“Feeling grateful or appreciative of someone in your life actually attracts more of the things that you appreciate and value into your life.” – Northrup Christiane
It was in the late 1960s and early 1970s that the friendship started between the then Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, and my humble self. You cannot begin to imagine how ecstatic I felt when a close contact to the Palace, Mr. Michael Agbamuche, who was well known in Kano as Baba Lawyer, informed me that the Emir of Kano read an interview I granted a newspaper about my exploration across the Sahara Desert and would like to meet with me to learn more about my adventure. At the time, I was totally unschooled about the protocol needed to enter the palace of the Emir, let alone see the Emir himself; moreover, I was not in a position of leaving my workplace in Lagos without a strong reason to travel to Kano. So, despite my excitement, I waited for the right opportunity to visit Kano and, not so long after, it came in the form of an invitation by the World Bank to participate in a workshop in Kaduna on the topic: “Portable Water for Every Nigerian by Year 2000.”
After my presentation at the workshop, I immediately took a car hire from Kaduna and headed to Kano. I got to the palace gate of the Emir late morning and that was when my education on protocol started. To my surprise, I could not even enter the palace despite my stories. Still, I was unrelenting. Eventually, some sympathetic palace guards told me that I was better off asking to see the Emir’s secretary, so I did. The palace was very busy and it took almost two hours before I could see the secretary, Alhaji Aminu. I told him my story with a bit of lie that it was the Emir that requested to see me and that I had driven all the way from Lagos, he gave me a form to fill and, within an hour, I was in the presence of the Emir and with him was Alhaji El Yakubu, who later became a minister of water resources under the Gen. Murtala Muhammad regime.
I could tell from that meeting that the Emir believed in me absolutely and was one of the very few people in the whole world that understood my main reason for undergoing such an adventure. He wanted to hear more about my experience in the desert. Even as far back as in the 1960s, he was very worried about the degradation of the environment caused particularly by desert encroachment and desertification, so, he was eager to hear from me to know if I had any answer about the movement of the desert north to south. I was touched by his concern, knowing that people come from all over the country and outside the country to meet with him. I saw a bit of that all over the palace and there I was in his presence because of what I have achieved through adventurism. I felt honoured. He offered to use whatever platform he had to advance my campaign for a better environment, a better sanitation and to stop the advancement of the Sahara. We talked about an instrument that could convey the message to Nigerians and globally.
He wanted to know if I needed his support and offered to assist with awareness and advocacy. He also went on to tell me that he read in that same interview I granted that I had plans to go back to the desert in the future and offered to come with me on such an adventure of driving through the Sahara to Europe. My spirit was ever so lifted and I kept him informed of my entire advocacies.
It was after that encounter that I incorporated FADE (Fight Against Desert Encroachment) with the Emir becoming the chairman. We both participated in major climate change summits in Rio – Brazil; Copenhagen in Sweden as well attended the climate change summit at the invitation of the House of Lords in London. That was how the friendship blossomed. It was difficult and frightening for me to tell people that we had become friends because it seemed impossible but that was the reality. He knew that desertification was a major threat to sustainable development, to food security, to migration and conflicts.
With his name as the chairman of FADE, it became easier for doors to open and also obtain the necessary global accreditation. Thirty years after, I decided to attempt a second expedition, this time going the opposite direction from Nigeria across the Sahara to Europe. I was now in my late 60s and the Emir was now in his late 70s. I had not taken his offer to accompany me to the desert seriously, so, I only requested him to flag me off in Kano on my way out of Nigeria. He made it such a grand occasion that attracted the press from within and outside the country as well as a large crowd. To my surprise, he remembered his offer to accompany on the journey as during his speech, he noted that he had told me 30 years back that he would like to make such a trip with me but that I waited until he was too old to make the trip. This drew a lot of laughter from the crowd and he finally flagged me off in a wonderful ceremony that lived with me all the rest of my journey. He followed the reports through CNN and NTA and flew to London to receive me on my arrival four weeks after he flagged me off.
Subsequently, I travelled to Israel to study the science of desertification and returned to Nigeria to start a pilot project in Makoda Danbata area of Kano with his involvement and the collaboration of the Kano State government. We founded the Wall of Tree project in Makoda that halted the movement of the Sahara into the Danbata area of Kano State. We also started tree planting competitions among secondary schools in Kano State, with a prize-giving ceremony every year held in the palace and performed by the Emir himself. He gave out prizes to the school that planted and nurtured most trees. A few years before he passed, he requested two things of me.
1. That we bring on board younger ones that will take over the crusade from us as we were both aging. There was a ceremony in his palace that brought on board younger directors into the organisation, FADE Africa. One of them is now the Emir of Bichi in the person of HRH Nasiru Ado Bayero and my daughter, Edith Jibunoh, who now works with the World Bank.
2. The need to establish a foundation that will support the advocacy and awareness drive. At the time, I did not know how this would be achieved but, some weeks ago, I received a call from Kano by the Emir of Bichi to inform me of the Ado Bayero Foundation and invite me to join the board of directors. The foundation, I was told, was founded to carry on the legacy of the former Emir. This brought great joy to me as I felt that I had finally seen his two wishes come to pass in my lifetime.
This is the story of how I became and remained friends with the then famous Emir of Kano, HRH Alhaji Ado Bayero, a man whom will forever hold a dear space in my heart.
“Maturity is achieved when a person postpones immediate pleasure for long-term values.”
– Joshua L. Liebman