The saying that one cannot eat one’s cake and have it may be lost on our dear nation, Nigeria. Here we eat the nation’s cake and still manage to share it at the same time. Certainly, this played a role to the how and why I became an activist almost 50 years ago and now at more than 80 years old, maintain my stand by writing in the Sun Newspaper every week, even though I may not be able to carry on for too long. In this week’s column, I have looked back as much as I can while agreeing and yet still disagreeing with the fact that my activism may have brought little or no benefit to my country Nigeria that I love so much. I will start with some benefits before the disappointments as the latter are too many to count and will most likely take up the entire article if I choose to begin with them.
So for the benefits; I start with the friendships I enjoyed with the late Alh. Ado Bayero who was then the Emir of Kano and Engr Magagi Abdullahi, the then late Deputy Gov. of Kano State. These friendships which started as a result of my activism enabled me to conduct a pilot project of reclaiming degraded lands with my ‘Wall of Trees’ project. I was able to bring back greenery, restore farmland and grazing fields to Makoda, Dambatta area of Kano State that was being ravaged by desertification. We were also able to slow down migration which was a big problem as farmers with no more fertile lands were moving to greener pastures and abandoning Makoda. As a sign of gratitude, the community built a thatch house for me in the middle of nowhere and fenced the house which was commissioned by the Emir of Kano himself.
After the project at Makoda, I was conferred with a national honour of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON). The commission of the pilot project was witnessed by the British High Commission, the State governor, his deputy and the Emir of Kano. If the pilot project was replicated the way we had planned along the fringes of the Sahara, there will be very little or no migration by herdsmen that is now about to destroy the nation. Another benefit of my activism was the repair of the third mainland bridge, something I am drawn back to by the recent announcement of another repair work coming up tomorrow. Many years ago, Basil Okafor who was then the editor of Sun Newspaper and I almost lost our lives navigating through rough waters whist trying to take photographs of the exposed reinforcements and cracks in the bridge during our investigation of the bridge’s settlement and the expansion joints. Basil Okafor published the story with a headline titled; ‘3rd mainland bridge will collapse in ten years if nothing is done.’ The story and pictures were published after a lengthy interview with me. Few weeks later, the bridge was closed and some remedial works were carried out.
My activism journey also brought me close to the then Governor of Lagos State when he started the cleanup of Lagos State. He made me an Ambassador and I participated with most of the greenery works at that time. I also became part of the greening of Ogun State and currently, Asaba – Delta State.
All these works, I performed under the umbrella of my non-governmental organization – FADE (Fight Against Desert Encroachment). My cherished friendship with the current deputy director of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed started during the course of my activism. Back in Makoda, we encountered a problem which was water. To ensure the continuity of our ‘Wall of Trees’ project in the region, a tree planting competition was constituted amongst secondary schools where each school will allocate a plot of land for developing a mini forest as we liked to call it. There was therefore a need to ensure each school had sufficient water for proper irrigation to nurture for the trees they were planting. In cases where the school had no water, we as FADE sunk deep boreholes for them. In one instance, I remember one of the schools within the vicinity of one section of the Hadejia-Jama’are River Basin Development Authority’s irrigated farms. The Principal approached the farm for assistance with water delivery to the school, and was turned down. I decided to wade in.
I received audience from the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Millennium Development Goals who at that time was Mrs. Amina Mohammed. Amina, as I call her, escalated the matter to the management of the river basin authority. Within a few short weeks, a water line was extended to the school for their use in nurturing the plants and other needs. The school now has constant water supply that they can purify for potable water needs. Her intervention was so swift and thorough. From then on, I developed a deep respect for her.
There are some more benefits but I will pause at these for now because I will like to share some of my disappointments. Though many; I will try to list as much as I can this week to continue next week. Most of my disappointments started over 40 years ago, to be able to back my activism with detailed data and information; I had to go back to the Ben Gurion University in Israel to study the Science of desertification. To date, I have not been able to explain how our population went from 6 million at Independence to close to 150 million in the year 2000 despite the huge amount of money that has been invested in population commissions. One of the projects the massive funding of the population commission was used for some 20 years ago, was the Identity Card project. Till date, we are yet to properly catalogue every citizen and give them an ID card. Those of us that even registered for one have not been able to collect our cards.
Migration is an all-time high bringing with it conflict and chaos. Mind you, I am not against cross border migration, nations of world have been built by immigrants. The recent world cup victory is there for the world to see that migration can be a thing of good as majority of the French players are the children of migrants. We have Nigerians in parliaments around the world. Even Germany that sought to exterminate Jews and blacks some 70 years ago are now reaping the benefits of the migrants who they didn’t exterminate and have lived to flourish in the nation. But what these countries have is an almost perfect record of those in their cities and where to find them. We don’t and if left unchecked, this can become a cause of grave concern.
Over the weeks, I have written a lot about various pertinent issues from corruption being a curse and proffering solution to writing about the origin of the herdsmen crises with some solutions to help curb the violence. One thing that rings true in all the different scenario is the lack of patriotism that abounds in the country because only one who cares nothing for his/her nation will work tireless to destroy it like some many of our leaders and even the rest of us do. I recall an incident that happened during a visit to Accra, Ghana and how I witnessed a citizen arrest at work. It all happened when a taxi driver lost control of his car and ran into a cable pole by the roadside. The impact caused the pole to come down. Immediately, people gathered around and the taxi driver was arrested by members of the public before the arrival of the police. This is very different from mob justice which is against the law of the land and humanity. The driver wasn’t assaulted but made to stay put until the police arrived. The main lesson for me here was the respect people had for public property. The cable pole to the people belonged to everyone and so they had a responsibility to safeguard it or like in this case, ensure that it was properly attended to. Here in Nigeria, the taxi driver would have been on his merry way because as long as it is for the ‘government’ no one cares.
Next week, I will be discussing the issue of patriotism because most of us lack a sense of belonging and it is not easy to be patriotic when you don’t belong.