Professor Idris Muhammad Bugaje is the rector of Kaduna Polytechnic. The professor of Chemical Engineering had served as the director-general of the National Research Institute for Chemical Technology (NARICT), Zaria.
In this interview, he spoke on the possible gains of the Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano gas pipeline project to northern Nigeria, and more.
President Muhammadu Buhari recently launched the construction of the Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano (AKK) pipeline, of what benefit is this project to the ordinary Nigerian?
This is a major infrastructural intervention from the Federal Government; it is long overdue. The pipeline will bring raw materials and transform the economy of the North.
Natural gas is now more important than crude oil, which has limited use and causes a lot of environmental damages, which is evident in the riverine areas. But natural gas does not pollute rivers or kill fish. The worst that could happen is that you flare it so it doesn’t create more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
This natural gas is a raw material that produces hundreds of other finished products, like clothes, pharmaceutical drugs and others. This is because natural gas can be broken down easily into the building blocks of hydrocarbons. Natural gas can be broken down into synthetic gas; thus, it is basically hydrogen gas with carbon in the form of carbon monoxide. All you need to do is take different proportions of hydrogen and carbon monoxide in the presence of selected catalysts and you can produce urea fertilizer, which is badly needed in the North. You can produce nitric acid, ammonia, methanol, which is a feedstock for several other products. You can produce other alcohol products like ethanol, propanol, butanol, formaldehyde, polymers that can be converted into plastic. The list is endless.
I wonder why the project had not happened for so long. We should appreciate the boldness of President Muhammadu Buhari to get this pipeline done. Very large pipelines have been run across the southern part of the country; unfortunately, the North has been neglected.
This is the first time we are experiencing such major infrastructural intervention. I also hope that other wings that go from the South-South and South-East, across to Biu, Gombe, down to Bauchi and Kano, would be completed. Once we have that, we can also connect Kano to the Sahara to deliver gas up to Europe. I think this is the grand plan. At the moment, they are trying to finish the national network.
This is a major intervention that state governments need to bring in private investors. Government should not invest in petrochemical plants because it will be mismanaged like the refineries. An enabling environment should rather be created, such as tax holidays and free lands for investors to create employment, as well as add value to the important raw material to create the wealth that will follow.
There is already a restriction on the movement of urea fertiliser due to the danger it poses in making explosive devices, isn’t this a cause for concern?
This information on the use of urea fertiliser is not true. The Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) was misinformed. While I was the director-general of the NARICT, I wrote to the incumbent NSA, Mohammed Babagana Monguno in 2015, stating that the move to stop the distribution of urea fertiliser was unnecessary because urea cannot be a raw material for improvised explosive devices. If we can produce urea fertiliser in northern Nigeria, it would crash the price of the fertiliser we buy. There are three components in a fertiliser: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK). These are the three elements the plants require to grow. However, each plant requires different proportions of the elements. Groundnut does not require nitrogen because it has the capacity to obtain it from the air, thus urea cannot be used for groundnut. But rice, maize and others require urea.
I am very confident that by the time we produce urea fertiliser in the North, the price will crash, our farmers will have enough fertilisers and productivity will improve.
In northern Nigeria today, the average fertiliser used is 10 kilograms per hectare per annum, but the world average standard is 140 kilograms per hectare. This shows we are far away from the global standard. In Bangladesh, they farm twice in a year and they consume 200 kilograms of fertiliser per hectare per annum. So, if we produce fertilisers locally, it will be cheaper and farmers will make use of it with improved productivity and yields multiplied.
Governments have been investing in fertiliser blending all over the north, spending hundreds of millions. They are only buying the NPK to mix them and put in a bag without value addition.
We have phosphate rock at Dange Shuni Local Government in Sokoto. The farmers there do not use fertiliser because the phosphorus rock will be washed down by the rain and some will be degraded by bacteria, which the plant will utilise. With this phosphorus rock in Sokoto, we can make phosphate fertiliser. We have natural gas, we can make urea and there are some deposits of potassium salt. With this, we can produce the fertiliser we need locally, but the will has to be there and the states have to encourage investors.
With insecurity in the North, there are fears over the safety of the pipelines and the danger it poses to communities?
People need to be sensitised to know that gas is not liquid. It is a state of matter that is very energetic. If an explosion is to happen, it will be very devastating. People should be informed not to bring whatever form of fire to the pipelines. They have to make sure that the pipelines do not run through areas prone to bush fires. It is not impossible for tiny leakages to happen. The gas is going to flow at 100 atmosphere pressure, minimum of 70.
Although there is a possibility of leakages at welded areas, perfect welding and x-ray have to be done, and it has to be confirmed that the welding is perfect before the gas starts flowing.
There may be the need to recruit pipeline guards. Members of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) are meant for that, so they should be deployed to protect it.
Also, there will be the need to use modern technology to monitor the pipelines and ward off any problem in time.
Sensitisation is very important for the affected communities. Government also needs to provide palliatives to these communities. In the South-South region, any pipeline that goes through a community, the chiefs and militants have to be settled. In the North, we do not have the problem of militancy, but that does not mean the people should be abandoned. I am calling on the government to create social welfare packages for the communities along the pipelines.
Before you came into office as rector in 2017, Kaduna Polytechnic was known for incessant strike actions. How were you able to stabilise the system?
The management and the unions were able to reach a good understanding, and we are lucky enough that no local strike has taken place. We were also able to address some of their concerns on outstanding allowances. With the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), the contentious and peculiar hazard allowances have been integrated. Initially, the unions were apprehensive, but now, they are seeing the beauty of the IPPIS. It is not only going to ensure transparency in the system but also help to capture some of these allowances, which government has now accepted and paid to the lecturers directly. So there is no outstanding allowance.
Secondly, we met a very dilapidated infrastructure which words could not describe. We are now gradually addressing that. I do not think we have covered everywhere, but we have addressed the most critical areas. We have also obtained approval for the renovation of student hostels to bring them to world standard. The students should have a very conducive environment for learning. We are also in the process of doing a swap arrangement for more hostels, especially for female students, so that we can have a better environment to encourage girl-child education in Kaduna Polytechnic.
There were claims that when you took over in 2017, you inherited a lot of debts in liabilities and claims, amounting to N600 million, as well as dozens of court cases. What is the situation now?
Yes, it is true. Due to lots of changes in the leadership of the polytechnic, it was indiscipline that caused the accumulation of debts. The school was involved in about 50 court cases. The car I was driving was about to be taken away by the orders of the court. What happened was unfortunate. Some of the contracts that led to the litigations were done 14 years before I came, so we had to verify their claims. Some were rejected because we could not see the work done, but 90 per cent scaled through.