ON Monday, Delta State governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, called on the Federal Government and relevant policy makers to initiate steps towards reducing the rising cost of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) in the country. Speaking during a two-day LPG sensitisation and awareness campaign organised by the National LPG Expansion Plan, Office of the Vice President in conjunction with the Delta State government in Asaba, the state capital, Okowa said stakeholders must work to reduce the rising cost of LPG if the objective of the National LPG Expansion Plan was to be realised. Drawing attention to environmental concerns, Okowa said: “Just recently, world leaders gathered in Glasgow, Ireland, in a Summit (COP-26) to discuss the adverse effects of climate change occasioned by the use of fossil fuels and the need to move towards cleaner energy. This makes the adoption of LPG as a transition fuel to greener sources exigent… However, as we adopt LPG to drive the socio-economic activities of the economy, we must acknowledge a big challenge currently confronting the populace: the issue of high price of LPG in the market. At the rate the price is skyrocketing, LPG is gradually getting out of the reach of the middle class and common man.”
Only this week, media reports cited marketers of cooking gas as reporting a massive plunge in sales as households and restaurants switched over to the use of charcoal and firewood. The 12.5kg cylinder of gas sold for about N3,200-N3,500 in January this year now costs between N9,500 and N11,000 depending on the location. According to the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Association of Liquefied Petroleum Gas Marketers, Bassey Essien, the situation could lead to massive job losses, particularly in the LPG retail sector. Worried by the high cost of cooking gas, a group, Coalition of South East Youth Leaders (COSEYL), warned that it was pushing most Nigerian families back to the use of firewood and charcoal, which would affect the ecosystem as indiscriminate felling of trees for firewood had begun in most communities. It urged President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently address the issue. In recent weeks, Nigerians have indeed been crying out to Buhari, urging him to take drastic measures to crash the cost of the product.
As we noted in a previous editorial, most of the cooking gas that millions of households in the country rely on for their daily cooking needs is imported, not produced locally, and that means that it is affected by the foreign exchange market. We also linked the drastic increase in the price of the commodity to the 7.5 per cent VAT that the Buhari government imposed on its importation recently and caused to have retroactive effect, putting importers in an impossible situation. The foreign exchange rate being substantially a product of governmental performance, we argued that the government, following the steep rise in the price of cooking gas in the international market, should have put in place palliatives to cushion the adverse effects on the populace. Sadly, it not only refused to do so but also imposed a punitive tariff on LPG importation.
To say the very least, we have not been persuaded to change our view that the government’s action is an open invitation to deforestation. It is a fact that in recent years, the Federal Government has sought to actualise a paradigm shift in the use of energy sources in the country, harping on the need to address deforestation frontally in order to restore balance to the ecosystem. It is distressing that it has willfully upended that policy through its LPG tariff. With cooking gas at prohibitive costs, Nigerians have made a ready recourse to the use of fossil fuels. Indeed, there is no way households, most of whom live from hand to mouth, can afford cooking gas at the current rates. Proprietors of restaurants have been justifying the switch over to firewood and charcoal while those operating fast food outlets and sticking to the use of cooking gas have increased the prices of their products by alarming rates.
We are compelled to ask again: Why does Nigeria, with all its endowments in crude oil, have to continue importing gas? The country produces only 35 per cent of its LPG consumption. Why not address gas flaring and vitiate the need to import cooking gas completely? Why is the government not moved by the plight of Nigerians who depend on the commodity for daily use? It should be concerned enough to solve this problem. There must be concrete and immediate action, beginning with the removal of the prohibitive tariff on LPG importation. Enough of the hollow promises. As the poet, Christopher Okigbo, asks in his epochal poem, Hurray for Thunder, how many million promises can ever fill a basket?