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Social and economic developments depend on various factors linked to the general well-being of individuals and the communities they occupy. The development of poor economic and social living aspects has demonstrated recurring effects tied to people’s ways of living and interaction within their communities (Agbonifo, 2015). Access to various resources and services that remedy these effects has been a persistently discussed issue, especially with the gradual changes experienced globally on phenomena such as climate (Salako, 2021). As communities progress into modern and post-modern eras, certain resources and services are becoming highly essential for better living. Cooking gas is one such resource that controls numerous social and economic aspects, including nutritional needs, general health, and economic growth (Batchelor et al., 2018). As such, negative or retrogressive economic and social impacts can adversely affect these aspects by making cooking gas scarce or too expensive for different underprivileged communities (Batchelor et al., 2018). This paper examines the poor accessibility of cooking gas in economically and socially disadvantaged Nigerian communities to recommend various strategies for addressing the situation.
The Cooking Gas Problem in Nigeria
Nigeria’s cooking gas crisis has become a paradoxical concern following years of gradual challenges contributing to the problem. Ironically, Nigeria is one of Africa’s leading natural gas repositories, yet it has gained an undeniable reputation for importing the resource (Premium Times, 2021). The country has confirmed gas reserves of about 206 trillion cubic feet, ranking it among the top ten global gas reserves (Ayeyemi, 2021). However, despite this seemingly advantageous position, the country demonstrates significant problems in the accessibility and consumption of gas products. Data from a Statista report shows that the country’s consumption is about 654 million cubic feet, ranking it the 38th highest gas consumer globally (Bello, 2017). These studies also demonstrate that domestic consumption figures are exponentially lower (Bello, 2017). The problem can be attributed to underlying issues of poor governance, retrogressive policy options, and a government unwilling to promote private sector participation in the oil and gas sector.
The country’s gas problems are compounded by the underlying issues of economic and social regression based on resources and access to essential services. Nigeria’s gas problem does not make any sense and supports the ineptness of the country’s economy. According to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Nigeria recorded some of the highest crude oil and gas products in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, illustrating the suffering fate of both sectors (Bello, 2017). The country has gradually lost its local refinery capacity, contributing to the greater problem (Bello, 2017). The country also experiences inadequate national storage capacity for gas and crude oil. This issue has made Nigeria one of the leading countries with high gas flaring challenges (Bloomfield Law, 2021). Despite the country’s massive gas and oil reserves, unavailability is a dominant domestic market challenge. Consequently, domestic consumers in the country are left at the mercy of imported gas and oil products, creating other crucial concerns, including scarcity and relatively higher prices (Bello, 2017).
High Cooking Gas Prices
The cooking gas problem in Nigeria has primarily been influenced by unaffordability, especially in socially and economically disadvantaged households. It has become too common to see households and small businesses endure intense smoke from firewood as an alternative to cooking gas. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2019 that smoke from alternative cooking options such as firewood is the third greatest cause of death for women and children in Nigeria (Ozoh et al., 2018). Such revelations have often influenced national and international bodies to identify the underlying issue and develop possible mitigation measures. High cooking gas prices have been at the top of the list.
Prices of cooking gas vary across different areas in the country, but their ranges are relatively higher than the average income of many low-class citizens. According to Mary Izuka (2021), before the current increase in gas, the price of a 6kg cylinder refill was N1800 in many areas of the country. However, the price rapidly increased to a range of N4200 and N4500 (Izuka, 2021). On the other hand, the Nigerian Statistics Bureau reported that other increased costs indicated a bigger problem for small households and businesses that rely on cooking gas daily (Bloomfield Law, 2021). A 3kg cylinder rose by N900 from N1200 to N2100. These prices are also dependent on prices set by vendors (Izuka, 2021).
Similarly, a 12.5kg cylinder increased to N9000, an amount that is not easily affordable by socially and economically disadvantaged populations. These figures imply that Nigeria’s compounding gas problems are negatively affecting a larger population impacted by social and economic instability despite the significant reserves. According to the International Energy Agency, Nigeria’s present gas consumption rate could last for over 300 years (Eleri, 2021). This estimate demonstrates potential economic and social benefits for the larger population, which would not be adversely affected by high prices or unaffordability (Eleri, 2021). Consequently, the country’s ability to leverage its reserves to serve its population will significantly help address multiple challenges from unaffordability and high prices.
The Nigerian government is partly to blame for the high cooking gas prices. Systematic development of minor challenges influenced by government effort contributed to the gradual unaffordability, thus deepening the cooking gas problem in the country (Bloomfield Law, 2021). In 2019, Nigeria’s Federal Government eradicated the five percent value-added tax on all cooking gas imports (Premium Times, 2021). This strategy was effective for some time as it allowed more Nigerians to opt for gas instead of other unsafe fuels. However, by 2021, the government reinstated the VAT on all imported gas, paving the way for increased prices (Premium Times, 2021). Considering the struggling value of the Nigerian currency, the VAT did more damage than before and rose to a significant 7.5 percent (Premium Times, 2021). International market trends worsened the condition since most energy prices are determined globally. These factors cumulatively created an upsurge in Nigeria’s gas prices.
Implications and Hazards of Alternative Cooking Sources
The cooking gas challenge in Nigeria has been linked to numerous issues affecting the population and their environment. In addition to compounding the economic and social problems in disadvantaged communities, the gas problem has resulted in health impacts, environmental degradation, and overdependence on traditional biomass for cooking (Premium Times, 2021). These challenges have been examined and compared to the country’s overall development based on crucial well-being factors. The results have been almost unanimous, demonstrating that the gas problem in Nigeria is a significant adversity on the entire population and not just the disadvantaged (Ozoh et al., 2018). Data from relevant national and international bodies have shown congruence in supporting this claim, hinting that Nigeria’s gas problem is not just poverty-related as historically presented (Ozoh et al., 2018).
The health effects of using traditional biomass have been documented as some of the deadliest impacts on populations. As one of the cheapest alternatives to cooking gas, traditional biomass has extensively been used to satisfy the need for affordable and easily accessible cooking options. However, traditional biomass fuels are associated with various emissions and toxic by-products that are major causes of global ill health (Salako, 2021). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), indoor air pollution is responsible for a significant portion of the global health burdens and mortality rates (Ozoh et al., 2018). WHO estimates that more than 1.6 million deaths occur annually due to indoor air pollution, most of which are experienced in countries with cooking gas problems, such as Nigeria (Bloomfield Law, 2021). The International Center for Energy, Environment, and Development (ICEED) reported that the annual deaths from smoke inhaled while cooking in Nigeria is about 98,000, mostly among women and children (Agbonifo, 2015). ICEED also reported that more Nigerians are being affected by the gas problem by being exposed to high particulate pollutant concentrations through alternative biofuels (Agbonifo, 2015).
The various toxic substances in solid biomass fuels affect human health through smoke as the primary emission method. These fuels contain substances such as sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and other carcinogens such as benzene. Studies show that consistent use of solid biomass as an energy source for cooking has prolonged and often permanent effects on the immune response, respiratory system, and critical organs, such as the lungs (Batchelor et al., 2018). The finer the biomass particle burnt into the air, the greater the damage on the human body because of their ability to penetrate deeper into the respiratory system. The notable health conditions associated with burning solid biomass fuels include chronic obstructive lung disease, acute respiratory infections, and lung cancer (Batchelor et al., 2018). WHO estimates that over three-quarters of active cases with these diseases in Nigeria directly result from using solid biomass as an alternative fuel source (Bello, 2017). The results have catastrophically reflected the poor quality of life and well-being.
Other health concerns other than smoke-related problems have demonstrated the plight of Nigeria’s economically and socially disadvantaged populations. Various injuries have become more common due to the continuous use of alternatives to cooking gas (Bello, 2017). Such injuries include scalds, burns, and other accidents that may occur due to direct contact with flames and hot surfaces. Most of these injuries are not restricted to households and can affect other places such as business areas. Various risks associated with alternative fuel sources present other unique challenges and health concerns in rural populations (Bello, 2017). For instance, gathering firewood presents risks of injuries from trees, axes, snake bites, and harmful insects or animals.
The gas problem in Nigeria is as much a social issue as it is a health concern. Different social aspects, including class, gender, and exposure to various social factors, such as education and technology, have contributed to the preference for alternative fuels. The main reason for their influence is that the diverse Nigerian population tries to find considerable solutions to the unaffordability and inaccessibility of gas, albeit the existing potential risks (Ozoh et al., 2018). Fewer people are aware of safer alternatives and how to leverage certain opportunities, such as education and technology, to provide better solutions to the country’s gas problem (Batchelor et al., 2018). More importantly, social issues are tied to population mentality and perceptions, which account for greater use of harmful biofuels as a replacement for cooking gas (Bello, 2017). For instance, a larger population using firewood as fuel can easily advance the notion that it is cheaper and more convenient despite the potential health risks associated.
For some time now, the gas problem in Nigeria has mainly been poverty-related. This group primarily relies on lower-grade fuel and is affected more because of a minimal or complete lack of suitable infrastructure for a well-ventilated space (Premium Times, 2021). Different social structures, such as the family, have been significant drivers of alternative fuel sources for domestic and commercial use because of the ability to relieve some of the financial pressure associated with cooking gas (Ozoh et al., 2018). A retrospective analysis of roles within the family unit illustrates that while the men mostly make financial decisions in the house, including the decision to cut back or forego expensive cooking gas for domestic use, women and children perform other duties, including collecting, transporting, processing, and storing biofuels (Ozoh et al., 2018). Thus, the effects of these alternatives are influenced by distinct contributions within the family unit.
Gender roles and other socially regressive concepts, such as masculinity, can be linked to the high rate of infections and deaths among women and children due to solid biomass toxicity. The gas problem in Nigeria also sheds light on other gender-based social factors affecting the population (Premium Times, 2021). Children and women disproportionately feel the health burdens caused by solid biomass fuels due to customary traditions that expose them to more harm than men (Premium Times, 2021). Women in low-income households bear the burden of major domestic chores such as cooking, making them highly susceptible to solid biomass emissions (Ozoh et al., 2018). On the other hand, young children are exposed to various risks considering that they are often close to their mothers and are sometimes delegated the responsibility of cooking with solid biomass.
The overdependence on alternative energy sources, such as biofuels, has significantly been linked to the growing burden of environmental degradation in various ways. The greater concerns include deforestation and air pollution, contributing to the larger socioeconomic problems affecting different communities. WHO illustrates that there are two main categories of environmental effects caused by the gas problem in Nigeria (Salako, 2021). The first category is the effects caused by producing and harvesting biomass fuel alternatives such as firewood. The second category is effects caused by the combustion of biomass fuels and emissions from other alternatives such as kerosene (Salako, 2021). Both categories have accumulated over time in the Nigerian community, indicating potentially damaging long-term effects that could worsen the populations’ social and economic disadvantages (Premium Times, 2021).
According to Obiezu (2021),the growing concern of deforestation is significantly linked to the preference for firewood as an alternative to cooking gas. Currently, Nigeria’s rural areas face some of the highest deforestation rates globally due to the overdependence on firewood as a domestic and commercial cooking option (Obiezu, 2021). Women and children in these areas are constantly collecting enormous bundles of wood for a steady supply of fuel for cooking (Obiezu, 2021). Further, studies are exerting more focus on the rapidness of deforestation through the growing charcoal industry. In comparison, firewood collection has not contributed to deforestation as much as the charcoal market has, considering that most firewood is sourced from twigs and fallen branches (Eleri, 2021). The growing evidence of charcoal’s impact on environmental degradation in Nigeria indicates a significant issue of severe forest depletion, soil erosion, decreased biodiversity, and reduced soil quality.
Addressing the Cooking Gas Problem in Nigeria
Efforts toward sustainability, better access to cooking gas, and the development of better alternatives will require a holistic understanding of the gas problem from different perspectives, including industry, community, and policy. In this regard, the problem can be categorized into constituent causes, contributors, and solutions with the most viable results for the broad Nigerian community. Notably, the country’s gas problem has created an overdependence on alternative fuel sources that are intrinsically linked to poverty (Izuka, 2021). The most viable option for the country is setting developmental goals that specifically relate to energy. These goals will flesh out the ways of increasing access to modern energy sources and alleviate the various issues that come with the gas problem. The goals will also provide opportunities to improve effective energy practices in households and for commercial use.
Energy Development Goals
The first goal Nigeria needs to set is eradicating extreme poverty within its population. Ideally, this goal will be a crucial method of eradicating challenges such as inaccessibility and unaffordability of cooking gas. The Nigerian population will benefit from improved household or commercial energy technologies and practices with better economic statuses (Batchelor et al., 2018). Consequently, this will open up more opportunities for income generation and minimize the extent of the gas problem to a limited portion of the country’s population. The Nigerian government should also increase access to electricity, particularly in rural areas. This strategy will also improve the viability of economic activities and ensure more people have access to essential financial capacities and resources.
The second vital goal would be to achieve universal education for the disadvantaged Nigerian population. Education would serve multiple roles in addressing the gas problem in the country. It would expose the socially and economically disadvantaged population to insightful knowledge for better income generation, better energy practices, and better community sustainability decision-making (Agbonifo, 2015). Better education would also provide necessary knowledge on the effects of harmful alternatives to cooking gas, thus influencing better choices by leveraging existing opportunities such as technology. More importantly, universal education would be impactful by fostering better critical thinking, innovation, and problem-solving on vital matters affecting the country, such as the poor economy and the gas problem (Agbonifo, 2015). With more innovative minds, addressing this problem would have multiple solutions from the diverse population, thus increasing the chances of better energy developments.
Another crucial development goal would be promoting women’s empowerment and gender equality in Nigeria. Various studies have established that women and children are disproportionately affected by the gas problem in the country. Women empowerment and gender equality would facilitate better involvement of women in energy decisions, thus addressing the gas problem from a more pragmatic perspective (Agboola et al., 2010). Gender equality would also be a better way of educating the population on the effects of indoor air pollution and how to mitigate it effectively (Agbonifo, 2015). Further, gender equality would protect the vulnerable social groups, especially in rural areas, from adverse alternatives to cooking gas. Women empowerment should equally focus on economic development through more opportunities for women. Having women become actively involved in household financial decisions and contributions would help minimize the overdependence on alternative fuel sources since more households would easily afford cooking gas (Agbonifo, 2015).
The Nigerian energy sector should make efforts toward global partnerships for the development of the industry. Cooking gas is a high-quality product with premium prices in the international market. Partnering with global private sector stakeholders would help the country achieve more in addressing the gas problem within its population (Agboola et al., 2010). Global partnership will also help redefine the fundamental role of household energy in social and economic development (Ayeyemi, 2021). Consequently, this will recognize and build upon the developmental agenda for Nigeria’s energy sector and other aspects of social and economic well-being. Global partnerships can be boosted by effective tax solutions to incentivize locals against high cooking gas prices. To achieve the primary objective of gas use inclusivity, the Nigerian government will need to review VAT imposition on gas imports and examine market reactions (Bello, 2017). The VAT imposed on Nigeria’s gas industry has caused systemic challenges, especially to poor communities with limited access to finances and economic opportunities (Bello, 2017). The key objective here would be to develop measures of stability returns. In situations where tax impositions are relatively high, there are high chances that the demand will outweigh supply, creating a greater scarcity issue. This will worsen the case when combined with the already existing unaffordability problem in the country. Additionally, the need for policy implementation to reduce gas flaring is crucial for addressing the gas problem through industry efforts (Bloomfield Law, 2021). In the meantime, the government could consider repealing the import tax on cooking gas to ease the supply and accessibility challenges.
The Nigerian government should make deliberate efforts toward developing the energy sector to its full potential. Initiating policies to broaden private sector participation would complement industry efforts of global partnerships, thus domestically developing the sector through investment, given that Nigeria has vast quantities of natural gas (Eleri, 2021). The private sector and international partnerships can also help develop the country’s storage capacity to encourage the better provision of gas products to the population (Eleri, 2021). Various efforts exist as potential solutions for the gas problem in Nigeria. Administrative rigidity that adds demurrage at the Lagos seaports can be eradicated for better results. The government should also make effective policy and regulatory changes to address the price challenge of cooking gas in Nigeria (Izuka, 2021).
Creating cleaner access to cooking options would work as a crucial strategy for alleviating the suffering of the socially and economically disadvantaged Nigerian population. Notably, the country’s population growth is gradually challenging the ability to provide effective access to clean cooking options for the entire Nigerian community (Obiezu, 2021). The country should also make efforts to address the refinery problem as a long-term solution to the cooking gas problem. Nigeria has failed to refine its valuable natural gas and crude oil locally for years now. This has led to overdependence on imported oil and gas from overseas despite the benefit of huge reserves in the country. The solution for this problem is finding ways to refine locally (Obiezu, 2021). If the refinery problem is not addressed promptly, the country will be unable to produce locally, and other effects, such as taxes and import controls, will worsen the inaccessibility and unaffordability of cooking gas (Obiezu, 2021).
It is essential for the Nigerian government and community to pragmatically view the gas problem as a significant challenge to social and economic growth. Addressing it from this perspective guarantees greater success chances. The Nigerian government and private sector stakeholders need to develop cooking gas initiatives that capture the fundamental connection between domestic energy choices and purchasing power. This will require incentives as a significant strategy for meeting the fuel demands according to household income levels and through consideration of specific differences between rural and urban areas. The Nigerian government should also exert maximum efforts toward expanding the LPG market, particularly in urban and semi-urban areas. Notably, the supply infrastructure and market purchasing power are stronger in these areas, making them a viable starting point for increasing the accessibility of cooking gas. Private sector stakeholders and the Nigerian government can practice market intensification to target broader access to cooking gas.
Conclusively, the Nigerian government needs to acknowledge that reliability is an essential aspect of sustainable development in any sector, including energy. Cooking gas markets alone will not address the problem in Nigeria. Government intervention should equally exert efforts in providing clean cooking energy as an alternative for socially and economically disadvantaged communities. Sustaining the growth of the cooking gas market will require better strategies for stabilizing prices and providing reliable supplies to minimize the vulnerabilities in low-income households.
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