Mujidah Ajibola Oladejo is the Founder of environmental advocacy organization The Sustainability Hub and a new addition to our group of accountapreneurs with Accountability Lab Nigeria. Kibo Ngowi spoke to her to find out how her journey as a sustainability advocate began and what she hopes to achieve with the support of Accountability Lab Nigeria’s Incubator Program.

Mujidah’s passion for sustainability began eight years ago on what seemed like an ordinary day in Lagos. On this occasion Mujidah and her four-year old son Jubril left her parents’ house in Ibadan and drove to Lagos to pick up her elder sister from the airport.

Sure enough, they found themselves stuck in the notorious traffic of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and settled in for the good few hours it would take them to get safely back home. Suddenly, Jubril began vomiting.

“You have to understand he hadn’t shown any signs of sickness before we left Ibadan so this came as a shock to me,” recalls Mujidah. In the space of the five hours it took them to get home, the toddler had vomited four times in the car. It was only later that Mujidah realized that her son’s condition was the result of inhaling fumes from a nearby petrol tanker that had blown into the car through the open windows.

“Every time the petrol tanker emitted that heavy black smoke, my son would inhale it and it would make him vomit. You need to know how horrible that experience will have been for a young mother so it got me thinking deeply about pollution and its environmental impact for the first time in my life.”

Mujidah was pursuing a BSc in Economics and as part of her studies she was learning about production methods, but she began to notice how nothing was being said about how production affects the environment. “Well, at that point I couldn’t influence the educational sector so I just had to let it go but after my degree I started reading about the environment and it got me interested in environmental management.”

After the economics degree, Mujidah decided to take her newfound interest further and pursue a 3-year Master’s Degree in Education for Sustainability, from London South Bank University, and she’s due to graduate this May. “The degree is focused on ensuring sustainable production and consumption of goods and services such that economic activities are practiced in a way that does not harm the environment.”

Mujidah’s thoughts around environmental management began to crystallize as she realized that despite the existence of environmental laws meant to guide businesses in Nigeria, effective implementation was lacking. At the same time, she also realized from her own experience and conversations with her son that the country’s school curriculum didn’t have environmental education. It prompted her to start an organization that could help address these gaps and so in 2017 she established The Sustainability Hub.

Advocating for Change

Mujidah first heard about Accountability Lab through the Integrity Icon Nigeria campaign during the same year she started her NGO and it piqued her interest to find an organization promoting the values of honesty and integrity.

The next time she would hear about the Lab was from her friend Funke who had been part of the 2019 cohort of the Accountability Incubator. The program helped Funke grow her legal advocacy organization Hope Behind Bars. “Because we both work in the development space, I would often ask Funke questions about growing her organization and one day she told me about the incubator and how it was a life-changing experience that provided an exponential boost to her organization.”

Mujidah applied for the program as soon as applications for the next cohort opened and was accepted. She intends to learn as much as she can and leverage the support of the Lab on two parallel missions: engaging the government and private sector to improve the implementation of environmental management policies on the one hand and making sustainability a part of the schools’ curricula across Nigeria on the other.

As part of this effort, the Sustainability Hub ran a survey in October last year with a small sample of SMMEs to gain insight on perceptions of sustainability among business owners. “I now know that most entrepreneurs are aware of these issues and actually understand environmental management but do not implement it and I believe this is because government policies do not enforce it from the public sector level.”

Mujidah’s team has now drafted a larger survey with more questions and approached three SMME Hubs in Abuja to help them administer the survey to their members. The goal is to come out of the process with evidence-based conclusions that they can then use to engage government.

“The results of this survey need to be a tool to advocate for the change we seek. We need to hold companies accountable for the reduction of carbon emissions in the atmosphere so we can all reap the attendant health and environmental benefits.”

Armed with the results of this survey, Mujidah plans to organize a roundtable discussion bringing together the relevant government departments and the private sector to discuss the need for environmental management and the challenges of effective implementation.

“In Nigeria we are used to carrot and stick approach so if the government brings out a policy telling all companies to comply with environmental management and it is implemented effectively by monitoring all of them, we have a firm belief that things will change for the better.”

Education is also a crucial component of the Sustainability Hub’s approach, which is why they have been approaching schools about incorporating environmental management into their curricula. The team has engaged four primary and secondary schools in Abuja and the reception to their material has been positive. On a larger scale, Mujidah’s team is trying to push for the Federal Ministry of Education to incorporate and integrate sustainability into teaching methods for public schools across the country.

“The idea is to incorporate environmental management in such a way that when a teacher is teaching economics for instance, students are taught to be aware of the dangers of production to the environment and seek more sustainable methods.”

These are the goals Mujidah hopes the Accountability Incubator can support her to achieve and two months into the program she says she’s been happy with the experience.

“It has been a good community. Right from the training we attended to kickstart the program, it has been an eye-opening experience. The Accountability Lab staff are very approachable and ready to support us, and the facilitators not only know the academics but have also been on the field so it’s very easy for them to relate to our challenges.”

She’s also optimistic about the potential of her new community of like-minded change makers to make an impact on society. “The people in this cohort of accountapreneurs, if I may humbly say, are a group of promising young Nigerians who will not be a waste of investment. We will definitely be great ambassadors and pay this opportunity forward.”

Kibo Ngowi is a Communications Coordinator for Accountability Lab