According to the International Energy Agency (2019, 288), Africa is only very slowly increasing access to clean cooking energy for households, with a 2% increase (from 15 to 17%) recorded in 2018. More progress is projected to take place over the next couple of decades, with 80 million Nigerians expected to gain access to clean-cooking solutions by 2040 (ibid.). However, this progress is predicated on the implementation of policies aimed at moving both urban and rural households from kerosene and biomass to “clean” cooking fuels – chiefly liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), but also electricity. To understand the factors that can drive or impede this transition in a given country context, it is important to understand historical patterns of development in that country’s energy sector (Khennas, 2012).
Transitions to cleaner sources of energy are expected to help countries worldwide achieve the emission reductions they have committed to in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. In the cooking-energy sector, a pivotal shift has occurred over the last decade from an emphasis on “improved” biomass cookstoves to the avid promotion of LPG and electricity as better ways to satisfy the NDCs as well as public health objectives (Batchelor et al., 2019). The stated aim of donors, working in concert with developing-country governments, is to replace the biomass-centred narrative that held sway in the cooking-energy sector for over four decades with one that aligns better with governments’ aspirations towards modernity and sustainability.
For such a shift to occur, however, it is imperative to understand the barriers that have precluded it to date and, as well, the incentives that might make it an attractive proposition for a range of market and state actors. The central role that politics plays in determining whether and what policies are implemented has come to the fore in recent years (Arent et al., 2017; Batchelor, 2020). It is increasingly understood that the outcomes of policy processes are necessarily shaped by the dynamics between less-powerful and more-powerful actors, with the latter often taking precedence over the former (MSSRF & CRT Nepal, 2016). An analysis of the political economy of household energy in Nigeria, one that unpacks motivations and power dynamics within the sector, will yield valuable insights into the underlying causes of the perennially low status of cooking energy in the country as well as viable options for reform. This is what the present study aims to do.
It is well established that the majority of Nigerian households cook with solid biomass fuels, including firewood and charcoal, primarily on inefficient and smoky stoves. This presents a tripartite energy, health and environmental challenge, especially for women who are traditionally responsible for cooking and the children who often accompany them – bringing a distinct gender dimension to the problem. Historically, kerosene has also played a major role in facilitating cooking-energy access in the country, especially for urban households – although usage has decreased significantly with the relatively recent removal of subsidies on the fuel (Ogundari, 2018). The decline in kerosene use has opened up previously suppressed demand for LPG among the poor in some urban centres, but it has also led to some households moving down the so-called “energy ladder” to biomass fuels, threatening to widen the existing energy-access gap even further. It is apparent that expanding clean-cooking access would bring about gains in multiple sectors and for the most vulnerable segments of the population – yet progress has been stubbornly slow.
It is against this background that the Federal Ministry of Environment is aiming to launch a programme to reach 10 million households with clean-cooking solutions by 2025, notwithstanding the poor track record of previous state-led programmes. A pertinent question to ask at this juncture is: what needs to be done differently this time to overcome the longstanding inertia in the household-energy sector and facilitate a clean-cooking transition for the energy-poor majority? To answer this question, we undertook a political economy analysis of the sector, identifying who the key stakeholders in the sector are; where their interests lie; why they support or resist change; what they stand to gain or lose from the change; and what can be done to forge collective action out of the inherent conflict among them (Atteridge & Weitz, 2017; Barnett et al., 2016). The following sections present the implications of this analysis for policy and proffer alternatives to the status quo in the sector.