UNDER THE LEMON TREE – PT I

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All through my life, trees have given me a feeling of so much love, acceptance, and comfort especially the fruit trees that I planted myself. There is also, that extra feeling of fulfilment one gets from enjoying the fruits of one’s labour from time to time and in this case, it is actually literal. Reminiscing about what I have done with greenery and where this advocacy has taken me, I dare say that in the last half a century, I must have planted, or been responsible for the lives of millions of trees, grasses and shrubs all over the country and beyond; from Mauritania down to the Niger Republic. Back home in Makoda LGA in Kano State and in conjunction with the Kano State Government through tree planting and nurturing of woodlands and fruit trees, I was able to demonstrate how vegetative cover can push back the encroaching desert with the concomitant recovery of grazing fields, farmlands and arable lands. The community, ever so grateful for this, built me a house in return. Most times when I visit this project area, I join the community in the harvest of fruits from the trees I planted back in 2001-2002.

From Kano, I was invited to become the Vice-chairman of Abuja Green with T.Y. Danjuma as Chairman to create the green areas and tree corridors that are seen today all over the city of Abuja. I believe many can now appreciate the beauty, the oxygen and carbon sink that I was part of generating and the difference it is making in the air quality of the inhabitants of Abuja. About the same period, I was honoured with the award of Ambassador Emeritus of the Environment by Lagos State Government, becoming personally involved with the Governor Fashola Administration’s Greening of Lagos State. Collaborating with the relevant MDAs, we created Parks and Recreation Centres that adorn Lagos State today with so much beauty, cleanliness, and orderliness.

I also partnered with the Ogun State Government over the years in a Greening Programme designed for Abeokuta, the state’s capital. Now that I have relocated to my amiable home state of Delta, I am in the process of building a multi-dimensional resort in a wilderness setting that will help provide a carbon sink and oxygen regeneration for the nearby Asaba International Airport. This project which started nearly 10 years ago, came off the drawing board when I was given an endorsement to build a Nelson Mandel Park as part of the clarion call to honour Madiba as a global icon of our times. I got to know the Mandelas mainly because of the role I played in the free Mandela movement of the last century at various times as a student in London, a working professional in Nigeria, and a pan-Africanist of the mould of Late Kwame Nkrumah. In receiving the endorsement from the family, I choose to show that you can create a viable business while honouring and restoring sustainability to our environment. The choice to have it situated in my home state capital Asaba was deliberate, and I found the contribution of the state and the reception given to the project very humbling.

Additionally, my organization, FADE Africa has commenced the Greening Programme of the Capital Territory of Delta State in conjunction with the Delta State Capital Territory Development Agency.

At my residence in Victoria Island, Lagos where I have lived for over 50 years, I have eaten repeatedly from the trees I planted especially the coconut fruits. It is with great difficulty that one can see my house from the streets due to the dense foliage of tall trees around the house. The same is true of my country home in my hometown, Akwukwu-Igbo. Growing up in this town, I learnt very early on that our livelihood came from the land. In the case of my fathers and forefathers, we had plantations of fruit trees and economic crops. We had farm workers and as children we participated in farm works after school hours and at end of school terms. These plantations brought wealth to my parents and uncles.

Many years later, in my late twenties, being hungry for adventure, I decided to drive from London to Lagos at the end of my tertiary education. During this trip I experienced the vast desolateness of the Sahara, the desert storms, the sand dunes, and the degradation of the environment. My second expedition in the year 2000 was more exploratory and in search of confirmation of the negative effects of the Sahara that are contained in global literature on Climate Change. I needed to confirm first-hand the narrative that the desert is advancing so menacingly turning arable farmlands into arid basins, grazing fields into parched lands, and once lush green vegetations at the fringes of the desert to disappear. Nothing on earth could have prepared me for the catastrophic effects that have evolved since my first adventure in 1967. Today one of those catastrophes is the migration of the Fulani herdsmen southwards; a migration that has left nothing but murderous and wanton destruction of properties on its path. I also found out that the Sahara was expanding at a rate only second to the Gobi desert in China. But whereas China is actively taking measures to tame the Gobi, Africa is doing no such thing to the Sahara.

Nevada and Arizona deserts in the USA have practically been tamed in so much that by building the bustling city of Las Vegas right in the middle of the desert and taking water through it in canals from inland rivers have allowed life to thrive ever so lovingly. In my quest for knowledge I approached all the embassies of these countries to find out first-hand how they achieved these feats. In response, the Embassy of the USA offered my colleagues and I a study tour scholarship to Nevada; China graciously did the same and the Cold and Arid Regions Environment and Engineering Research Institute (CAREERI) hosted me and my wife in China as well as sponsored a FADE staff on a three-month study tour of the Gobi and other relevant institutes. Israel not to be outdone, offered a similar scholarship that took me and my colleagues to study the science of desertification at the Ben Gurion University, in the Negev, a historical birthplace of desert Sciences.

It must be noted that these invitations came after my second solo trip across the Sahara. I observed on that trip that life had gotten quite worse for the Sahel population that was dwindling in earnest. Lands have been truly lost to desertification processes driven by drought, overgrazing and absolute lack of management of scarce natural resources. Fortunately for me, the expedition was largely televised and covered by the world press, our own NTA, and other African networks. These gave a global audience to my environmental activism and advocacy making me become an integral part of the global climate change debate. Consequently, I received a few global recognitions and awards and published a book in English and in French titled: Bridging the Sahara desert – A different perspective. This book looked at the possibilities of taming the Sahara through the construction of the network of the Trans-Saharan Highways, Railroads, and satellite towns across the length and breadth of the African Continent.

At this juncture, you as the reader would have had a brief insight of the years of struggle and benefits that came my way as a consequence of my interactions with trees. This is necessary as next week, I will conclude with the story of the lemon tree and the role it will play even long after I am no more on earth. 

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