Ten years ago on Tuesday 1st January 2013, the world-renowned environmentalist, the desert warrior, Dr Newton Jibunoh turned 75 and he chose to celebrate the occasion by inviting notable friends to plant 75 trees to mark the day. He asked for no more than that! Among the guests who planted trees that day was the then Lagos State governor, H.E. Babatunde Raji Fashola and retired Gen T.Y. Danjuma. The choice of location for the 75th birthday tree planting event was the premises of Wahab Iyanda Folawiyo Senior School, Osborne, Ikoyi.
Fast forward ten years later to 1st January 2023, Dr Newton Jibunoh, the Desert Conqueror, has the enviable grace to repeat that great feat as he turns 85, increasing the number of trees to be planted by ten. Not many people have this kind of opportunity that our own Dr Jibunoh has been providentially blessed with. It is as though, as the 75 trees planted in Lagos 10 years ago are blossoming, so is Dr Jibunoh, receiving a new level of energy and youthfulness, matched with an unquenchable zeal for an innovative approach to his environmental campaigns. It was after his 75th birthday and the planting of 75 trees that Dr Jibunoh conceived the idea of birthing the Nelson Mandela Garden of 95 Trees project in Asaba, his home state, where he had 95 trees planted in honour of the great Madiba to celebrate his 95th birthday. And so it was, that on 18th July 2013, in his steadfast and committed nature, 95 trees were planted in Asaba by notable guests, including the grandson of our iconic Mandela himself, Ndaba Mandela and one of his granddaughters.
Located within the Asaba international airport perimeters, the Nelson Mandela Gardens and Parks will form the epicentre of the 85th birthday tree-planting event. An acclaimed pacesetter, it gladdened his heart when we discovered that shortly after his emblematic tree-planting event in Lagos ten years ago, it became fashionable among the elite, especially of Lagos, to mark their birthdays with tree planting. I have no doubt that this is going to have the same contagious effect as it did in Lagos, as Deltans would be encouraged to plant trees to mark their special days – thereby unwittingly saving our fragile planet from climate change effects. A man with the Midas touch, in his unrelenting commitment to excellence, he has turned the Mandela Gardens and Parks in Asaba into a resoundingly successful, world-class, tourist centre in the capital of Delta State.
I never knew that one could successfully and comfortably take on a new profession after the very ripe age of 80, especially one that tasks the brain and requires a lot of personal discipline to meet strict deadlines and rigours of research materials. After becoming an octogenarian five years ago, Dr Jibunoh saw the print media as a veritable channel to carry his environmental campaign to people’s homes and reach a greater number of people on a weekly basis. He started a weekly column in the reputable Sun newspaper, writing every Thursday on subjects relating to the environment and national development in general. I remember when he first mooted the idea of writing with me, I scoffed and told him it was an arduous task that even I, as a young man could not commit myself to, packing it up after three months of being a columnist.
To my admiration and indeed, pleasant surprise, five years on, and over 200 articles and still counting, the indefatigable Dr Jibunoh has defied all odds and taken on a new profession of journalism and thriving in it. I, like thousands of others, look forward to his weekly articles which are informative, fearlessly bold, full of history, and wisdom and laced with light humour. Dr Jibunoh never ceases to amaze me as he constantly reinvents himself and is refreshingly sanguine about the future of Nigeria, ceaselessly proffering solutions to our myriad of challenges. He is so focused on leaving this world a better place for his children’s children and by extension, the rest of humanity that he is not prepared to stop spreading the message on the environment. The Scripture says that a good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children (Prov. 13:22). The greatest inheritance he wishes to leave behind is a better world that his children’s children can share with the rest of humanity, is sustainable and addresses the alarming growth in the size of the Sahara Desert and its attendant environmental, social and economic consequences.
In choosing tree planting as the main event to commemorate his 85th birthday, Dr Jibunoh is once again saying that the tree planting exercise is meant to evoke in the minds of everyone, a call to action, a call to be educated about what we can do as individuals to save our beautiful planet from the ravaging effects of climate change.Doubtless deliberate, it is fitting that the tree planting campaign is taking place opposite the gate of the Asaba International Airport, adding to the 95 trees planted ten years ago to mark the 95th birthday of, arguably Africa’s most illustrious son – Nelson Mandela.
As we prepare once again to join the beautiful family of Dr Jibunoh to celebrate him and mark, yet another landmark birthday, I pray our celebrated Desert Warrior waxes stronger as the planted trees blossom and flourish over the next decade when we shall gather again to do for him what he did for Mandela, 10 years ago – when he turns 95! I would also like to use this opportunity to call on the government of Delta State, to capitalise on this event by actively promoting tree planting in the state, if only to fight erosion and environmental degradation which the state is prone to. As in previous years and for years to come, I want you all to join me in wishing our hero, the Desert Warrior, now an accomplished Journalist, a Happy 85th Birthday and to wish him good health and a sound mind. May the good Lord continue to renew his youth like the Eagle’s even as we continue to read his articles and share in his wisdom.
Akin Olukiran (Akin writes from London and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org)