Most government officials in Nigeria are fond of announcing fuzzy, if not unfeasible proposals with relish. In the mid-1980s, for instance, a new system of education known as the 6-3-3-4 was announced with aplomb. The first six years was for primary school while the six years for secondary school was split into two i.e. 3-3. The first three years was meant for every pupil but the second three years was strictly for only those who were good in academics. Workshops to train those who were not good in academics as artisans, it was announced with glee, were to be set up in every secondary school. In addition to this, reputable private workshops to train those the school workshops could not absorb were also to be sourced for these students. But as everybody knows, this plan has not been realised ever since. The workshops are not just there and if not out of financial constraints, no parent wants their child to drop out of secondary school after only three years in order to learn a trade!
Officially, kerosene is to be retailed at 50k per litre but as everybody also knows, it has been selling at over thrice that price ever since. It was also announced a few years ago that pre-paid meters would be supplied free to all electricity consumers but as we speak, it has remained a hoax! The meters are not even available to consumers who are willing to pay for them all because the distribution companies prefer fleecing their clients through the abnormality known as estimated billing. There are numerous examples of grandiose proposals that went awry but a new one that is likely to also end up as a hoax has just been announced.
It is the proposed ban on individuals from owning Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinders popularly known as cooking gas. The announcement was made by the representative of the minister of state for petroleum resources at a meeting dubbed as “Stakeholders’ forum” at Abuja on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. The main reason the minister gave for this proposed ban was to “deepen gas penetration” (whatever that means) in the country. If one may ask, how would a few companies supplying gas cylinders to millions of Nigerians deepen its use more that the hundreds of youths who are already in the business today? Is our collective memory so short to have forgotten that we have passed through this route before?
Up to the early 1990s, cylinders and the gas itself were marketed by big petroleum companies, most of them multinationals. Then, their cylinders were filled by their gas plants located in a few cities and transported in trucks to their stations all over the country. The minimum size then was the 12.5kg bottle. Their cylinders were not interchangeable and some of them also manufactured stoves to be used with their cylinders. Users then bought and refilled their cylinders in these outlets. Anytime the gas was finished, users drove to these outlets with their empty bottles to pick the already filled ones after paying for the content. But all these big companies gradually began withdrawing from this business and by 2000, they disappeared altogether from most cities. Some smart entrepreneurs then stepped in with gas plants but they were too few and too isolated to cater to the few who were then using gas stoves and as a result many abandoned their cylinders and went back to kerosene stoves or even to firewood!
But about 10 years ago, gas cylinder filling points that operated from just one room began emerging. Unlike the gas plants that stepped into the vacuum created when the big multi-national oil companies left the business, these new gas points are not located in far flung places. Most of them compete for space with shops selling other products in our streets. As if freed from the protocols of a few multi-national oil companies, the gas cylinder market has also been booming today. They adorn the front of many shops selling several other commodities now.
They come from God-knows where in all sizes and glossy colours, some with nets woven round them to compete with refurbished old ones! Unlike before when cylinders were refilled from only their brand outlets, those of today have no such restrictions. They can be refilled from any point and almost every type of stove could be screwed directly into the bottle head thereby eliminating the use of a hose! They are also not restricted to the 12.5 kg that was the minimum size of the old order. There are smaller sizes that could be carried conveniently by one person to a filling point that are next to almost every door today. Above all, it is not compulsory that one must refill one’s cylinder to its maximum capacity as was the case in the past. One could buy what one could afford, even less than a thousand naira! They are so convenient that without being preached to by the government, people especially the youths, are abandoning firewood or kerosene in droves for these new gas wonder!
Lastly, the proposed ban was said to be necessary in order to address the issue of safety. But again, this is an old song, we have heard it before. The bugbear of accidents was one of the reasons many people did not embrace gas cylinders in the past. Though cooking with gas was seen as elitist in the olden days, poverty alone was not what made some who could afford it to keep away. There was this belief that gas cylinders had a mind of their own. It was believed that they could sometimes explode or burst into flames with every slight mistake or without any cause at all. This was one reason some people did not use them. It was also the reason many cylinders were kept far away from the stoves, some even outside the kitchen. But today, stoves are being mounted right on top of the head of cylinders to cook and we have not been hearing of deadly explosion or fire outbreaks here and there. The occasional cases we hear today are explosions caused when one answers a mobile phone call close to a gas cylinder that was lighted. But this news is usually carried on the social media where phantom tales are rife.
The classification of the roadside gas cylinder business as illegal was perhaps the most callous words to come from a public official. Is there any law against this activity? If there is, why allow it to grow to this level to the extent it now offers a means of livelihood to thousands before coming up with the proposal to ban them? And by the way, who and who were represented during the so-called stakeholders forum?
Were the roadside dealers and the cylinder marketers represented? What about the big multi-national oil companies like Total, Agip and our NNPC etc that withdrew from the business? Were their views sought to know what made them abandon the business? What about the millions who patronise them today? Who is more of stakeholders than the aforementioned groups? Also, nothing was said about what will happen to millions of cylinders in the shops or owned by individuals today. Are the nameless entities that are to take over the ownership of the cooking gas business going to pay for them? The minister also threatened to set up a task force to clamp down on these roadside dealers soon. Why should people who noticed a need and moved in to provide it be likened to common criminals to be hunted down? Our mumu de tire person joor
Maduku, a retired Nigerian Army (Infantry) Captain and novelist, lives in Effurun-Otot, Delta State