By Hector Igbikiowubo, just back from Qatar
DOHA, QATAR â€“ Though Nigeria is one of the countries in the vanguard of the creation of the Gas Exporting Countriesâ€™ Forum, GECF, it still has not ratified the membership agreement, putting off till June efforts to do so.
Meanwhile, the country also lost its bid to run the secretariat of GECF when the Gas Forum settled for Mr. Leonid Bokhanovsky, the candidate of the Russian Federation as its first secretary-general at the ninth ministerial council meeting in Doha, Qatar.
Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, Head of Nigeriaâ€™s delegation and Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, told Vanguard, in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the meeting in Doha, that the agreement will be ratified next year.
He described the ratification of the agreement as a matter which was in the countryâ€™s interest, noting that he signed the GECF charter last December.
â€œDefinitely, I think it is in our interest. I was privileged to sign the charter in December 2008 and it is just going through the formal ratification process with the Federal Executive Council, FEC, and the National Assembly which I think will be done as a matter of course.â€
Justifications for Gas Forum
Member-countries including Iran, Bolivia, Equatorial Guinea and Egypt are yet to ratify the agreement and indications are that this may be accomplished next year.
Ajumogobia noted that gas exporters face the same challenges oil exporting countries faced years ago in trying to create a stable market for the product.
â€œRecently, we have seen the collapse of gas prices and that affects us as gas-producing countries. So, this forum will help us share information and collaborate to try and understand the gas market better for our collective good,â€™â€™ he stressed.
On stalled domestic gas projects, he noted that projects such as Brass LNG and Olokola LNG have to take their turn in terms of the final investment decision that has to be taken.
â€œI think if there was any reason there was a slow down, it was due to the fact that the Federal Government decided â€“ and, I think, we should really give credit to the former Minister of Gas who supervised the process of improving domestic gas obligations of companies at that time.
â€˜â€™So, the focus moved away from gas exports to domestic gas supply, prompting companies to move attention to gas supply for the domestic consumption-power industry and, so on. We will only be promoting further exports if the minimum obligations to the domestic gas market were met.
â€˜â€™Those projects are still very important; we are still committed to them, especially the Brass LNG which will provide a lot of employment in the Niger Delta area. So, it is still a priority,â€ he added.
Ajumogobia said the early life of the Forum would be underscored by research efforts geared towards meaningful development of member-countriesâ€™ gas resources.
â€œIt is important for us to exchange ideas, to exchange programmes, do research and I think that will be the first phase of this Forum â€“ to be able to understand the market dynamics, to understand, for example, why the oil price is recovering, rebounding. We hear it is now hovering around $80 per barrel.
But, why hasnâ€™t gas prices rebounded in the same way? I mean the ratio between oil and gas has not made that same movement,â€ he enthused.
Bid to run Secretatriat fails
He said though Nigeria presented a very strong candidate for the position of Secretary General of GECF, (the former Minister of Gas, Chief Emmanuel Odusina), who competed against five others, the group had to settle for a consensus candidate.
â€œThe ministers felt we should try and find unanimity, especially at this very early stage of the organisation, a baby had just been born and we needed to give it strength and it wouldnâ€™t help if there was division through a rancorous voting process.
â€˜â€™It turned out that at the end of dialogue, at the ministersâ€™ meeting, the Russian candidate came out as the consensus candidate and there was unanimous agreement in spite of the fact that everyone acknowledged the qualities of all the candidates, especially the Nigerian candidate,â€ he added.