Bankole Oloruntoba was recently appointed as Finland’s Honorary Consul in Lagos. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the 41-year old climate innovation expert says Nigeria has been unable to harness its waste resources and other climate innovations, unlike Nordic countries.
Mr Oloruntoba is the youngest person to occupy the Finnish Honorary Consul seat in Nigeria.
PT: Can we talk about the efforts that earned you this role? And how does it affect the Nigeria-Finland relationship?
Oloruntoba: Before the Climate Innovation Centre, I was first all about innovation management and tech startups. I started the first incubator in Abuja called Inspire Incubator. I started what is called a network of incubators in Nigeria. All I did was to network hubs, startups, technology innovations with other systems. That is about the first thing that brought me here.
Over time, knowing that the role of innovation cuts across everything, when the need for a Climate Innovation Centre (CIC) came up, the office of the Vice President through the SA made a recommendation that they need to talk to someone like me.
That was how the whole climate innovation thing came up. The climate innovation part of things shows the possibilities of relationships that can happen between Nigeria and other Nordic countries and other countries within the European Union.
So I focused my energy on how we can create that kind of linkage between the businesses we can find over there and those that might be interested in the kind of resources that we have over here.
Because the circular economy is core to most Nordic countries within central Europe, I have had several engagements with them. The first thing we did was to help the Finnish government to understand the level of circularity that happens in Nigeria through a workshop where a few companies from Finland attended and they shared the kind of opportunities they are looking for in Nigeria and the potential they see in the country.
We also have some Nigerian companies who are already into circular businesses, particularly within the finance and manufacturing angles. Seeing similarities on how these business opportunities can happen, because of this, we have CETRA which is like a Finnish innovation agency sitting on billions of euros to drive innovations within and outside Finland to create a new market.
The fact is that Nigerian culture or dynamism is always economy-driven in a very good way. I say it everywhere that we love impacts but you have to show us how sustainable these impacts can be from the economic perspectives then we will love it much more. For me, I saw that while you are creating a business, business is not just about creating a company, it is about creating long-lasting relationships.
If there is anything I would like to accomplish, I would like to ensure a more integral relationship between the Finnish culture and the Nigerian culture. I would like to see how more Nigerian talents can equally help the Finnish and connect more with the world and equally Africa.
The role itself is in a friendly role and so I am supposed to make things easier for many of them when they come to Nigeria and I will also help them to understand opportunities equally happening. For me, one of the biggest issues I have had is how I sit in a diplomatic hall or international communities and I hear other Nigerians bite out or eat out Nigerians every time. I know that we have our issues but when you look at the flipsides, we are a wonderful bunch of people.
When I understood that people appreciated that I was a Nigerian, I realised the need to have conversations beyond the problems that we face. I have got to know that every country has its problems. If you go to a country where you think they are doing good, you will hear them complain about their government or their youth. You ask yourself like well, I’m not singled out of this.
With that it makes me understand that when you are having a conversation within an international circle, you need to put our (Nigeria) best before our challenges because it is the best they will use to judge us.
So, if we can create that knowledge exchange that can happen between both countries, you can create a sort of format where technology can exchange between both countries. These are the guys that gave us technology such as Nokia, Wi-Fi and some other things and they have a strong innovation culture.
We need to ensure such relationships to boost ours too. Finland has a huge ingrain innovation culture which Nigeria can also benefit from. For instance, for us, AC is for cooling but they have AC for heat. How do we reconcile these opposites? But you realise that they both use the same mechanism but the output is different.
There is a whole bunch of knowledge out there we can learn from that region and domesticate.
Another great thing about Finland is their attitude to renewable energy; converting waste to renewable energy. At one point we read that there is minimal access to waste in most of those Nordic countries and the first thought that came to my mind was, how do we (Nigeria) package waste to Finland? But again I know that there is a process to this.
If you are going to package these wastes, there needs to be a process to it and put it into specifications that are needed there. If that is not possible with the kind of technology that we have here, how do we create the linkage from a company that knows over there and resources here?
To think that there is no capital investment in Nigeria is wrong. There are quite sizable investment opportunities in Nigeria. It might be in terms of brick and mortar, which the tech sector does not share much but the climate sector that I am in now is strongly brick and mortar. You cannot create a circular economy product without it being tangible, it has to be something you can see, feel and touch.
The kind of opportunities that the climate sector or the green economy offers in Nigeria can rival the fossil fuels economy any day, any time.
PT: I appreciate the fact that you mentioned climate change. March 21 is World Forestry Day, do you have any plans for it?
Oloruntoba: For the Climate Innovation Centre, we would like to look at the solutions to climate change with a business model. We know that there are several people out there into climate change activism, forestry, biodiversity. The Minister of Environment for State, Sharon Ikpeazu, does a lot of work around biodiversity, forestry and so on.
For climate innovation, we look at the sustainability part of such activism, how to craft an economic model around it. Whether we like it or not, trees will still be cut. So if we look at it from that angle, we can reduce the reckless cut(ting) of trees, creating a path for cutting trees only for economic reasons rather than for cooking.
The truth is, we will still need wood for furniture and several other things. When cooking becomes the larger reason why trees are being cut, then we need a solution to it which is why we have the clean cooking stove method that is thriving in Nigeria. Why is that not on a large scale? It is because the cost of producing the stove itself is a bit more expensive than the normal kerosene stove.
These things are made out of human waste, sometimes animal waste, solid waste, rice husks, corn cobs among others. These things are put together to form briquettes. These briquettes burn and cost less than charcoal. My question now is that the moment we can scale these briquettes in Nigeria and the person that fries ‘akara’ (bean cake) and the person that roasts corn can use it, then we will successfully erase charcoal.
You have to cut and burn trees before you have coal. That is about double the emission you are causing. When I travelled to Jos, I saw how they levelled and burnt a place called ‘Forest’. Forest is a beautiful place.
For us, we look at climate viability, adaptation and then create the strategy, and briquette is a way to reduce the use of firewood. If you can get a state, city or company in Nigeria to invest in briquettes production and create a distribution line to the community of people that want to use it, then we have opened up a new market economy.
PT: Nigeria has a problem with proper disposal or conversion of wastes, especially in our urban cities. Are there specific steps from you to address this?
Oloruntoba: Just like I said earlier, the first step for me is to look at the business scales around it. If we look at the business viability, solid waste is the challenge and to find a solution you have to find viability around it and understand the business model.
Sustainability needs capital, even the UN calls for capital every time. That is how sustainability happens. If you want to create a business model around solid wastes, we need to first identify what it could be turned into. We need to recognise the volume of the solid wastes we are dealing with? How are they disposed of currently? What are the different areas those wastes are being disposed of? Do we have a dump site, waterways? What are the impacts this can cause?
Solid waste can be converted into gas. In our first incubator programme we had in Aba, there is this guy who was looking at converting public toilet wastes to gas for people in the same market to buy. One of his biggest challenges was the cultural aspect. People thought he was packing their faeces and others for diabolical purposes.
There are lots of things in Nigeria that can tweak your business innovations beyond whether it will sell or not, even though anything can sell in this country. So, for me, I would like to understand the case around this before leaping into it. When we know how viable it is, who and who needs the outcome then we can create things like hackathons and other innovative practices.
I met a guy in Jos a while ago who was turning septic tanks into gas use in the house. You have an apartment, you guys might not necessarily need to pay for gas. You all can contribute and get this guy to run pipes from your solid wastes buried under the ground.
Creating a business model out of climate solution can bring about such sustainability faster.
PT: You said there are businesses in waste management, where are they and how can people who are interested key into them?
Oloruntoba: Waste management is one, not just solid wastes. If you notice, over time, some women use to pack plastics, pure water sachets. Many of them crush these things into something else.
Another part is the metal waste, this particular waste is equally beautiful. Recently, I got to realise that a truckload of metal waste costs almost N10 million per trip. The whole truck of what we called ‘condemn metals’ is worth over N9 million at the point of delivery.
This is why I said earlier that there is a lot of circularity in Nigeria but it is not just structured.
We have the battery side of things. When a battery dies, the lead in it costs more in the lead market in Europe. But for us, we just trash them because we don’t need them. As I speak to you, there is an association of battery recyclers in Lagos.
Aside from those mentioned above, other opportunities within the recycling space cut across all human engagements that we have not explored in Nigeria the way we should have.
For cars, there are recycling opportunities. I know of someone who makes tricycles from the body parts of abandoned cars and powers them with batteries that function perfectly like regular tricycles. Other opportunities are just brewing up in this sector.
Another person said he can make smaller cold rooms for farmers in different rural areas. His materials are made from different wastes found in Nigeria.
I think we just did a circular hackathon at the Dutch embassy and the winner is from Ibadan. Guess what she did? This lady made compost from one bucket while others were giving you long stories. She brought out her bucket, showed us the things she poured in, how long it takes and the end product. She made a compost fertiliser. Hers is a simple process that can do it on large scale across different farms. Meaning you can have a huge tank in your farm where you dump all sorts of leftovers, sprinkle some chemical she made and in less than a minute you have a healthy fertiliser. The market itself is open to everyone but to drive it into a mainstream economy we need more engagements.
Biofuel is also there where you can convert the same food wastes into energy to power engines. If we improve on the production of biofuel we can supply fast-food restaurants like the Chicken Republic, banks like GTBank, telecommunication companies whose generators use combustion engines.
If we create a value chain system, restaurants like the Chicken Republic should not be struggling to buy diesel. Meaning that if we improve on biofuel and target some sectoral businesses, we don’t need to sell it to every household, we can start by dedicating it to those companies and businesses that have branches in different states and offer to change their combustion engines and other things necessary, we already have a direct market for biofuel. We can then gradually move to other sectors.
The world is moving from fossil fuel to renewable energy and we need to too. I know that sustainability cannot work without finance no matter how much we shout impact, but we have the resources and sectoral businesses that want it within the country.