President Muhammadu Buhari returned from a two-day state visit to the Kingdom of Morocco last week with three economic co-operation agreements and a memorandum of understanding. One of the agreements was for a gas pipeline to run from Nigeria through the West African sub-region to the Kingdom of Morocco and to Europe.
A second proposal was a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for a development of a chemical plant in Nigeria for the production of ammonia and its derivates aimed at securing the fertilizer production for Nigeria’s agriculture. A third was for a skills and training agreement for agricultural production and management.
These projects had been in the drawing board for a while since King Mohammed VI’s premier grand state visit to Nigeria in December 2016 when they were broached. The King had then arrived with a 300-member delegation signaling that His Majesty was in Nigeria more for business than pleasure.
The pipeline would be an extension of the old pipeline which has been pumping gas to West African countries since 2010. Morocco’s National Office of Hydrocarbons and Mines (ONHYM) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) issued a joint statement explaining that “for economic, political, legal and security reasons the choice was made on a combined onshore and offshore route.”
The ambitious pipeline is to be built in phases and will measure 5,660 kilometres or 3,500 miles, and is tailored to respond to growing needs of the target countries and Europe over the next 25 years. President Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said signing the agreements followed a meeting between the two African leaders that focused on strengthening economic relations in gas resources development, global investments and agricultural training and management.
Next month, the feasibility study of the agreement on the pipeline which was signed by the Group General Manager NNPC, Farouq Said Garba, and the Director-General of the ONHYM, Mrs. Amina Bankhadra, will be concluded and the Nigeria-Morocco Gas Pipeline (NMGP) would come to life. It is expected to reduce gas flaring in Nigeria, which has been a long standing economic hemorrhage as well as an environmental disaster in the Niger Delta region.
We commend the President and his team on these economic initiatives. Although details are still sketchy about the responsibilities of each country in terms of funding, we hope that the gas pipeline would renew Nigeria’s hope, no matter how modest, on economic diversification. There is no doubt that we have not made any haste or showed sufficient enterprise in marketing Nigeria’s abundant gas resources since 1975 when the initial move was aborted by the putsch that toppled the Yakubu Gowon regime. Nor have we had adequate resources to exploit those resources even for our own domestic use. It is heart-breaking to see millions of Nigerians felling the few trees left on our land for firewood instead of utilizing quadrillions of cubic feet of gas that lie beneath our soil and continental shelf.
On the joint fertilizer venture, the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of the Nigerian Sovereign Wealth Authority, Uche Orji, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Office of the Management of Phosphate in Morocco, Mostafa Terrab, both initialed the MOU for the development of a chemical plant in Nigeria producing ammonia and its derivatives. On the third tranche of the agreements, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, and his Moroccan counterpart, Aziz Akhannouch, also signed a co-operation agreement on vocational training and technical supervision which would lead to the improvement of skills for better management for agricultural enterprises in Nigeria.
We have no doubt that if these agreements are faithfully implemented both countries will have a good deal to gain in terms of jobs and economic development. It is also a good example of African co-operation and the identification of mutual interests. We are, however, uneasy about the chemical agreement, given earlier fears that the phosphate is going to be mined from the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which remains an independent African country, recognised by Nigeria, parts of which are forcibly occupied by the Kingdom of Morocco against the will of not only the Sahrawi’s but also against the objection of the African Union and the United Nations. We urge the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to examine the agreements to ensure that Nigeria does not violate international law while seeking economic co-operation with Morocco.