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Stepping up ecosystem resilience through tree planting

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Chief Executive Officer, Arabela, Mr. Tola Akinkungbe (left); Lagos Polo Club Secretary, Adeyemo Alakija; President, Ayo Olashoju; first Vice President, Timi Akinwunmi; second Vice President, Bode Makanjuola during the tree-planting exercise

The expansive landscape is serene. Its freshly green grass adds sparkles, quality, standard and uniqueness to the environment. This is complemented by the neat and courteous staff, making the arena a home away from home. The harmattan breeze, which blew relentlessly from newly planted trees, offered the fun seekers and the environs some cool, fresh air. That is the daily atmosphere within the Lagos Polo Club, Ikoyi, Lagos.

That ambiance around the club premises is not a coincidence, but a deliberate one created to provide a comfortable and world-class environment through The Eden Project, focused and dedicated to massive landscape transformation by planting over 160 trees around the Club premises in its initial phase, which will be extended to its environs. The green sustainability project will not only create a world-class environment, it will also re-create a new vista in the heart of Ikoyi and support and strengthen the climate and ecosystem resilience.

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The club has a rich pedigree of remarkable achievements since its inception over a century ago.  Founded in 1904, the Lagos Polo Club, the first polo club to be established in the history of Nigeria, was created by a team of British Naval Officers, who loved the sport of horse riding and horse racing. The premier private sporting club has a rich history as it was created before the liberation of Nigeria from the British Colonial rule. With its yearly tournaments, standard horse riding academy, and affiliations with international organizations, the club has grown to become the best and famous polo club in Nigeria.

Every year, the Lagos Polo Club holds one main tournament and several mini tournaments. The main tournament is the Lagos International Polo Tournament held around February and March spanning two weeks. It is the largest Polo tournament in Africa as it attracts large number of polo players and lovers from several countries. Also, professional polo players all the way from Argentina come to participate in the tournament. The recently concluded 2020 Lagos Polo Tournament which featured 39 amazing polo teams, the highest in the history of NPA Tournaments came to a grand finale on the February 18, 2020 and retained the epithet of being the biggest social event in Nigeria.

However, apart from its glamour and the never-ending after-game parties, the highlight this year was the commissioning of the newly built state-of-the-art viewing stand by the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu. The new viewing stand is a pioneering world-class, marking the beginning of a new era for the most premier club in Nigeria. It delivers an exclusive VIP box experience with an unobstructed panoramic view of the field on the first floor and a vibrant state-of-the-art bar beneath it.

Just as it’s known for its glamour, Lagos Polo Club has been involved in several Corporate Social Responsibility activities over the years. For example, it partnered with a non-governmental organisation on educational literacy campaign for horse grooms. During the lockdown, it supported government in alleviating some of the unfortunate situations caused by COVID-19. Also, the Club has welcomed children to come to ride at the polo club to get exposure to horses and horse care. The goal is to expose people – both young and old to horses and riding.

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Like an old wine that gets better with age, the premier club keeps evolving with innovation. Over the last 10 years, the Club has experienced various transformations through its various committee members with sole aim to make it a world-class club. Recently, its visionary President, Ayo Olashoju and his committee members, comprising Timi Akinwunmi (1st Vice President), Bode Makanjuola (2nd Vice President), Adeyemo Alakija (Secretary), Adeoluwa Dara (Treasurer), Rotimi Makanjuola (Polo Captain), Lolu Agoro (Polo Welfare Officer), Seyi Oyinlola (Grounds Member), Tola Akinhanmi (Stables and Surrounds Member), Tunji Ashiru (Bar Secretary), Olugbile Holloway (Staff Welfare Officer), Ayodeji Oyinlola (Catering Member), Olumide Soyombo (Social Secretary) and Femi Sanyaolu embarked on tree planting as part of their contributions to the club.

Commenting on the Eden Project, Olashoju said the club commenced a regeneration project about 10 years ago and each successive president has been working to improve and enhance the status of the club in one way or the other.  “Historically, the grounds were densely populated with stables and a host community and over the years, successive Presidents and committees have made various contributions to lead the club to where it is today by limiting the number of stables to something that is more manageable, whilst enhancing the value of the environment and leveraging on the existing surroundings and facilities.”

He further said whilst the club has been in the heart of Ikoyi since 1904, it is important that steps are taken to modernise the club facilities to a world class level, add value to the neighbourhood and impact the environment in a sustainable and beneficial way. “When I became president in July of 2019, one of my key objectives was to ensure that the trajectory of development in the club was kept and increased. Since then, we have carried out several projects to enhance the club and now we commenced our landscaping project. The ‘Eden Project’ basically involves landscaping our neighbourhood by planting over 160 trees, walled gardens and more to enhance the environment within this part of Lagos.

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“Since we live in a big, populated urban city – Lagos, an oasis like this is a welcome idea. We commenced planning over three months ago, and now we are at the delivery stage, as installation of the trees and walled gardens have commenced. We are optimistic that by the end of the year, we would have finished the installation and planting phase of the project and within the next six to 12 months, it will be a whole different Lagos Polo Club,” Olashoju assured.

The project is capital intensive, but Olashoju has got the back of his reliable, committed and dedicated members. Hear him. “The project is large with significant costs, but the good thing is that we have had a lot of support from our members, who have in one way or the other supported the project.  We also have a partner – Arabella, who has invested in the project. The cost of the project include preparing the grounds, introducing irrigation systems, logistics and transportation and the cost of the trees, which are fully grown and are transplanted from different parts of Nigeria.

“Fortunately, we are blessed with membership of likeminded people. From the commencement of Lagos Polo Club, there has always been continuity. This is most evident in the last 10 years, where each successive president and committee have made tremendous value contributions to the club through multiple projects. For example, this building where we are having this interview – the new VIP stand and bar, was the brainchild of the immediate past committee, but was completed by our current committee.”

Corroborating Olashoju on sustainability of the project, Stables and Surrounds Member, Tola Akinhanmi said: “The need for creating a legacy, which resonated amongst members and hence the buy in for the project conceptually. In this regard, we have proposed a fund-a-tree campaign’ as a way of raising funding internally, which encourages each member to support the project in one way or another. So that is the whole concept around ensuring preservation of our collective heritage and further enhancing the future generation, which is an idea that the whole club buys into it.”

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From a Corporate Social Responsibility view, the Lagos Polo Club Eden Project is a means to improve the environment, improve the air quality and positively impact the environment in a sustainable manner. This project will improve the value of the whole neighbourhood and in addition some trees are going to be planted on Awolowo and Ribadu roads to beautify and make it green in the subsequent phase in early 2021.

On why he is passionate about Lagos Polo Club tree planting project, CEO, Arabella Landscape, Tola Akinkungbe said the most asset one can bequeath the future is the environment. “This discussion has gone on for almost 10 years, so I believe it is time for it to come into reality.  Every asset in this club – the fence, the grass, is something that we can enhance. We can create an oasis within Lagos Island, we can even create it in such a way that along the fence line, people can come in to have a family picnic.

“In everything, we have tried to make sure that the maintenance cost is low as possible. So, it is not like you are doing a garden whereby you need expensive maintenance, you need expensive contract. Once the trees are established and accepted, people will be commissioned to maintain it.  And we will also create an irrigation system, so the plant doesn’t need to be watered. People can come in here and be wowed by it. That is our dream and aspiration,” Akinkungbe stated.

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