Environmental stakeholders have advocated more green areas in the different cities all over Nigeria as a way of creating ecosystem balance and promoting healthy living and sociability.

This was the rallying point of the environmental experts at a conference organised by the French Embassy in Nigeria and IFRA Nigeria as part of the activities to mark this year’s World Environmental Week, held recently.

The conference with the theme, “Green or Grey Urban Jungles: What Place For Plants In Nigerian Cities?”, lamented that concrete has taken over most spaces, leaving little or no space for nature and green areas, which are important for several reasons.

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The experts expressed worry that the development will create an imbalance in the ecosystem, contribute to the excess heat being experienced in the country as well as strip communities of areas of rest, relaxation, and even worship.

The one-day conference featured a panel discussion fielded by anthropologist and research fellow at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), Emilie Guitard; Architect and Chief Warden, Freedom Park, Theo Lawson; Chief Operating Officer (COO), Freedom Park, Iyabo Aboaba; Environmental activist and photographer, Folu Oyefeso; Co-founder, WafflesNCream, Jomi Marcus Bello and was moderated by political advisor and journalist, Tabia Princewill.

Recounting his journey into ecology and plant life preservation, Lawson said 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.

Recalling that the present-day park used to be a prison and was later abandoned for 30 years before it was converted into what it is today. He said he was told then that the place was cursed and he should stay away, adding that the park was approved by former governor, Raji Fashola, he said successive governors have claimed the park is not commercial enough.

“This park was built on three legs a green area, a memorial park, and an art space. We believe this place is very spiritual and the spirits of the park enjoy what we do and give their blessings if they like you. This place is also a place of refuge for many people who want to disconnect from the outside world and just relax in nature. We must put nature first,” he added.

Guitard said she has always been in contact with nature growing up in France and took a keen interest in plants in Africa. Having worked in Cameroon, Zimbabwe, and Ibadan, Oyo state, the renowned researcher said there is so much to gain from nature and preserving the environment.

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


On his part, Oyefeso said he has always been drawn to the beauty of nature and it was easy to develop a career around it. He said the heat and flooding being experienced in Nigeria today is not natural and is a result of abusing the environment.

Regretting that Agodi Gardens in Ibadan, which is supposed to be a protected area, has been ‘sold’ to some people who have felled a greater part of the trees and replaced them with estates, he said it is a recipe for disaster.

While commending the organisers for the initiative, Oyefeso said the first step to advocacy is creating awareness and sharing knowledge on the urgent importance of having green spaces around residential areas.

Bello, who runs a skatepark inside Freedom Park, said when building the skatepark, they considered the trees first. He said starting it was not easy as many people didn’t see the benefit but said he remained undeterred and after 18 years of planning, finally brought the skatepark together in just 18 days.

Aboaba said many people want more outdoor spaces to sit and hold activities but such spaces are scarce 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.

As part of solutions, Guitard advocated buildings made of clay, planting the right species of trees consistently as opposed to once yearly, maintaining existing trees, and the need to see nature as part of the heritage of cities. Bello, supporting her, added that cities need more community gardens, green spaces, and walkable streets.

The conference kicked off with a spoken word recital and concluded with a music performance by artiste, Ruth Mahogany.

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