By Cosmas Omegoh
The searing heat was unbearable. Mrs Yinka Awoyemi sat on a wooden bench right in front of her small shop on Araromi Street, off Ola Market, Itire, a Lagos suburb. Her shop is a small facility with an inner door leading into the courtyard, enabling her to weave in and out with ease.
On that occasion, she kept fanning herself with a plastic hand fan, as the November sun up in the sky beat down savagely. Everyone around kept perspiring profusely as the weather clearly signaled the dry season was at the door.
Every now and then, a kid or two showed up, sent by their parents. Each one held a N200 note for Mrs Awoyemi to collect; she took the money with ease motioning them to pick a certain black item in tied sizable black nylon bags – charcoal. Picking them, the kids zoomed off the same way they came on the urgent errand.
Charcoal? If you are wondering what charcoal has got to do with it, then just hold your breath. The commodity is now in huge demand, in Lagos, having increasingly become an alternative to liquefied petroleum gas, the one everyone knows as cooking gas.
Yes, today, many families in Lagos and certainly elsewhere across the country can no longer afford cooking gas for their domestic needs. It has gone out of the reach of most households. And as it is, almost every one of them is trying to find an alternative to the commodity. Everyone must cook his or her food. So, many are falling back to anything to stay up. And so, whereas some families are re-embracing the use of firewood as their energy source, some are returning to the use of charcoal.
With some charcoal spread atop a locally-fabricated device called coalpot (Aduko) in Yoruba, and a pot placed on top of the charcoal, poor and medium-income families are good to go. They can now cook their meals, boil their water and do other cooking. Also, some families are resorting to the use of sawdust stuffed in a similar locally-fabricated metal device. The sawdust once set on fire gradually burns to provide energy for cooking. So, owners of cooking gas can now keep their commodity for good and for as long as they want to.
Our correspondent, however, gathered that the said alternatives to cooking gas are not new, yet they are expensive now. They had been there long before now. So, they are not ingenious. Far from that. They are only staging a comeback after many have been compelled to give them a look in. Yet, the cost of buying the cooking device and even charcoal itself and firewood has now gone up by 100 per cent. Certainly, those using them now are not amused.
To many people, what is happening now signals a clear return to seemingly old paths – coming at a time when the price of cooking gas has hit the rooftop well beyond the reach of virtually every Nigerian – including the rich many of whom are already lamenting this sudden twist of fate. They only shudder at this new development at a corner of their closet.
Now, faced by this new cooking gas crisis, which everyone is clearly, undeniably mired in, many Nigerians are trying to find fresh ways to respond to this reality. At least, everybody must do something to get by.
It is here that Nigerians are showing the stuff they are made of as distinct people. Very exceptional people. Perhaps only few people across the world compare to Nigerians – in terms of their resourcefulness, endurance and perseverance. Sometimes, these traits become more like a fault – now being exploited by the government, private individuals and organisations.
And so, what can one compare Nigerians to? They are like a beetle. Like it is often said, “you can’t kill a beetle.” This is a time-tested lingo that has survived the centuries, coming through as ancient at the hills. No matter how hard the time presses, the beetle everyone knows presses on, deftly scaling through even the most daunting terrains, pushing down with its loads not minding its size and stature. Like the beetle, like the Nigerian.
For the average Nigerian, therefore, even when all the odds are clearly against them, even when everyone thinks they are already mortally wounded and about to buckle, they recoil and recline. Next, they conjure the unexpected. Then from their bag of tricks, they wipe out the survival strategy and hit the winning way. Nigerians can survive even the hardest and harshest of times.
Now, need it be told that Nigeria and Nigerians are passing through tempestuous times, the like many have not seen in living memory? Just like a bolt from the blues, hard times descended like darkness at twilight, forcing families struggling, businesses wobbling. The result is that many are increasingly unable to feed themselves. Prices of goods and services are on a steady rise.
That is how many can no longer afford the price of essential commodities among them food. Now, ironically, many especially in the urban areas, who manage to source food, are faced with a fresh challenge: gas to cook it. The cooking gas everyone has come to depend upon as a fast and reliable cooking fuel, is already well out of the way.
Govt’s contribution to cooking gas crisis
It would be recalled that the Federal Government long before now, had been persuading the citizenry to embrace cooking gas as clean energy which use would help to save the environment. Various aggressive strategies were employed to get the common people to abandon the use of firewood.
Last April, the government vowed to introduce between five to 10 million Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) gas cylinders into the market over a period of one year, according to Mr Dayo Adeshina, programme manager, the National LPG Expansion Implementation Plan (NLEIP), in the Office of the Vice President.
But now, the same cooking gas is no longer there for anyone. Only the super rich can now afford it – but not without grudges.
In June this year, the Federal Government said that it had plans to grow the use of cooking gas from five to 90 per cent over the next 10 years
The government lamented that more than 900,000 people were negatively being affected yearly by the use of kerosene, firewood and charcoal.
It would be recalled that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo while speaking on the matter at the National LPG sensitisation and awareness campaign in Abuja noted that effective implementation of the programme would help to stop Nigerians from using other energy sources that are harmful to health and the environment to cooking gas considered cleaner and more efficient energy.
Represented by Mr Adeshina, Osinbajo stated the need for all stakeholders to work together for effective implementation of the programme.
He said: “Greenhouse gas emissions have affected the entire planet and Nigeria is not an exception.
“You can see from the way it has changed significantly, the intensity of the rains and the storms are much higher, the heat from the dry season is quite intense.
“So, it is critical that we all join hands together to ensure that various programmes that the Federal Government has put together are implemented.
“Every year, almost 900,000 people are affected by the effects of dirty fuels like firewood and charcoal. That figure is more than the total number of people that suffer from malaria and tuberculosis together.
“So, the government’s plan is to displace the energy mix for cooking which currently stands at firewood 60 per cent, kerosene 30 per cent, LPG five per cent and charcoal 5 five per cent.
“The government’s ambition is to revise that and change that five per cent for LPG to 90 per cent in 10 years.”
But in a change of gear, the Federal Government not long after, began pushing for the implementation of 7.5 per cent VAT on cooking gas imports, thus forcing the price of the commodity to skyrocket by 100 per cent.
Dealers were mandated to pay VAT on LPG imports which they pass to the final consumers.
It was gathered that Nigeria imports about 70 per cent of the citizens’ cooking gas. The rest is supplied by the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas.
Our correspondent also learnt that the continuous crash of the naira, its attendant poor exchange rate, and the rising cost of oil prices in the international market have all negatively contributed to the rising cost of cooking gas. Yet, there is no guarantee anywhere that the current price of the commodity will stay steady.
A housewife, Mrs Celina Ibe, told our correspondent that right now, a 12.5kg cylinder of cooking gas which sold for N3,500 last year, now sells for N8,500. Similarly, a 4kg cylinder of cooking gas now costs N4, 200.
It is against this backdrop that many Nigerians, particularly the women have begun looking for alternative sources of energy to cooking gas.
“I cannot sustain buying gas at the price it is selling right now,” Mrs Ibe said, adding that “the current price regime is unacceptable.
“Right now, we struggle to refill our gas cylinder once a month.
“So, I have gone to buy coalpot which helps me to supplement my household cooking. For me, that is cost effective. Right now, many families are embracing it.”
Coalpot markers rejoice
Mr Balogun Mukaila Adedimpe is a welder based in Itire, Lagos.
When our correspondent visited his workshop, he was busy with several welding works, including some coalpots.
“I make coalpots, and have been in the business for many years.
“Because of the rise in the price of cooking gas, people have been coming here to ask for coalpots.
“When the customers place their order, I go off to Orile to buy the materials. But sometimes, I fabricate coalpots and the customers come in to pick them.
“People are rushing for it now. Some people as I speak have put some money down. So, I’m sending my son to go Orile and get the materials,” he said.
He disclosed that “long before now, I was constructing the devices for N1,200, N1,500. But the price of everything has gone up now. So, I now sell for N4,000, N4,500, N5,000 and even N6,000.
“I make the items according to sizes and request.
“There are some for domestic use. There are some I make for people who run restaurants and even those who hire out cooking materials to party organisers.
“I also construct gas cookers, and even cooking stoves that use saw dust, but that one is not in high demand like the coalpot.
“In a day, I can make as many as six big ones or 12 small ones for domestic use.
“Some of them last for three to five years depending on use and size of the plate used.
“There is no place you cannot use the coal pot – inside the house, or outside as long as there is no petrol or gas cylinder near it.”
His son, Kabir, was busy on the occasion alongside other apprentices working on various metal products. Their machines kept humming.
Another coalpot maker, Peter Awolu based in Yaba also admitted that some Lagos residents had begun asking for the item.
“Some people indeed, have been asking me about the item.
“I don’t just construct them, people have to come in and place their order.
“I guess more people want the item now as the price of cooking gas soars.
“The prices of my products differ. I make coalpots for N4,000, N5,000 and even for N10,000. They vary according to the materials I use. I construct according to specifications. But averagely they can last for three years depending on use.
“I also make another one that uses vehicle ream. That costs about N5,000,” he said.
Charcoal, firewood prices rise
Mrs Awoyemi aside from selling charcoal for cooking, also sells the coalpots.
“I have been in this business for over 15 years.
“But in the last two months, things have been moving well.
“People are coming to buy our coalpots more than before because of the rise in the price of cooking gas.
“Last month, we were buying a bag of charcaol for N2,500, but now it has risen to N4,500.
“Already some people have resorted to using firewood for cooking. But the question is where do you see it to buy?
“Even when you manage to see it, it is always very expensive,” she explained.
She showed our correspondent the various sizes of charcoal tied in black nylon bags, which the customers always came to pick for their cooking needs.
“This one now (pointing at the N200 worth) can last a family to cook soup, and make eba. It also depends on the rate of use.”
“This one used to sell for N50 before. Now, it sells for N100. Everyone buys according to his or her needs,” she said.
How to use the items for cooking
According to Mrs Awoyemi, the use of coalpot is simple.
“Just place some quantity of charcoal on the coalpot; make some fire and then place your pot on it. The fire is enough to cook anything.
“When you are done, you can empty the coal on the floor, and pour water on it. Then glowing fire is put out. The family can reuse it after it has dried.
“They bring us charcoal from Iseyi in Oyo State or from Irua in big trucks.
“But when they discovered that people were going for it, they hiked up the price to N4, 500 per bag,” she said.
Explaining cooking with charcoal, she said:
“It cooks faster than gas.
“To use it inside the home, just place the coalpot on a tray to avoid the ash from spreading.
“It does not produce any form of smoke and no smell unless one buys wood that did not fully-burn out.
“The other advantage is that since it does not produce smoke, it does not soil the pot with soot.”
Pointing at the coalpots in her shop displayed for sale, she said, “they are moving fast. I buy from the makers and then resale. People are going for this old means of cooking now.
“I will advise every household to get theirs now as a way of surviving these difficult times.”