• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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Nigeria losing green areas, tourism sites to city development

Nigeria losing green areas, tourism sites to city development

…As risk mounts ahead

As an undergraduate at the University of Ibadan, Kunle Omotosho, a senior partner in an Abuja-based law firm, will always steal out time during weekends to commune with nature at the Agodi Gardens on Secretariat Road, Mokola Hill.

Then, the garden attracts visitors in great numbers with its serenity, lush greenery, a zoo, a swimming pool, picnic spots and engaging fun activities.

Today, the serene oasis is under threat as part of the lands (about 200 plot worth of forest) which made up Agodi Gardens and conservation forest is giving way for a residential estate.

As well, the conversion of Polo Park in Enugu State to a shopping mall was a bad idea of preserving Coal City’s heritage as tourism has ceased to exist in the park.

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There are many sad instances across the country, where green areas are giving way to concrete and denying people opportunity to commune with nature amid high risk of environmental issues, especially flooding.

In the case of the Agodi Gardens, which is a protected forest reserve in Ibadan, Folu Oyefeso of the Save Our Green Spaces Ibadan and his group, took the construction company and the Oyo State government to court. But, much has not been heard of the case as the government seems bent on the construction despite huge climate risk and the over 50 percent of Oyo State’s land area is undeveloped as at today, where such estates can be sited.

These sentiments, need to save the environment and grow greener cities instead of more concrete were further highlighted in this year’s World Environment Day on June 5, 2024.

In line with the celebration for Nigeria, the French Embassy in Nigeria and IFRA Nigeria organised a conference on the theme, ‘Green or Grey Urban Jungles: What Place For Plants In Nigerian Cities?’ at Alliance Francaise in Lagos.

The speakers, drawn from many related sectors, especially environment, tourism and conservation, called for more green areas in cities, while decrying the way concrete is taking over once green areas, tourism sites and forests, amid deadly consequences.

While reeling out the ecological and social benefits of green areas, they warned that the disappearance of parks and gardens could exacerbate environmental issues, such as excessive heat and disrupt community spaces for relaxation and worship.

In his views at the panel discussion at the conference, Theo Lawson, an architect and chief warden of Freedom Park Lagos, emphasized the park’s role as a spiritual refuge and necessary counterbalance to urban development.

“This park was built on three legs; a green area, memorial park and art space. This place is a place of refuge for many people that want to disconnect from the outside world and just relax with nature. We must put nature first,” he said.

Lawson said that he started Freedom Park because he felt Lagos needed a place where people could sit, breathe and interact with nature, like Hyde and Central parks abroad. According to him, Freedom Park used to be a prison, abandoned for 30 years before it was converted into a serene oasis.

Complementing Lawson’s views, Iyabo Aboaba, chief operating officer, Freedom Park, decried that many people want more outdoor spaces to sit and hold activities but there is a scarcity of such spaces in many cities.

“It is tough to live in Lagos, there are very few green areas and parks for children to play, this should not be so. The government should build more parks and green spaces in communities, it would go a long way in improving people’s mental and physical health,” she said.

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On her part, Emilie Guitard, an anthropologist and research fellow at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), shared insights from her research in Ibadan, highlighting the multifunctional role of trees in African cultures as sources of medicine, land markers and spiritual sites.

“In Ibadan, where I currently do research, trees in the forests and gardens serve as medicine (agbo), as land markers indicate seniority of some lineage. They serve as memory preservers, prayer grounds and shrines for some people, and a place of rest and relaxation for others. I find it disheartening that some people come to indiscriminately cut down some of the trees dedicated to some gods,” Guitard said.

Speaking at the conference, Oyefeso attributed Nigeria’s increasing heat and flooding issues to environmental degradation, criticising the conversion of protected areas like Agodi Gardens in Ibadan into residential estates.

“The heat and flooding being experienced in Nigeria today is not natural; it is a result of the abuse of the environment. It is a recipe for disaster,” Oyefeso warned.