By Akin Olukiran
Today’s column has been taken over by Akin Olukiran, the CEO of ABG-CAPS Clean Energy Group, and a dear friend, in honour of Dr. Jibunoh. He writes:
In a few days’ time, precisely on 1st January 2022, Dr. Newton C. Jibunoh, OON, D.Sc, would be celebrating his 84th birthday. Without flattery or undue blarney, Dr. Jibunoh looks and displays the energy of someone at least a decade younger. A gentleman to the core, when I recently told him I want to be like him “when I grow up,” as Nigerians want to say, he just encouragingly said, I would do even better. That is vintage Dr. Jibunoh, an encourager, an optimist and a genuine supporter. He is a man who’s ever been close to politicians but was never one, neither has he ever held any political appointment. Ever close to power but never boastful. His act of gracious immersion in environmentalism is curious and worthy of study. The life of Newton Jibunoh could almost easily be shared between the three areas to which he’s applied himself: construction/building, the arts and the environment.
The indefatigability of Dr. Jibunoh can only be appreciated from the most rarefied circle of sustained achievers. To imagine that a man who started his career in construction engineering in 1966, building most of the iconic structures in our dear country, ranging from building bridges in Maiduguri and Mubi, to bridges in Ijebu Igbo, Lagos-Ikorodu Road Bridge, Sapele-Warri Bridge, National Theatre sub-structure and also the foundation works for NITEL Building, Marina, Falomo Shopping Centre in Ikoyi, Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, and Ikoyi Hotel is still actively building. A certified octogenarian, Dr. Jibunoh still dares to dream and is building one of the most modern, original, urban renewal and regeneration projects in Asaba, the Nelson Mandela Parks and Gardens. This is a testament to his staying power and endurance.
In the more cerebral pursuits, Dr. Jibunoh is a passionate lover of the arts, who founded the first private, nonprofit museum in Nigeria, called Didi Museum, to promote Nigeria’s indigenous arts, and has been the launching platform for many of Nigeria’s now-acclaimed artists. Fast-forward to 2021, Didi Museum, under Dr. Jibunoh’s leadership, continues to provide a platform for budding contemporary artists to showcase their work and be introduced to the world. It really gladdens my heart to see this great arts patron still collecting young artists’ work as he did in Abuja a few months ago in my presence at an exhibition to encourage and support them. The exhibition of Solace earlier this month by the talented artist, Princess Adekepemi Aderemi, reminds one of the way the museum continues to hold on to its mission of encouraging and supporting emerging artists.
It is in Dr. Jibunoh’s third area of interest that the profundity of his influence and staying power is best appreciated: environmental activism. Popularly known as the Desert Warrior, Dr. Jibunoh has crossed the Sahara Desert four times: two solo expeditions at ages 29, 62, and decided to celebrate his 70th birthday in the Sahara Desert, this time driving with a five-man expedition team from Lagos to London. A man of vision and ideas, he was the Captain of the Newton Jibunoh Desert Warriors Reality Show and Expedition, sponsored by the Lagos State Government, which took place in Agadez, Niger Republic. Subsequent expeditions were put on hold due to unrest across the North African countries. His objective remains to pass on the torch for the fight with the Sahara Desert to the youths.
A philosopher,and one would be forgiven for referring to him as a prophet, too, who sees far into the future, Dr. Jibunoh foresaw and warned against the social and economic fallouts of desertification some 20 years ago when he advocated the planting of trees along the northern belt of Nigeria to stem the encroachment of the Sahara desert. He did warn us of the danger of not acting and allowing the southward encroachment of the Sahara to wreak havoc and that this could lead to herders moving southwards, looking for grazing fields for their cattle. He quite prophetically posited that this economic displacement would lead to ethnic and communal conflicts. The chickens have, unfortunately, come home to roost and his predictions have come to pass.
Not content with just planting trees and taking direct action, Dr. Jibunoh recognises the importance of information and the power of the print media. For about four years, he has been a columnist with The Sun newspaper, writing every Thursday to raise millions of people’s awareness on the environment and climate change. What tenacity! What commitment! With over 200 articles, he is still unrelenting and keeps his thousands of readers looking forward to the following week’s topic. For a man his age, one would expect him to slow down, but that is not the way he is wired. He continues to strive for perfection, to change the world around us.
Dr. Jibunoh has a strong belief in building transnational coalitions as an important strategy for environmental organisations to exchange information and expertise and also to strengthen lobbying and direct action campaigns. This is what inspired him to author a publication, titled “Bridging the Sahara Desert: A Different Perspective,” which is a proposed solution to open up the Sahara by the construction of a Trans-Saharan Highway that would also tackle the issue of desertification. He continues to work with the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), which has taken up this proposal and he is presently the vice-chairman of the governing council of the special purpose vehicle called Nigerian Society of Engineers – Taming African Deserts.
As we prepare to join the beautiful family of Dr. Jibunoh to celebrate him and mark yet another birthday, I would like to use this opportunity to call on the government of Delta State, his home state, to put his name forward for a higher National Honours award. He deserves to be celebrated and honoured, for he is a worthy role model and a national hero. As in previous years and for years to come, I want you all to join me in wishing our hero, the Desert Warrior, Happy 84th birthday, and to wish him good health and a sound mind. May the good Lord continue to renew his youth like the eagle’s.
•Olukiran writes from London; [email protected]