husband’s real age.

But why on the eve of his inauguration as President, long after he had won the election? Could this be an outrider? Could Mrs. Tinubu be passing a discreet message, because there was something we all will come to know, sooner or later? More questions, than answers.

Very little was known of President Robert Mugabe’s affair with his personal secretary, Ms. Grace Marufu, before he formally took her in as a second wife in1996. Mugabe later claimed that his wife and Zimbabwean First Lady, Sally Hayfron, was in the know of the secret affair.

It was so much of a hush-hush affair, that only a few within his circle and the government cabinet knew of it, but were afraid to talk about it, especially after three (3) journalists were jailed in 1995 for trying to tell the full story.

In 1996, the iconic Mugabe decided to tell the story by himself and to a bewildered nation on a day of mourning. The grab, kiss and worry about consent later account was sordid in details. While the older Mrs. Mugabe was privately battling renal complications, the younger Ms. Grace was secretly having the best time of her life with the President in Harare.

Thankfully, this is not the situation in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. It is the not-so-elegant life story of Robert Mugabe’s time with young and restless, old and courteous First Ladies in Southern Africa’s Zimbabwe.

But just like Mugabe, West Africa’s Bola Ahmed Tinubu is not new to news either, be it for the right reasons or otherwise. He can be said to have had his fair share of the shaky spotlight. Matter of fact, the national leader of Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), shares a lot in common with the former leader of Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu PF.

Historically, both men are fierce fighters for press freedom and democratic rights in the 20th century Africa. They dared where many feared to tread. Bit the bullet in the face of impending danger. While Mugabe stood up to colonial revisionists in the 80s, Tinubu confronted military dictators in the 90s. If you are thinking one is clever, stubborn and ambitious, you may as well be talking about one and the other. But do not be tempted to think, that these are the two sides of the same coin.

Like identical twins, who still differ on finger prints, the duo have been poles apart in their love life. The affair in Abuja’s Aso Villa is of a different hue. No personal secretary is involved, and neither are we going to have a new or young First Lady anytime soon.

President Tinubu’s love affair with Ms. Gas is beyond gossip. It is fast assuming a life of its own. It is an open secret widely discussed in several quarters these days. And a lot now depends on it. This affair is bound to redefine the Tinubu presidency in the long run. BAT, as the leader of the largest economy in Africa, is fondly called by many admirers, is neck deep and beyond redemption in his involvement with Ms. Gas. It is an affair with obsession.

“Your wife is having an affair…” read an ad in an international magazine, selling household appliances in the 90s. The affair was her obsession with a particular brand. This brings to mind, my obsession with the LG brand in my early years trying to set up my first home. What I did not buy, was what LG did not sell. Where I could not find its product, I quickly searched the net or called customer service to inquire. I could gladly throw any old item out of the window, as long as LG had a replacement for it.

On May 29, 2023, for the love of gas and affordable energy, newly sworn in Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu threw petrol subsidy out of the window. This was his first official act as President of the biggest black nation on earth. Obviously, the decision could not wait. So, he made it an item in his inaugural speech. And it became the hallmark of his opening remarks to the nation.

On August 18, 2023, for the love of gas and alternative energy, Senator Tinubu, as the 6th elected civilian President of Nigeria, announced a Presidential CNG Initiative to cushion the effect of petrol subsidy removal and tame the rising cost of gas transition and switch over in mass transit with several social intervention packages.

On August 21, 2023, for the love of gas and clean energy, Asiwaju Tinubu, as Chairman-in-Council of Nigeria’s ruling Federal Executive Council, hired Rt. Hon. Ekperikpe Ekpo as Nigeria’s gas czar, the first ever, to lead the charge in implementing the Nigerian Decade of Gas Policy and its Energy Transition Plan (ETP).

With such force of will power and speed, Nigerians practically came face to face with possible alternatives in meeting their energy needs, for the very first time.

Before Tinubu, many Nigerians did not know for a fact that the same cooking gas in their kitchen could run the petrol generator in their backyard. At first, this sounded like magic on America’s Got Talent but it was real. Weird real! Day after day, neighbour after neighbour transited. And there was no going back on gas.

Across many Nigerian cities, hundreds of hitherto diesel-powered mass transit buses were re-engineered to drive on gas. Thousands of petrol-generating sets were re-configured to run on gas also. Cooking gas found the front burner in many homes and made significant inroads into rural communities.

A local vegetable farmer and retired factory worker, Gideon King, 74, caught the gas flu. The septuagenarian has been a kerosene stove user most part of his adult life up to 2022, when a litre of kerosene sold for N1000 in his locality.

He needed an average of 2 litres per week to cook his food and warm his meals. Spending almost about N8000 monthly with the new price increase was becoming unbearable and a drain on his lean purse. For many like him in the hinterlands, firewood or what I call deforestation fuel becomes the first attraction in seeking cheaper alternatives. But the elderly Gideon was not ready for the rigours of firewood fetching or making a fire. So he made a timely and well thought out switch to cooking gas.

Lamenting the rising cost of cooking gas lately, the senior citizen expressed displeasure with the turn of events. He said at N800 per kilogram, he needed about 8kg of cooking gas to stay afloat for 2 months. Meaning he was spending on the average N3,200 monthly. But he now needs N12,000 to refill the same 8kg gas cylinder. Doing his maths, he agreed that spending N6,000 on gas in a month is still cheaper than doing N8,000 on kerosene, but argued that the gains are gradually eroding.

Walking the fine line of demand and supply economics, it is trite and common knowledge that as more Nigerians make the transition to gas at homes, offices, shops, bakeries, hotels, hospitals, schools and for other purposes, the supply side of the bargain comes under immense pressure, and is bound to drive up prices in a free market economy which is obviously the policy direction of the Tinubu administration.

Ordinarily, the supply side of gas should not be a problem here, Nigeria being the largest producer of natural gas on the African continent alongside Egypt and Algeria. But the devil in the detail is the irony that, according to a PWC report in 2020 on ‘Evaluating Nigeria’s Gas Value Chain,’ Nigeria is among the top nine largest gas reserves globally with about 209.5 trillion cubic feet(tcf) of proven gas reserves, but also among the top nine countries contributing to gas flaring globally, according to another report by World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Tracker Report 2023. Simply put, Nigeria frittered away as much gas as she could have produced.

According to National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Nigeria flared about 58.8million cubic feet in the first two months of 2024, being the equivalent of a power generation potential of 4,040 megawatts. And from BusinessDay’s estimation, gas worth $205.7m was flared during this period.

This may explain the hard stance taken on gas flaring by the Ekperikpe-led gas sector and all her regulatory authorities. The Nigerian gas minister is leaving no stone unturned in plugging this monumental waste. He is not letting up on the pressure he is putting on the management of all exploration and production (EP) companies in Nigeria, be it in private meetings or official communication. Industry players and insiders hint that he wants the bad habit done with long before the 2030 deadline.

He is said to have rescheduled his itinerary for Thursday, February 16, 2024 severally, so he could personally supervise the end of gas flaring and zero routine gas flare on ALL TotalEnergies platforms in the country- the first in a series of a long-sought-relief. This was indeed, a bold and commendable milestone under his watch.

Another angle to the hydra-headed issues with gas supply in Nigeria, was the absence of a national gas policy plan before the advent of democracy in 1999. Pre 4th Republic, before the privatisation and commercialisation of the power sector by the Obasanjo administration, Nigeria’s electricity and energy needs depended solely on hydropower sources. This was how Kainji Dam always found its way into our question paper back then in school.

The national grid was literally fed with power from water dams. Kainji, Jebba, Kano, Dadin Kowa, Shiroro, while Nigerian manufacturers built factories designed to run on diesel. Gas resources had no ready local market or high commercial value in Nigeria. The few investors who dared to venture into gas production had to look elsewhere. Long term supply agreements and mutual concessions from the international market was what kept them in business.

Many of these longstanding deals would have to be renegotiated, before we can fully make local consumption a priority, now that we are ready to “eat what we produce”.

Any approach other than this, can throw spanner in the works and spark a chain of legal issues in courts around the world. Here, the Tinubu administration has to tread with caution. And we have to be patient with it.

The Nigerian government in its wisdom, recently averted a possible contractual breach and litigation(s) by approving the payment of well over $1bn in accumulated debts to local gas producers since 2011. This new development, as announced by the Nigerian gas czar, Ekperikpe Ekpo, gives hope. And hope is rekindled with the Federal Government’s priority funding of all supply lines contract like the ongoingOB3 and Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano (AKK) pipeline projects.

When once EPs with the deep pockets for investment make the announcement that they are now refocused and training their sights on gas production in Nigeria, then all hope is not lost, or in President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s words, hope is renewed.

.King is a writer and local farmer who lives and work on Water Farm, Atamong Hills, Etinan in Akwa Ibom State.