‘Nigerians need attitudinal change for environmental sustainability’
Dr. Mukhari Aminu-Kano is the new director general of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF). In this interview with Victor Gbonegun, he lamented that 95 per cent of Nigeria’s forest cover has been lost and called for tremendous support from stakeholders to fast-track green recovering process with the target of getting back about 25 per cent of the loss within the next 40 years.
You are an experienced natural resources expert with over 30years practice and have been at the helm of affairs of this foundation before, why are you coming back?
I’m back based on the special invitation from the board of trustees and council of the foundation. They want to see how can we take NCF to the next level. In the life o5.5 any organisation that wants to grow and develop, there is always the need to have some reflection and aspire for the next level and because of our past, they want someone who has the experience to come and be part of the dream and vision.
The Lekki Conservation Foundation has grown into one of Africa’s prominent and most-diverse urban nature parks. How were you able to achieve this and what are the challenges encountered?
NCF is a unique organisation and well recognised globally. It was established long before the government had a national institution dealing with the core areas of bio-diversities and long before the federal ministry of environment and other organisations like NESTREA and others came into being. NCF was in-fact instrumental to setting up some of those organisation like the national park service were due to the lobbying activities of the NCF. It was modeled after the big global conservation organisation World Wide Foundation (WWF), Bird Life International, World Conservation Union. That is where it took its inspiration.
The story is very interesting, the founder of the NCF who is late now; Chief Edu who was friend of some of the royal families especially in Europe especially in England and Netherlands. They were involved as trustees and patrons of WWF international and he was moving with them and that was how he imbibed the conservation spirit and he said we don’t have any thing like that in Nigeria and I am going to come and set up something like that in Nigeria. When he came back it was during the military regime of Yakubu Gowon and he applied for registration of a national organisation of a model of WWF. The government passed it to civil servants to comment and when they did their research, they found that the only place in Africa where they have WWF is South Africa and this was the time Nigeria didn’t want to have anything to do with South Africa because of Apartheid. So they said this people were trying to bring something from South Africa here and so they delayed it and denied its approval for ten years. Edu made another attempt in the 19970’s and didn’t get a go ahead until the 1980’s when it got the final registration. Chief Edu told the story to us that there was an oversea trip of the then president, Shehu Shagari to the UK and part of his itineraries was a reception by the queen for the visiting head of state and through his feelings, the husband of the queen was met to be there and so he arranged for himself and Chief Edu to talk with President Shagari and say that this application has been pending for more than 10years and president Shagari promised him that when he got back to Nigeria, they would sort it out and that was how the application pulled through in the 80’s.
NCF has been active since then and it was the pioneering national conservation organisation. When other federal government environmental organisations were established, NCF supported them technically for them to develop their strategies, the national park service law, the endangered species law was developed with support from NCF.NCF also took over management of many conservation parks like; the Okomu national service park, in Cross River, Chad Basin, Yakari Park and many others providing supports. In 1990, it bought its space in Lekki where the headquarters is based with a 78-hectares reserve, which it has been managing and owning since 1990 in Lekki axis as the landmark of Lagos state. It has turned into an Island and the only place where you see some of the original vegetation, wild life and other things. .
What is your assessment of the nations’ national parks?
The first thing to say is that the government seems not to be serious about the national parks and that is really a sad situation. When you look at the current budget of the 7 national parks, you will really lament because they show how poorly funded they are. The whole ministry of the federal ministry of environment is a poor cousin of the other ministries. What it gets is very small. When the ministry of environment gets the budget allocation, it gets the lowest and then you come to the national park, some of them as big as 6,000 square kilometers, the number of staff they have in the whole seven national parks is just about a 1,000 staff.Those 1,000, if you put them in one national park, they are not enough to stop poaching and hurting and lots of other environmental encroachment.
It is now the individual and management of those parks that are trying their best and working against all odds. The pressure has also increased as there are more people hunting, grazing, and trying to encroach on the lands of the national parks and so if you asked me about the state of the national parks is like the state of the Nigerian environment just because the government hasn’t given it the priority that it deserved.
If we must see diversification of the economy as something that is key, I think national parks is also a good source to raise a lot of revenue like you see in east and Southern Africa where ecotourism is a huge component of their economy. If we make a huge investment, we will really harvest a lot from that sector and we have the beautiful places like Obudu, Yankari and others. Nigeria is African hidden secret.
The foundation has become a model for promoting environmental education and public awareness/understanding of the natural world, despite this feat, what are your fears on prevailing lackluster disposition from people to the issue of environment?
My fear is that as long as we continue to degrade the habitat we live in, we will be doing harms to ourselves because our mindsets is only for today. We have to think of tomorrow because the most important thing, is talking about sustainability. We should be interested in eating today and tomorrow. Nigerians need huge attitudinal and behaviourial change for environmental sustainability if our relationship with the environment is going to where it’s supposed to be. Unless we raised enough consciousness and government support the integration of environment into our daily economic sectors, we wont be able to realise our ambitions. Sustainable development is about economy that is viable, socially okay and environmentally sustainable.
In terms of funding your activities, are you thinking of having other stakeholders?
It’s been tough and challenging. The reputations about Nigeria have affected technical resources and funding for foundation like us. The economy is facing challenges and this has affected the traditional supports from both private and individual supporters who were feeling the heat. However, because NCF is well established, and tried and tested and showed its effectively from the very day it was founded, it has not been starved of competent board of trustee and has gotten good international connections and recognitions. These are the things that have been keeping the foundation going forward in the turbulent times.
We raise funds from our members and we have different categories; ordinary, individual, student, corporate, family and fellow members and donations from corporate members. We do events to raise funds, manage parks like the Lekki conservation park and we charge fees. We partner government and international organizations to jointly fund our activities. We have a diverse source and we are constantly trying to see how we can reach other avenues. We are constantly trying to see which other avenues for funding we could explore and what new thing we can do.
Stakeholders have expressed deep concern that the world’s wildlife is massively going into extinction. What is your take on this and what can be done?
Our Partner WWF produces reports every year on living planet, which is scientific report and looks at the current rate with which we are exploiting the resources of the world. Is one planet enough for humanity now and by their last count, if we are to continue the way we are going, we will need more than two planets, which we don’t have. Another partner which is the world conservation union every year brings out the list of species prone to extinction. They think now that we are at the sixth phase of extinction. We now have five ages of extinction and we are in the middle of the sixth. In Nigeria here, we have lots of species of plants and animals that of concern and threated with extinction. It is a major issue for us on how we can protect plants and animals that are living for them to continue to provide the essential services for us. Diverse majority of Nigerians live on the resources of the environment.We in the business are not for the esoteric thing of having nature around but for the protection of the environment.
What are you doing to ensure that the available wildlife resources have enough space to thrive in harmony with people?
We are loosing more trees, plants and animals, we first need to slow down the rate and stop it altogether and then began to build up again because there is only about five per cent of the original forest left in Nigeria. The 95 per cent has been cut in deep forest and so we need to halt that and then need to increase our forest cover. We started the Nigerian green recovering initiative last year and it is an ambitious programme, which is to get back 25per cent of lost forest within 40 years. lost.
We will work in conjunction with the people to live in harmony with nature. We are concern about the survival of human beings and animals, both has needs and have to live in harmony. A lot of the projects we are doing are community based natural resource management projects. People have to live in harmony and synergy with nature in a sustainable way and not to degrade the environment for posterity. This is the attitude we need in Nigeria. Changing behavior is a difficult thing, people just find it easy to use disposable stuff and discard them in the wrong way, out of the car or out of the window and we have surrounded ourselves with fumes and plastic pollutions. We therefore need to consciously change mindsets, attitude and change behavior. It hard, but we need to design programmes where you have so many social influencersin promoting environmental stewardship and cleanliness in their teachings. There is also a role for legislature and regulations and sure that they well enforced. Authorities must strengthen the enforcement capacity of environmental agencies for sustainability of the eco-system. There is also the need to create an enabling environment so that people would not just litter the environment anyhow. They must provide enough toilets and waste disposal bins for the use of the people.For instance, to solve the challenge of open defecation, government must provide enough public toilets. This will help people whose instinct is positive towards the environment but due to lack of enabling environment, they betray the naturally good instincts.
Some countries are already imbibing the culture of ‘building green’, how can Nigeria build on this and what will be the impact on the environment?
Building green is one of the great ways to impact the environment. For instance, where we are, there are a lot of green features. Our administrative block is built on pillars so that water can still follow under and so we haven’t disrupted the wetlands in this area. One of our council members in the University of Lagos; Prof John Godwill, he was the chairman of our building committee and supervised the building of this facility. He has trained a lot of people on building green and the whole building green concept. How I wish the professional bodies in built environment would imbibe this spirit of building green.
Government is making moves to moderate activities of non-governmental organisations in the country. In fact, the government has also come out to say NGO’s act like an opposition. What is your take on this?
The development of any country is partnership between the government, which is the most powerful, the private sector and the civil society. If we have the three working together, then you will have proper development. The more you create the maximum way for them to operate, the more develop the society would be. Any tension between the three which are natural and are meant to be, should be tension that is resolved in terms of freedom and given people maximum space to express themselves. If government attempt is to silence certain sector, then I believe it’s the wrong way to go. If you are doing it for political reasons, then it’s counter-productive. There should be enough space for civil societies to express themselves. The more open the society is, the more progress it makes.
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