Concrete may grow but allow the trees, shrubs and grasses to grow along

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In the last fifty years, I have travelled extensively covering the length and breadth of Nigeria and beyond, most times on business, sometimes on the invitation and other times on environmental advocacy projects. I have found in all these journeys that every time I move away from a city or town even for a short period, I come back to find most of the greeneries disappearing and replaced by concrete. What makes this subject so disheartening for me is that most times, the trees, shrubs and grasses cut down and cleared away for the sake of this concrete are not replanted and this is especially sad because most of them are a lot older than the humans choosing to replace it with concrete and most of them have contributed to our rich biodiversity.

In the last few decades, the population explosion of my beloved country Nigeria has defied all mathematical calculations and scientific methods usually applied in estimating the growth of a people or nation. The United Nations and our Nigerian Population Commission have failed in knowing the actual population of the nation meaning that what we parrot back is merely an assumption of the number of living Nigerians spread across the country. Unfortunately, if we do not know how many we are, it becomes extremely difficult and in fact impossible to plan the future development of our Nation.

And this is why most and I daresay all of the proposals and interventions that are being implemented have failed because just like in Computing, garbage in – garbage out. If we don’t have accurate or even close to accurate numbers for our population, the development of infrastructures for people’s welfare such as health, education, transportation etc cannot be successful. If we do not have accurate records of births and deaths and if we do not have records of those migrating in and migrating out, how do we know the needed infrastructure albeit planning for the future i.e expansion? How do we properly plan our cities with the right census? How do we properly balance grey with green spaces?

A recent study of the housing situation in Nigeria put existing housing stock at 23 per 1000 inhabitants. The country’s present housing deficit as at December 2018 is estimated at a staggering 20 million units which is about a 15.0 per cent increase from the figures in January 2019. The increasing demand for buildings all over the country for shelter and for many other uses have further caused the exponential growth of concrete thereby really making the city renewal of old towns truly laughable.

I come back to a city or town after a short period of maybe three months and can barely recognise the town anymore because in places of previously lush vegetations now stand huge and somewhat monstrous blocks of concrete with little regard for replenishment of those components provided for our health and happy existence by Nature. Any time we do this, we interfere with nature’s natural order of things because these plants though silent are a very vital part of creation and we need them even more than they need us to survive. It is probably one of the reasons we have so much trouble because of the way we treat these other creatures sharing this planet with us. We have been getting away with so much abuse of Nature and I wonder for how long because nature will fight back. What we experience now barely scratches the surface of the damage Mother Nature can inflict on her inhabitants.

My position, therefore, is that if we must continue to build in the name of infrastructural development to take care of the millions of Nigerians whose actual figure, we do not know we must provide land somewhere for replenishment and restoration and I will say the land should be two times over. This is very important because if we must leave this planet better than how we met it as is taught and preached in our Christian, Muslim, and traditional faiths; we have to give back in equal, even double measure that we take. Or, we might end up becoming like the other planets that once were flourishing with life but now no more.

The Nation’s forest cover has been depleted by more than 30% between 1960 and 2000; most forest and forest reserves have given way to the desert due to desertification, deforestation, overgrazing and more. This has led to an inestimable loss of biodiversity. Most water bodies especially those in the Northern part of the country have disappeared due to climate change. The catastrophic consequences of all these have been written in this very column over and over and in my book “Me, My Desert and I”. All assessments tells me that we are doing very little to mitigate these effects especially by those in authority, I started predicting and writing about all these as far back as over twenty years ago, the migration of Fulani Herdsmen and millions of their animal herds are now all over the Southern States. The results are wars and more wars. Herdsmen, who are forced to migrate, are now building colonies in other areas of the country. The traditional shifting cultivation method that was practised by our ancestors are being neglected because of this, we now have more frequent cases of gully erosion, landslides, floods, extreme heat, desert storms, droughts and even food insecurity. Unfortunately, if all these are not controlled, there will be more wars in the future.

After saying all these, one would think that I am against the construction industry, nothing could be farther from the truth seeing that my years in corporate work was spent building structures and up till now, I hold the record for being part of the team that built the tallest building in Nigeria – the 35 storey NECOM House in Lagos State. But a question I ask myself often is, ‘at what cost?’ Yes, if the concrete must grow this much, we must really invest in green spaces, green buildings, green designs and more. Yes, we definitely need to replant whenever we cut down hence the development of a slogan coined by me which is being adopted and applied in so many states of the federation that is “Little garden today, Little Forest tomorrow”.

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