Dr Newton Jibunoh is perhaps Nigeria's most respected environmentalist, who has over 40 years of experience on the drastic effects of climate change and desert encroachment and in this time has been raising awareness all over the world.
As a young fearlessman seeking adventure way back in 1966 upon completion of his degree education in the United Kingdom, he made his first journey through the desert all alone.
Since then, Dr Jibunoh has made three subsequent journeys exploring and studying the Sahara desert. He has also spoken at various international conferences enlightening people on the diverse effects of desertification on the environment. He has been awarded numerous awards and accolades for his works in environment.
Now 75 years old, Dr Jibunoh is married to his wife of many years Elizabeth Jibunoh, they are blessed with children and grand children.
He however recently re-opened his formally private museum-Didi,to the general public, a grand event that took place at the museum’s Victoria Island location in Lagos, Nigeria with an exclusive exhibition titled “Whispers From The Sahara”, an exhibition of photographs by renowned photographer Kelechi Amadi-Obi who accompanied Dr Jibunoh on his fourth desert expedition in 2008.The exhibition which has been on for several weeks will go on until the 13th of August 2012 and will finally close with an auctionfor people to bid and buy these works of art.
Dr Jibunoh first became aware of the problems of climate change and the encroaching desert back in 1967 when he made his first trip across the Sahara from London after completing his degree education in the United Kingdom.
Dr Jibunoh is gracious enough to grant OnoBello.com an interview and speaks about his inspiration for Didi Museum, which he started over 40years ago. Didi has since evolved from a small Apapa studio also in Lagos, Nigeria to what it is today.
He hopes Didi will make a difference in the normal museum culture most people are used to in Nigeria as a number of activities such as sessions of evening story telling and poetry, reading, evenings of dance, drama and jazz. Art exhibitions, book reading and reviews, lectures and debates for students and art lovers are on the calendar going forward.
Dr Jibunoh also talks about his innovative new project – a reality television programme“Desert Warriors” that will be showing on TV screens across Nigeria. The reality programme is a “Big Brother” adapted show where 15 young men and women have been selected from a group of 50 to go on an expedition across the Sahara desert in order to gain first hand experience and face the reality of climatic and environmental factors the desert presents.
Dr Jibunoh hopes that the programme will inspire Nigerians to take action against climate change.
We hope you will enjoy and be inspired by our conversation with Dr Jibunoh as we definitely did.
OB: Can you tell us about your early education?
NJ: Very ordinary usual elementary primary school in my home town of Akwukwu-Igbo in Oshimili Local Government Area of Delta state and then my secondary school days was in different places with who I lived with, my school master was kind of looking after me since I lost my parents at an early age. So I lived with the school teacher who went on transfer so many times.
I schooled in the Eastern part of Nigeria and Agbor in Delta State at Government School and after my secondary education, I came down to Lagos.
I did a spell with the Emergency Science School and with Yaba College of Technology, I then worked with the Federal Ministry of Works before gaining a scholarship to go to the United Kingdomto study Building Engineering from the Hammersmith College of Technology and finished at the Cranfield Institute of Technology in Bedford in 1965.
OB: Did you return to Nigeria immediately after your studies in the UK?
NJ: Yes! After working for one year because since I gained my scholarship through the Federal Ministry of Works I had to come back home to work. We were not allowed to stay back. We were not allowed to stay longer than necessary so I came back to Nigeria because I had a job waiting for me back in 1966 and that was when I made my very first desertjourney driving from London in the UK through the desert to Nigeria.
OB: You worked for the Federal Ministry of Works for a long time, at what point did you go into private construction, because from our understanding you worked with Costain West Africa as well?
NJ: Yes, I was a major shareholder with Costain West Africa. What happened was that I started with Federal Ministry of Works in 1967. After my return from the UK I worked with the ministry for two years. I was very young and wanted a lot of adventure and challenge. So after a while I left, I joined a subsidiary of Costain West Africa. There, I was given so many opportunities of building things all over Nigeriaas fardown to the Northern parts. I was one of the engineers that started building the now Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. I was the one that established the South Bank in the city of Abuja before anyone got there of course.
Here in Lagos I am associated with a lot of high rise buildings that were springing up in the 70s and the 80s all over including the National Theatre, The NICON house (the tallest building in Nigeria). So I got really working and doing things that I had really wanted to do and of course all those years I was getting promotions from Site Engineer to Site Supervisor to Project Manager, Construction Manager and finally General Manager in 1988. I was later promoted to an Assistant Managing Director moving from the subsidiary to the main company.
Later I was made the Assistant Managing Director of Costain West Africa, a position I held for a very brief period of time before they promoted me to Managing Director, Chief Executive.
To cut a long story short, I mobilised resources to take the company over in order not to allow Costain West Africa go down like other companies at that time.I took over the controlling interest in the company and within a few years, I was able to bring the company back to possibility and I stayed on. So in total I must have served the company for about 35 years.
Before my retirement I had gone into full time environmental campaign more or less becoming an activist. Just before I retired finally from building and construction, I had set up a Fight Against Desert Encroachment (FADE), a Non-Governmental Organisation that is dedicated to fighting or rather pushing back the encroachment of the desert and any other degradation that is associated with environmental issues, climate change and global warming and that is what I have done for ten years now. FADE is being strongly supported by Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos State as desert encroachment is a factor that affects Lagos State.
OB: Can you shed light on your last trip with Kelechi Amadi Obi, one that is a result of this current exhibition?
NJ: In the process of establishing the “World Tree Project” there is need to put in place a sustainable infrastructure that will maybe go beyond my time. We find that a lot of things we are starting to combat will take 30 to 50 years torealiseso I needed to bring in the younger generation that will carry on the whole thing after my time. So there was that need now not just go alone because my first and second expeditions were all by myself. I decided to put a team together that will carry on if and after my time and possibly pass it on to younger generations.Kelechi Amadi-Obi came on board to take the very sensitive photographs on display at the exhibition.
So we screened people here in Lagos, for those that would like to go on what we tagged “ A Journey Of A lifetime” there were thousands of people that showed up wanting to enroll but unfortunately, we couldn’t take everybody. So about a 100 young people from that exercise were shortlisted and the have gone through exceptionally rough testing and preparations for similar expeditions in future. However, out of the 100, we were able to select 15 that will now go on the next journey driving from Lagos to London that will be aired in the upcoming reality series coming soon.
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