“You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so; for, remember, fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in your mind.”
– Dale Carnegie
Many Nigerians, particularly in my home state, Delta, no longer know or call me by my real name because it does not mean much to them anymore. There, as well as in most other places, so often, I get introduced as the Desert Warrior. I do not have any serious problem with that except that my children cannot take after the name.
It all started in London 20 years ago at the British Museum during a conferment of an award to me at the end of my second solo expedition across the Sahara. The title bestowed on me that fateful day was Desert Conqueror, seeing that I had for the second time conquered the desert, as it were. But I did not see it that way. In my acceptance speech, I stated that crossing the Sahara a second time alone was the very early beginning of the fight to tame the desert.
My expedition was mainly to raise people’s awareness and to begin some activism that would halt the southward march of the Sahara, which was first articulated by the former President of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, and his counterparts in the early 1960s. I reminded the fine people who were honouring me that it would take several decades to achieve our ultimate goal, even if we started then in 2000, and for that I proceeded to say that I saw myself as a warrior, not a conqueror. My speech was broadcast and published. Thus began the transformation of my revolutionary name to Desert Warrior. The name of the award that I received did not change, however. It presently sits on display in my gallery in Lagos.
History tells us that the Sahara once had a very different climate and environment. From those who were here at least 7000 BCE, we learnt that, in Libya and Algeria, there were pastoralism, herding of sheep and goats, pottery and craft within large settlements. Cattle were introduced to the Central Sahara (Ahaggar) from 4000 to 3500 BCE. Remarkable rock paintings (dated 3500 to 2500 BCE) from contemporaneous dry places portray vegetation and animal presence many eons ago, starkly different from modern-day realities.
Let us be clear: climate change did not create the Sahara. For over 600 million years, intermittent sea rise and flooding had always submerged the region. Then these would be followed by uplift that would send back the seas to ocean basins, exposing the region to be covered by forests, savannahs and even marshlands. With the African continent drifting north-eastwards, the region found itself in a place where it was affected “by a variation in the angle of the tilt of the Earth and the shape of its orbit. Changes in the Earth’s tilt caused changes in weather patterns and Sahara became a desert” formed as a result of low-pressure air heating the ground and evaporating groundwater.
For centuries, there have been trans-Saharan trades in both directions between the Mediterranean countries and the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Trade in pre-Islamic times was conducted by caravans of camels. The camels would be fattened for a number of months on the plains of either the Maghreb or Sahel before being assembled into the caravan. The survival of the caravan would be precarious and rely on careful coordination. It was usual to send runners ahead to oases so that water could be shipped out to the caravan when it was still several days away, as the caravans could not carry enough with them to make the journey. However, all that changed with desertification and global warming.
Twenty years after my Desert Conqueror, also known as Desert Warrior award, 40 years after Kwame Nkrumah first mooted the idea and said the continent of Africa would remain in darkness until the Sahara is tamed and breached, and now approaching my middle 80s, we have done very little in taming the Sahara or utilising its potential. The vast heat and solar energy potential of the desert can be harnessed to provide electricity for millions of homes, industries, and infrastructures like roads and railways. The same can be said with wind power, and all these can transform us from the Dark Continent to the powerhouse of industrial growth. Africa is the only continent in the whole world where you cannot move from north to south and east to west by road or rail transport because of the Sahara.
We must all begin to think of the benefits that are likely to be derived, if the Trans-Saharan highway is built. In my book, “Bridging the Sahara – A Different Perspective,” published 20 years ago, I stated the following benefits:
Fishing for water and bridging the Sahara Desert
• Will open up the Sahara and make for the movement of goods, trade and services across the continent
• Will create employment, education and industry for millions of Africans that border the Sahara through many countries
• Will reduce migration and help to stem conflicts, wars, and the security risks that follow unchecked migrations
• Will help to recover lands that have been encroached upon for agricultural and grazing purposes
• The threat of food security will be minimised, reducing poverty
• Will empower the community, especially African farming women
• Will give potable water to millions of people in the Sahel
• Will cause rainfall with the greening of the land once again
• Cause roads to be built and the resources that abound in the desert can be explored.
The Trans-Saharan highway has the potential to reduce insurgency everywhere and put a stop to the migration of Fulani herdsmen. So, let us begin to imagine where Nigeria could be, if we do not have to deal with all these crises.
Once again, I want to share the encounter I had early this year with a single mother in her 50s at a gas station. She was being attended to before me, and, apart from filling up her car, she was also filling up two small generators behind her car and also some plastic containers. Since it was going to take a long time to fill up all these, I decided to engage her in a conversation on safety and environmental concerns of what she was carrying. I wrote about it in a column titled the “Incredible Nigerian,” but the high and low of our conversation was that she knew me very well and had been reading my writings for many years.
She wondered how I was able to continue writing when nobody listens. In yet another piece titled “Is Anyone Listening?” I confirmed my response to her that, sometimes, they do listen. Other times, they lack the political will, the patriotism and the foresight to embark on a long journey of continuous development. They forget that government is a continuum, and as my friend would say, “There is no end to work in the Ministry of Works.”
It is not too hard to understand why she would have said that no one was listening, after all, there appears to have been little or no change in the way things were and the way they are now. Actually, that’s untrue. Things have clearly retrogressed. Still, we don’t have the luxury of accepting defeat as that would mean the end of Nigeria and those in it.
One thing remains true and this is the serious and urgent need for the Sahara Desert to be bridged and conquered so that the continent of Africa can begin to emerge. It will take decades for someone, some nation or the global community to initiate the next move. I may be long gone by then but I hope that all the warriors that have travelled and shared the journeys with me will remember that I tried.
Nigerian law students honour Ugwuanyi with Governor of the Year award
Nigerian law students, under the aegis of Law Students’ Association of Nigeria (LAWSAN), will, during their national convention scheduled for Friday, September 11, 2020, in Abuja, honour Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, with the “Governor of the Year” award.
In a letter jointly signed by the national president and assistant secretary-general of LAWSAN, Emmanuel Eze Nwobodo and Nafisa Abdullahi, respectively, the law students disclosed that the award, which they said was unanimously endorsed, was in recognition of Gov. Ugwuanyi’s track record and contributions to Nigerian legal education in particular and leadership in general.
They added that the recognition was “in view of your standing as a deserving contributor to that which concerns youths, coupled with your inspirational personality.”
According to them, “We have unanimously concluded that you (Ugwuanyi) indeed represent all that every student, and of course this association, labours to achieve and we graciously seek to have you in attendance as we have chosen you to be the distinguished awardee as the Governor of the Year.
“Your Excellency, it is our culture to meritoriously honour distinguished governors who have contributed to legal education and as well assisted in raising the hands and heads of students at challenging points in their life and this year is not an exception.
“In consideration, we are confronted with a long list of governors. However, we have strategically followed your track record and as well conducted a strict due diligence on your contributions to Nigerian legal education and leadership generally.
“Consequent upon which you have emerged our credible choice as a distinguished guest and awardee at the event of the forthcoming National LAWSAN Convention billed to hold on the 11th September, 2020, at the Zeus Paradise Hotel, Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.”
The law students who noted that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Ababakar Malami, were past awardees, appreciated Gov. Ugwuanyi for the bursary allowance his administration recently granted to 246 students of the state at the Nigeria Law School, among other remarkable contributions to the legal profession as well as Nigerian legal education “through your interests in students’ activities.”