By Olawoyin Oladeinde
54-year-old Alimot Ayilara made failed attempts to blow air into a small fire she is making ahead of the day’s cooking routine. For the umpteenth time, her efforts failed to yield result. Alimot, a roadside food vendor in Ijoko area of Ogun State in Southwestern Nigeria, eventually gave up. She would soon gather some unused plastic materials soaked in kerosene to lit the fire. A few minutes afterwards, she began to cough as a thick smoke engulfed her surroundings. The effort would eventually pay off as fire came out of the smoke and she began her cooking exercise.
“That’s what we go through doing this every day,” she told this reporter in an interview.
“We make fire with wood but sometimes when the wood is wet, it becomes difficult. We just have to complement it with plastic and other materials.”
Alimot is not alone in her struggle to source energy for cooking. She is among millions of Nigerian women, especially in rural communities, who go through several hurdles to provide energy for their routine activities every day. In most parts of the country, kerosene stoves and biomass are in use in rural communities and some parts in cities, due largely to low purchasing power and illiteracy among other factors.
But despite this development, there has equally been an increase in the number of women embracing cleaner energy in their daily cooking routine and businesses.
One of such women is Janet Adeleke, a roadside food vendor in Ogba-ayo area of Ogun State. Ms Adeleke told this reporter that until she discovered the use of gas as a cheaper alternative, she went through hell providing energy source for her cooking business.
“My brother brought this cylinder for me from Lagos and told me I can get cheaper and cleaner energy from it while refilling with very small money,” she said with enthusiasm, hands widely spread.
“That was in November 2018. Since then, I have not stopped praying for him because I now spend less on providing energy and have more time to focus on other aspects of my business. Gas is cheaper, cleaner and safer.”
Ms Adeleke’s testimony was not different from that of about a dozen women who spoke to this reporter.
Gas penetration records in Nigeria
In 2018, the International Energy Agency in its World Energy Outlook disclosed that the percentage of Nigerians using cooking gas was seven per cent in 2017. This represented an increase from the five per cent in 2010.
In December 2017, the Programme Manager of the National Liquefied Petroleum Gas Expansion Implementation Plan, Office of the Vice-President, Dayo Adeshina, noted that of about 180 million Nigerians, only 1.8 million had adopted the use of LPG in their homes. He added that the goal of the Nigerian government was to see more Nigerians use the product.
This reporter found that between that period and now, there has been a rise in the adoption of cooking gas. Those who spoke in several interviews noted that the development is because the energy source is faster, cheaper, cleaner and environmentally friendly.
Last year, the Executive Secretary, Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, Abdulkadir Saidu, said the domestic utilisation of LPG rose from around 40,000 metric tonnes in January 2018 to 78,000MT in July 2019, representing about 95 per cent increase. Mr Saidu said government’s focus was five million metric tonnes cumulative target by 2022.
Nigeria has around 202 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves plus about 600 TCF unproven gas reserves, according to data from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
In 2019, the Nigerian government said it was targeting 33.3 million households as regard the use of LPG, given its low domestic use among Nigerians.
Cooking with wood, plastic
At the entrance of Gas Line community in Ogun state, there is a mountain of used plastic welcoming every visitor into the community. Residents told this reporter that they seldomly cook with the plastic, in addition to those who cook with firewood.
“I cook with plastic and firewood but many people are advising me against it,” said Bola Olajumoke, a resident and pap seller. “I hope to stop it someday once I get money to buy cooking gas like the rest in the neighbourhood.”
Like Bola, this reporter spoke with three other women who declined to be identified in the report but admitted that they cook with plastic materials.
Scientists warn that while they are currently approved for food use, plastics also may be a cause for concern because they contain bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that can disrupt hormone activity and leach into foods and beverages. Cracks and crazing due to wear and tear increase the rate at which BPA leaches out of polycarbonates.
Other studies have found that certain chemicals in plastic can leach out of the plastic and into the food and beverages we eat. Some of these chemicals have been linked to health problems such as metabolic disorders (including obesity) and reduced fertility. This leaching can occur even faster and to a greater degree when plastic is exposed to heat.
When this reporter visited the Ogun community in the first week of March 2020, there are numerous firewood sellers in the neighbourhood. But a few of them admitted that due to increasing penetration of cooking gas in the neighborhood, they have finding it difficult to break even and record sales.
“We used to sell in the past but there has been slowdown in sales of firewood because many people now use gas for cooking,” said a firewood seller, Baba Ajao.
More people embrace gas in Abuja, Lagos, Ilorin, Ibadan
When this reporter did a tour of strategic places in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, the commercial hub in Lagos, and its largest city, Ibadan, numerous women entrepreneurs told our reporter that they are now embracing the use of cooking gas.
“We use gas because it is cheaper and cleaner than firewood,” a pap seller told this reporter in Ibadan.
In Agege, a commercial hub in Lagos, a bean cake and pap seller, Hajia Bilikisu, told this reporter that she switched to cooking gas when the cost of firewood skyrocketed.
“I have never regretted it,” she said, amid smiles.
“I am only hopeful that the price of refilling gas cylinders can be brought then lower than this so more women in businesses can benefit,” she added.
In Abuja, Hajia Meimunat, a pap seller, told this reporter that she also switched to use of gas because of its ease of use and cheap prices.
Olayiwola Muyideen, a gas dealer operating in Kwara State told this reporter that small business owner now prefers the use of gas instead of other means because it is more convenient to use and cheaper.
“I convinced a customer to fill her 6kg gas at the rate of N1900 recently and she used almost a month,” the Ilorin-based entrepreneur said. “I told her how much charcoal she uses monthly, she said N3000 worth charcoal. She was impressed.”
“Again, increase in price of firewood, charcoal and the rest presently contributes to the increase in number of gas users among small business owners. This is due to new policy in Kwara State where the state government made stringent rules against deforestation. No cutting of trees or making of charcoal. This has put stringent measure on the availability of the products and shot up prices.”
Mr Olayiwola explained that that challenge to more penetration remains that the use of gas is still shrouded in limited knowledge, especially among uneducated rural dwellers. To address this, he said, stakeholders across the value chain would need to intensify sensitization efforts.
“Some people still believe that gas is dangerous, risky and costly compared to other means due to less knowledge and information about gas,” he said.
“Bringing mini gas station closer to people and orientation makes it easier. By this, people will get to know (that) the prices of small gas cylinders are affordable, filling of gas is not as costly as they envisage and it serves longer than other means.”