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Geopolitics of the Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline

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During Morocco’s King Mohammed VI’s first-ever visit to Nigeria in 2016, since his accession to the throne 18 years earlier, the ambitious Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline project was unveiled to transport Nigerian gas to Morocco and potentially l Europe via 13 other existing and potential gas pipelines. West African countries importing gas from Nigeria.

The 7,000 km $25 billion project would be an extension of the existing offshore pipeline that currently connects Lagos to Cotonou, Lomé, Tema and Takoradi; and is designed to expand further, covering Abidjan, Monrovia, Freetown, Conakry, Banjul, Dakar, Nouakchott, Tangier in Morocco and Cadiz in Spain. When completed in 25 years, it would be the longest offshore pipeline in the world.

Although Nigeria and Morocco have maintained diplomatic relations over the decades, the former’s support for the sovereignty of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which the latter has vehemently resisted, claiming it is part of its territories, kept the relationship quite cold. , to say the least.

In addition, Morocco withdrew from the former Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1984 to protest against the organization’s decision to recognize the SADR as a member state. It remained the only African country not to be a member of the continental body for 33 years until 2017, when its application for re-admission to the body, which had changed its name to African Union (AU), was been accepted.

However, even before its readmission, Morocco tried to improve its relations with Nigeria in its increasingly desperate search for alternative sources of gas supply away from Algeria, one of its important sources of gas. but its geopolitical rival and even its sworn enemy.

Morocco depends on Algerian gas for a tenth of its electricity production under the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline agreement which transports Algerian gas to Spain via Moroccan territories.

Although Algeria and Morocco share much of the same historical, ethnocultural and religious background, their relationship has been characterized by tensions over border disputes, leading to armed skirmishes on numerous occasions and even war in large scale in 1963.

Also, Algeria’s support for the Sahrawi people’s struggle for independence has fueled the lingering tensions and fierce geopolitical power struggle between the two neighbors whose common land borders have remained closed since 1994.

Last year, Algeria severed its already strained relations with Morocco; and barely a month later, it followed up by deciding not to renew the gas supply contract via the gas pipeline that crosses Morocco, thus effectively ending its gas supply in Morocco, reassuring the Spain that it would not be affected as long as it (Algeria) would instead use its direct offshore pipeline and shipping to maintain its supply. Since then, new tensions between Algeria and Morocco have escalated, warning of impending war at some point.

Clearly, Morocco had anticipated Algeria’s decision to cut off its gas supply, which explains its dogged search for an alternative source in Nigeria. After all, the fact that it (Morocco) realizes that the Nigeria-Morocco pipeline would only reach its territories at its final stage, i.e. after 25 years, but still determined to continue anyway, suggests his loss of hope in the possibility of a better relationship with Algeria that would guarantee him a reliable and sustainable gas supply, without the nightmare of political blackmail.

Interestingly, long before this project was proposed, Algeria had apparently anticipated it and therefore wanted to undermine its feasibility and thwart it by proposing the Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline to transport Nigerian gas to Europe via the Republic of Niger and the Algerian territories. She has since lobbied for an agreement to this effect between her and Nigeria to be signed in 2002. She has also tried to dissuade Nigeria from going ahead with the Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline project.

Yet a similar geopolitical power struggle between Russia and US-led NATO member countries over Ukraine also appears to cast a shadow over the Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline project.

Russia is Europe’s largest gas supplier; and since the start of its invasion of Ukraine, it has manipulated procurement to blackmail NATO, which responded to the invasion with, among other things, escalating economic and political sanctions against Russia.

Since then, NATO member countries have been increasingly desperate, exploring alternative sources of gas supply to wean themselves off Russian gas and free themselves from its blackmail.

Russia, for its part, realizes that the Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline has the potential to eventually transport Nigerian gas across Europe from Spain once the pipeline infrastructure is further expanded, making unnecessary Russian gas on the continent.

To avoid this prospect, Russia has therefore offered to invest in the Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline project as a tactical maneuver to find itself in a position to influence its operations once completed.

While it remains to be seen how things would play out, Nigerian officials seem unaware of the underlying geopolitics of the project, let alone interested in identifying the appropriate interests to pursue in the process.