Umar Yahaya, 28, is an environment manager and toxicologist from Kano State. After he graduated from the Federal University in Dutse and served his fatherland in 2018, he began to think of a way to contribute his bit to the clean energy initiative. So he invented a household cooking appliance that uses less energy. While seeking opportunities for funding and partnership that would assist him take his invention to the next level, Mr Yahaya heard about the Environmental Rights Action, ERA Youth Talent Hunt scheduled to take place on September 29, 2020 in Benin City.
Mr. Yahaya said that he endured a lot to get to Benin City from Kano to participate in the ERA talent hunt. ‘After the battery of our bus went flat, the tyres of the bus also burst twice on the way. Not only that, there was traffic congestion – a lorry fell and blocked the road. Altogether, I spent nearly 26 hours on the road’, Mr Yahaya said.
But Mr Yahaya was not the only one finding his way to Benin City. Sunday Kolawole Sholanke, 29, from Ogun state also wanted an opportunity to showcase his app, developed to manage waste disposal. Sholanke said that he was more interested in the non-traditional methods of waste disposal in Nigeria. According to Sholanke, ‘My app is one of the solutions to the deficit of infrastructure of waste management in Africa’.
In an address of welcome to the more than 50 participants at the Precious Palm Hotel in Benin City, ERA executive director, Dr Godwin Uyi Ojo told participants that the talent hunt is an initiative to address the energy poverty in Nigeria by the promotion of innovative solar energy products. The ERA director said that because youths are often catalysts of change, a talent hunt for youths to understand the need for clean energy transition became expedient.
According to Dr Ojo, the talent hunt ‘addresses clean energy access for all in order to reduce the nation’s carbon footprints in line with the Paris Agreement in 2015. It also helps to provide opportunities and logistics support for our youths to lead in the production of innovative cleaner technologies to drive the renewable energy sector’.
Dr Ojo used the occasion to decry tax burdens as national economic development policy thrust which have led to high transaction costs often passed on to consumers. ‘Electricity tariffs have no value-added, tax burdens are ill-timed and are obstacles to renewable energy development. They spell untold hardship on citizens, and the increase in fuel and electricity tariffs has brought untold hardship to Nigerian workers’, he said.
Dr Ojo recommended that government must continue to take strong interest in Nigerian youth, and provide start-up grants to local renewable energy SMEs. He urged the government to immediately shelve increase in petrol and electricity tariff, halt tax burdens on Nigerians and decentralize the energy sector.
Youth selected to showcase their initiatives at the talent hunt came up with diverse finished products including locally made solar powered lighting systems, solar batteries, solar power banks with multiple charging ports, hybrid solar inverters, and energy saving LED bulbs. Yet others manufactured improved clean energy cook stoves to reduced fuel wood consumption.
So for Mr Yahaya and Sholanke, was the journey to the Talent Hunt Festival worth it? For Sholanke, the talent hunt provided a platform to network with other innovators, to co-create and adjust some of the ideas he brought with him from Ogun state. ‘ I have been fired up to continue to look for solutions to drive waste management for wealth creation and promote sustainable development’, he said. And according to Mr. Yahaya the journey from Kano to Benin City was worth it. ‘This is my very first time to Benin City. I feel at home here. The people are very hospitable. I received many suggestions from those who visited my table to hear me speak about my household cooking device. The trip was worth it’, he said.
ERA employed the open booth methodology. It afforded the youths to display their inventions/solutions, while also allowing them pitch to investors, entrepreneurs, journalists and experts. High point of the Youth meet was the announcement that ERA has built two kilns for use by start-ups, an award of 20 scholarships to deserving young innovators and the presentation of a CAC certificate to an ERA mentee Danjaph Solar Lamp Project.