Meeting Climate Reality Leaders in Nigeria

By Gillian Hamilton, African Climate Reality Project Branch Manager

20 November 2017

I have just returned from a fantastic trip to Nigeria where I spent a really busy, exciting week meeting with amazing Climate Reality Leaders based in Nigeria, and I was privileged to experience Nigerian culture and hospitality…

This was my first trip to meet with the African Climate Reality Project’s volunteers who live and work outside of South Africa and I was filled with conflicting emotions when I climbed on the plane – excitement, a bit of trepidation, and concern: I was using fossil fuels, increasing carbon emissions, to travel to a country that relies on fossil fuels, especially oil, for its income and yet this is the very thing that worries me most. It didn’t help that I had been reading Naomi Klein’s book that talks about the execution of Nigerian poet Ken Saro-Wira and eight other activists who had protested against environmental degradation, human rights atrocities and oil spills in Ogoniland in the 1990s.

I landed in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, early on Sunday afternoon. Abuja was quiet and peaceful but the weather was HOT and the air was hazy. I quickly learnt that the haze wasn’t from pollution like in South Africa but was due to the Harmattan – a dry and dusty wind which blows from the Sahara Desert over West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea.

On Sunday night we had an informal meeting with several Climate Reality Leaders based in Abuja and some of their colleagues. I was treated to Jelof Rice, chicken pepper soup and moi-moi. Monday started slowly with a formal meeting and some press interviews and quickly escalated into one of the highlights of my week: a meeting with the Nigerian Minister of Environment followed by a meeting with the Director of Climate Change. And the irony was not lost on me: in these important government buildings where people are working to combat climate change and despite the availability of all the oil in the world, we had frequent power failures. Tuesday was a really special day where I was honoured to attend the launch of the Global Initiative For Food Security and Ecosystem Preservation (GIFSEP) Eco Club at the Government secondary school Garki, Abuja. GIFSEP’s founder and Climate Reality Leader Michael David Terungwa has secured funding through the UN small grants programme to establish eco clubs and teach children about the impacts of climate change, motivating them to protect the earth.

My second stop on my whirlwind tour was to Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta, pronounced in Pidgin as Po-ta-kot.   This is the centre of the Nigerian oil production. While flying in over the lush, green vegetation, I couldn’t help but think of the Dutch Disease curse. If they hadn’t found oil in Nigeria, what would the alternative have been for this beautiful country so filled with potential? When I stepped out of the plane into the humid air, I couldn’t help but ponder: how can a city that should be so wealthy have a domestic airport in a tent?

Port Harcourt being the most congested city in the country, much of my short visit was spent in the car between meetings. My meetings there were focused on the establishment of a Centre for Climate Change that Climate Reality Leader Catherine Patricks-Chinemerem is helping establish at the Rivers State University. I was served meat pies and scotch eggs in the Dean of Agriculture’s office and indigenous fruit with Alligator Pepper from the forests during our meeting with the Vice-Chancellor of Rivers State University.  There I also learnt the most beautiful term from an academic who has dedicated his life to working in the Nigerian forests: ground-truthing.  Ground-truthing is defined as knowing what the truth is by waking through the forests rather than just studying images or GIS models. And the truth for Nigerian forests is tragic.

On Thursday morning, I departed for wonderful, lively Lagos. I was met by 100% humidity and an entourage of very energetic Climate Reality Leaders who took me to a place close to the airport for lunch. Although we didn’t have much time, I did get to know about some of their voluntary work. Then I was privileged to meet with the team from LasPark. LasPark is working towards greening the State of Lagos and has planted thousands of trees during 2017 alone. To offset my carbon footprint, LasPark honoured us with a tree planting ceremony – I now have my very own ‘Tunja’ tree planted in the streets of Victoria Island, Lagos!

On Friday all Lagosians warned me to leave Lagos very early in order to not get stuck in their terrible congestion. After a trip to the market with another volunteer for some traditional, colourful fabric, my whirlwind trip to Nigeria came to an end.

I am honoured to have met so many amazing and highly committed Climate Reality Leaders in Nigeria. I am looking forward to hearing more reports of their efforts to mitigate against climate change. I was amazed by the hospitality and kindness I met in each of our volunteers. I feel as if I arrived a stranger and by the end of my trip I had found new members of my tribe – a tribe that cares deeply not only about the environment but about the fate of the human race.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the African Climate Reality Project.