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“This is not a celebration, it is a call to action — a call to an emergency,” climate enthusiast Omobola Eko, 27, said while talking to a group of environmentalists at the JJT Park in Lagos. They had walked 2.5km from the Allen Roundabout area in support of the global climate strike on 20th September. “It is a call for us to act as if our house is on fire.” 

The Greta Effect

The marchers, numbering about 200, lined up behind her and raised multi-coloured banners and placards inscribed with different messages of calling attention to the climate crisis: “We don’t have another Plan(et) B, let’s take care of planet Earth”; “We are striking for a better future, a fossil-free world”; “Plant a tree”; “Plant is life. No tree, no oxygen.”; “If we destroy creation, creation will destroy us.”; “Together, we rise for a sustainable future.” 

“And by our actions today, we are echoing the voice the Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Sweedish activist, who started a campaign to protect the environment by skipping school on Fridays to call the attention of her country’s parliament to take action about climate change,” Eko added. 

“We are also using this opportunity to call call the attention of our policy makers to act now to protect the environment. Ten years from now will be too late. We want to create a sustainable future for our children yet unborn.”

Incidentally, the campaigners were gathered a few metres from the Lagos State House of Assembly, which has made laws responsible for some of the proactive steps the state government has taken in recent years to safeguard the environment. 

Back in July, while marking the annual Tree Planting Day, the state government announced that it was launching a “One house, one tree” campaign to encourage Lagosians to embrace the culture of tree planting, especially during personal anniversaries and celebrations.  

Approximately 350,000 trees were planted to mark the day. And according to the Lagos State Parks and Gardens Agency (LASPARK), charged with overseeing the greening of the state, 7.5mn trees have been planted since the initiative launched a decade ago. 

Green state, green mindset

Speaking at the climate strike, a senior official of the state’s Ministry of Environment, Bankole Michael, said that the Environment Unit has been upgraded to a department. 

“So we have much more to do; we are ready to collaborate with more organisations to fight this climate emergency. Let’s continue to dialogue until we get out of the woods,” he said, to an applause. “We take issues of climate change seriously in Lagos State. At the moment, we are carrying out an emission inventory so that we can have facts and data to determine the kind of policies we will push in the state.”

At the take-off point and throughout the walk, one of the lead campaigners Ayorinde Elegbe, the acting Project Coordinator for REES Africa, microphone in hand, encouraged residents and passers-by to avoid driving if they can get to their destination in a bus, to plant more trees, to not throw trash on the floor or from vehicle windows and to clear neighbourhood drainages as often as possible.

He also highlighted the recent incidents of flooding in the city as signs of global warming. 

“We are not just about carrying placards. Move close to someone and talk to them about the objectives of today’s strike,” he said to the group. “The more people we talk to, the more the message spreads and stick in their minds.” 

Renowned environmentalist and founder of the LUFASI Nature Park, Desmond Majekodunmi, also participated in the strike. A long-term advocate of all things environment, Majekodunmi told the gathering that as a young Lagosian, he saw trees almost everywhere in the city. 

“We need to bring the green back into Lagos,” he said. “Lagos was a green city before. In those days, we had Ikoyi Park, we had Race Course; we had all those places that was green. I am very encouraged by what the Lagos State government, promoting tree planting actively.    

“We can’t continue to be tearing down the forest and not get the negative results of our actions. We need to continue to lobby government to do something positive for the environment.”

Dreaming of a city-forest

Olusola Adekoya, Founder of Shodex Garden and who counts Wangari Matha among his mentors, said he had a personal dream to surpass the 10 million trees the late Kenyan environmentalist planted in her lifetime. 

Then news broke months ago that Ethiopia had planted 350 million trees in one day. He was initially crestfallen but soon got encouragement from fellow green ambassadors. 

“We now have a vision to plant 400 million trees in 2020. As a matter of fact, we are hoping to double that and do 800 million trees. We are going to have a comprehensive programme of tree planting in Nigeria. 

“More specifically, we want to make Lagos a city-forest like Singapore. We are currently carrying out a research on urban forestry. Once we achieve that in Lagos, we will extend it to other parts of the country.”

In closing, he encouraged the protesters to plant at least 500 trees in their lifetime.   

A forest-preneur dreams big

Eko, who has a Bachelor’s degree in Forestry and Wood Technology and a Masters in Forestry Economics and Management, runs GRO Gardens Nigeria, which sells tree seedlings.  She describes herself as a “forest-preneur” and consults for individuals and organisations who want to establish gardens and plantations. She also takes on landscaping projects. 

Between March and May, Eko led a tree-planting sensitisation programme in primary and secondary schools in Ogun State, reaching some 500 students and 20 schools (public and private) with messages about the dangers of climate change and benefit of planting trees. 

Sometime in July, and in the course of her Eco-evangelism, she got to learn about the September 20 climate strike. She was immediately interested, and took every step to organise one, which she did under her NGO, Urban Tree Revival Team. 

“I established UTRT to be an umbrella body for all nature lovers, horticulturists, landscapers, foresters and associated professionals,” Eko said, after the strike had ended. “I have a vision to plant 500m trees in urban communities in the next five years.”

Climate Strike: Nigerian Eco-activist takes on a bold tree-planting mission – The Daily Report