In a recent study titled ‘’The Great Climate Migration’, a work funded and published by New York Times Magazine, the author, Abrahm Lustgarten, stated; ‘’Today, 1% of the World is a barely liveable hot zone. By 2070, that portion could go up to 19%. Billions of people call this land home’’. He then proceeded to ask, ‘’Where will they go?’’ Interestingly enough and as expected, this 1% encompasses the Sahara and the Sahel regions of Africa. The projection that extends this inhospitable landmass to 19% by 2070, a mere fifty years from now includes the entire West Africa Sub-region, with Nigeria inclusive. The causes of this anticipated devastation of so much landmass are climate change driven desertification and loss of coastal cities to rising sea levels from melting polar ice.
As a consequence of my second solo expedition across the Sahara desert twenty years ago, I spoke and wrote similar warnings which were subsequently published in my second book titled ‘’Me, My Desert And I’’. The book’s foreword was written by Professor Ibrahim Gambari, who at the time was the Under Secretary General and Special Adviser on Africa, at the United Nations. He is now the Chief Of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari. He wrote in the foreword that my “second expedition across the Sahara during the year 2000, 35 years after the first, was born out of the need to focus world attention to the steady advance of the world’s largest desert on the African people. He has documented both expeditions in this book. I commend the courage of Jibunoh in twice undertaking a solo desert expedition. I equally commend his efforts in documenting these in his book, thereby creating global awareness on what could be termed an imminent time bomb. I urge that the human race shall translate such awareness into concrete and positive actions to avert the imminent catastrophe. This, invariably, is the underlying objective of this book.”
Years later, my fourth book titled ‘’Hunger For Power’’ opened with the following quote; ‘’I have an abiding hunger for the power to stop the mighty Sahara from engulfing Africa and my beloved country, Nigeria. I am hungry for power to raise a ‘’wall of Jericho of trees’’ that will halt the desert’s brutal march everywhere”. I further stated that, “I am hungry for more power to affect lives and impact unborn generations; hungry for power to stop poverty in its insidious tracks; hungry, very hungry, for power to end the blight of corruption and expunge graft”.
You see, my hunger for power is also to inspire the swarming millions of Nigerian youths in ways their political leaders have failed to do. I am hungry for power to attract investments to this country, create jobs for the hungry army of unemployed youths roaming the streets of Nigeria. I am hungry for power to elevate my continent Africa from the dark and poor one into a new age of light and prosperity.
Exceedingly early on in my life, the drum of my destiny was beating a different rhythm. No one could have realized that I had a hunger for the power to dare. I was attracted to the power of adventure- and you know what, power attracts power! The power of the Sahara was calling out to me – an irresistible force was pulling me to the ancestral home of the Berbers and Tuaregs. But there was a contradiction in that pull of the Sahara because there was absolutely nothing in my genes, my upbringing or background that could have aroused that hunger for adventure and prepared me for this ‘crazy’ undertaking?
My home was verdant with thick jungle, tall trees, and luxuriant vegetation – those were all inscribed in my DNA. Born into a traditional village setting, the rhythms of the forest provided me with the most enduring memories of childhood: setting traps with age-grade friends for small animals in the thick undergrowth; climbing tall, fruiting udala trees to pluck the succulent round plums; walking a path to the river for a swim on a hot day or to catch fish through a forest throbbing with life and danger on every side. This was my provenance, the site of my nativity, the cradle and beginning for me. So, no, I was not born a desert trekker. But I had a hunger to conquer and subdue, to break and tame the wild horse that was the mighty Sahara Desert!
And having done it once, the hunger was not sated; I had to do it again, to fully claim dominance. So, thirty-three years after the first, I stirred! This time I would drive in the opposite direction: from Nigeria to Europe. Wait a minute, take on that vast Sahara Desert all by myself, all over again, at the age of 62!!?? Yes indeed, I did. But this time, however, I was a man on a different mission.
A lot had changed since my first “madness”, to quote a police commissioner who equated my adventure to trekking from Lagos to London. I was, this time, living in a world that had been made more aware of the environment. 1999 was the dawn of the age of global environmental activism. Climate change, global warming and environmental degradation were now buzzwords and topics firmly on the front burner of international discourse.
In the thirty-three years since my first sojourn across the desert, the Sahara had grown fierce teeth with a voracious hunger leading it to wreak horrific devastation on vast swathes of Sub-Saharan African nations bordering it. Countless villages and hamlets – communities that had existed for centuries – had simply disappeared, gnawed to dust by the sand. Eleven states in northern Nigeria were severely affected. Desertification, with the environmental ruin that followed it, was uprooting lives daily and impoverishing indigenes as they lost their fertile and arable lands, and with it, their source of food and income. The desert encroachment was causing social upheaval as nomads drove their livestock southwards toward greener belts and farms of more sedentary communities, whose indigenes saw such incursions as threats to their livelihood and therefore took up arms, leading to frequent and bloody clashes.
On this expedition, I realised that the Sahara I was encountering was an angry desert that had undergone pronounced transformation. This was a Sahara on the move, literally. It had also become a Sahara fraught with man-made dangers unleashed by rebels in Algeria, Niger and Mali posing a deadly deterrent to anyone trying to cross the desert unaided. I negotiated special concessions for safe passage corridors with governments and rebels on the one hand, as well as facilitated negotiations between governments and rebels on the other! On my first crossing in 1965, the Sahara was a mysterious terrain sheathed in romance, beauty, and power, because those were what my eyes wanted to see. This time, it had become a desert famed for destruction, danger, and death! My work was certainly cut out for me.
I saw myself as a crusader, the person in the most unique position to advocate for a battle against this menace of desert encroachment. As the first man to drive solo, without any crew or support group, across the Sahara, I had experienced first-hand the wrath and power of the desert. This, therefore, was my fight! Driving through the countries along my route, I could observe the massive impact climate change was having on desertification and vice versa. So, I set up an NGO which I christened FADE (FIGHT AGAINST DESERT ENCROACHMENT), that was soon accredited by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and partnered by the United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development.
At this second expedition, as with the third in 2008, and the fourth in 2012, I and my team members (for the last two) had advocacy pit stops, interacting with government officials and research institutions of knowledge in most of the Sahel countries along the route. The purpose was to discuss on the need to tame the Sahara, safeguard agriculture, and preserve lives of the desert communities.
Back to the present, the referenced New York Times Magazine publication which approached the same problem with statistical modelling of global warming data, stated in more graphic details, the same exact fears that I had and still have for the past thirty years. I feel vindicated and despondent with fear and sadness at the same time. The vindication comes from the knowledge that I am not just the lonely shrill voice from Nigeria who had been warning my government and fellow citizens about the existential threats to life in all its facets in Nigeria. But I am saddened to the point of despair because if nothing is done to mitigate this, we will soon be swept into the Atlantic.
I have continued to fight the Sahara in my old age and even in my dreams. All concerned persons would reasonably believe and expect that this publication by the New York Times Magazine will bring about a different awakening to Nigeria, the Continent, and the Global community. My experience tells me that much of the Global Community are listening and will act positively. Nigeria though will be present at conferences where other nations’ works are discussed, but will be found wanting in action to save itself and the African Continent. The problems of the Sahara predate our independence as a nation. Yet in all these years, having failed to sustain any mitigating initiative, we have practically failed to meaningfully combat desertification. The gruesome conflicts in parts of Nigeria’s middle belt (Benue and Plateau States), and the terrorist activities of the Herdsmen all over our country in recent times can be traced to the desperate migrations embarked upon by Fulani nomads over time due to desert encroachment. It is to our eternal damnation that all those efforts of successive governments and environmentalists would have been in vain. Who and where are the leaders that will prove me wrong? I still await their arrival.
I will conclude this piece with a quote from the writings of Greg Anderson who once stated that; ‘’You focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it’’. If we must do it, let us do it right. Our existence depends on it being sustainable too. And yet another quote, this time from Alan Lekan tells us that; “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now”.