Abuja resident Freda Igri was preparing to make her native afang soup for her family, but her cooking gas tank was empty.
The price to refill a 12.5 kg tank with gas — about $25 U.S. — was nearly triple the normal price, and she said she couldn’t afford to spend that much on gas alone.
“This scarcity of gas and the high price, it is unbearable, because going to the market right now, buying foodstuffs [is] costly, and coming back to cook again with the gas [is] costly. It’s not easy,” Igri said.
The Nigerian Association of Liquefied Petroleum Gas Marketers attributes the increase in the cost of the fuel to the introduction in August of a 7.5 percent import tax, or value-added tax, on gas in a bid to expand the country’s revenue base.
Up to 70 percent of the gas consumed locally in Nigeria comes from imports, even though the country is a major oil producer with huge gas reserves — ninth globally. Economists also say devaluation of the Nigerian naira currency and an unstable inflow of foreign exchange are driving up prices.
The situation is causing many Nigerians like Igri to turn to cheaper alternatives — firewood and charcoal.
“We just use it because it’s at least manageable,” Igri said. “If you want to go for gas, it’s quite expensive.”
The growing demand for charcoal fuel is helping local dealers like Ashiru Mohammed make more profit. He said he’s increasing his output. Business hadn’t been good because people were using gas, but now his customers are all buying charcoal, he said.
But environmentalists warn that the demand for charcoal could lead to serious deforestation. David Michael Terungwa, a conservationist and founder of the Global Initiative for Food Security and Ecosystem Preservation, wants authorities to reverse the gas import tax.
“There will be massive deforestation, which is already going on, but this hike in prices will even make it worse,” Terungwa said. “The average Nigerian could afford to use gas, but right now, not everybody can afford it.”
In November, the Nigerian gas dealers association called on President Muhammadu Buhari to address the issue. Nigerian authorities have yet to respond, but at the recent global climate change summit, Buhari pledged to end deforestation by 2030 and carbon emissions by 2060 — a goal conservationists say now hangs in the balance.