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Together we can make our world safer

By Oba Rasheed Ayotunde OlabomiĀ 
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At a discourse of this nature, one would have expected an expert in the field of Environmental Science and related fields as the Guest Speaker. However, the decision to engage somebody like me (a generalist) by the Faculty is, probably to allow all of us in this hall to interact and collectively navigate through the waters of general knowledge and berth at a safe habour together using traditional approach as our paddle. It is therefore important for me to state that, you should not expect the kind of presentation which a professional would deliver. Nonetheless, from the general knowledge, we will be able to generate further studies which would make us richer in scope and perception.

It is on this note that I use this occasion to congratulate the Faculty of Engineering and Environmental Sciences UNIOSUN on the first International Conference where I am the first Guest Lecturer. It is my prayer and hope that the Faculty will keep the flag flying and sustain the steam in greater dimensions in the years ahead.

It is natural that humanity will continue to generate wastes from most activities, the quantity of which tends to increase with increasing productivity and economic development. What is important is the ability to minimize the generation of such wastes, and as much as possible promote resource conversion by finding the usefulness for those wastes by way of refuse, recycling, recover or repair. This is better achieved through effective stakeholders’ collaboration or engagement especially traditional institutions (NESREA, 2014).

Our world is in serious challenge today. Even majority of humans on the surface of the earth are either not conscious of the palpable dangers or simply recalcitrant tenants whose personal interests outweigh the collective good of all. The consequence of this is what we are witnessing today. Our activities are having dire consequences on our environment so much so that our world is being threatened greatly.

It is therefore apposite to continually engage ourselves in the area of awareness and strive to make everyone responsive and responsible so that we will not destroy our world.

According to the 21st Century Chambers Dictionary, “Environment” means “our surroundings or conditions which something or someone exists”. In the same vein, the same dictionary describes “Tradition” as a doctrine, belief, custom, story etc that is passed on from generation to generation especially orally or by example. Taking our standpoint from these key words, we can move further to address the fundamentals of this discourse. Although the institutions that are considered traditional are nebulous, we will limit our discussion to the institution of kings (Traditional rulers). In this regard, because the institution is the pivot upon which other elements at that level revolves around and which determines the fate of others. We will use this core institution to address traditional institutions. It is trite to state that what is regarded as traditional institution differ from one society or nation to the other. At any rate there is no society without traditional institutions. Hence the concept is all encompassing.

Traditional knowledge – the wisdom, knowledge and practices of indigenous people gained over time through experience and orally passed on from generation to generation – has over the years played a significant part in solving problems, including problems related to climate change and variability. Indigenous people that live close to natural resources often observe the activities around them and are the first to identify and adapt to any changes. The appearance of certain birds, mating of certain animals and flowering of certain plants are all important signals of changes in time and seasons that are well understood in traditional knowledge systems. Indigenous people have used biodiversity as a buffer against variation, change and catastrophe; in the face of plague, if one crop fails, another will survive (Salick and Byg, 2007). In coping with risk due to excessive or low rainfall, drought and crop failure, some traditional people grow many different crops and varieties with different susceptibility to drought and floods and supplement these by hunting, fishing and gathering wild food plants. The diversity of crops and food resources is often matched by a similar diversity in location of fields, as a safety measure to ensure that in the face of extreme weather some fields will survive to produce harvestable crops (Gyampoh et al, 2008).

Natural resource management issues in developing countries especially Nigeria are increasingly imitating western models, while the contribution of indigenous cultures and institutions are often overlooked (Fairhead and Leach, 2004). It has become increasingly clear that traditional institutions, a age-longed natural heritage are more viable and sustained alternatives for natural resource management and as such need to be preserved if the drastic loss of biological and cultural diversity is to be restrained and regeneration is to be encouraged (Pillien and Walpole, 2001; AZTREC, 1997; Marglin, 1990).

Scientifically, man and the plants are like the Siamese twins. The reference to man in this sense includes animals, birds etc which inhabit the surface of the earth.

According to science, man uses the oxygen which the plants emit while the plants make use of the carbon dioxide, a waste which man in turn breathe out in a symbiotic manner.

A good way of understanding this simple science is the coolness which we often experience sitting under trees or where plants exist. A conservative experiment has equally been traditionally carried out on plants and human health. The school of thought believes that when you have plants in your room, you will hardly fall ill. This attests to the usefulness of plants to human life.

We may want to ask, the fate of other creatures like insects who live beneath the earth surface. Nature has provided for their breathing needs according to their habitation. It is like a chain which is unbroken.

As for plants, they grow as nature has made provision for them on land, waterways, in swamps, on hills and sometimes on unexpected surfaces.

Apart from the relationship earlier espoused, plants serve medicinal value for man and protect man from extinction which may be occasioned by illness.

Apart from man and plants, other natural phenomena like the sun, the stars, land, air, darkness and especially water are nature’s provision for man without which man’s life would be enervating. Also important are Rivers and Seas which provide a linkage between man and the Aquatic lives aside from other uses which man make of these natural endowments.

It is therefore trite to state that man cannot survive without the natural endowments which God Almighty has put in place. One may however not be too sure if the plants can survive without man. It is on this premise that environmentalists have always been advocating good synergy between the flora and the fauna. Every year the United Nations and other organizations have been advocating conducive ecosystem, protection of our environment, good and effective waste disposal, stoppage or control of dangerous emission and the likes.

The clarion calls go on even as majority care less about the dangers ahead. To them, it is everyone and nobody’s business.

Although Wikipedia describes Traditional Environment as such which involves animals, plants and biophysical characteristics of our surroundings through space and time, it is apposite that we examine our surroundings, yesterday, today and project into what our environment may become in the foreseeable future given the present scenario.

From the point of view of tradition and in our local environment, respect for our environment through mores, taboos and norms. Spiritual attachment given to some rivers, streams and Rivulets, make dropping impurities taboo in them. Even some of these rivers are deified in some communities. Besides, some forests are regarded as sacred and you cannot hunt for games in them.

Within the traditional setting, you are not allowed to sit on mortar because of the god of thunder (because of Hygiene). This is ostensibly to prevent impurities into the pounded yam which the mortar, is used for. Some sections of Yorubaland have it as taboo to eat snakes because of conservation while some others are prevented by their mores from fishing in some rivers, to promote conservation and sustainability.

In order to control abuse of environment, as well as conservation of critical ecosystem resources, our traditional institutions improvise and adopted traditional mechanisms which hitherto remain potent in the overall management of our fast depleting natural resources. However, I observed it was some of these ancient technologies (e.g) Sacred forest concept etc) that were later developed through researches and coordinated efforts of United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), and there evolved the concept of REDD and REDD+. These two instruments are Clean Development Mechanisms developed by UNFCCC to combat Global warming, a major phenomenon of Climate Change. (Google)

However, REDD refers to Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation; REDD+ refers to conservation of forest carbon stocks, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks

A lot of value is attached to the environment especially plants which serve as sources for medicine which the traditional doctors use for curative purposes. Protection of plants is therefore preservation of medicine used as cure for our ailments.

Because generation of waste is as old as human existence, in Nigeria, dump sites were established in trekable distances from the town/city centers and the sites were often kept clean by the communities. However, expansion soon made the dump sites part of the town centers.

Although there were no toilets, people were urged to use cutlass to dig. Excreta passed were covered up after use.

On water for drinking, streams, brooks and rivers were used. People are prevented from making the waters impure through throwing of dirts inside it even though there was the common saying that rivers dirts do not kill (egbin odo kii pani).

Because of the level of socio-economic development and population figure, urbanization was limited while the lifestyle of the people were largely organic. Household wares were made of clay, calabash or leaves unlike today where majority of household wares are inorganic. Even when used items are dumped at the designated sites, they decompose and are turned to manure.

No injury is done to the environment. There existed almost a perfect synergy between man and his environment. The houses then were of thatched roof while leaves of elephant grass, oil palm leaves and others were perfect combination with nature. The beds were made of Rafia palm while clothes were locally weaved with locally grown cotton.

There were no threats of pollution or dangerous emission of plants. The relationship with the climate was convivial. This was the traditional setting before we embrace the so called modernization in our Yoruba society.

Due largely to the 19th Century Industrial Revolution in Europe, the coming of the white men on trading expedition and later colonization in Nigeria we embraced the “new products” “hook line and sinker” and our life started on a journey which is currently shaking our environment and turning things around.

Agriculture which is the mainstay of economy of Nigeria and Yoruba Nation in particular is bedevil led by the phenomenon of Climate Change as it is evident in irregularities in rainfall pattern when compare with our climate conditions in the last thirty years. This was as a result of collapse of our critical ecosystems. Wetlands and Watersheds, which serve as carbon sinks, as well as prevention of floods and erosion. These natural endowment which are best protected under the watchful eyes of traditional institutions have been seriously degraded by our unsustainable infrastructural development approaches.

Researches have shown that a number of countries in Africa already face semi-arid conditions that make agriculture challenging, and climate change will be likely to reduce the length of growing seasons as well as force large regions of marginal agriculture out of production. Projected reduction in yield in some countries could be as much as 50% by 2020, and crop net revenues could fall by as much as 90% by 2100, with small scale farmers being the most affected. This would adversely affect food security in the continent (CASF – India, 2011). With the upsurge in rainfall the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) recently predicted about 20m people may face serious food shortage in 2020 in Nigeria.

Some of the changes witnessed within the past two centuries are;

(I) Upsurge in the use of metallic objects for household and other needs. These products do not decay quickly and are miles away from being a friend to our environment.

(II) Introduction and large scale use of polypropylene products (Nylon, plastic bags, plastic bottles, synthetic and other petro-chemical products) as against the organic materials which were traditional to us.

(III) Increase in production of electrical and electronic appliances which often become humongous waste once completely spoilt.

(IV) Dumping of refuse that cannot easily decompose which often lead to huge dump-sites within towns and city centers.

(V) Abandonment of our traditional institutions, household utensils, mores and values and the consequences of the abandonment, on our morality, value system and environmental crisis.

(VI) Blocking of drainages and River channels by the plastic and polythene bags thereby causing serious environmental challenges, flooding, and loss of lives and properties.

(VII) Indiscriminate Tree felling, bush burning, land degradation due to massive mineral exploitation, quarrying and sundry human activities resulting in complete alteration of the ecosystem.

(VIII) Other activities of man depleting the ecosystem include industrial emissions which is fast warming our environment and increasing the penetration of heat from the sun to the surface of the earth thereby increasing global temperature and depleting the ozone layer.

(IX) Desertification is another challenge confronting humanity and our survival. Many natural lakes have shrinked tremendously. Our own Lake Chad is now 2/3 of what it was 50 years ago. The Sahara desert is increasing by about 10km per annum while the resultant effects include the Herdsmen/farmers clashes in many parts of Nigeria on grazing of cattle.

(X) Reclamation of parts of existing Rivers, seas and Lakes oftentimes lead to flooding of structures put up in the area. After all, water will find its level.

(XI) Increase in annual Rainfall through natural occurrence has devastation effects on man and his environment. There are incidences of flooding and the resultant effects on transportation while carelessness often results in bush burning and destruction of properties in various dimensions.

(XII) Other activities of man include oil spillage and gas flaring in oil producing areas and devastating effects on the environment.

Apart from the spillage occasioned by burst pipes and other accidental occurrences, saboteurs also carry out such heinous crimes against the environment having calamitous effects on the aquatic animals.

(XIII) Increase in production of automobiles and other metal products.

(XI) These days, rather than manually weeding our surroundings and farms, the use of herbicides have done a lot of damage to animals insects and plants so much so that many of these creatures are in extinction.

There is a wise saying that;
“Man does not die. He kills himself”.
This is a very apt description of man’s current activities on the earth surface.

How else can one describe a situation whereby powerful nations are daily stockpiling arms and ammunitions, conventional and non-conventional including biogases, weapons of mass destruction etc which can stifle breath and exterminate millions within minutes? The race to conquer the world is on. The development creates palpable fears in discerning minds and the meek pray against Armageddon.

As technology is dynamic, so are thought as to how to reduce use of fossil oil globally. Thoughts are generated on biofuel, electric vehicles, wind and solar energies as alternatives to carbon related energy.

Today, even in remote areas of Yorubaland, many people now use Liquefied Natural Gas as against wood and charcoal which had always been the norm. People are now getting more awareness and the game may change sooner than later.

According to the United Nations, there are 17 sustainable goals which are;

Goal 1 - Poverty
Goal 2 - Zero Hunger
Goal 3 - Good Health and well being
Goal 4 - Quality Education
Goal 5 - Gender Equality
Goal 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
Goal 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
Goal 8 - Decent Work and Economic growth
Goal 9 - Industry Innovation and Infrastructure
Goal 10 - Reduced Inequality
Goal 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
Goal 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
Goal 13 - Climate Action
Goal 14 - Life below Water
Goal 15 - Life on Land
Goal 16 - Peace and Justice Institutions
Goal 17 - Partnerships to achieve the Goal.
If our world will be conducive, there is the need to address all the critical goals set out with emphasis on human activities which are causing climate change and the effects on other set out goals. In doing this the traditional institutions should be involved.

At this junction, I have to commend the State of Osun Environmental Sector’s ambitions to achieve a ‘CLEAN HEALTHY and GREEN ENVIRONMENT’ through the formulation of State Policy 2019-2021 Medium Term Sector Strategy (MTSS). I urge the State Government to look into the roles the Traditional Institutions can play in achieving sustainable environment management system in the state.

Essentially the United Nations Vision 2030 timeline for better Climate, Action, requires that all stakeholders would step up action to stave off all human activities which can bring our planet to its knees. Essentially, all traditional rulers especially in Nigeria must be carried along and mobilized to use all known traditional institutions and methods to achieve the goal.

In order to reverse the ugly trend of human negative activities and the effects on our environment, I like to suggest the following traditional and modern approaches:

We should go back to the use of organic household utensils as against metals, plastics and polypropylene product. Items such as locally made pots; plates etc (isaasun, amu, igbako etc) should be re introduced.

We should imbibe the culture of planting of at least a tree in every household every year. This enhances carbon sequestration, beautification, aesthetic and water cycle of our various communities.

Proper disposal of our wastes should be domesticated with our traditional rulers, market men and women as well as Baales included in the campaign, and in execution of set out policies.

The campaign against open defecation should be stepped up with traditional rulers playing pivotal roles. The efforts of the first Lady State of Osun Her Excellency, Alhaja Kafayat Oyetola is highly commended for her rigorous campaign against open defecation in the State of Osun.

Botanical Gardens should be established in every traditional district so as to save our rich and potent plants from extinction.

Traditional Institutions should be fully involved in the implementation of National Environmental (Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit Sharing) Regulations 2011 for overall betterment of our community and our people.

Environmental Impact Assessment (E.I.A) Act should be reviewed to allow the traditional Institutions be fully involved in process especially those project that domicile in their various jurisdictions.

Government Institutions that involved in the management of environment should be mandated to involve Traditional Institutions in the awareness creations and other key decision making as it affects their various communities.

While efforts recommended on the re-introducing organic household materials are on, Nigeria should look for the best disposal method for all plastic and polypropylene products, in order to free our society of the growing menace of plastics and nylon

Drainage channels, river courses and dams should be cleared and desilted to accommodate more water and forestall catastrophes, loss of lives and properties. Every local community must play roles in this regard.

Tree and shrubs planting should be given greater attention. The Afforestation project should form one of the cardinal programmes of the United Nations. All member states should sign a treaty on aforestation and protection of our ecosystem.

All issues of pollution, oil spillage and gas flaring must have terminal dates, which must be religiously followed and erring states sanctioned by the International body.

The partial success of the use of traditional knowledge in coping with climate change leads to conclusion that a healthy relationship between scientific knowledge and traditional or indigenous knowledge – which both have their limitations – is desirable, especially in developing countries where technology for prediction and modeling is least developed. Whereas most precipitation models and records mainly focus on changing amounts of precipitation, indigenous people also emphasize changes in the regularity, length, intensity and timing of precipitation. Whether or not scientific models are incorporated into local explanations depends on the status and accessibility of science within a culture and on the influence of the communications media (Salick and Dyg. 2007).

To capitalize on, develop, expand and mainstream indigenous adaptation measures into global adaptation strategies, traditional knowledge should be further studied, supported and integrated into scientific research. Incorporating indigenous knowledge is less expensive than bringing in aid for populations unprepared for catastrophes and disaster, or than importing adaptive measures which are usually introduced in a top-down manner and difficult to implement, particularly because of financial and institutional constraints.

There is much to learn from indigenous, traditional and community-based approaches to natural disaster preparedness. Indigenous people have been confronted with changing environments for millennia and have developed a wide array of coping strategies, and their traditional knowledge and practices provide an important basis for facing the even greater challenges of climate change. Although their strategies may not succeed completely, they are effective to some extent and that is why the people continue to use them. While indigenous communities will undoubtedly need much support to adapt to climate change, they also have expertise to offer in coping through traditional time-tested mechanisms.

Because human beings have moved from simple life to complex way of life; from strict tradition to modernization; from organic to inorganic; from peace in our environment to the disruption that we are witnessing. We have altered our world through our activities and through man’s desire to pursue the ambition of conquering the world. This is a mirage.

In Nigeria, and indeed around the equator the world over, there is upsurge in the volume of rainfall. In Nigeria, there is a lot of devastation so much so that many roads have been off while Rivers and sea levels have risen tremendously. Many residents have been rendered homeless while properties worth millions of naira have been destroyed.

Incidences of mudslides have been witnessed in many parts of the country due largely to heavy rains. This is the month of November and rains are still heavy as if it were the months of July and August, ostensibly due to Global warming.

Today, our world is being threatened by man’s activities. We need retrace our steps backward; look at what is golden in our traditional institutions which we have abandoned and strive to make our world better for us.


Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Oba Rasheed Ayotunde OlabomiĀ  and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."