I read with utmost disgust, the misleading article authored by Emmanuel Unaegbu, Senior Program Manager at CLIMATTERS, Abuja on what he titled: “Dangers of coal mines for host communities” published on page 6 of Daily Sun of February 10, 2018. Again in Daily Trust of Wednesday May 9, 2018, the same Emmanuel Unaegbu wrote another misleading article on “ Is Coal Power Really Cheap?” I consider it imperative to disabuse the minds of the readers and the government on the dangers of this kind of propaganda aimed at discouraging the use of this vital mineral resource that is widely used around the world.

Coal is known to the entire world as a critical mineral that is used mainly for power generation across the globe, among other uses. The misinformation contained in the piece is capable of sending wrong signals to the reading public and makes Nigeria a laughing stock before the developed world that wonders why coal, as a solution to Nigeria’s power supply, has eluded the country for so long.

I see the writer as an alarmist and prophet of doom who has demonstrated that he is unaware of the role of coal in building sustainable societies and shaping the economies of the developed world. Nigeria needs to experience a dramatic breakthrough in our power generation which accidentally rose to 7000 mw recently only for us to discover we lack the transmission infrastructure to transmit 2000 mw which is now lying waste.

The writer is apparently unware of the dominant role coal is playing in the energy mix of most industrialized nations, notably, our own South Africa where coal accounted for more than 90% of domestic power generation in 2014.  The following key energy facts and targets or projections by South Africa are instructive and worthy of note. South Africa is the 17th largest producer and consumer of electricity globally; 69% of primary energy demand was provided by coal in 2012.

In China, “coal is deeply integrated into economic development”. In spite of comparative advantage in nuclear and other sources, 52% of China’s electricity will come from coal in 2040 leaving coal as the leading source of the country’s electricity generation.

World Coal Association in its recent Energy Outlook reported that “China provides an efficient example of an electrification strategy based on coal, with a 400% increase in China’s coal consumption and 660 million people lifted out of poverty since 1980s”.

India is where the dominance of coal in the country’s energy mix is attributed to factors of affordability and access and will remain the most affordable option through 2035 driven by low domestic coal prices and limited gas affordability. Currently, 60% on India’s power generation capacity is satisfied by coal.

It is evident that “coal plays a vital role in electricity generation worldwide” and the fact that government after government failed to embrace or adopt coal as solution given Nigeria’s abundant coal deposit in 18 states is a surprise and it is inexplicable. With the evolving scenario globally about coal dominating the energy mix of industrialized nations, it is curious to want to know why Nigeria is left out of all these in the face of clear inability and incapacity to tackle the country’s daunting power generation and distribution challenges.

It will be heartwarming for the public to know that the Government is doing something about coal. In the face of the spurious allegations and unverified conclusions made by Mr. Emmanuel Unaegbu of alleged outbreak of coal inspired diseases that is unknown to the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, government silence may be misconstrued. Is government acquiescing with the grave and misleading conclusions of Emmanuel Uneagbu which I reproduce here?.  “Finally, we have to ask the hard question. Do we really need coal power to develop? If there is any iota of doubt, then it is important we leave coal in the ground. Our future is at stake. We have the sun, water and natural gas. We cannot gamble with coal”.

Unwittingly, Mr. Emmanuel Unaegbu concluded that the energy mix in Nigeria should comprise solar (sun), hydro (water) and natural gas. He failed to examine the prospect of each source of his tripartite energy mix to determine the extent to which they will meet our energy needs, especially electricity generation. Of course, he failed to admit that solar globally is only supplementary and never the mainstay of any country’s’ electricity generation. Also, there is limitation on hydro because Nigeria has virtually overstretched this source after the gigantic Mambilla Hydro Electric Project. He also failed to note the myriads of issues associated with gas, including availability, relative cost, pipeline vandalism, which combined limited our gains in optimization of power from this source.

Shortly after the Paris meeting on Emission Control, American President Donald Trump invited some countries including Nigeria to collaborate in clean coal power generation. Nigeria is well advised to heed this call as we have a lot to gain from America. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said: “There’s never been a country that has developed with intermittent power”. Nigeria cannot be an exception. The way to go is adoption of coal for an aggressive power generation, starting with 5000 MW plant at Ankpa, Kogi State, 5000 MW plant at Owukpa in Benue State, 5000 MW plant at Obollo Afor in Enugu State, 2500 MW plant at Ashaka in Gombe State and 2500 MW in Keana, Nasarawa State. This project which can be completed in about four years should bring 20,000 MW to the national grid and boost industrialization that will create minimum of 10,000 jobs. It is only when we attain this level of power generation that our investment promotion Commission can target major manufacturers around the world and invite them to locate their process nearest the power plants and minimize cost of transmission infrastructure.

The era of global use of coal is far from over! Nigeria’s era of using coal to generate electricity is in due season, especially as we can deploy clean coal technology now available. The world forecast is that coal available in 70 countries will last for 142 years while gas and oil will last 61 and 54 years respectively. This forecast shows that coal will outlive gas and oil for 81 years!  The government should put in place a National Think-Tank to explore the prospects of coal in Nigeria’s power generation. The Think –Tank will double as advisory committee on coal to power. This is a national imperative and we should gain speed starting. Where there is a will, there will be a way!

Chief Robert Usman Audu, a retired federal Permanent Secretary, wrote from Abuja