Insight

Cooking gas: A nation caught between survival, health hazards

The price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), otherwise known as cooking gas, has continued to soar, plunging Nigerians into agonising worries, with many forced to seek alternatives. JULIANA FRANCIS looks at the consequences of the alternatives on people’s health and climate change

Mrs. Adebola Ogunsolu is a civil servant living in Abeokuta in Ogun State. For her, like several other Nigerians, life, since the outbreak of COVID-19, has been unbearable owing to the high cost of living. She, like many others, has been suffering in silence as the prices of food items continued to snowball. But now, the price of gas has also soared beyond the reach of the majority of Nigerians. Ogunsolu can no longer afford gas and absolutely refused to think of using a kerosene stove as an alternative, also because of the high cost. She has now abandoned her gas cooker, resorting to coal pot.

She said: “I can no longer afford to buy gas. I’m worried that the hike in the price, if not checked, may prevent Nigerians from enjoying the Yuletide. A kilogram of gas, which used to be sold for N650 about four weeks ago, goes for N950 now. The rate at which the price of gas is snowballing daily is alarming. For low income earners like me, I can no longer afford it. I now cook on a charcoal pot which I bought for just N2,000, along with a charcoal of N200, which can last me for a week. Before the price of gas went up, I used to spend between N1,800 and N2,100 to refill my six kg gas cylinder, but the last time I refilled my cylinder, I spent N4,800.

It was unbearable!” Many Nigerians were using kerosene before it became too expensive for many people. In 2017, kerosene, which was the major cooking fuel in homes in Nigeria, suddenly became exorbitant. The price of kerosene back then was N300 per litre.

Today, a litre of kerosene, which sold for about N250, about two months ago, now sells for N350 at filling stations while it is about N400 at retail outlets. Just as the situation forced Ogunsolu to make choices, it has also compelled most Nigerians to seek alternatives. Cries and lamentations come from all corners of the West, East, South and North. Some Nigerians, who are still using gas, are buying half cylinders, rather than their regular full ones. These alternative choices also means smoke billowing into the atmosphere, disturbing the air and creating further climate changes on an already stretched atmosphere.

These choices in cooking fuel by Nigerians came just as President Muhammadu Buhari joined other world leaders at Glasgow, Scotland to attend the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Like most leaders at the summit, Buhari spoke and highlighted Nigeria’s key priorities and action to tackle climate change as well as progress on the country’s transition to a low carbon economy, consistent with achieving the Paris Climate Agreement.

One of the segments in the schedule was: “The Economic Opportunities of Climate Action,” which highlighted the broad economic benefits of climate action, with a strong focus on job creation. “It explored the economic benefits of green recovery and long-term decarbonisation and the importance of ensuring that all communities and workers benefit from the clean-energy transition.”

Tragically, however, just as participants were clapping to these ideal speeches in Scotland, Nigerians were (and are still) frantically chopping down trees, destroying greenery as they began to use firewood and charcoal as cooking fuel. Incidentally, the costs of firewood and charcoal have also spiked as a result of more deviation to their usage. A bag of charcoal, which was between N2,800 and N3,000, is now over N4,000, and still climbing.

Aside from the environmental pollution, more worrisome are the health consequences of smoke from firewood and charcoal in the lives of the users and those in the vicinity. The International Centre for Energy, Environment and Development (ICEED) states that in 2020, Nigeria lost 97,800 hectares-377 square miles-of natural forest, equivalent to 59.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Again, in 2016, more than 218,000 people died in Nigeria from household air pollution, including from inhaling smoke from open wood fires in the kitchen. Similarly, ScienceDirect said that wood is the most widely utilised cooking fuel with 120 million Nigerians estimated to be vulnerable to illness and deaths from exposure to cooking smoke. Household air pollution (HAP) from inefficient stoves fuelled with biomass, kerosene or coal is thought to cause four million deaths yearly.

Women and children often suffer greater exposure as prevailing gender norms tend to give them greater responsibility for food preparation, stated ScienceDirect. Citizens in Adamawa State are in a dilemma as they fear the actions of the government on those now using firewood and charcoal. The Adamawa State House of Assembly is currently in the final stage of passing a bill to prohibit the usage of firewood in the state, as offenders will be made to face a two-year jail term or pay a fine of N50,000, if found guilty. A resident of Adamawa State, Mrs. Theresa Brown, said: “I have no option than to stop using gas. I now use firewood, which is cheaper.

At Joesco Filling Station, a 12.5kg gas cylinder is now N7,500 as against N3,500, while at Ranu Station, the same 12.5kg is N7,900 as against N4,000 sold last year. “Although the stress in using firewood as an alternative is enormous, especially in washing pots and other utensils – even the smoke hazard affecting the environment is a serious issue, however, when considering the cost implications, firewood is preferable.” On her part, Aishatu Suleiman wants relevant stakeholders to think positively and address the problem because the masses are suffering from an indescribable hardship. She said: “I find it difficult to cope with the current price of gas.

My appeal is that the Adamawa State House of Assembly should discontinue the passage of the law prohibiting the use of firewood as an alternative to gas.” In Nasarawa State, it’s still songs of sorrow as a housewife, Mrs. Naomi John, 37, living at Bukan-Sidi in Lafia metropolis, explained that she abandoned gas three months ago, to embrace charcoal. “My cylinder is now covered with cobwebs because I stopped using gas three months ago.

I can’t afford refilling the cylinder. Imagine 4kg which was sold for N2,000 is now N4,000, and much more, and the price keeps rising! It’s better if I use charcoal and firewood. How much will one spend on food items and then think of refilling the gas cylinder? Where is the money in the first place?” asked John. Another resident of Tudu Abu, a suburb sharing a fence with the Government House, Lafia, on Shendam Road, Mrs. Amina Audu, said: “I can’t remember when last I used gas to cook. I have been using firewood because I can’t afford gas. Gas is now for only the rich in Nigeria.” Mrs. Folashade Alao, who lives in Kwara State, lamented thus: “Gas is the fastest and easiest way of cooking which can be efficiently used indoors as it does not stain pots and the kitchen.

But the increase in the price has made many people, including me, to go for other alternatives such as charcoal, firewood and kerosene. The increase in the price of gas has brought hardship on my household. I now go for what is affordable, which is charcoal and at times, firewood.

But it wasn’t a pleasant decision and choice for me. But what can I do with my meagre salary?” She explained that there were a lot of challenges associated with the use of charcoal and firewood. “For instance, the smoke that comes from firewood and charcoal has a lot of health implications. It exposes the body to diseases such as tuberculosis, asthma, high blood pressure, lung cancer, eye redness, among others. It also makes the pots and all other utensils as well as the environment dirty.

Besides, charcoal and firewood waste a lot of time before food is fully prepared. I appeal to the Federal Government to come to the rescue of women who bear the brunt. It’s not too much for the government to subsidise gas production and make it affordable to Nigerians, especially the downtrodden who are at the receiving end. Moreover, the usage of charcoal will lead to deforestation which the government is doing everything to prevent,” said Alao. In Lokoja, Kogi State, a survey of cooking gas prices showed that 12.5kg of gas now costs N9,500, while 6kg costs N7,000. This naturally pushed the price of charcoal. A bag of charcoal now costs between N7,000 and N8,000, as against N2,500.

A restaurant operator, Hajiya Binta, is currently using charcoal to cook food for her customers, which, she said, is bad for business, because customers will have to wait till the food is slowly processed for consumption. She added: “The gas I have in the kitchen now is to warm food and not to cook. This has greatly affected our business. With an increase in gas price, we dare not increase food prices otherwise we will lose our customers.” In Bayelsa State, Mr. Samuel Omoroghe, who revealed that he has a large family, started using firewood as the solution to his challenges with the price of gas.

He said: “I have gone back to firewood since the price of gas went up and then finally skyrocketed to the present level. My parents used firewood while I was growing up and I thank God for the kind of children I have. Before the firewood finishes, they would have gone into the bush to fetch another.”

A resident of Maiduguri, Borno State, Mallam Haruna Shuabu, said: “I have resorted to the use of firewood because the price of gas is now out of the reach of an average civil servant like me. We used to buy 6kg of gas at the cost of N2,200 and 12kg at the cost of N4,300, but now both are being sold at N4,300 and N9,000 respectively. As a civil servant earning N35,000 a month, I can’t afford to buy 12kg of gas for N9,000, which can only take me two to three weeks. I have resorted to the use of firewood because even charcoal now is beyond the reach of an ordinary teacher like me. “If you remove N15,000 from my salary, I’m left with N20,000.

I believe the Federal Government is not serious about fighting deforestation as lowering the price of cooking gas will make everybody go back to the use of gas. I’m appealing to the Federal Government, as a matter of urgency and a deliberate policy to fight deforestation, to lower the price of gas to as low as N1,000 per 12kg, to make it attrac-tive to the masses. This is a product that the Nigerian government used to flare.” A tea vendor, Garba Iliya, said: “I used to buy 6kg of gas at the cost of N2,300, but it’s now N4,300. This has forced me to go back to the traditional use of firewood.

In fact, the charcoal that used to be sold at the cost of N1,800 per bag, due to the high cost of gas, is now N3,000 per bag. Many of my colleagues have been pushed out of business as a result of the high cost of gas coupled with other items. The business is now almost profitless.”

Iliya said that the government is not sensitive to the plight of the masses, stressing that all items in the market are now out of the reach of many Nigerians. In Niger State, the patronage of firewood and charcoal has increased as the price of a kilogram of gas, which was sold at N350, has skyrocketed to between N700 and N800. Asmau Musa, a journalist, said: “The government needs to act fast to help Nigerians, especially the masses by bringing down the cost of gas. My salary is less than N40,000.

When I deduct my house rent, transportation to and fro office, children’s upkeep and market, I’m left with nothing. Right now, gas is obviously beyond my reach.” Mr. Joshua Aguye, a civil servant, said he could no longer afford gas, thus he had to return to the “good old charcoal.” He added: “My worry is that even the state government is against the use of charcoal and firewood because they are arresting dealers of charcoal. The government has banned felling of trees and so, anyone seen with firewood or charcoal will be arrested by the task force. However, firewood and charcoal still continue to be found.”

Hajia Habiba, who owns a local food joint popularly called ‘mama put,’ said although firewood litters the environment and the smoke is unhygienic, she has no choice than to resort to it. She said: “Already, the prices of foodstuffs have been inflated. We have to manage what we can afford to ensure the customers can afford the food. I stopped using gas because of the increment.

I only use firewood and substitute it with a microwave. I don’t feel happy about it because our pots now get black. The story was the same with Maryann Okoro, a mother of three. “It’s not easy cooking with charcoal. I have never used it since I was born, but I’m now forced to learn how to use it because gas is too expensive. I have three children that go to school and because I’m now using charcoal, I wake up by 4am to meet up. But when I was using gas, I woke up by 6am, and before you could say Jack, I would have finished preparing the children’s food and got them ready for school.” An Abuja-based civil servant, Marian Usman, said: “I thought I couldn’t do without gas but I’m coping now. I now use an electric cooker.

I used a prepaid meter and even at that, cooking with electricity is cheaper for me than gas. Instead of using more than N10,000 to fill a 12.5kg cylinder, I had rather used the money to buy a power unit. While using gas, I decided when to start cooking, but with the electric cooker, I will have to time my cooking to when there’s a power supply.”

A school teacher, Rachael Akagu, stated: “I won’t say I have completely stopped cooking with gas, but I have reduced the rate at which I use it. I still cook with gas, but only for breakfast and especially when I’m rushing to go to work. I cook lunch or dinner with charcoal or firewood. The problem now is that even the prices of charcoal, kerosene and firewood are beginning to rise.” In Ondo State, a council worker in the Akure North Local Govern-

 

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