Is the Nigeria-Moroccan pipeline project possible, or is it just a pipe dream?

On Sunday 10 June, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and the King of Morocco signed an agreement in Rabat, Morocco, detailing the way forward for the mega gas pipeline project first agreed in 2016. This was made known by Morocco’s MAP news agency as President Buhari is on a two-day working visit in the Kingdom of Morocco.

According to a released statement, for economic, political, legal and security reasons, the choice was made for a combined onshore/offshore route. The proposed pipeline, to be built in several phases, “will measure some 5,660 kilometres (3,500 miles)” and “respond to the growing needs of the transit countries and Europe over the next 25 years.” 

Questions abound about whether the announcement of the deal—which had been signed earlier during Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s visit to Nigeria in 2016—was simply for the pomp and pageantry that followed President Buhari travelling again to sign it in Morocco.

There are, however, issues of greater concern with regards to the execution of this project, given that Nigeria doesn’t have a history of deals like this being successful. If President Buhari, at best, wins the 2019 election, it means that he would be out of office by 2023. What then happens to this project, whose timeline is definitely not short enough for Nigeria’s usual change of plans during regime changes?

A look at Nigeria’s history of similar gas project agreements

In 2002, a similar project known as the Trans-Saharan Gas Project (TSGP) was proposed by the Algeria government. An agreement to construct a gas pipeline worth $30 billion, which would cross the Sahel through Niger and Algeria before reaching the gates of Europe on a 4,300km route was signed, but it was never successful. There were speculations that the project was cancelled due to financing constraints, but Russia and the European Union were competing against each other to finance the project, yet both parties later backed out.

Russian gas group Gazprom, in 2009, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to invest at least $2.5 billion in a joint venture with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). This was also not successful even though the European Union, through its European Investment Bank, was interested in financing the project.

Although this is completed, the West African Gas Pipeline (WAGP), which connects Nigeria’s gas reserves to Togo, Benin, and Ghana, was initially proposed in 1982 but took over 25 years before it could commence operations.

Some other concerns with regards to the project include security, environmental and funding issues.

Security issues

Although there has been a drop in the number of attacks by militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria where this gas will be coming from, the duration of this ceasefire is still uncertain. Prior to this moment, the militants attacked gas pipelines, which led to shortages in electricity distribution among other deleterious effects.

Algeria, which is the gateway to Europe, is also part of this deal as the pipe would pass through the country before getting to Morocco. Algeria has also had its fair share of the Islamic insurgency which it is currently still dealing with. The security issues in both countries have therefore increased the fears of how the pipelines will be secured in these regions.

Environmental issues

When the news about this deal first broke in 2016, about forty civil society groups in Africa had issues with the Nigeria-Morocco pipeline offshore project, saying the continent has nothing concrete to gain from it.

According to these groups, while the acceleration of global warming exceeds all expectations and greenhouse gas emissions have set a new record in 2016, the construction of this pipeline can only go in the direction of an increase of extraction and consumption of fossil resources, the main causes of global warming.

A statement from them also said that “the extraction, transportation and use of fossil fuels has considerable environmental implications: the disturbing effects of seismic studies on marine fauna, the use and release of various chemical substances and wastes, the risks of leaks, fires and explosions related to corrosion and navigation are additional risks to that of methane emissions. This will destroy livelihoods of millions of our people depend on fisheries in our regional waters.”

Funding

Since Morocco is one of the top investment destinations in the continent it might not have issues with raising funds for this project, but this is not the same for Nigeria. Nigeria is not as financially buoyant as Morocco and might not be able to get investors to invest in its part of the project.

It is, however, important to note that the demand of the gas pipeline is highly required as some European countries have declared war against Russia’s proposed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline construction. As a result of this, the European Union is increasingly looking for alternative ways to reduce their dependence on Russia, which supplies up to half of the European Union gas demands. So there’s a chance thing will change, and all factors necessary will be duly considered, and the project will be fulfilled. But that chance is slim.