…beyond the ministerial portfolios, there is room for regulatory agencies to promote sustainability within the Nigerian economy. This has started to happen, but we obviously need more of it. It is anticipated that the progress of Nigeria on the sustainability journey will definitely rub-off positively on the continent.
Compared to East Asia that was essentially supported by China, Africa did not quite achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It is anticipated that the story would be different with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) given Africa’s renaissance and the pursuit of Africapitalism. However, the role of African governments in stimulating sustainable development in the continent is often mute or at best taken for granted.
Contrary to the general trend in Africa, the government of Mr. Buhari appears to be focusing on sustainability. This has been espoused in recent policies including the President’s reported recent speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.
Sustainability has become a new mantra, a philosophy of sorts. It however means different things to different people. If one takes the literary meaning of the word, it simply suggests longevity or the ability to continue to be in existence irrespective of counteracting pressures. Another word often used in this regard is resilience. While longevity and resilience are integral to sustainability, they tend to, somewhat, present a narrow and limited view of sustainability.
The broad view of sustainability goes beyond resilience and longevity and emphasises the need to balance environmental, social, and economic considerations in decisions. It is directly linked to the quest for sustainable development – a development that does not inhibit future generations in their quest for development. It recognises the nested interdependency amongst the economy, society, and environment.
In other words, the success of the economy is dependent on the viability of society, and the success of society is linked to the viability of the environment. As such, without the environment there will be no society, and without society, there will be no economy. The three are interwoven. Sustainability thus strives to ensure the integrity of this nested interdependency. This is very much at the heart of the SDGs.
The emergence of sustainability in Nigeria’s political discourse is a welcome development in many ways. First, Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa. As such, the focus on sustainability gives some degree of legitimacy and importance to the sustainability movement in Africa, which is often taken for granted or as a low priority in the continent and other developing economies.
Although most Nigerians and businesses clamour for electricity at all cost, the new regime should ensure that the power sector is solidly founded on the principles of sustainability. There is need to rethink the energy-mix of the country in a way that meets its sustainable (i.e. long term) growth trajectory.
Second, it sets the Nigerian economy and society on a new path, which was hitherto ignored or not mainstreamed. It offers a new intellectual space to rethink economic growth and social development in Nigeria and Africa at large. Nevertheless, how this opportunity will be explored is still up for debate. It requires further consideration, given the composition of Mr. Buhari’s government and the ministerial portfolios.
The merging of the ministries of Power, Housing and Works into a single ministry, for instance, may offer a very significant lever to push the broad sustainability agenda in Nigeria. The reason for this is not far-fetched – these sectors have major impacts on sustainability in most economies. The ongoing reforms in the Nigerian power sector offer an opportunity to embed sustainability thinking and practices in that sector, which shouldn’t be missed.
Although most Nigerians and businesses clamour for electricity at all cost, the new regime should ensure that the power sector is solidly founded on the principles of sustainability. There is need to rethink the energy-mix of the country in a way that meets its sustainable (i.e. long term) growth trajectory. At the moment, the energy-mix stands at about 75 percent gas and 25 percent hydro. The government can offer incentives and create an enabling environment, through smart regulation, for businesses in this sector to explore and embrace the opportunities offered by sustainability thinking.
These may include opportunities in renewable, clean technologies, as well as rural electrification and reduction of energy poverty. Beyond power, there is also the opportunity to inform and influence housing and other infrastructure development projects and programmes on a large scale. In some economies, house-hold energy consumption has significant impact on carbon footprint. Addressing such through eco-friendly and affordable housing will be an innovative approach.
Another critical ministry to consider is transportation, which now comprises aviation, rail, road, and sea. Transportation has significant impact on the environment, society, and economy. Traffic menace is one of the main problems confronting many cities in Africa – particularly Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria. It is estimated that up to 30 percent of productive time is lost to traffic in Lagos on a daily basis.
Obviously, poor transportation infrastructure is not good for business and the economy at large. Sustainable transportation has unsurprisingly become a global issue. The ministry of transportation is in good stead to key into this trend and open up opportunities for the private sector to provide sustainable transport infrastructure that meets economic, social, and environmental demands.
Finance, Trade and Investments are critical ministries in the pursuit of sustainability. The emergence of the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles is still one of the remarkable achievements in the country which can set the economy on a long lasting sustainability path.
Then again, the ministries of Petroleum Resources and Solid Minerals also offer interesting opportunities. These two sectors are at the core of the extractive industry, which is fraught with sustainability challenges ranging from environmental degradation to community unrest. Although the sector seems to be at the forefront of the sustainability movement in Nigeria given its global reach, more still needs to be done to enhance the positive impacts of these sectors on the Nigerian economy and society.
Finance, Trade and Investments are critical ministries in the pursuit of sustainability. The emergence of the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles is still one of the remarkable achievements in the country which can set the economy on a long lasting sustainability path. The principles have specific focus on the power, oil/gas, and agriculture sectors. Given the central role of the finance ministry in the economy and society, it obviously has a strategic role to play in mainstreaming sustainability across other sectors.
These ministries need to creatively collaborate in order to avoid the danger of silo thinking, which is a real risk. One way to avoid this challenge is possibly to have the responsibility of managing these collaborations domiciled in the office of the Vice President (VP), as the coordinator of the economy. The VP’s office could be supported by the Ministry of Environment, given the pivotal importance of environmental sustainability in the SDGs, and the Office of Budgeting and National Planning, given the strategic importance of embedding sustainability thinking in national policies and practices.
Finally, beyond the ministerial portfolios, there is room for regulatory agencies to promote sustainability within the Nigerian economy. This has started to happen, but we obviously need more of it. It is anticipated that the progress of Nigeria on the sustainability journey will definitely rub-off positively on the continent.
Kenneth Amaeshi, a sustainability strategy expert is the director of the Sustainable Business Initiative and an Associate Professor (Reader) in Strategy & International Business at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom. Twitter handle: @kenamaeshi