Nigeria’s plan for CNG buses is good, but it must be smartly executed

CNG bus fleet

Late last month, President Bola Tinubu addressed millions of Nigerians on the state of the country. Following the controversial removal of subsidy on petrol, citizens have been forced to grapple with increased transport prices, food items, and other essential items. 

Among the issues Tinubu spoke on, that of transport raised many eyebrows. He pledged that between now and March 2024, his government would invest N100 billion in acquiring 3,000 20-seater buses powered by Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). 

He added that select transport companies would get access to the buses through a credit facility. Regarding the financing model, he said the transport companies would get the buses at an interest rate of 9% with a 60-month repayment period. 

Unlike electric buses or regular buses using internal combustion engines, CNG buses rely on gas. Interestingly, transport isn’t the only area where natural gas has been considered an alternative to petrol. After public transport prices rose, news broke that some Nigerians were converting their petrol generators. 

While CNG is viewed as a less expensive option, it comes with some risks many aren’t aware of. According to Lanre Mojola, the Director General of Lagos State Safety Commission, the possible risks of converting their generators include “explosion due to gas build-up and exposure to direct sunlight which may also cause explosion.” As such, he advocated for citizens to ensure the conversion process was done safely.

CNG bus

Regarding the pledge of 3,000 CNG buses, the Independent Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) recently beckoned the government to use its existing infrastructure for the initiative. Doing this would ensure the country incurs costs for outsourcing the infrastructure project.

Read also: Nigeria’s plan for CNG buses is smart, but it must be smartly executed 

The state of CNG buses in Africa 

Aside from Tinubu’s recent speech, there have been previous attempts to accelerate Nigeria’s reliance on CNG buses. Former president Muhammadu Buhari launched the Natural Gas Expansion Program in 2020 to fully maximize the country’s 200 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves.

Among the program’s objectives, let’s dwell on the one that targets the roll-out of CNG buses. Following the initiative’s launch, Nigeria entered a partnership with Iran to help the corner expand its utilization of natural gas for vehicular fuel.  

Moving away from Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire’s interest in CNG buses dates back to 2018. In December of that year, Amadou Koné, Minister of Transport, with some other ministers, commissioned a fleet of CNG buses. Additionally, they also launched Abidjan’s pioneer CNG fuelling station. 

The country’s major reason for jumping on the CNG trend was to comply with the Paris Agreement. For context, the Paris Agreement is an international treaty on climate change. Since its enactment in 2016, the primary goal is maintaining the world’s average temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. 

It’s worth noting that aside from it being a more affordable transport fuel, CNG is also climate-friendly. Besides, it’s time African countries consider alternative means of powering their buses and other vehicles. After all, road transport on the continent accounts for almost 13% of the world’s carbon emissions. 

In East Africa, Tanzania has shared that the buses intended for Phase II of its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system will run on CNG. As of May this year, it was in the procurement process. 

CNG bus in Egypt

Meanwhile, Egypt is among the leading users of CNG, with around 260,000 buses already running on that fuel. Between July 2022 and March 2023, the country has grown its CNG fuelling stations to 688. It intends to hit 1,000 soon. Egypt’s recent improvement in gas production played a major role in its interest in CNG buses. 

CNG buses or electric buses for Nigeria?

Nigeria has toyed with the possible mass adoption of alternatives like CNG and electricity as part of efforts to lessen its reliance on petrol. Last month, a government agency acquired some electric buses from JET Motor Company, a home-based manufacturer. That move was intended to assure citizens of the government’s commitment to accelerating EV usage. 

However, EVs are notoriously expensive, making it difficult for the average citizen to afford them. Beyond the affordability topic, hurdles like limited charging infrastructure and a high lack of awareness stand in the way of immediate mass adoption. But then, they’re highly beneficial to the environment. They also cost less to maintain compared to their ICE counterparts. 

When all’s said and done, Nigeria’s reliance on petrol for vehicular transport has to be reduced. Although the long-term motive is to lessen its carbon footprint, the immediate reason will be to cushion the effects of the subsidy removal. 

Regarding which option Nigeria should prioritize, the country’s massive gas reserves already make a case for CNG buses. Besides, the country’s electricity sector is far from perfect. Some areas, typically rural communities, suffer prolonged blackouts. While this doesn’t mean Nigeria should abandon its EV adoption goals, more focus should be channelled to CNG buses. 

Beyond a televised promise, President Tinubu has to ensure that the necessary steps are made to guarantee the project’s success. The buses should be well maintained to guarantee longevity.  This may be a difficult task, given Nigeria’s pathetic maintenance culture. But if these buses (and eventually electric buses) are to dominate our roads, the road to adoption must be paved well.

Innoson recently launched a handful of CNG vehicles across various categories like trucks, mini-buses, and SUVs. Being a local manufacturer, it’s easy to argue that the government buys the desired CNG buses from Innoson. That would help grow the economy. However, its variant is a 54-seater bus which is way more than the 20-seater type mentioned in the speech. So, it’s up to other local companies to build buses with the government’s desired seating size to attract attention and possible collaboration.  

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