Written by Inayat Sabhikhi
When Mujidah Ajibola Oladejo and I spoke in the last week of October, Nigeria was in the international news for the people’s movement against police brutality, to #EndSARS. For an activist like her this is both a new and old story – a new spin to an old tale.
“We have just asked for very basic human rights, to end police brutality, and now the government is rubbing salt in our wounds by saying that there are no casualties. I don’t know what can be worse than that.”
As an accountapreneur invested in making Nigerian society more accountable, particularly with regards to environmental sustainability, she is a seasoned activist in recognizing silver linings even in the darkest of times.
“Before now, the perception of accountability was decreasing in Nigeria. Our values were being watered down, in a kind of moral decadence. But more recently there has been an awakening and there has been a ripple effect of the End SARS movement. When people saw the extreme reaction of the public authorities, they realized that it is important because otherwise why would the government resist so much – so now accountability is practically applicable to peoples lives and not just an english word in the dictionary.”
“My father uses this word – akoyawo, which literally means the opening of your palm. It means, what’s your hand? I use this word when I work in communities to connect with people. Being accountable means being transparent about our hand, our intentions.”
An average day for Mujidah is much like an average day for most of us. She starts her day with her personal life – prayer, getting her children ready for school and then checking in with her teammates for the work day. After this her day begins to look different from most – it could involve anything from responding to a call from a community member, to sitting across the table from business owners, to meeting with government officers.
“The difficult part of my work is convincing people. Our society is capitalist which makes people believe that the environment is a resource to be exploited as well as people. I try to convince business owners that we need to take care of our environment and the worker class – neither should be exploited. Yes we can have the class structure, but not oppression. This is hard if the only concern is profit. In the beginning people look at me as though I am speaking greek but I keep going.”
Once businesses are convinced, they often lack capacity. The Sustainability Hub provides interested businesses with the research, education and strategy on how to move towards sustainable practices. Working closely with them, they take policy proposals back to the government to make them more flexible and applicable. For example, through their efforts they realized that the cost for transition from fossil fuel to solar power is too high for a business to take on solely and could be incentivised by the government.
“What keeps me motivated is that this is not about any one business or individual. The benefits of this are for humanity. We are all breathing the same air.”
I ask Mujidah what she is proud of to which she has a simple answer – “I have a vision that makes sense to people. I didn’t think I could actually do this, but now I know that I can.” She has several examples of people reaching out to her for advice and support. For example, the Mpape community has faced mining on their lands but has not received the remedies that are due to them under the environmental laws.
“We went to that area, understood the problem and helped contact the authorities with a grievance. Now I keep getting calls from the community on the progress.”
“We are always up against this culture of “mighty nigerians” who cannot be touched because they are politically connected. So we also think of accountability at a systems level.” Sustainability Hub also works with government officials and departments to improve implementation of laws and existing regulation.
“Institutions hide under the guise of capacity – that they don’t have the resources to do their job, but actually it is the political will that is missing.” We see it as our job to engage both formally and informally with the government – whether that’s sitting across the table from them in a meeting or putting pressure on them from the outside through investigative journalism and so on.”
At the end of the day Mujidah says, what helps her the most is the personal relationships that she builds with people across sectors and communities. “We encourage them to do the right thing, not just for themselves but for the community and for Nigeria.”