Desmond Majekodunmi is a renowned Nigerian environmentalist, Chairman of Lagos State Urban Forest and Animal Shelter Initiative (LUFASI), and the promoter of the expansive LUFASI Park along Lagos-Epe Expressway. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, he argued that sand filling of water bodies should only be done after environmental impact assessment study. Majekodunmi also spoke on the negative environmental impact of pure water sachets among other issues.
There have been several challenges to promoting a clean and healthy environment in Nigeria, what are the best options to it?
Traditionally, we have not lived in this sort of densely populated urban areas that were built on concrete and tarmac, it's a whole different paradigm. There is need for continuous and intensive awareness and far better planning of these areas so that disposal and management of waste will be more effective. A classic example is the Olusosun dumpsite that should have been closed a long time ago; you don't have those sorts of landfill sites in the middle of densely populated areas. The planning has to be far more effective and enforced. It's not good having plans and then bye-pass the planning; if you don't enforce, people will bye-pass it, you are going to have all sorts of problems so this definitely needs to be done.
In Nigeria, climate change is causing increasing temperatures leading to encroaching desertification, rising sea levels leading to coastal degradation, variability in weather patterns to stresses in the agricultural and livestock sector resulting in volatile food prices. How do we tackle these issues and ensure food security?
Climate change has been identified as the biggest issue facing mankind and if as humanity we don't tackle it very rapidly and very aggressively, it will become unstoppable and catastrophic. This is according to the leaders of the United Nations and various other metrological and scientific based organisations. So, it is something that needs to be taken very seriously. Caring for nature, caring for the creation, looking after nature and preventing things like climate change, the process really starts in our minds like any other thing else. It has to start with thoughts in our minds and the media particularly, have a huge responsibility to disseminate information for people's consciousness. They should persuade them that caring for the creation, nurturing the wonderful life support eco-systems of this planet is of paramount importance and it's our utmost priority. We can't have any decent quality of life, if we are negatively impacting on that which provides us with life in the first place, the oxygen we breathe comes from the environment, the whole water systems are run by various aspects of the eco systems not to mention sustainable arable land and we can see the effects of this with the desert encroachment with the huge gully erosion that is happening and the threat of inundation of our coastal areas by the sea, as the sea rises and having more voracious storms. We need to get that into our minds and explore the various obvious options like massive reforestation and tree planting, development of shelterbelts and coastal erosion.
Obviously, cutting down very drastically and dramatically on pollution and particularly our carbon pollution that is contributing so much to the problem of climate change. Apart from climate change, there is also plastic waste, which needs to be tackled very aggressively because plastic wastes is impacting so negatively particularly on the ocean and other water bodies which are providing human beings life support.
Beaches in Nigeria are lost to urban developments, what are the impacts of these projects, especially sand filling on the natural resources and settlements?
So many of our water shores, sea fronts, beaches are being sand filled and developed very rapidly without taking into cognisance of the ecological role that these water bodies and fronts play. Sand filling should only be done after a very deeply thought out and assessed environmental impact assessment study and when it is done, we need to incorporate within the development structure and replicate what nature is doing.
For instance, a mangrove area like we have in Lagos, has some ecological roles to play; it helps to absorb flood water, helps to purify water and releases it slowly back into the environment; wonderful natural drainage system it is. The mangrove forest are wonderful sequesters of carbon dioxide, they are also habitat for aquatic, for aquatic creatures, so we can't just go out and destroy all these under the umbrella of development. How can we call that development? Yes, we are creating some comfortable accommodations in urban areas for ourselves, but we are destroying our life support systems, that is a strange thing to call development.
Nigeria is one of the countries that have not phase- out the use of polythene bags and nylons? Do you think it is time to exit and what are other alternatives could be adopted?
We have not phase out the use of polythene bags, but I believe the Lagos State Government is looking at this very seriously. I also believe the Federal Ministry of Environment is looking at this and we need to do it far sooner than latter. Other countries have done it successfully, at the very least, there is need for some sort of taxation to be put on these things because they are causing terrible damage to the environment.
Right now, they are able to clean them up from the seas and the ocean but as they break down into smaller particles, it becomes more and more difficult to clean them up. Those small particles are just as damaging to the ocean and seas ecosystem as the large particles. If not more damaging because as it breaks down, they enter the food chain and human beings end up with micro plastics in their metabolism this is certainly not a healthy thing.
Don't you consider 'pure' water sachet a threat to the environment, can polluter pay principle work in this regard?
The fact that so many millions of Nigerians rely on pure water sachets to have portable water is most unfortunate and grossly embarrassing. It's a huge challenge for the government to address this and address it rapidly. The citizens of the giants of Africa, the great nation Nigeria, deserve far better than this. Polluter pays is possibly a principle, it shouldn't be handling down more cost to people who are already been impoverished by the system.
How do you rate government's performance in forest protection and conservation? What should be done to lay a good foundation for the future generations?
Unfortunately, government has failed very badly in this regard, they have fallen short of expectations when it comes to forest protection, possibly because there is lack of appreciation of the importance of forests. The reality is that if we lose the battle against the protection of our forests globally, then we would have lost the battle against climate change and we shall answer to our children. God forbid that the legacy we leave for our children and generations unborn is an earth that is no longer capable of supporting their lives. We need to be very drastic and dramatic in our attitudes as individuals and that needs to be reflected in government's decisions. The infrastructure is here, we have a lot of forest reserves, a few of them are still protected, government needs to collaborate with major NGOs, Lekki Conservation Centre (LCC), LUFASI, and some of our younger ones to really grow and drive the reforestation of our nation and bring back the green in Nigeria, just as it is reflected in our flag.
Following torrential rains in Lagos, Lekki and Victoria Island areas of Lagos metropolis were locked down; do you think the authorities had made intervention to prevent more flooding in the future? What are your suggestions?
The last major floods that we had in different parts of Lagos showed that given certain conditions like high tide coinciding with extreme heavy rains, we are very prone to flooding in Lagos. The Lagos State Government took note of this and have done a lot to map out and develop the various drainage systems and also to remove blockages to those various drainage systems, as a lot of houses were built on the drains and so on. One is encouraged that quite a lot of effort has been put in place to safeguard us against reoccurrences. The challenge though is that because of climate change, the type of rainfall that we can expect could be similar and in time to come, far more than what we have experienced. So, the sort of measure that needs to be amplified: we need far bigger and better measures than what is in place now. We also need to have a massive campaign against the throwing of waste into drains to prevent having our drains blocked and again the drains need to be continuously cleaned.
What was your intention in establishing Lagos Urban Furniture and Animal Care Initiative (LUFASI), which is to preserve natural resources and the environment? Are there any pains and gains in such initiative?
LUFASI, the Lekki urban forest animal sanctuary is originally a farm, which I set up after spending few years in Kenya and becoming so impressed about how the Kenyans use their ecosystem to run their economy. Kenyan economy is 90 per cent based on agriculture and eco-tourism, so we keep a healthy ecosystem as sustainable and it keeps the country's ecosystem running. So, I started this farm when the urban pressure became too much and we collaborated with the Lagos State Government with the intention of turning it into a park, which keeps the environment quite fresh; we call it one of the lawns of Lekki/Ajah. It is a great place for people to come in and relax because when you get into a green forest kind of setting, it immediately has a positive impact on your metabolism, psychology and everything. It is a great place to unwind the stress of living in Lagos. We also use it for disseminating information on recreation care; we have children from schools and families coming for the climate change workshops. It is also an indicator on how we need to develop our urban areas. We need to have parks, why do you have to go to Nairobi or Accra to be in a city that has parks, Lagos too has parks and we are very happy to see what is going on in the development of the park systems in Lagos. We hope to see more urban forests, dotted around not just in Lagos but the other cities in Nigeria.