Ayeni Faith Damilola, an environmental activist and writer in Nigeria, is facing similar challenges as many eco-activists across Africa with media representation and action from governments; but the movement has “success ahead”.

The Associated Press were widely criticised after they cropped Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate out of an image at the youth climate science event at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in January.

The original photograph showed Nakate pictured alongside other climate activists Greta Thunberg, Loukina Tille, Luisa Neubauer, and Isabelle Axelsson. When covering a story for the event however, The Associated Press cropped the 23 year-old out.

Nakate initially addressed a tweet to the news agency with curiosity, but soon called-out racism in a twitter video – saying: “You didn’t just erase a photo. You erased a continent.”

Just as with Nakate’s Uganda, Nigeria has a growing population concerned with the environment – in no small part to Ayeni Faith Damilola, a coordinator for Fridays for Future Nigeria and environmental columnist, though he also agrees that “the world isn’t really listening to African activists.”

“I would say that the climate movement in Nigeria is soaring,” the activist tells us via a temperamental Skype link. “It’s unfortunate though, that despite being one of the country’s most hit by the effects of climate change, we aren’t getting enough attention at the moment, from Nigerian politicians and the global media.”

In a 2016 study by the World Health Organisation, it was found that four of the cities with most air pollution in the world were in Nigeria, whilst a 2017 estimate by the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations attributed more than 114,000 premature deaths in Nigeria to air pollution.

“The effects are visible in the shrinkage of Lake Chad on which millions of Nigerians used to rely for daily living.” Perhaps the most notable climate-driven change, the lake that has been a water source for up to 30 million people has shrunk 90% since the 1960’s. As the surrounding desert advances, “bloody clashes” ensue as herders, who are forced to migrate south, compete for land and water with farmers on their way. The UN says 10.7 million people in the Lake Chad basin need humanitarian relief to survive.

“Another effect of climate change is the increase in frequency and severity of floods. In fact, about 2.5 million Nigerians were displaced by floods in 2012 alone amidst hundreds of deaths.” It was seeing the impacts of climate change on his country and the government’s lack of response that led the 26 year-old to coordinating events for Fridays for Future Nigeria.

Fridays for Future Nigeria currently host 26 weekly strikes across the country | Photo: FridaysNigeria, Twitter.

“The first Nigerian climate striker is, perhaps, my good friend, Oladosu Adenike. I joined the movement some months after her, created awareness, and inspired other people to do same. Since then, the movement has continued to grow.”

Damilola now works as a columnist for the Herald Nigeria and environmental expert for Tired Earth – writing thoughtful dissections and opinion articles on the problems facing his west-African home. With his activism and analysis being interchangeable, he believes that his job as a writer has made his role a “bridge”, connecting those demanding change with civil society and the government ministries he works with closely.

There is still a long way to go for the Nigerian climate movement, however; Although the country joined the Paris agreement in 2016, many of its politicians are not taking the issue seriously: “Despite the efforts we have invested in the movement so far, Nigerian politicians don’t seem to be listening to us, yet. They think climate change is not a ‘big issue’ for the country.”

“I think the movement is successful already as many people now talk about climate change. But if we really must get politicians to work, we need innovations to get more people involved. And I’m working on cultural ways to make the movement more appealing.”

Ayeni Faith Damilola (right) at a Green Global Environmental Network talk against open defecation and climate change in June. The group also visits schools and gives talks to raise awareness of the issues facing Nigeria. | Photo: GreenGlobalNG, Twitter.

“We do hope for better days: a time our politicians would understand that climate change is a ‘serious issue’ and the world would really listen to African activists as we have more stories (very bitter ones for that matter) to tell.”

With Fridays for Future Nigeria hosting 26 weekly strikes across the country, and Green Global Environmental Network (which Damilola is the program manager for) visiting schools and giving talks regularly to raise awareness of the country’s climate issues, the struggles of such African activists in their journey for a cleaner continent should surely be applauded globally.


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