Sometime last week, as I pondered on the next topic for my column, I was reminded by a member of my desert expedition team that drove with me from Nigeria to London in 2008, Ebun Olatoye, that next month would be the 10th anniversary of that journey and also the 15th anniversary of my first solo expedition driving from London to Nigeria across Europe, the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara. While I was still reflecting on all this, I got a call from a lady that called herself Aisha from Kaduna. The lady said she had followed my stories for over 40 years and has been following my contribution in The Sun newspaper and wondered if Nigerians do read because, if they
do, they would come to realise that I warned the country barely 20 years ago about the current crises we now seem to be experiencing with the herdsmen. Then in an angry voice, she told me that Nigerians kill our history and kill our heroes as well. I was not sure if that was a compliment; however, I thanked her for following my story and reading this column every week like she said. She may be right because I know of a few heroes that have been killed and a few historical moments that are no longer remembered.
I recall the Independence Building in Lagos that was built to commemorate the most important moment in our history, our freedom. It was the most beautiful sight you could find anywhere and the tallest building in Nigeria that attracted tourists from all over the world. It was a monument sited in the most celebrated open space known then as the Race Course but now known as Tafawa Balewa Square. Another masterpiece was the Federal Secretariat in Ikoyi. These buildings were examples of a city that was a masterpiece to behold. We were a nation that treasured its history and created lasting memories with the present. Decades later, many of the monuments lie in deplorable states, almost as if what they represent no longer matters or is no longer remembered.
As it stands, it appears that no government in Nigeria today including the federal government can afford to build such monuments certainly not with the way we share our profits and capital coming from our oil resources. So, for today’s column, I will attempt to recall the past by sharing some historical and iconic photographs from my expeditions.
In 1968, I went on my first expedition, driving from London to Lagos, Nigeria. It was a solo trip. I didn’t choose to do it alone but because no one wanted to come with me. It was the same with my second trip, this time from Nigeria to London. However, this time around, it wasn’t an isolated trip though I was making the journey alone. NTA and CNN covered the expedition all the way to London including the warm reception that I received there by the then Nigerian high commissioner to the UK, Prince Bolaji Ajibola. These expeditions made me more aware of the extent of degradation taking place in the environment and how little was being done to stop it and repair the damage that had been done.
Ten years ago, I turned 70; it was a time when climate change and desertification, drought and famine were very topical issues engulfing many countries, especially in Africa. Nigeria, like many other countries, was just realising the need for climate mitigation and adaptation. It was forgotten that I had warned the nation about impeding catastrophes.
With the little support that I got from the diplomatic community, the foreign affairs ministry and a few private organisations, a team of six men and women volunteered to accompany me on my third expedition with the theme “Passing on the torch,” because I knew then that it would take the younger generation to continue and complete this campaign as some of the projects to mitigate would take somewhere between 40 and 50 years to materialise. We were flagged off in Lagos by the then governor of Lagos State, then the ministry of foreign affairs and the ministry of the environment in Abuja and the emir of Kano Alhaji Ado-Bayero in Kano.
We crossed the Sahara, crossed the Mediterranean and drove through major cities of Europe spreading the advocacy and linking desertification to climate change under the banner of FADE (Fight Against Desert Encroachment). Strangely enough, we were able to park in front of Eiffel Tower in Paris, the British Parliament in London and also the front of the London Eye. In all three places, we were celebrated even though we oftentimes parked in a non-parking zone to capture the moments in stills. On our return to Nigeria, we made a report to Lagos State government and were subsequently invited to Lagos State Executive Council meeting, where I made a presentation warning the country about the impending migration from the desert-affected part of the continent and Lagos being the more likely city to be the recipient of such and also the threat to food security. It was at that stage that Lagos decided to get more involved in the campaign, which resulted in a collective fourth expedition inside the Sahara at Agadez. What was to be a yearly expedition was unfortunately brought to a halt due to the activities of insurgents like Boko Haram.
There is a point to all this. A nation that does not recognise and value its history, whether bad or good, may never learn to do better in the future. Many times, history sounds out warnings of things to come that we can prevent, if we take action on time.
For the benefit of younger Nigerians who hopefully will become leaders of tomorrow, the history of Nigeria must be preserved because there is so much to learn from every good or bad move that we have made since Independence.
We must try not to keep sweeping the bad under the carpet because it will return to haunt us indefinitely.