In July 2009, Nigeria, Niger and Algeria came together to develop the Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline (TSGP), what would have been at the time, one of Africa’s biggest gas infrastructure projects. The over 4000km long pipeline was to take gas from up north in Nigeria – feeding from the AKK pipeline- to Niger and all the way to Algeria in North Africa. The projected $12 billion project was set to significantly transform the face of the energy sector for the countries involved and particularly for Europe who would have received supply from Algeria. Twelve years later, however, the project is more of a pipe dream than a pipeline.
What we see today instead is the projected construction of a Nigeria-Morocco Gas Pipeline (NMGP), which is a 5, 660km gas pipeline that would transport gas from Nigeria all the way to Morocco- even more ambitious than the failed Trans-Saharan gas pipeline. The NMGP is expected to tie in from the existing West African Gas Pipeline (WAGP) from which Nigeria feeds Ghana, Benin Republic and Togo and travel through Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, the Gambia, Senegal and Mauritania all the way to Morocco and Spain.
It is probably safe to say that with the emergence of the NMGP, the TSGP has died a natural death, and for good reasons too. One of the major challenges of the TSGP was security. The pipeline was going to run through very volatile areas, including the Sahara desert, regions notorious as being breeding grounds for terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram. This would both have left the construction workers in danger and created the possibility of pipeline vandalism by these security threats, particularly considering the fact that the pipeline was to be onshore.
Yet, there seems to be a common thread running through the failed TSGP and the proposed NMGP. The NMGP is to be an extension of the WAGP, and the challenges faced by the WAGP over the past few years are largely from security threats in the South-East and South-South of Nigeria by Niger Delta militants, who, by creating unrest in the area, made it difficult for Nigeria to fulfil its gas supply obligations to these neighbouring countries.
With a pipeline running thousands of miles more into the open sea and trans-continental, the effects of shut-ins and shutdowns of the WAGP would have far-reaching consequences on supply to the NMGP. It is expected too, that any supply contracts Nigeria enters will seek to exclude such these security challenges from Force Majeure provisions, leaving the resulting liability for failure of supply to be borne by Nigeria.
These security concerns that resulted in the failure of the TSGP- which have worsened under the Buhari regime- and that pose possible challenges to the NMGP must be addressed. In 2020 alone, reports show that between January and November, there were 142 incidents of Boko Haram insurgency in North-East Nigeria, an average of 13 a month with at least 1,606 people killed and Nigeria being listed as the third-most terrorised countries in the world.
What is interesting to see, however, is how quickly the NMGP project is moving along, already entering its second phase of front end engineering design (FEED) 5 years after it was conceptualised. Additionally, what this project does that the TNGP was very limited in achieving, is that it provides access to gas supply to eight other African countries excluding Morocco and the three countries already supplied by the WAGP.
While this brings up the challenge of land and environmental permits as well as a need to get the various governments on board, as the project is an onshore-offshore combination, that challenge is somewhat obliterated. The project will also create security of gas supply within Southern Europe, and promote healthy competition, as the region is also supplied by Russia and the Trans-Adriatic pipeline which feeds from Azerbaijan. This competition is expected to reduce prices.
There are the challenges of financing such an ambitious project, and indeed the longest transnational pipeline project across the continents of Africa and Europe, but it is hoped that regional banks like the African Development Bank (AfDB), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and European Investment Bank (EIB) will put their weight behind the project. It is critical however that issues like security, environmental considerations and land rights for where the pipeline runs onshore are addressed early on.
This project also makes obvious the issues that plagued the abandoned TNGP, and exposes the imminent need to push development to Northern Nigeria and eliminate terrorist settlements, as this will continue to affect economic development not just in Nigeria, but in the entire region. A project like the Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano (AKK) pipeline should be prioritised, as supply of gas in the North will aid significant industrialisation and development.