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The financing of the Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline at the centre of EU concerns

As the gas dispute in Europe intensifies, the scenario of a total cut-off of Russian gas for the winter seems more plausible by the day, prompting the European Union to look for new sources of supply
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PHOTO/FILE  -   The pipeline, promoted by the Moroccan National Office of Hydrocarbons and Mines (ONHYM) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), will connect the two countries and will be more than 7,000 kilometres long.

The mention of this pipeline project, which is supposed to link Nigeria with Morocco and Spain, and which aims to transport gas along the Atlantic coast, was already announced in 2016 when an agreement was signed between the King of the Kingdom of Morocco, Mohammed VI, and Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian president. The pipeline was to be an extension of the West African Gas Pipeline, a pipeline that transports gas from southern Nigeria to Benin, Ghana and Togo, which has been in operation since the early 2010s. 

This new pipeline project has been well received in the region and is seen as a model of South-South cooperation, with a dozen countries committed to connecting the pipeline to the European market. Indeed, the pipeline would run through Benin, Togo, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Conakry, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania, the Western Sahara coast and eventually Morocco. Although talks were suspended in 2020, the project has been back in the spotlight since late 2021, with international companies and African governments calling for the project to become a reality. A new step was taken on 1 June this year following the green light from Nigeria's Minister of Petroleum, Abuja. The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced a financial contribution of $14.3 million.

On a geostrategic level, the route of Nigerian gas to North Africa has fuelled many interests in the past, such as Algeria's desire in 2002 to initiate a similar pipeline project running through Niger, Algeria and then supplying Europe, but the project was put on hold due to security concerns in the Sahel region. An expert in the region argues that the Nigeria-Morocco pipeline was more viable and relevant in the long term because it takes into account geopolitical challenges, recalling that "the new pipeline is being built on the west coast to avoid conflict over Niger (northern Nigeria)". On the other hand, the African countries through which the pipeline will pass also have a lot at stake, as it will compensate for regular power cuts, as well as being able to produce more electricity through natural gas-fired thermal power plants. This project is also an essential element for African countries, as it has an economic dimension, according to which these countries would gain in productivity with functioning industries. 

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REUTERS/WOJCIECH KARDAS - Moroccan-Nigerian gas pipeline moves closer to reality

Today, the reconfiguration of the global energy market is leading the EU to diversify its energy supplies and suppliers, and is targeting Nigeria, which is Africa's leading country in terms of gas reserves and the seventh largest in the world. The EU sees Nigeria's gas fields as an opportunity to supply gas through the pipeline linking Spain and Morocco. In the context of the current gas crisis in Europe, Nigerian President Buhari called on the EU and the UK to invest massively in the Nigeria-Morocco pipeline, which would help solve the European energy crisis, recalling that 'we need a long-term partnership, not inconsistencies and contradictions in the green energy policy of the UK and the EU'. For a change, the UK and EU countries should invest in our pipeline project to bring Nigerian gas - Africa's largest reserves - to Europe via Morocco.

Last week, the director general of the Kingdom of Morocco's National Office of Hydrocarbons and Minerals, Amina Benkhadra, announced that she was in talks with Europe on the pipeline and Brussels confirmed this by recalling that "we are exploring options to increase LNG imports from Nigeria". Nigeria is already the fourth largest exporter to the EU, but has the potential to contribute even more. Peaceful relations between the EU and Nigeria are conducive to negotiations and Brussels sees Nigeria as a reliable partner and a true ally. However, there was agreement that Nigeria, and Africa in general, can play this role as an energy supplier to the EU as long as the necessary infrastructure continues to be developed. 

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PHOTO/REUTERS - File photo, Maikanti Kacalla Baru, Chairman and CEO of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (L), and Moroccan Director General of the National Board of Hydrocarbons and Mines, Amina Benkhadra, sign the cooperation agreement documents for the Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline project

Thus, more than an industrial project, this pipeline has a diplomatic dimension, as it is part of West African diplomacy, insofar as the pipeline would involve a large part of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) members, as well as Moroccan diplomacy, which wishes to assert its leadership by demonstrating the implementation of a policy that is certainly African, but also oriented towards the European continent.