Twelve years after he came up with his clean and green initiative, former governor of Imo State, Dr. Ikedi Ohakim, has continued to receive accolades for that innovative option.
The latest was from the Society of Landscape Architects of Nigeria (SLAN). The award, which was presented to Ohakim by the Minister of Environment, Suleiman Hassan, during the 2019 national conference and fellowship investiture of the society in Abuja, was a honorary fellowship award, which also admitted Ohakim into the College of Fellows of the society.
The SLAN recognition, many would agree, underscores the national imperative of a continual interrogation of the state of the Nigerian physical environment. As things stand today, perhaps next only to power and road infrastructure, the abysmal state of the nation’s environment constitutes its greatest problem. What compounds the problem is that, whereas government throws up policy options to tackle the issue of power and infrastructure, there appears to be no inkling to articulate a sustainable solution to the environmental challenges.
Experts have agreed that the environmental challenges constitute one area where successive administrations have demonstrated an acute lack of policy continuity. Suddenly, there is a flash of hope but it disappears as soon as the originator of the idea vacates the governance scene.
The Imo State case is quite instructive. A first-time visitor to the state capital, Owerri, would not believe that it was the same place once declared the cleanest state capital in Nigeria for three years, 2008, 2009 and 2010. Without exaggeration, Owerri can today be described as the dirtiest state capital in the Nigerian federation. Put another way, the significance of the SLAN award to Ohakim lies in the urgent need for those currently at the helm to pay greater attention to the problem of the physical environment. The SLAN award to Ohakim should on its own be an incentive to future administrations in the country because it is a pointer that Nigerians would always recognise and appreciate good efforts no matter how late it might take.
At the investiture, a citation on the former governor, which was read amid ovation, noted that Ohakim was bestowed with the award and admitted into the prestigious College of Fellows of the Society of Landscape Architects of Nigeria due to his “sparkling qualities, his innate intellectual and visionary endowments and his indisputable environmental reforms credentials.”
The citation added that the Society of Landscape Architects of Nigeria was pleased “to select and recommend this brilliant and foresighted administrator (Ohakim), acclaimed environmental crusader, commander of Imo Environmental Transformation, founder, Clean and Green Africa Initiative, a bridge builder, a diplomat’s diplomat, a renowned author, a distinguished personality of African descent, an intellectual in the mould of Aristotle, a man of immense courage and wisdom for the award of Honorary Fellowship and admittance into the College of Fellows of the Society of Landscape Architects of Nigeria.”
During the investiture, Ohakim appreciated the award and commended the leadership of the SLAN for the honour. He called on President Muhammadu Buhari to declare a plan on the environment, noting that doing so would create about 1,000,000 jobs for unemployed youths in the country. He added that Nigeria would not be reinventing the wheel, calling on the president to emulate what Rwanda was doing on the environment. He said that a clean and safe environment was important to the overall health of the people as it would reduce environment-related diseases, such as malaria, dysentery, and diarrhoea, and also improve the country’s tourism potential.
Ohakim had implemented the Clean and Green Initiative in Imo State while he was governor through a successful urban renewal programme, which saw the carting away of two truckloads of rats and 400 truckloads of refuse from Owerri, the capital, earning the state the tag of the cleanest city in the whole of the federation for three consecutive years.
Ohakim also got awards for his performance as governor of Imo State, including: Excellence Award by Thisday Newspapers as the Governor of the Year 2008 for Innovation and Originality; Kwame Nkrumah African Leadership Award 2008; Zik Leadership Award for Outstanding Leadership 2009; Distinguished Alumni Award of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) – 2011; and Distinguished Leadership Award – Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka – 2016. .
Prior to his becoming governor, Ohakim was listed in Thisday Newspaper as “one of the 50 leaders Nigeria needs” in 1998. In 2000, he was also listed by Vanguard Newspapers as “one of the notable young corporate leaders of the future.”
Inaugurated in 2003, the SLAN is a professional governing body charged with the responsibility of moderating the practice of landscape architecture in the country. Being relatively new, not many know about the profession, the result being that most developers patronise quacks, which Mr. Amos Alao, secretary-general of SLAN, described as “cheap and convenient but very dire and dangerous.”
Landscape architecture produced its first degree-holding university graduates in 2008 with the pioneer efforts of the University of Lagos and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. More have since graduated and, currently, over 200 students are pursuing first degrees in both universities.
On the benefits Nigeria stands to derive from developing landscape architecture as a profession, Alao stated that, “landscaping, by concept and as a study, philosophy and discipline, is all about greening. It is all about reducing the effect of sunlight on the earth’s surface, and ensuring enduring bio-diversity, ecological stability and environmental peace.”
Alao, however, regrets that “we are largely hindered by the fact that people still don’t know who we are and what we can do”, but adds that SLAN has “embarked on a very strenuous awareness advocacy to let the people and the relevant organizations know the difference between the professional and the business man, between one who just wants to sell the plant and one who advices you on which kind of plant is suitable for which environment and which will give you the best result and increase the economic and aesthetic value of a property”