For an explorer like me, these are exciting times. The space exploration that began many decades ago has continued to progress to the point where we are entertaining thoughts and putting into effect plans for the possibility of living on Mars. But as we enter a new world of space technology and the exploration of other planets, we must begin to re-examine what our legacy will be.
Now is the time to clearly map out what kind of impact our very existence will have on this planet called Earth. What will be our carbon footprints? What will be the result of our resolve to leave planet earth a better place than we met it or was that just lip service? This brings me to the big question of how much we know about the rest of earth’s inhabitants. These inhabitants existed long before we did and outnumber us by the millions, yet are struggling for territory and struggling to survive from humans.
After over eight decades and long retired, I have decided to move away from the big cities to live closer to nature so that I can begin to find answers to all these issues that have troubled me with regard to human beings and other inhabitants on earth. The place I have chosen to ponder in nature is one of the parks that I am developing in Asaba, Delta State, complete with a mini zoo where we have domesticated animals. Apart from the animals, I also inherited trees that are over 100 years old, making the forest look more like a wilderness. There are over a hundred types of birds that live among the trees and they sing a lot at sunrise before flying away, only to return at sunset to sing some more. They are joined by a bit of breeze that causes the trees to dance to the songs of the birds. In this small wilderness, I have also noticed some very tiny inhabitants like ants and the beautiful cathedral-like houses that they build with compartments. I have also noticed some edible vegetables and fruits that were not planted by us but we have nurtured them because they have come through biodiversity over the years.
My move has been liberating as I have been preoccupied and fascinated with learning the differences between all these millions of inhabitants and the massive and interesting value they bring to our lives.
A question I often ask is: Can all these other inhabitants do without human beings? The answer is, Yes. But can we do without them? The answer is, No. The food we eat, our shelter, clothes and even the air we breathe are all made possible by these other creatures and creations. While we can contribute immensely to nature’s development, we often than not don’t.
I sometimes wonder what happens to these other inhabitants when they die or get killed by us, do they have the kind of burial and memorial ceremonies we do, do they believe in life after death like some of us do? We claim dominance even though we are smaller in number, we take over the land and the oceans, eating every creature that we happen upon or killing them for sport. We create games and carry loads with some animals like horses, donkeys and camels. We also entertain with monkeys, elephants, tigers, lions and even snakes. Everything on earth, we believe, is for our pleasure or survival.
Not too long ago, I got a telephone call from the daughter of an Indian friend of mine who lived in Nigeria for over 50 years but returned to India after he retired. For the celebration of his 80th birthday, his daughter, Reshma, who was born and breed in Nigeria but now lives in London, got in touch with me and requested that I create a five-minute birthday wishes video for her father to be played on the day of his birthday as a surprise. I decided to make the video in my little wilderness with some birds and animals in the background. My friend, Muli Mukhi, called me after the celebration and told me that my five-minute video clip was one of the nicest parts of his birthday celebration and wondered how I have been able to stay close to nature, and happy that I have been able to practice what I have preached all these years. He then recalled a story of our friendship from my autobiography, Hunger for Power.
The story from the book goes like this:
My first company accommodation in the early ’70s was a two-bedroom apartment at No. 2, Oniru Street, Apapa, Lagos. Having always been green-fingered, I decided to develop a bed of flowers in a small space in front of the house, following the experience I acquired from the graveyard keeper, Baba Sunday. A few months after I started growing beautiful roses of different colours, I had an encounter with the Indian couple living almost opposite me.
It was early on a Sunday morning and I was tending my bed of roses when this beautiful Indian woman stopped by on her way past. She stood by the fence and asked me if the roses were real and I said yes.
But I felt that she didn’t believe me so when the roses reached full blossom, I decided to cut some and present to her. She thanked me and said it was a long time since she saw roses like that.
So, one day I was outside my house when the husband, Muli, stopped by and asked if I was the one that brought flowers for his wife. He didn’t look very happy when I said yes and I could understand. Few months later, Sagni, the wife, stopped again to ask how the roses were doing. I told her I was contemplating bringing more for her because of the way she appreciated the roses but that I wasn’t quite sure about her husband. She said that I might have read her wrongly and that her husband appreciated the roses too. Based on that, I gave her more roses and she subsequently invited me to her house for dinner with her husband.
One of the questions her husband, Muli, asked me was whether I was married or single. I told him I was single but engaged to be married soon and, some months later, I got married to my wife, Elizabeth, and introduced her to them. We have all remained friends ever since.
For days, I celebrated the phone call from my friend Muli until I got another disturbing call from the principal of a school that I had helped to build with part-funding from the British High Commission. Twenty years ago, the town was ravaged by desertification claiming farmlands, water-bodies and grazing fields and, as part of my advocacy with FADE Africa, we were called upon by Kano State government to help restore land from the encroaching desert. We started a wall-of-trees programme in collaboration with Kano State government, the community and some donors, including British High Commission. Within a few years, greenery returned to the community, those that migrated out like farmers and the hamlets returned to their land. For the families returning with their children, we started a secondary school with 15 pupils and, as part of our sensitization programme, we engaged the schoolchildren and their families in the tree-planting programme.
Almost two decades later, the trees have now become big timber trees and, with the population of the school growing and the school needing more chairs and tables, the principal requested from me in a telephone conversation if they could cut down some of trees to make chairs and tables. How could they forget so soon that it was the trees that stopped the encroachment of the desert, restored the farmlands and water-bodies and brought back the place to a grazing field? I begged the principal in the name of Allah not to cut down the trees and have contacted some donors, including the British High Commission to assist FADE in building suitable furniture and equipment for the school. I have also promised to visit the town and school in the coming weeks.
That experience once again reminded me of how quickly humans dismiss the importance of nature and her gifts. How quickly we seek to destroy, instead of innovate! How quickly we forget our promise to leave planet earth better than we met it.