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How politics killed Nigerian coal


Coal-miningAMONG the many gifts God gave to Nigeria – He also gave an abundance of coal. Many years ago when we were told about gas, we were also told that our coal was not cokeable; was of lower quality, could not produce the high temperature needed for power plants, etc. As for gas, we were told that it was associated with oil and had to be burnt or flared, that it was dispersed over a large area and would cost too much to gather and piped for domestic or commercial use. These statements were made by our own engineers, echoing what the International Oil Companies (IOCs) had said. As for coal, we were told it was next to useless, cost too much to extract; yet we conveniently forgot that there were six ships that shipped coal from Port Harcourt to Lagos for the power plant there, which gave uninterrupted power to half of Nigeria.

The civil war produced a perfect reason for abandoning the Enugu coal fields; a few years before, we learnt that we had plenty of coal in Itakpe which didn’t need the mines of Enugu since Itakpe coal was good for strip mining. The interesting point about Enugu was that South Africa, Argentina and other Latin American countries continued their interest in Enugu coal. If ever there was one issue which was killed by lack of political will, it was coal.

By 1976, it soon dawned on us that there was no way we could industrialise without coal. The Ukrainians came to build a steel plant in Ajaokuta but political interference, Ukrainian, Nigerian and Russian greed, will not allow this project to be finished. The plant to build the flat steel was never completed meanwhile; the machine tools factory had been built in Osun State. This was an integral part of the Ajaokuta steel project. We had built six direct reduction steel plants all over Nigeria waiting for the steel ingots that would spew out of Ajaokuta. One day someone got up and told us that this entire project is uneconomical and mothballed them. Mittal, the biggest steel producer of the world, bought the remnant of the steel plant, but government intervention and insensate request for back handlers slowed him down. It is believed also that there were two Mittal brothers and we sold to the wrong one.

Typical, he was accused of stripping the steel plant and the whole of the steel project died, just as the paper mill project and the aluminum smelting plant were more or less dead. Let me invite you to the project awaiting the Ajaokuta steel plant: these are the six direct reduction plants, awaiting steel ingots from Ajaokuta, the Ogbomosho machine tools Factory, the railway line from Ajaokuta to Sapele/Warri, one hundred million Nigerians waiting for steel to do two million jobs.

In China, the construction of a 700cc power generation plants is targeted for 2018, completion with new alloys. Another innovation in the coal fields is something called “circulating fluidised bed combustion” for power generation. This technology was designed by a university in China and taken over by the Government of China with university participation. More exciting research has followed coal. The researchers are talking about “poly-generation “ – using coal as the feedstock to generate many products – electricity, chemicals, liquid fluid, natural gas, etc. There is even talk of using coal as a hybrid power generation option. I obviously do not understand the technicalities involved here. But I don’t understand one thing – our coal is lying useless in Enugu, Oji, Itakpe and elsewhere.

Our coal-fired generators have been out of service for over 20 years. The Ministry of mines and power has little to show for the coal industry. No one is thinking of generating electricity with coal; no one is even studying coal as an electricity fuel. There are great numbers of environmentalists who regard coal-fired generators for electricity as a no. Do they know that the UK today has 39% of the power produced by coal; that over 45% of U.S. power is coal based? 45% also in Germany – 0% in Nigeria.

Let me end by telling you a story of a Nigerian enterprise. We went to South Africa to invite South Africa Synthetic Oil Liquid (SASOL) – the world famous SASOL that helped South Africa beat the oil embargo by producing oil from coal. Our South African friend’s partners arrived after we had agreed to one of these bilateral agreements to cooperate. Our minister saw them for 10 minutes. The next three years were spent finding time for the minister to meet them. When they eventually met, the South African asked what was the estimated volume of the coal reserves in Nigeria. Katakata bust. Why should South Africa want to know our reserves? If South Africa needed to know they should pay for the survey? What was the Enugu reserve figure? Either the minister did not know or he bluffed his way through; again this was the job of the company, not the ministry!!!

China is the largest coal producer in the world. In 2012, China produced 3.7 billion tonnes. Proven reserves of coal in China in 2010 were 114.5 billion tonnes. Coal-fired generators in China account for 86% of China’s needs. By 2020, China’s coal consumption for energy will still be 55% of its energy mix compared to 74% in 2014. China is pushing ahead with coal generators with little environmental deficiency, improve efficiency, and reduced emissions, etc through the support of clean coal technology which has lately vastly developed: “the future is in highly developed and efficient ultra super critical pulverized coal plants.” All the conversion coal points should be examined, converting coal by working different chemical processes – gasification and new combustion processes.

More details about new discoveries in coal generation could be given but unnecessary. What we have in the ground is not doing us any good. We need to exploit our coal for all it is worth, follow new studies and give us cheaper electricity, cheaper steel. Is gas a more useful tool for electrification and even for production? Nigeria needs a gas policy, a coal policy even if we still have to meet world environmental standards. What we cannot do is to delay the matter much further.

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  • emmanuel anizoba

    Thanks for this post. A must read for PMB and our new goal-getting Power Minster, Fashola.

  • Message66

    Very good piece. Nigeria, blessed with bright brains but consistently damaged by incompetent leadership at all levels.

  • Olivia Nwankwo

    wow, this post is coming in at a time Nigeria, Africa and the world needs this. The importance of coal in the development of our country cannot be overemphasized, PMB should make utmost use of what God has given our dear country ‘Nigeria’ to better the lives of citizens who are clamouring for change. All he needs to do is to support individuals and groups who are mining coal. Etazuma group W/A is one company i know that have invested huge resources into this sector. they are also using this resource to generate electricity which if the government supports purpose driven groups like this, in years to come Nigerians w ill xperience 24 hours power supply.
    lets all make this work, there is no need to politicize what has proven to work for other much more developed countries.
    nice post i must say.

  • Ahamefule @ZUMA

    This is an absolutely brilliant and true piece. The importance of coal cannot be overemphasized, as nobody can dispute the fact that coal is a major fuel for the development of any nation. its neglect in Nigeria is very disturbing as little or no attention is focused towards its direction. There are very competent organizations (ETA ZUMA GROUP W/A Ltd) that are involved and committed to providing constant electricity by way of coal to power generation, while adopting the above kind of clean technology (Circulating Fluidized Bed (CFB)), but the “developed” nations, who have all attained development through the use of coal are now proposing against coal. How ironic? This is where the politics against the Nigerian coal comes in. Our leadership should hereby do everything within its power not to adhere to these deceitful and unfair “developed” nations and embrace the use of coal for power generation and other forms of energy, consequently fuelling rapid development, employment and everything good that comes with development. Mr President sir, Hon Ministers of Solid Minerals and Power should on the behalf of the citizens of Nigeria, whom you all swore to serve, never adhere to the deceitful and political stands of the so called “developed” nations by signing any treaties against the use of coal. God bless our beloved and blessed Nigeria.