Newton Jibunoh’s life over the years is one that should be preserved and imitated.
His strong heart and can-do mentality are among his many remarkable traits and accomplishments. His concern for the environment, art and culture, education, leadership and the general welfare of everyone are some of his other noteworthy qualities.
He decided to embark on a voyage that many referred to as “crazy and suicidal” after realising that no one was interested in the encroaching desert. It is important to remember that he was the person who travelled through the desert in search of a solution to the desert’s encroachment on our places and the destruction of the land.
During his adventure, Dr. Jibunoh discovered that 73 per cent of Africa’s agricultural dry land had seriously deteriorated. He saw that 3.6 billion hectares of land, or nearly 70 per cent of the world’s dry land and a quarter of the entire land surface, was affected by desertification, which costs the globe about $42 billion yearly. The desire to protect the environment was the driving force behind all of his motivations for embarking on this quest. In order to draw attention to the devasting consequences of the Sahara and its influence on neighbouring towns, he undertook the journey across the Sahara Desert not only once but three times with success.
In a bid to garner experience and better proffer solutions to the desert encroachment of the Sahara and land degradation, he visited other deserts of the world. He visited the Gobi Desert in China, Nevada and Arizona deserts in the USA, and then studied the Science of Desertification at Ben Gurion University. What he picked from this research and study better prepared him for the course he had started.
Newton’s anthem wherever he goes is “Greening the Environment,” which he sings to everyone who cares to listen. Climate change according to Newton is no longer a debate nor a cause to be looked down upon. The world is not getting it right regarding the environment. Each time one is privileged to have a one-on-one discussion with Newton, he mentions the environment and how nature is fighting back through erosion, droughts, tsunami, and earthquakes. He believes that nature gives a lot to humans but humans have treated nature poorly like a rejected sacrifice. “Nature can live without man, but man can not live without nature”, ponder on this and you can see the element of truth in it. Why hurt nature when all it has done is provide and keep providing for mankind?
Newton founded the non-profit organisation FADE (Fight Against Desert Encroachment) in 2000, with the primary goal of offering avenues that would enable Africa to assess its environmental issues and find solutions. FADE is recognised by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council, and the Global Ministerial Environment Forum (UNCCD).
Over 10,000 trees have been planted as part of Newton’s environmental initiatives worldwide. The Mandela Gardens of 95 Trees, the Wall of Trees in Makoda, Kano, the Garden of 75 Trees in Lagos, and most recently the Garden of 85 Trees in Asaba, which commemorated his 85th birthday.
For the environment, Newton has fought and is still fighting for a cleaner environment, a better society and a safe world. He is not fighting for himself but for the generation that is to come.
In the area of arts and culture, he can be termed the “The Father of Art” as he started the first private museum in Nigeria. Art resonates around Newton as he is dedicated to the uplifting of art, which propelled him to setting up Didi Museum in Lagos. Didi Museum was inaugurated in 1983 and since then it has given platforms to artists to exhibit their works, birthed artists’ dreams and promoted our African heritage. He believes that art and culture are people’s heritage products of their time bearing tales to bring about understanding to the future, and which are also reflections of power.
In the area of education, Newton has always promoted and agitated for quality education. He believes that any society that is passionate about its development must educate its people; no nation can be greater than its level of education. He believes that the youth, being the leaders of tomorrow, must be ready to acquire the knowledge needed for a better tomorrow and the leaders of today must provide the necessary quality of education needed to help groom younger generations. I remember how troubled he was at 84 when he learnt of the strike in schools. He was disturbed even at that age by the backwardness of our educational system, and it has degraded. To buttress his magnanimity, he took it upon himself to place some students all over the country on a scholarship.
In the area of leadership, he has never stopped speaking or voicing his opinion and views on Nigeria’s leadership system. In an article he wrote in this column, titled “Leadership and legacy”, he believes that there is a fascination with leadership and the legacy a leader leaves. He believes that “the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow” and this he attaches to the leadership of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and many great leaders who started their fight for a better society in their youth.
Many people in positions of leadership appear to have forgotten that leaving a legacy is not about erecting memorials to be remembered by, but about leaving the impressions we want to leave on those we lead based on our accomplishments and what we want people to remember us for.
It is crucial to remember that we must move quickly, if we hope to continue having a place to sleep in the coming years. Nigeria is home to thousands of displaced individuals as a result of human interference with nature.
In conclusion, it is important to note that Newton Jibunoh has been in the vanguard of fighting for himself, for this generation and for generations to come in every arena. Even at the age of 85, he is still working to save humanity.
He is ‘The Man in Every Sector,’ a man who has experienced everything, used every tool at his disposal to offer solutions, and is still willing to express his ideas.
•Written by Oluebube Okafor