A Conversation with Ajobiewe Tolulope, Editor-in-Chief of NOOW
What spurred you on to start a magazine, NOOW (Nature On Our Watch), specially environmental?
It was in 2015, at the time I had just finished from the Planning School in Minna, Niger State waiting patiently to be mobilized for the one year mandatory National Youth Service Corps. But for the inefficiency in our education system the mobilization did not come until after a year (I guess things do not always go our way). When the countdown eventually began, for the first three months, it seemed as though one was waiting to join the army. In another light, one would be correct to call me a stay-at-home fellow only that in my case there was no working attached to it. My redemption came on the day I decided to do something different and meaningful at the same time, so by March the same year I started to write a blog on www.ecoofreak.com.
My desire was to bring nature to the doorstep of all and sundry by way of storytelling and essay writing. I had always enjoyed writing essays and photographing beautiful sceneries—the beauty behind making images out of nature tickles my fancy. Soon after that, to commemorate the World Environment Day, I launched an online campaign on my blog, tagged “Green Talks”. It lasted for five days and the success of the campaign spurred me into the desire for greater adventures. Gradually the year had reached its last quarter and I began preparations for “Urban October” which is an initiative of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) to raise awareness globally about urban areas.
Urban October runs through the month of October and on the 31st of October, World Cities Day. So again I wanted to make a compilation of the goings-on from different cities of the world by different people, i.e. narratives of peoples’ favourite city locations, their traffic woes, accommodation tales, ease of access to public facilities and utilities to mention only a few.
To achieve this, I shared the idea with a couple of friends, they keyed into the vision and that was how life was given to NOOW. After several meetings and many deliberations we picked “Nature On Our Watch” as the name for the Magazine (https://noowmag.wordpress.com/magazine/). And since then we have been growing, learning, re-learning and trying to push valuable content in our publications.
As a community organization, you have taken your programs to schools. How was the reception when you visited Abadina College, Ibadan, in commemoration of this year’s World Environment Day?
It was Sri Chinmoy that said “Impossibility is a dictionary word”. For so long, NOOW had wanted to take her activities outside the online space and it seemed almost impossible until this year. To start with, we sent a letter to the College management expressing our desire to host/ hold an eco-themed event to commemorate the WED (World Environment Day). We then were invited to discuss the terms of engagement, which we did. Upon arriving the school on that very day, one can tell that our visit was greeted with a lot of excitement from staff and students.
We were in our branded tees which of course added a different charm to the event. What is NOOW? What do you do at NOOW? Among others were questions that stormed out of curious minds as we strolled through the premises to the hall the event was to take place. The theme for the year’s WED was “Connecting People to Nature” and I must say, we were connected to nature on that very day; because the students were seated in an open-plan hall enjoying the serene, calm and soothing comfort of an outdoor leisure activity. The outing was every bit a remarkable one.
NOOW is made up of young Nigerian Urban Planners. How did you all meet yourselves to initiate this great idea?
NOOW is blessed with vibrant, brilliant, smart, and young Nigerian Urban Planners. Our different sojourn into Planning School brought us together, so you will be correct to say we met in the Planning School. Well, the idea did not emerge until after we gave our last hugs and hellos upon graduating from school. So we are like nomads resident in different parts of Nigeria.
The luxury of togetherness one might say eludes us but the gift of our commitment is priceless. So distance has never been a barrier because we meet regularly virtually to exchange and nurture the NOOW idea (ICT has made it not only easy but efficient). The NOOW team is privileged to have Shaibu Mohammed Lawal, media/graphics expert; Adeleye Igbekele, a creative soul whose duty post is at the Magazine Stand; Shaibu Success, who adds flair to our collaboration and partnership; Abubakar Nasir, handling research; Galadima Immanuel the brilliant administrator and small me as the Editor-in-chief/CEO (Laughs…)
I have a strong interest in urbanism and the progress of cities in Nigeria. You’d agree with me that our cities are poorly managed, as a matter of fact, there is neither management nor progress in relation to the demands heaping on us in the 21st century Nigeria. Our sewerage system, the nationwide traffic jams are all causes for irritation. What is your take? As a trained Urban Planner, what are your suggestions?
This is a narrative that urban planners never get weary of because it generates unending debate on every planning discourse. In most cases, we are quick to conclude that it is not the Urban Planners doing, as debatable as that might sound there lays the truism in the statement. Let me quickly take you down memory lane. In 1976 when the military government enacted the Land Use Decree, among other things its aim was to guide the manner in which land was used and administered. The administration at the time only administered land without any regard for the physical implications that lies there in.
Many people don’t even know that the profession of urban planning only gained prominence in Nigeria some twenty-five (25) years ago when the Urban and Regional Planning Law of 1992 was enacted. So fourteen (14) years after the land use decree, came the town planners. This means, more than a decade of planlessness, and disordered development in our towns and cities. Yet we expect the town planners to solve the problems in our cities. Are they magicians?
No doubt, Nigerian towns and cities are poorly managed. The next question is, why, right? Myriads of reasons come to mind: there is that of leadership, politics and the lack of continuity in governance to name a few. Take for instance state government projects. Ok? How many times do you see state governors talk about urban renewal projects? I mean genuine talks backed with intentions to carry out such projects. In fact the only time any meaningful urban renewal project was carried out was in 1928 when the Lagos Executive Development Board was created to address and manage the aftermath of the Bubonic Plague that hit Lagos at the time.
These days it is difficult to see because it is usually capital and time intensive. Apart from that, you talk of the politics in infrastructure and facility location, we lack data that accurately captures the population of city dwellers as they continue to increase, urban planners have not been able to specifically define city boundaries and limit, physical plans for service and utility functions are non-existent.
What of master plans? How often are they reviewed, are these master plans even followed? How many of these cities have master plans?
In my judgment, the chaos in urban areas across the country like I already stated are as a result of so many reasons, some you could drag urban planners into, others, maybe not. However, one thing is sure, urban planners have not really done much to salvage or remedy the situation. Yes, because new towns and cities are emerging daily and then you expect to see ordered development that conforms to proposed developmental pattern of such urban areas. Rather, what you see are bizarre developmental projects that defiles every iota of rational thinking (imagine a gas station within dense residential neighbourhoods, commercial hubs/residential units underneath power lines or even residential dwellings built up along flood plains) this things happen right under our watch and yet we keep mum and look the other way.
In a twist of a different tale, if urban planners can take full advantage of ICT (for monitoring and managing urban centres), if Planning Authorities are adequately managed, funded and open only to professionals, if existing legislations are properly enforced and public offenders penalized and punished for all kinds of contraventions, and if young urban planners bring their expertise to bear, I believe there would be a different story in no distant time.
There is a scarcity of environmentally-driven magazines in Nigeria—fashion and entertainment have overthrown the mindset of people today, the discourses on and for the environment are less in Nigeria. NOOW Magazine is annual, and you’re currently on your third edition. What are your goals towards taking the movement to wider outreaches and results?
Yes, environmentally-driven magazines are hard to come by. However, I think people are beginning to show interest in some of these issues. Young people are now getting involved really, social media has made it possible to gather, convene and advance thoughts and arguments that are environmentally themed (on blogs, Twitter, Facebook). Some are yet to take their initiatives to the next level, but then there is always the starting point. We are on our third edition, and I should add we have always had setbacks particularly when it comes to seeking contributions. Time and again the media team trolls all social media platforms putting up flyers, pictures and what have you so that people can contribute and lend their voices. We understand that it is a gradual thing and so we are never swayed by the number of entries we receive. You will agree that building a brand takes time.
In taking the movement to wider outreaches, I think that has started already because we received a couple of entries from authors outside Nigeria for this edition. In addition, NOOW sees a print version of the magazine in years to come; we also hope to recruit more members and volunteers. Aside from the annual publication, we intend to hold more often events outside the social media space.
Climate change is a disturbing concern in the world currently. Conferences, collaborations, etc. all geared towards actions to save our earth. I remember a line from a poem by Niyi Osundare; the line is, “This earth is ours to plough, not to plunder.” What are your thoughts?
It was Wendell Berry who said “we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors we borrow it from our children”. It is true that the earth is not ours to plunder. Nigeria is experiencing adverse climate conditions with negative impacts on the welfare of millions of people. The harsh realities that confront us as a Nation are; the disruption in seasonal cycles and ecosystems, the tides in agriculture, episodes of food production deficits, and water needs/supply shortfall.
Alarm bells are ringing with lakes drying up and a reduction in river flow in the arid and semi-arid region of the country. Sea-levels are on the rise with its attendant consequences such as fiercer weather, increased frequency and intensity of storms, floods, hurricanes, increased frequency of fires, poverty, malnutrition and series of health and socio-economic consequences. This reminds one of Nasiru Idris’s avowal that ‘‘we are going to be caught between the devil of drought and the deep sea of floods.’’—did we not see all of that during the year?
How do you fund the magazine? Any collaboration?
Every cost incurred is borne by the team and that is why we are constantly seeking for sponsorships as well as partnerships. I should also add that NOOW is not just about the magazine, it is a movement and as such we hope to get incorporated as a community organization as soon as possible. To do that, funds are needed and required. As for collaborations we’ve had a couple of sponsors and we still look forward to having many more collaborators and sponsors in no distant time.
What events have so far been most exciting since venturing into NOOW?
To be honest, every minute since venturing into NOOW has been insightful, adventurous and interesting. Talk of our Tweet chats, Facebook Hangouts, interview sessions, video documentaries, photo walks and documentaries, outreach to schools, article compilation and editing. Truth is, if you want to do something fun and at the same time insightful come and be part of the NOOW Team.
What steps would you recommend Nigerians take to daily help in making our environment the better habitable and sustainable?
Marlee Matlin said, “The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth.” If those words are anything to go by, a constant whisper of this truth is needed to fill the void within us. That said, in our second issue Immanuel Galadima’s “9 Things Every Nigerian Can Do To Show Love To The Environment” found its way to the cover page of the magazine. It was a compilation of nine simple things that goes a long way in conserving nature and keeping the environment in good shape. Every Nigerian can do at least five out of these.
Hence, I charge every Nigerian in his words. To make our environment habitable and sustainable, Nigerians should always learn to plant a tree (It’s 2017, look at what happened in India, 66 million trees were planted within 12 hours). There is this saying that “the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now”.
Secondly, the habit of conserving energy should be imbibed. This can be done by switching to energy saving lighting and by switching off lights and other unused appliances. Also, every Nigerian should learn to save water, reuse and recycle as much as possible.
On waste management and disposal, public layers, road divides and drains should be treated like sacred sites that make it sacrilegious to deposit refuse in such places/areas. To give city corridors the aesthetic configurations it should have, waste bins should be located along walking distances and inside every vehicle such that commuters no longer throw waste off moving vehicles.
Finally, every Nigerian should do something about their environment NOOW, by joining a group that advocates for sustainable and habitable environment so that this gospel can reach every nook and cranny of the country.
Tolu, thanks for your time. This is wishing that every effort of ours will add up to making the ecosystem a living space for all.
No force can stop this vibe and energy. Certainly, these humble efforts are needed for a liveable environment. Thank you for having me.