Amidst the prevailing cynicism and disillusionment in Nigeria, there lies a realm of untapped opportunities waiting to be harnessed. While many perceive the nation as shrouded in darkness with no end in sight, a discerning mind recognises the endless possibilities that arise from the diverse problems begging for solutions. In fact, where there are problems, there are opportunities.
The realisation of the immense, untapped potential in Nigeria dawned on me a few weeks ago when I led a team to produce a ground breaking documentary titled “From Linear to Circular Economy: Turning Waste to Wealth.” Our intention was to showcase this documentary in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, later this year, aiming to attract stakeholders and investors from the science, technology and innovation community. Through the production process, we uncovered the bountiful blessings bestowed upon Nigeria. Despite the challenges we face, there is an abundance of innovation and creative ingenuity in our midst.
While many continue to denigrate the nation, blaming it for real and imagined reasons, we had the privilege of encountering remarkable women during the documentary production. These women, against all odds, are making a significant difference within the circular economy space by transforming waste into wealth. The circular economy is a goldmine that has yet to be fully tapped. Currently, we are merely scratching the surface of its potential. It is an area that can be explored and leveraged using both low-end and high-end technologies, providing opportunities for the army of unemployed youth.
Interactions with current players in this space reveal that circular economy ventures are not excessively capital-intensive. The discarded waste itself becomes the raw material for developing valuable products. Water hyacinth, pure water nylon, bamboo and other waste materials are being transformed into valuable commodities by these incredible Nigerians. But what, exactly, is a circular economy and why is it crucial for us to comprehend its viability?
A circular economy is an economic system designed to address global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, waste and pollution. In most linear economy businesses, natural resources are extracted to produce goods that inevitably end up as waste due to their design and production methods. Conversely, a circular economy model focuses on sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible. By extending the life cycle of products, waste is minimised. A closer examination of the circular economy concept reveals its relevance across various domains as long as waste exists. It is an intriguing economic realm that deserves our attention.
It is heart warming to know that we already have Nigerians successfully operating within this space. Individuals like Adejoke Lasisi, who transforms waste nylon and textiles into wealth; Achenyo Idachaba, who turns water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes) from an invasive weed into a valuable resource; and Durian Nigeria, which trains women and children in rural communities to create jewellery, school bags and other useful items. Undoubtedly, there are many more individuals making remarkable strides in this arena. Their commendable initiatives, turning waste into wealth, symbolise hope and possibilities. They exemplify how our country, Nigeria, can turn its fortunes around. However, this transformation requires more than just belief in our abundant natural resources. It necessitates innovation and ingenuity to harness their potential.
To make this vision a reality, government intervention is imperative. The government must not only provide an enabling environment but also establish policies that make the circular economy a robust and viable option, enticing widespread adoption and generating foreign exchange for the nation.
The National Centre for Technology Management (NACETEM), an agency of the Federal Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, plays a crucial role in providing knowledge support in science, technology and innovation management for sustainable development. NACETEM has taken the initiative to produce a documentary highlighting Nigerians who are turning waste into wealth, aiming to garner global recognition and attract investors to the country. However, it is essential for other stakeholders to join forces and elevate their contributions. We cannot expect someone else to do it for us. Despite the sceptics among us, Nigeria possesses the potential to achieve greatness. It requires a collective effort to revitalise our economy by shifting our focus towards a non-oil-based economy. While the current administration is working towards this goal, we must remember that Rome was not built in a day. It may take time, but with a shift from pessimism to optimism, we will undoubtedly succeed.
Even with the limited availability of low-end technology in Nigeria, the women highlighted in this article are already addressing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as a clean environment, poverty reduction, gender mainstreaming and the provision of decent jobs and livelihoods through recycling. Considering the potential impact of high-end technology, we can create a new circular economy that completely transforms Nigeria’s economy and other developing economies. Waste may emit an unpleasant odour, but it holds significant value. It is time to repackage waste to maximise its value through digitisation. It is time to turn waste into wealth. Let us embrace the concept of a circular economy and minimise waste by harnessing its potential for both economic and humanitarian benefits.