By Louis Iba
AS Executive Vice Chairman/CEO, Techno Oil Limited, Mrs. Nkechi Obi ranks among the very few women that call the shots in a Nigerian oil and gas firm. Obi, to her credit, has been able to steer the hitherto unknown indigenous firm to its current enviable position as a major player in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry.
She spoke to Daily Sun on the company’s foray into the Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) business where it is investing over N3 billion in the construction of an LPG cylinder manufacturing plant in Lagos.
You know very well that LPG, which is also popularly known as cooking gas is not well utilised by Nigerians. For over a decade, Techno Oil and, in fact, other companies have embarked on measures to promote the use of cooking gas in households in Nigeria. In particular, Techno Oil has launched the Going Green Initiative, and this was primarily to make more people in the country embrace cooking gas. The Going Green advocacy has been adopted as a key element in the corporate social responsibility programmes of Techno Oil. Our goal is to encourage Nigerian households to embrace LPG rather than continuing to depend on firewood and charcoal for cooking needs.
Now, let me be honest with you. LPG is not just a cleaner and safer source of fuel for homes, it can even be said that it is more affordable compared to firewood and charcoal. Nigeria has the largest reserve of gas in Africa, but this nation of about 170 million people, the largest in Africa, has the lowest cooking gas consumption rate, compared with many other emerging economies around the globe.
In comparative terms, adoption of LPG currently stands at 10 per cent in Nigeria, while Ghana has 45 per cent adoption level. Senegal stands at 40 per cent, while Brazil has 90 per cent adoption rate. Nigeria’s standing is even more laughable compared with neighbouring countries like Togo and Benin Republic. This does not speak well about Nigeria. So we had to step in to boost utilisation.
My passion, commitment as a woman
For me as a woman, the passion has been propelled more by the suffering of the womenfolk in Nigeria who continue to use the wrong fuel to cook. I meet them everywhere I go. And I also know you meet them too. Millions of Nigerian women continue to endanger their lives because they want to cook. Some use kerosene stoves and others use firewood. Then you witness the accidents and suffering they go through; some end up with burnt fingers, darkened skin, sweating profusely as cooking now becomes such an Herculean task and this is so given the fuel deployed. And as an operator and a woman, I understood the challenges; cylinders are so expensive, then you have this phobia about cooking gas from people who tell you it can get a whole house burnt with even human casualties, and then the issue of affordability of the gas by low income earners. In this country, we continue to see how people travel long distances before they can find where to buy cooking gas. And I have said repeatedly that the only way to bridge the gap between the use of kerosene and cooking gas is to make the gas easily accessible by Nigerians.
We also have to raise public enlightenment on safety as it concerns the use of cooking gas. It was in a bid to tackle the challenge associated with the availability of cylinders that I had to launch out some projects that led to our company investing in the construction of a new cylinder manufacturing plant in Lagos. I have also been at the forefront of the campaign of getting more women embrace the use of cooking gas. Most times, I do the marketing and enlightenment by myself. I take the cylinders to them even in the markets where they are doing their businesses. That way, I can speak directly to them and address their fears. And I must say that I have been quite impressed with the responses since I flagged off the campaign. And as a company, we have sustained the campaign to popularise the adoption of cooking gas in our country through market women associations, NGOs and some government agencies.
The Techno Oil plant coming on stream by the end of November this year targets the production of five million units of cooking gas cylinders annually. I must state that the construction of the plant has since commenced at Lekki, Lagos, and it is valued at over N3 billion. It is expected to offer no fewer than 1,000 jobs to Nigerians.
Currently, the machine fabrication and construction of the plant are being monitored in strict compliance with regulatory standards as stipulated by Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR). The plant is being constructed in partnership with a European firm, which has built similar plants in over 15 African and Asian countries.
Like I said earlier, our company embarked on the project as part of its contribution to the drive by the Federal Government to deepen LPG and encourage more Nigerians to embrace the use of cooking gas, which is a cleaner, safer and affordable source of fuels for homes.
The Techno Oil Cylinder Manufacturing Plant, when fully operational, would also offer value added services to cooking gas users through integrated cylinder integrity testing facility. This would be a relief because most cylinder users do not have access to the facility that helps to test the integrity of their cylinders. We had to do this knowing that although the use of cooking gas had increased by about 36.8 per cent in Nigeria in the past three years, over 80 per cent of households still rely on kerosene, firewood and other dangerous energy sources.
It has always remained a lamentable sight that Nigeria has a population of over 170 million people, yet the country has less than one million cooking gas cylinders in circulation. The huge capital expended annually on the importation of LPG cylinders is a monumental loss to this country.
With the completion of this project, I am so optimistic that the Techno Oil LPG manufacturing plant would assist in checking capital flight suffered by Nigeria in importing cylinders and the huge kerosene subsidy estimated at over N150 billion annually, will be saved. And this will enable government to save the high cost expended every year to import cooking gas cylinders from India, China, Turkey and other Asian countries.
This gap is what Techno Oil has positioned itself to provide solution to by making sure that high quality cooking gas cylinders are produced locally. We have the capacity to cater for the need of the Nigerian/ West African populace. Hence, we do not foresee any organisation importing cylinders in the nearest future. The vision is making more Nigerians to embrace cooking gas instead of using firewood. This would help in the drive to sustain the environment and preserve the fragile ecosystem.
We need to raise public awareness. As a country, we need to preach the gospel of cooking gas and all its benefits. We need the cooking gas filling plants investors all over the country, just as we have with petrol, diesel and kerosene. The huge gas reserve in Nigeria should be a factor that should compel the Federal Government to put measures in place to make more Nigerian households to embrace cooking gas. We all know how using firewood has played a big part in degrading our ecosystem. We need states and local governments too to step in and speak more on the harm the continuous use of firewood is doing to the environment.
This will automatically make more people to abandon firewood and charcoal. The government should lead in creating the awareness to get more Nigerians to use gas. There are lots of health challenges confronting us due to the use of traditional sources of fuel like charcoal, kerosene and firewood. With cooking gas, the environment will be better, and so will the economy. When more households start using cooking gas, the rate of cutting trees for firewood will decrease. Besides, using kerosene for cooking will also become unattractive. Everybody stands to gain because the foreign exchange that hitherto is spent on importation of kerosene has to be put to other uses. It becomes logical, therefore, to suggest that government should direct its agencies such as the National Orientation Agency, Ministry of Information and other related agencies to mount campaigns to make Nigerians embrace the use of cooking gas.
Source : SunOnline