I have always been at peace with nature for as long as I can remember. It might have something to do with being a village boy and growing up among the trees, rivers and animals. After-school fun activities involved climbing trees, plucking fruits, running after chickens and swimming in the rivers. I never saw a compound without trees, those planted for their fruits or to provide shade, or to be worshipped. I recall the different festivities tied to the planting, harvesting and/or existence of trees, many of which I still participate in till date.
As a man advanced in age, I have intentionally maintained my relationship with nature as my houses are all cocooned with trees and waking up to birds perched atop trees, chirping away in the early hours of the morning, always gives me unexplainable joy, while adding a spring to my step. Indeed, trees are a source of life and pleasure to me. In fact, some jokingly call them the love of my life and they wouldn’t be too far off the mark
I will share an interesting story that will provide a glimpse to my passion for all that is green, brown and natural. It was probably the year 2006 or 2007 and my daughter, who was visiting from Abuja, had just disturbed my sleep to alert me of the damage done to trees on Bourdillon, a popular highbrow street in Ikoyi, Lagos State.
“The trees on Bourdillon have been cut down,” she said. “Did you hear me, Dad? I just drove past Bourdillon and saw some trees had been cut down. Dad, they will cut down the entire lot. Dad, we have to do something!”
Trees? Cut down? The very things I live for? The essence of my over 40 years of advocacy on preserving this planet? To say I was distraught was an understatement. I rushed quickly to the scene. On arriving at the scene, I was told the trees were being cut down to make way for a dual carriageway. Efforts to explain the importance of the trees, which had been in existence for over a century and more proved abortive as the contractor was intent on progressing with his work with little or no hindrance.
Quickly, my children and I organized a vigil. An unexpected number of press men and women came to cover the vigil. We commenced the walk from the house of the renowned environmentalist, the late S.L. Edu. The music maestro, Lagbaja, was with us, and also my dear friend, the late Ambassador Segun Olusola, whose presence as a former director-general of Nigerian Television Authority guaranteed television coverage of the night vigil.
The then Governor, Babatunde Fashola, rose to the occasion and agreed to ensure that for every tree cut down, two would be planted back. He saw to it that a greater number of trees on the stretch of road were preserved subsequently.
I can’t help but feel joy and pride in seeing the beautiful tall trees whenever I ply that route and many others that benefitted from the tree planting exercise that succeeded our vigil.
In 2013, years down the line, as my 75th birthday approached, I knew I wanted to do something again, something different. Then I had a Eureka moment. Why not take the audience that would typically spend my birthday with me to a location where we could spend time doing something I love? I could plant trees to celebrate my birthday, I thought.
The list of people to invite was endless, but we managed to find 75 people to share the day with me. A flurry of activities commenced with representations made to the governor with a request for the allocation of a portion of land to be used for the Garden of 75 Trees, the garden to commemorate my birthday. His Excellency and the officials of the State Ministry of Environment, being aware of my desire to involve the youth in matters of sustainable living, gave me a choice of three schools. I settled for Wahab Folawiyo Senior High School, opposite Osborne Foreshore Estate, Ikoyi. Having the garden inside the school was a perfect opportunity to showcase the importance of trees in our lives and imbibing the culture of protecting our environment. The responses received were overwhelming. I was particularly glad it struck a chord among my invitees, as the conversation commenced across different quarters on how best people could begin to utilize spaces in their homes for greening.
Till date, the garden is still thriving at Wahab and I make it a duty to visit my garden every opportunity I get.
Today’s article is a mix of going down memory lane and calling for action. Every time we get closer to the 5th of June, the day set aside annually as World Environment Day, I tend to take stock of the current state of the environment in a bid to grade if there’s been an improvement from the previous year. I ask myself if my campaigns, advocacies and that of many others just as passionate of the environment as I am have made a significant difference in addressing climate change, water pollution, air pollution, overpopulation, global warming and every other issue affecting our environment.
The answer is not significant enough. Humans are causing more harm at an alarming rate than the earth can recover from which is why the theme for this year’s World Environment Day, Ecosystem Restoration, should be seen as a loud call for us to focus all our efforts together on reviving or recovering our ecosystems. I believe one way to do that is through tree planting, as trees are a vital part for ecosystem restoration in all parts of the world. So, this year, I am revisiting my ‘garden of 75 trees’ idea and replicating it in other secondary schools across different local governments in Lagos State to commemorate the day.
Environmental degradation, which is simply the undesirable destructive changes in the environment through depletion of resources such as air, water and soil, the deterioration of ecosystems, habitat loss, the extinction of wildlife and pollution, is one of the largest threats that are being looked at in the world today. A concerted effort is needed if we are to slow the tide of the impending destruction that will come at the tipping point of this degradation. Nigeria just submitted its interim updated Nationally Determined Contribution to the UNFCCC, a document detailing the country’s efforts to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. It was full of colorful ambitions that will not mean much if they don’t carry weight outside being texts on white paper. This applies to all other countries. The environment affects us all; rich or poor, good or bad. We all will need to work like our lives depend on it to restore our ecosystem, because our lives do.