The federal government has stated that the five south-eastern states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo will be key actors in its push to enthrone gas as a preferred fuel source for Nigeria's industrialisation.
It said besides the region's enormous natural gas deposit which would be a useful energy supply source to the country, its industrial composition provides for Nigeria's gas market complementary demand points to unlock its budding potentials.
The government therefore pledged its support towards efforts by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Gas Aggregation Company of Nigeria (GACN) to expand gas utilisation in the region using both market-based and government-backed frameworks to clear existing bottlenecks to the market's transition.
It said these through the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, during a gathering of more than 500 registered participants at the South-east Gas Utilisation Forum recently organised by the GACN in Owerri, Imo State, recently.
A statement from the GACN noted that the forum had its theme as: "Natural Gas Utilisation and Optimisation in Nigeria - focus on the South Eastern Hub," and it was organised in partnership with the five governors of the region: Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu - Abia; Chief Willie Obiano - Anambra; Engr. Dave Umahi - Ebonyi; Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi - Enugu and Senator Hope Uzodimma of Imo.
Sylva said the forum aligned with the government's vision, "to see that we as a country prioritise utilising our natural gas resources domestically to create jobs, grow the economy, increase government revenue, attract investments and industrialise the country- all to the benefit of its citizens."
He further noted that the government, "strongly believes that the South East has a pivotal role to play in Nigeria's journey towards gas availability, broad utilisation and value optimisation, which is one of the reasons the South East was chosen as the first zone to host this Forum."
According to him, the ministry of petroleum resources has, "made significant progress in the upgrade of the national gas utilization framework by adopting and implementing innovative policies and initiatives aimed at positioning natural gas as the major fuel and driver of our nation's economy."
He said such initiatives included the development and activation of the Nigerian Gas Transportation Network Code to guide the use and operations of the gas transportation network system and the National Gas Expansion Programme (NGEP) designed to reinforce and expand domestic gas utilisation as well as stimulate demand by promoting gas as replacement for imported petrol and diesel.
He also noted the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) which seeks to emplace a robust legal and regulatory framework for Nigeria's oil industry and elimination of fuel subsidies to save the country foreign exchange through downstream deregulation as the other initiatives of the government in the sector.
The minister noted that the government would stay on course with these initiatives, adding that for the south-east gas utilisation expansion plan, "I have been assured that it will not be a 'talk shop' but will set out practical steps to ensure the earliest realisation of the gas-energy requirements of the South East States at the earliest timeline."
Similarly, the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mallam Mele Kyari, in his remarks at the forum, said the government has taken steps to leverage on gas to build a sustainable economy for Nigeria.
Kyari explained that the outcome of such strategic approach is seen in key gas-based investments that have been made so far by the government.
He said the imminent completion of the Obiafu-Obrikom-Oben (OB3) gas pipeline project which will help commercialise over two billion cubic feet per day (bcf/d) of gas and generate new revenue and employment in the east is an example of such investments.
He noted that businesses and industries in the region would benefit immensely from the efforts of the NNPC and GACN to open up its gas market.
"I salute the ingenuity and spirit of enterprise of our South East industrialists and businesses. Evidently, the South East business community is well placed to key into the Federal Government's economic development plan to move Nigeria from being a crude oil export-based economy to an attractive oil and gas based industrial economy.
"Investment options include gas development, gas infrastructure development, virtual pipeline projects, joint venture partnerships with Nigerian Gas Marketing Company (NGMC) to expand the gas distribution network, gas-to-power, captive or embedded power projects, vehicular CNG projects etc.," said Kyari who was represented by NNPC's Chief Operating Officer, Gas and Power, Mr. Yusuf Usman.
Similarly, the Board Chairman of GACN, Mr. Mansur Sadiq Sambo said at the forum that the efforts of the GACN are well-intentioned and would be beneficial to Nigeria and the region.
According to him: "Evidently, the South East is a thriving commercial hub and this GACN initiative and developmental focus is therefore well understood given that GACN's core mandate is to drive the expansion of gas utilisation in Nigeria.
"We therefore look forward to a long standing and mutually beneficial relationship with the South East business communities and stakeholders consistent with the national economic development agenda of the Federal Government of Nigeria under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari."
Sambo further assured that the GACN was wholly committed to the growth of the domestic gas market and will continue to interface with all stakeholders in the industry to facilitate the availability and efficient use of gas while also ensuring competitiveness in the market.
Key stakeholders such as the Nigerian Gas Association (NGA) also praised the intentions of the GACN with the forum, stating that the time is 'right and ripe'.
According to the President of NGA, Mrs. Audrey Joe-Ezigbo, the NGA is very pleased to note the emergence of new gas projects in the South East region in more recent times and expects that GACN's debottleneck efforts will raise the bar on this.