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The gas pipeline project between Nigeria and Morocco might succeed

The triumphant entry of President Buhari with His Majesty King Mohammed VI marked the weekend for both countries. Being the first Nigerian Head of State to pay an official visit to Morocco, the extravagant fanfare is quite symbolic of the Morrocan King’s diplomatic romance with Anglophone countries and the drive to get a foothold in the West African market.

In one of the major deals over the weekend, the ambitious extension of the West Africa Gas Pipeline (WAGP) from its source in Nigeria to Morocco was signed in a joint declaration in Rabat. This agreement lays out the next phase for the completion of a gas pipeline deal that was initiated in 2016.

“The Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Kingdom of Morocco on Monday in Rabat, Morocco, signed 3 agreements, which include a regional gas pipeline that will see Nigeria providing gas to countries in West Africa sub-region that extend to Morocco & Europe,” the Nigerian presidency twitter handle said.

“The Nigeria Morocco Gas Pipeline (NMGP), designed to be 5,660km long, will reduce gas flaring in Nigeria and encourage diversification of energy resources in the country while cutting down poverty through the creation of more job opportunities,” it also read.

The Pipeline Dream

The pipeline dream started in 2016 when the minister of foreign affairs announced a partnership with the Moroccan government to construct a gas pipeline that will connect Nigeria, Morocco and other African countries to Europe. The agreement was reached during the Moroccan King’s visit to Nigeria.

Originally proposed to be only an offshore project, Morocco’s National Office of Hydrocarbons and Mines (ONHYM) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said it would now be an onshore and offshore pipeline “for economic, political, legal and security reasons.”

The 678 km West African Gas Pipeline, which connects Nigeria’s gas reserves to Togo, Benin, and Ghana, was initially proposed in 1982 and took about 25 years before it could commence operation. The agencies of both countries hinted that this new project would be in phases covering over 25 years too.

The project, for which costs are yet to be ascertained, would serve about 12 countries on the African continent and some 300 million potential consumers, with a possible extension to Europe — an opportunity to become an alternative for European countries to reduce their dependency on Russia, which supplies up to half of the European’s Union gas demands.

The joint statement said the feasibility phase, which concludes July 2018, will assess the financial cost and seek funding from development banks. Also, Morocco and Nigeria will launch a front-end engineering design (Feed) to involve countries that will be crossed by the pipeline in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and to determine the amount of gas available for export to European off-takers.

Political, Human Rights and Climate Issues

The stakes of the project are high and fraught with many risks, especially political risks. Nigerians would be going to the polls in 2019, and that would go a long way in determining the diplomatic relations of the country for the next 4 years; as well as the continued occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco, which President Buhari strongly and publicly spoke against in 2016. The President backed the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination, with his office describing it as a “classic case of decolonisation.”

Human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), also said before the president’s visit to Morroco that “Nigeria is under a legal duty to support the struggle of the colonised people of Western Sahara for political independence from the Kingdom of Morocco.”

Also, there have been concerns about this futuristic project following some protests in regards to global warming. This is because the world’s direction is towards clean energy and Nigeria is part of the Paris climate agreement. After the deal was initiated two years ago, a coalition of 40 nongovernmental organisations from countries that will be affected expressed their utmost displeasure and explained the ability of the project to accelerate global warming and the possibility for it to be a “financial sinkhole.”

There’s also the question of the rationality of the project. Though Nigeria is Africa’s largest exporter of gas and oil, less than half of the population has access to electricity. In Benin, Togo, already served by the WAGP, barely a third of the population also have access to electricity.

The success of the project will rest heavily on Morrocco’s political manoeuvre, which seems to be set in motion already with the grand welcome and the other trade agreements like the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Nigerian’s Sovereign Investment Authority and Morocco’s phosphates giant, OCP, for the development of a chemical plant in Nigeria for producing ammonia and its derivatives. And also an agreement on agricultural vocational training.

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