AAMEI: Keeping Nature Alive

By Abdulsalam Mahmud

The environment is a picturesque and serene habitat created for human and animal dwelling. It is an abode where man also carries out his other beneficial socio-economic activities. But, it is been threatened by serious ecological problems, seasoned eco-journalists and environmental activists, have said.

They however, recommended that concerted efforts must be made by both Government and relevant stakeholders in the environmental sector to halt the spate of degradation occasioned by unregulated and over-exploitative activities of man.

They spoke individually at the African Arts and Media Earth Initiative (AAMEI) 2008/19 Academy, which held at Lufasi Nature Park, in Lagos State.

This year’s edition which was themed: “Development and Nature: Reporting the Connection,” was anchored by the organisation’s Founder and an award-winning environmental journalist with Television Continental (TVC) TV station, Ugochi Oluigbo.

She was assisted by her organisation’s co-Founder, Bunmi Obanawu of Fight Against Desert Encroachment (FADE).

AAMEI, whose catchphrase is equipping influencers to amplify conversation around the ecosystem, uses art, entertainment as well as the traditional and new media to explore and create environmental conversations about the changing ecosystem.

The organisation also trains, supports and equip environmental journalists, artists and social influencers in different sectors with tools and knowledge.

Mr. Michael Simire, who opened the floodgate of discussions at the two-day event, listed climate change, water and sanitation issues, marine and coastal management, agriculture and biosafety, waste management, environmental health, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), land degradation, pollution, Disaster Risks Management (DRM), nature conservation together with urban development, as areas of global environmental concern.

Simire, the Editor-in-Chief of Environews, while speaking on “The Mandates of Environmental Journalists,” advised eco-journalists to write factual, objective and balanced stories, documentaries and feature articles on the impacts of deforestation, burning of fossil fuels, greenhouse emissions, gas flaring, and oil spillage, among other activities that are ravaging Nigeria’s ecosystem.

While the Editor of African News Network (ANN), Tunde Osho, in his extempore lecture on “Era of Fake News: Maintaining the standard,” cautioned young reporters against disseminating falsehood, and malicious news.

He urged them to go extra-mile and verify any piece of information they receive, saying “you must be fact-checkers who distill inconvertible facts from blatant falsehood in any information.”

The ANN Boss, added that “though fake news looks so juicy and ‘unbelievably true’ on the face value, journalists who are peddlers of rumours and outright lies risk tarnishing their good reputation, and professional integrity.”

Jennifer Igwe, an award-winning journalist, highlighted the significance of having a human-angle perspective to reports on environmental issues, asking funnily: “Any environmental journalist who is not adventurous, is that one a journalist?”

She noted that been adventurous helps journalists to quickly identify ‘unique and beautiful’ angles to write reports, urging the participants to read widely so as to broaden their horizon.

The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) news anchor, in her “Identifying the Stories” discussion, added: “It is imperative that you relate cordially with environmental activists, and experts in the field. This will enable one to know more about topical environmental issues and the effective solutions to address them. Environmental activists are change-advocates, hence they should be fair, accurate, balanced and objective in their reportage. They should verify information from credible and reliable sources. More importantly, they should be more concerned about writing impact-making stories on environmental problems.”

Why do you need investigative journalism? Mr. Fisayo Soyombo, the Managing Editor of Sahara Reporters, said it is to uncover shocking and ‘powerful’ evidence(s) about negative ills, mysterious events, and controversial issues in the society.

Soyombo, an Opinion Editorial (Op-ed) contributor for Al-Jazeera, drew a distinction between undercover and investigative journalism, saying “undercover journalism reports are also investigative journalism reports. But not all investigative reports are undercover in nature.”

On the hazard of media investigation, he said reporters who write stories to expose acts of corruption by government officials risked been murdered, harassed, or assaulted physically, to mention a few.

“As an investigative reporter, you must have plan B and C in case the main strategy you adopted for doing an investigation fails or you run into a trouble,” noted Soyombo.

Another discussant, Mr. Desmond Majekodunmi, pointed out that human beings, their exploitative tendency and harmful activities, is the chief reason why many species of plants and animals have gone into extinction across the world.

The Founder of Lufasi Park, disclosed that about 12 million tonnes of waste plastics are deposited into seas and oceans by rainfall, flooding and erosion. A situation, he maintained, causes severe plastic pollution.

“It is heartwarming that prominent world leaders have also lent their influential voices to the campaign on tackling climate change. Prince Charles of Wales stated at a previous UN General Assembly gathering that tackling global warming is the greatest challenge facing the world today. While Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest, said that climate change is a terrible problem, and it absolutely needs to be solved. It deserves to be a huge priority,” the fairly-complexioned Majekodunmi said.

The art of wildlife photography, according to Dr. Babajide Agboola, is more than meets the eyes.

But wildlife, he said, refers to undomesticated species of flora and fauna, advocating for what he called ‘Corporate Environmental Responsibility (CSR)’.

He however, expressed dismay that some financial and other profit-making institutions that use animals such as elephant, eagle, lion, birds and many others, as part of their logo, have done little or nothing about conserving the endangered animals’ species.

Agboola, a conservation ecologist and wildlife photographer, emphasized the need for photojournalists to carry out diligent research to know the aggressive features of various species in wildlife habitats so as not to get harmed in the course of their job.

He added: “Always observe and carefully track animals or the subjects you intend to give shots. Then be wary of animals’ threat zones. You must also be patient while trying to get the favourite shots you wish to take of wildlife animals. Among other things, know the techniques of photography and master your camera very well.”

The wildlife photographer, then made a slide presentation of both action and portrait picture of an African mushroom, giraffe, antelope, black heron, double sprawl falcoline, snake, white floated monkey (which is only found in Nigeria), eagle, falcon, black weaver, bearded barbet, speckle Pidgeon, spider and other exotic wildlife animals.

The duo of Gbemile Oluwatosin, and Ajibade Adedotun, participants at the workshop, also showcased a collection of their wildlife photographs.

Humans, Mr. Nnimo Bassey, opined are the most destructive species of animals, saying they contribute to the about 80 percent loss of biodiversity across diverse habitats.

While discussing “Nature and Development” in a Skype video call, he emphasized the need for eco-reporters to seek legal action against persons who engage in activities that degrade environment.

The renowned environmentalist bemoaned the indiscriminate gas flaring taking place in Niger Delta, saying the region is among the top ten most polluted areas in the world.

He called on stakeholders to promote ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’, among others, to tackle looming global food insecurity crisis.

The Founder of Climate Action Nigeria, Mr. Kelvin Akoje, on his part, said effective and timely response to environmental issues will help to mitigate the impacts of disasters such as flooding, erosion, and even the age-long Farmers/Herders’ clashes.

Shedding more light on “Ecological Governance and Policies”, Akoje tasked journalists to hold policymakers in the Environment Ministry accountable, while ensuring that funds allocated for ecological problems are judiciously utilized.

The participants, on the second day of the workshop, visited the abandoned Lekki Beach Resort project at the Free Trade Zone area in Ibeju Lekki.

During the field trip, a dredger was seen ‘rainbowing’ scooped sands along the bank of the ocean at the resort, while some giant ships were packed at the dock.

Host of the academy, Mrs. Oluigbo, underscored the importance of forging a symbiotic relationship between nature and development, through robust environmental activism and media advocacy.

She tasked participants to champion the course of a safer, uncontaminated and healthier global environment through writing stories, investigative reports, features and articles about poisonous activities that are endangering the ecosystem, for Government and policymakers’ intervention.

“Moving forward, social media groups will be created to enable the AAMEI fellows constantly interact with us and partner one another. It will enable our fellows discuss about environmental problems and how to go about reporting or writing about them,” said Mrs. Oluigbo.

The participants also watched a video documentary on the effects of oil spillage at Ogoniland and other areas in the Niger Delta region, showcasing how aquatic life, together with fertile soils were poisoned by devastating spills.

Highpoint of the workshop was a tour across facilities at the 20 hectares Park to catch a glimpse of animals and plants at the donkeys’ stable, monkeys’ cage, fern garden, the helmeted guinea fowls, ducks, rabbits and goats enclosures, anthill, the African spurred tortoise, civet (a cat-like animal), the Park’s Village, Forest Bathing area and Lake Nora and Moses (two artificial water bodies).

In a chat with PRNigeria, Miss Toluwalase Ogunleye, a post-graduate student of Environmental System and Climate Change at the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB), and delegate to the workshop, said she garnered first-hand experience on how to ‘tenderly’ care for her environment, while safeguarding it from wanton destruction.

“I have learnt how to report and tell environmental stories not just from the scientific prism, but through a human angle. This will go a long way to create awareness about the danger of destroying our natural ecosystem,” she added.

Abdulsalam Mahmud is a staff Writer with PRNigeria