Anniversary Throwback: Susty Person of the Week – Desmond Majekodunmi
Yas!!! It’s three years of SustyVibes. You wonder how an organization so young has done so much? All thanks to our dedicated volunteers who over the years continue to spend themselves towards making sustainability actionable across Africa.
So you can feel the euphoria of our #SustyTriversary and have a glimpse into our history, the Susty Person Team bring back sweet old memories; the first Susty Person feature. Enjoy!!!
Desmond Majekodunmi is a renowned Nigerian environmentalist, the chairman of Lagos State Urban Forest and Animal Shelter Initiative (LUFASI), the promoter of the expansive LUFASI Park along the Lagos-Epe Expressway. He is a certified experimental extension farmer for IITA Ibadan, he owns and operates Majekodunmi Agricultural projects (MAP) which is the only agro forestry based conservation farm in Lagos, a portion of which is now registered as an Urban Forest Park (LUFASI). He lectures frequently on ecological management and climate change. He is a tourism and trade development consultant to several state governments through his company Desco Tourism & Trade Developments.
Desmond Majekodunmi also currently serves on the governing council of The Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), where he is the chairman of the awareness committee that assisted in introducing ecology to the Nigerian school’s curriculum and the establishment of a national environment protection agency and national parks authority, he is a past President and current Trustee of Legacy 1995 Group – a historical and environmental interest group which recently restored the over 100 years old Jaekel house and established a mini railway museum in the railway compound in Ebute-metta, Lagos and is currently working on several historic building restoration projects.
SustyVibes caught up with him to learn more about his work on conservation, sustainable development and climate change education in Nigeria to celebrate Earth Day 2016. Read our interview below:
You are deeply immersed in your work as your passion for Environmental Protection is undeniable; how are you able to initiate, implement and manage these several projects we see you do?
It is only by the special grace of God Almighty, it’s not by my power or by my might. He is the creator of all these things we are trying to preserve and possibly he has given me that grace because I feel it on a daily basis, even though I’m totally unqualified to receive it, it might be tied in to the fact that he feels that at least I’m trying to fulfill his major requirement from mankind and why do I say this? I’m talking about the scriptures that we have, particularly the Christian scriptures as exemplified in the Holy Bible, but it is also replicated in the Quran, Bhagavad-gita, Buddhist scriptures and even the Taoist scriptures; It is very clear that the creator has mandated mankind with the highest level of intelligence capacity to be a steward over his creations, the one I’m most familiar with is the biblical commands which the very first instruction to mankind in Gen 2:15 when he put man in the garden , he said – care and keep it – Stewardship. It was after that, Gen 2:16 that he talked about the forbidden fruit, so not only have we disobeyed the forbidden fruit commandment, we have also disobeyed the commandment of caring and keeping the creation and why it bothers one so much is that everything we need for our survival is intrinsic in that creation, and interestingly this shows the absolute love of the creator for us, the most essential commodity of all for mammalian life which is the oxygen he has given that free of charge. The water too is pretty much free but by the time we start tapping it and start bringing into to urban systems, it starts to get some levies on it and likewise the food but there are people all over the world who live comfortably in the forest areas and all the resources they require to stay alive are coming from the creation free of charge. The only requirement of he that created the creation was to look after and care it, and it kind of makes sense to care for something your life totally depends upon, So it’s just by his grace believe me. I feel I’m doing so little particularly because so much needs to be done because we have caused so much terrible damage to the systems of creation over the last couple of thousand years but it really accelerated when we entered the industrial age 200 years ago, but it’s been going on for a while, a lot of the deserts you see now were not in existence 2000, 4000, 5000 years ago. The one I know particularly about is in the Sahara – Agadez; looking at the pictures of it you could see Giraffes in the middle of the deserts and Giraffes live off leaves from tall Acacia trees so the implication is that there were savannah forests right there but because it’s a dry area and out of ignorance we were cutting down the forests and created deserts, and we have done that all over the world and when we no longer were able to say it’s because of ignorance because the facts started to come out, we still continued and are still continuing till today, and the facts are totally clear and the one thing that’s really bothersome to scientists and everybody is what’s causing climate change – Carbon Dioxide and what is more worrying is that we have known for the past 200 years that the fumes that come out from internal combustion engines are toxic and for 200 years, we knew but because it was profitable, we still continued and if you don’t know, you could try locking yourself in a room with your generator and see what happens. It kills you, It takes you out straight away!
How did you begin this journey into the Environmental Sphere?
I think a bird song probably started it way back as a kid, I heard some beautiful birds singing and so one had an empathy for nature, it was fantastic and then when you see the colours of the Birds too, but it was only when I went to Kenya, I lived in Kenya for three years and was totally blown away by what the Kenyans had going on there, with their eco systems and their ecotourism, it was massive with beautiful game reserves, and seeing Giraffes lolloping along ,and the Zebras, the Lions and all those wonderful creatures, they just totally blew my mind and then, not only were they benefiting from ecotourism in a massive way and in just as big a way, they were benefiting from their agriculture, about 95% of Kenyan’s economy is either ecotourism or agriculture and that’s sustainable; sending their flowers to Europe daily, especially in winter, you find Kenyan flowers and fruit on tables, from Paris to London to Geneva, it’s just so incredible and amazing. I was working as a music producer and electro-acoustic engineer with Columbia broadcasting Services in Kenya but when I came back, I decided to be a farmer, I was very touched by the things Kenyans were doing – by that time, we in Nigeria had already abandoned our lands and most of our children thought that milk came from the tin. (whereas in Kenya, they know that milk comes from cows!) so I did a crash course at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and started this farm in this place that you’re sitting right now (LUFASI Park) but luckily, the IITA advised me to do agro-forestry and that’s why we retain a lot of our forests. We practice agro forestry farming.
Some people came to our farm from the Nigerian Conservation Foundation(NCF) as Bird watchers – a lot of them, foreigners and Nigerians and that sort of intrigued me and they connected me to the NCF and what pertained there, I was very impressed so I became a member and slowly started to learn more and more about how important it was to protect the environment and conserve it and in the process, I interacted with some highly intelligent and extremely well respected Nigerian personalities like the Chief S.L. Edu of blessed memory, Uzoma Philip Asiodu, Emeka Anyaoku and even the duke of Edinburgh. I was very impressed that these people were devoting so much time and resources to conservation so it must be important. I then kept learning and the more I learnt, the more I appreciated the importance, after a few more years, I came to realize that if we don’t preserve the environment, then we are condemning ourselves and our children and their children to a hellish future and then about 10 years ago, the climate change buzz came out, the scientist who had been shouting about climate change some 20/30 years ago and were considered to be weird and greenish fanatics, the reality started to dawn on people and I got involved even more so I was commissioned by the German Green party to do a documentary on Climate change for Nigeria , so I started learning more on climate change and the more I learnt, I really became scared. It really terrified me because I have children and the thought of my children becoming refugees and getting exposed to a cataclysmic activity that could just take their lives out instantly or even slowly or destroy their entire livelihood and all that we have built up for them and the thought of that really terrified me and not just for my children but other people’s children as well, and then big question mark became – why are we doing this to our children? and there was a phrase Prince Charles said that- “If we lose this battle, we shall be bequeathing unto our children, a poisoned chalice” which in our own colloquial language means- “we go dey give our pikin calabash wey poison dey inside” and I asked myself, why? – and the more research I did, the more truthful and serious I realized it was, just the thought of giving your child a calabash full of poison as your legacy is horrendous and horrific to me and whether we want to deny it or not, the reality is here. Climate change is real and the consequences of climate change will become totally unstoppable after a certain period of time, no one is sure as to what that time window is, it could be as short as 5 years from now, it might be as long as 10 – 15 years and so somewhere between 5 and 15 years, that’s the cut off point where the process becomes totally irreversible, and if we think that our puny technology can be compared to the technology of the ray of light coming from the sun and hitting the earth in just eight minutes then we must be joking.
What are your thoughts on Sustainable Development in Nigeria and are there things you would like to see change?
The first thing to do is to change our understanding of what sustainability is, anything that we are doing in terms of development that is not sustainable cannot be classified as development, it might be a temporary relief or a momentary joy but if it cannot go on or is overtaxing the resources that made it available, then it’s not development it is only retrogressive. Destroying that which would give you what you need for your survival in the process of just trying to have comfort, and again you are condemning your children. I would like to see the attitude change as it all boils down to that, our thinking and our understanding. I have said it so many times; if you don’t appreciate this thing, try holding your breath for 10 minutes. So if you keep destroying life support and ecosystem in the delusions of development then you are wrong.
It is often said that when we embark on Conservation Projects, some other aspects of development tends to suffer; what are your thoughts on this?
It is this greed motivation that drives us to some of the things we do, our nature and heart of man is exceedingly wicked and we keep expressing it, first it was bows, arrows, spears and then machine guns, bombs and everything else. We keep doing the same thing over and over, only difference is that we are now attacking nature and she is reacting to it, it’s not development. The attitude shouldn’t be how much can I make but how much can I impact.
Lagos is one of the largest growing urban populations in the world, how do you think that the state can effectively utilize this bulging demography for the good of the environment?
It is going to be very difficult, Lagos has a massive population challenge because for many years we had a basic infrastructure deficit here and it was only recently since the advent of democracy that we started the process of erecting buildings and parks again. I don’t really envy the leadership of Lagos, it is a huge responsibility but again they shouldn’t delude themselves to what do just anything because having been given that opportunity, you have been given a massive bag of seeds so it’s up to you to sow those seeds and how you sow the seeds, it comes back to you. It’s a law in physics and metaphysics, karma.
Beyond the aesthetic features of LUFASI Park, are there money making avenues that prospective entrepreneurs can take advantage of?
It’s not really for entrepreneurs, apart from serving refreshments and some arts and craft sale from people here at LUFASI, it’s not really a money making venture but we hope to persuade corporate entities to search deep within to ask themselves how much are they giving back, because each and every individual every 3 seconds, keeps taking – whether oxygen or water, we just keep taking out of the system and never keep back, we need to think of how much we are giving to the life supporting system. Though it is a good way to express some ideas and inventions around renewable energy to make some money, but its an essential CSR venture. And I am waiting for when I go to a corporate body and I ask them to sow a seed if not to LUFASI then the NCF who does a marvelous work on a national scale to preserve nature and if they say no, I would have deep pity for them because they do not appreciate a basic fundamental irrevocable law of life and nature, that is – what so ever a person sows, they surely would reap.
The pending highway construction in Cross River has sparked a lot of reactions amongst major stakeholders and environment enthusiasts, what is your take on this?
It’s horrendous! If Cross River wants to develop and the reason for the highway is to carry cargo from a deep sea port, first you have to dredge the port and the logistics of doing that is crazy. But if you want to carry a cargo from my limited intelligence, the way cargoes are carried is in containers and all over the world, containers are carried long distances on trains, that’s the standard practice so if you really want to carry cargo, why not build a train line and you already have an existing road that causes no disruption to any forests, so why not improve that road. The idea of clearing about 20km width and 120km length of forest really defies understanding.
What are your thoughts on current debate on Lake Chad?
[Laughs] The Lake Chad issue is worrisome, bringing water from another source to flow into another lake, it’s very risky but again, I can understand why the president is concerned about it because if the lake dries up, the amount of mayhem and problem that would be caused in that area, would be almost uncontrollable, its already causing trouble, a lot of these guys were farmers as kids living on their fathers’ farm and when everything disappears they became very susceptible to terrorism.
With the recent Global Developments in Climate Change awareness and action, how do you think young people in Nigeria can be involved in this drive?
They should do exactly what you are doing, appreciate that they are the vanguard of a revolution and the weapon of that revolution sits right in the palm of their hands, the social media advocacy as a tool for change is the most effective and powerful change tool that mankind has ever experienced, to be able to link each other’s thoughts up instantaneously and globally plus the eye reports just gives you power in your hands, and my suggestion is that you need to grab that power and be determined to preserve their future for them because their parents ,my generation have almost totally destroyed any decent future that their children would have. By the time they have kids and approach their sixties, if we have not curtailed this nonsense we are doing, they would be living in a hellish condition. With social advocacy, one of the first things they should do is to insist that the voting system is linked up electronically, if I can transfer money with my phone, then it is already a secure system! There might be a few aberrations at the collation points; they can all be sorted out.
What are some of the quick wins in leading Sustainable Lifestyles in the current day Nigeria?
Just go green! Anyone eating and breathing in daily – which I assume is everybody, should give back even if it’s a little plant on your window ledge, just think green, add some little green in your life just give a little bit back and when you start on it , keep increasing it.
Kindly tell SustyVibes about your other interests
[Laughs] I have very few interests I’m afraid to say, I am quite boring. Even my music interests are totally geared towards green living – I used to be in a band with my late wife, we made an album and every track was dedicated to the environment.
First track was Green Leaves (See lyrics below)
when you wake up in the morning and you breathe
Give thanks to mother nature for those trees
and those green green leaves so you and I can breathe
The processes of nature are so pure
let us not destroy what cannot cure
and save those green green leaves
so you and I can breathe
Do you think the SDGs are achievable by 2030 (in Africa) and why?
They are achievable; if there is a massive revolution in the mind of society, when our leaders dedicate themselves to the service of civilians
What are your favourite SDGS?
I think I like the Goal 5 – on Gender Equality; anything to liberate our women folk in Nigeria from the bondage and shackles of government; look at what is happening at the senate house with the Gender Equality bill. And of course the Goal 15 – Life on Land and Goal 13 – Climate Action.
What is your advice for young people working around Environmental Issues in Nigeria?
Your future is in your hands with this laptop you carry around, incredible rapid changes can be started with social media like I said earlier
How can people reach you to find out more about your work?
You can follow me on twitter – @desmajek and @LufasiPark