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Son of our mother

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Rodipe

If you want to give Giwa Bisi Rodipe a birthday present, plant a tree.

For almost half-a-century, Giwa Rodipe, the founder and chairman of Bisrod Furniture and president of the Evergreen Tree Planters, has been involved in a national campaign for tree planting to save future generations from disaster.

Since 1984, he has planted more than two million trees inspiring many others to follow his laudable example. Today many top Nigerians have joined the campaign including former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Aare Afe Babalola, the founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti.

Ten years ago, when Rodipe was celebrating his 70th birthday anniversary, he invited government leaders from all over Nigeria to a national workshop on tree planting. It was held inside Bisrod own new forest, which he planted at the heart of Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State.

Chief Obasanjo, himself, an enthusiastic tree planter, led others to plant new trees at the new forest. Ten years later, Rodipe marked his 80th birthday yesterday with a heighten campaign that Nigerians must save their forest. He warned that the Sahara Desert is advancing south with increasing appetite, fueling farmers and herders clash and fueling insecurity for all and sundry. He warned that time is running out.

Rodipe has always been a man on the run after good ideas. Tireless, restless, intrepid and bold, he has embraced new ideas and transformed the old vocation of carpentry into an international business. Rodipe, born in Ijebu Ode September 4, 1939, he studied carpentry and furniture making at the Yaba Trade Centre, graduating in 1961 and from there moved to Ibadan, the largest indigenous African city. He was enthusiastic to embrace the opportunities provided by the newly independent Nigeria. His skill as a furniture maker was soon noticed by the managers of the Western Nigeria Television Service, WNTV, the first television station in Africa which he joined in 1962.

He became the builder of the stations stage props and his innovativeness and creativity singled him out among the scores of young men and women who were milling around the new magic house that was the WNTV. Apart from creating stages, he soon embraced new challenges. Nothing scares him.

In 1970, the global music idol, James Brown, Soul Brother Number One, visited Nigeria as part of his world tour. Brown has come to symbolise the African American Movement for Civil Right and his hit song, Say it Loud, am Black and Proud, resonated across the globe. The sponsors of the trip, including the international business giant, Phillip Morris, decided to hire furniture makers to build movable giant stages for Brown’s performance across the country which would take him to cities like Ibadan, Kano and Port Harcourt. They advertise for furniture makers to help in creating the movable stages for the Brown performance. Many well-known companies, most of them owned by foreigners, applied. Rodipe applied too. He got the job. A giant was born.

When I first met Rodipe about 25 years ago, he had become an established household name with furniture factories in Ibadan, Ijebu-Ode and Malaysia. He was sitting on the boards of several companies including Ecobank International. He was a comfortable man. The people of Ijebu-Ode embraced his politics with open arms and generous enthusiasm for he is also a politician of immense charisma. They elected him chairman of Ijebu-Ode Local Government Council for an unprecedented three terms, the only leader I know in Nigeria who has accomplished that feat.

Our path crossed during our struggle against the military dictatorship. Chief Moshood Abiola had won the June 12, 1993, presidential election but his victory was annulled by the self-proclaimed president, General Ibrahim Babangida. This brought a new twist to national politics and many of us young people gravitated towards some of our leaders, especially Chief Bola Ige, the first elected governor of old Oyo State. It was Ige who took us to Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, first elected governor of old Ondo State and the leader of Afenifere, the mainstream Yoruba political and cultural movement.

One of the strategic moves at that period was the formation of the Alpha Group under the leadership of Ige. I was privileged to be the secretary. Apart from those of us that were young, there was also a core of elders who were coming to attend our monthly meeting at Ige home in Bodija, Ibadan. Our tireless hostess was the equally resilient Justice Atinuke Ige, the wife of our leader. Rodipe was one of the elders who regularly joined us at our meetings. Some of the elders I can recall now included the late Dr Wahab Dosumu, former minister of Housing, Dr Femi Okunrounmu, Engineer Ife Akintunde, the late Mr. Ajayi, former managing director of the defunct National Bank and one Chief Asao from Aramoko Ekiti. Occasionally, we were joined by the late Justice Adewale Thompson and some of his friends.

Chief Rodipe was one of the few rich people that I know who openly embraced the danger of anti-Abacha politics. When Chief Ige was arrested in 1998, it was the climax of the military assault on our group and our associates. Akin Omojola, one of our leaders, was arrested and detained for many months for allegedly being in possession of seditious materials. Gbenga Adebusuyi was also arrested for a similar offence and detained along with his dutiful wife. As the dragnet was closing in with the arrest of people like Comrade Ola Oni and Alhaji Lam Adesina the struggle against the Abacha dictatorship gathered new momentum. Many other groups joined the resistance. Notably in Ibadan was the coming of the group called the Concerned Professionals led by some young lawyers, accountants, journalists and other white-collar workers.

Despite all the heighten tension, Rodipe never wavered. With the arrest of Ige and his detention in Makurdi Prisons, we were like a citadel under siege and Rodipe our stanch centurion. Relief came when Abacha died suddenly in 1998 and General Abdulsalami Abubakar, a different kind of soldier, came to power and superintended the process that led to the return of democratic rule. With the coming of elected leaders, Rodipe went back to his first love; tree planting.

Since 1999, he has invested a lot of his time and resources in getting our leaders interested in tree planting. Rodipe believes that the earth is our mother and the vegetation and trees are her cover clothes. Those who desecrate Mother Earth by incriminate cutting of trees and vegetation are like wayward children intent on stripping their mother naked. He believes time is running out but it is still not too late to make amend.

As of now, Nigeria is already paying dearly for her reckless disregard for the environment. The Lake Chad, hitherto one of the largest bodies of water in the world, has shrunk to about 25 per cent of its size in the 19th Century. The mighty Niger is thinning out due to environmental mismanagement. There are other tell-tale signs to indicate that trouble is brewing if we fail to take heed.

At 80, Rodipe has paid his dues and he is still paying. Since 1984 when he started his first tree plantation, he has planted more than two million trees. The mahogany trees he planted in 1984 are now giants of the forest, providing nesting platforms for eagles to raise their young.

The semi-automatic tree seed nursery he built in Ijebu-Ode can raise one million seedlings from the mother trees yearly. His Forest Demonstration Centre and Forest Education Centre are training grounds for young Nigerians especially students from the University of Ibadan, University of Maiduguri, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Federal University, Dutsinma, Katsina State, University of Uyo and many others.

For a man who started his career from a carpenter shed in Ibadan in 1961, Rodipe has travelled a long distance, full of challenges and beneficial triumphs and trophies. Yesterday again, to mark his 80th birthday, he brought Nigerians from all over the country, to talk about the wealth we are squandering, the earth we are abusing and the danger that our children may likely harvest if we continue in our prodigal way.

Many years ago, we thought of becoming the lords of the forests when timbers from Nigeria were sought after by princes in Europe and taipans in China. Now we are at the mercy of the world. We built multi-billion dollar edifices in Oku-Iboku in Akwa-Ibom State, Iwopin in Ogun that would use wood from our forest to produce first-class papers. Today almost all our papers, including those use for toilet rolls, are imported.

The sad result is that our children are leaving gold at home to chase fake glitters in South Africa and dare the Mediterranean Sea to cross into Europe in search of a mirage that would ensnare them into modern slavery. Gone were the days when we were kings and when every merchant in London, Beirut or New York knew the whiff of the naira. That is what happens to children who would not take care of their mothers’ nakedness.

It is time we listen to Rodipe, a prophet we ignore at our peril.


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