Mr. Climate — Nigeria’s indefatigable campaigner rallying for youth-led climate action
This Is Africa spoke to Nigerian climate and environmental campaigner Olumide Idowu, popularly known as Mr. Climate about his journey as a climate action warrior, the challenges he’s faced in his activism and why he thinks every African youth should be involved in finding lasting solutions to persistent climate problems.
This Is Africa spoke to Olumide Idowu a prominent climate and environmental campaigner and the co-founder of a youth-led NGO, International Climate Change Development Initiative (ICCDI) which works to address key climate and environment-based issues affecting development across Africa. The initiative seeks to build a climate smart generation through creative dialogues and innovations.
We talked about his journey as a climate action warrior, the challenges he’s faced along the way and why he thinks every African youth should be smart about climate and environmental issues. Olumide Idowu is popularly known as Mr. Climate.
This Is Africa (TIA): You lead conversations in climate and environmental action, and you are a champion for this cause, how did this process start and what made you take up this cause as seriously as you did?
Olumide Idowu (Olumide): I started this journey while I was getting into university. A key factor that motivated me to continue was when I joined an organisation on campus called AIESEC, which is an international platform for young people to discover and develop their potential. I decided to focus on the environment.
TIA: Have you been receiving the kind of support that you need from the Nigerian government. Is the government proactive in the issues related to climate justice?
Olumide: When I started, the government was not proactive. The only thing we have in the government is good policy documents on paper which has never been implemented or looked at. But for the past three to four years, we have been able to have a bit of a listening ear from the government because it is now an issue that is affecting everyone. From the government side, if I put them on a scale of 1 to 10, their support is on four.
TIA: You started ICCDI which seeks to build a climate smart generation across Africa. What gap did you see that made you start this initiative?
Olumide: In 2013 when I finished university, I realised that a key reason why people were not understanding what was happening was lack of information and education. People didn’t understand how climate change is affecting them. I decided to start a platform called Climate Wednesday together with a friend that works with the United Nations. It is a platform for people to have a conversation every Wednesday at 3p.m. We use the platform to educate people and set up projects and programs from the outcomes of the weekly meeting. In 2016, we saw the need to do more, to have something solid so we could drive opportunities and that’s why we registered ICCDI.
TIA: What were some of the problems and projects you identified on the ground?
Olumide: We identified open defecation as one of the issues in Ilaje and Somolu, two communities in Lagos State. We looked for those who would support and implement solutions to the problem and came up with a community action circle which met every week in the community. There was another project we also worked on, the Women Health Support Programme that is one of our biggest projects going on now. We have actualised this in four communities in Lagos.
Another issue of concern is solving waste management problem and we’ve started in Somolu and Bariga, two communities in Lagos State. We have provided them with education on recycling. Our focus is for the community to do it themselves.
TIA: How much of your personal life has been affected by your activism?
Olumide: This is a very big question because I keep getting it. My dad is a very passionate, climate, smart, agriculture person. He studied agriculture in school and he is into agriculture full time. He doesn’t really understand my reason for doing this, but he got to know as time went on because I follow him to the farm every time. I study everything he does. So, for me to venture into this [climate activism] gives me more understanding of what the environment is also about. I have received a lot of opportunities for funding that is not sustainable. For me, I’m not expecting billions of dollars to make an impact. The little support I’m seeing now is what is getting me where I am and made me what I am today.
TIA: How did you get the name Mr. Climate?
Olumide: When I was in university, I used to attend the open hearings in the National Assembly. I joined the Nigerian Youth Climate Coalition. So, I started attending those meetings. I was in one of the meetings and would raise my hand when they asked if anyone had anything to say. Senator Bukola Saraki said to me, “this climate boy! sit down. We will call you”. Then somebody said, “do you want to ask your question Mr. Climate?”. That is how they started calling me Mr. Climate.
TIA: How are you able to combine your activism with meeting people in power? Does it affect how you do your work?
Olumide: Every month I share my newsletter that contains issues that I have been able to do in various communities and ask the ministry to investigate it by working with the state government. That is how I manage to work with the government. When the government identifies you, wants to support you or invites you to a meeting, there’s something behind it. There’s also an opportunity because we are crying and pushing for government involvement and engagement, if they get us to conferences, why can’t we use that platform to amplify our voices and advise them on the right things to do. Look at the Ogoni Cleanup, I was able to identify the root causes of the problem. I keep saying to people, for you to gain the interest of the government, don’t go to them with problems, go to them with solutions.
TIA: Can you tell us about the documentary you made in Ogoni?
Olumide: One of the key things I was looking at was the livelihoods because we’ve been able to understand that fishermen can’t fish, farmers can’t farm, and health of community members is a big issue. We spent one week where we went to Gokana and met with community leaders and youths to understand the root causes and problems of what’s happening in Ogoni. I visited where we have a lot of oil spillage and the cleanup process. My idea was to understand the firsthand information myself. When I entered Gokana, my breathing changed. That community is so contaminated [by oil spills, oil and gas extraction have caused large-scale, continued contamination of the water and soil in Ogoni communities]. We are in this situation for decades because of selfish people who don’t want change.
TIA: What are your dreams and goals for the next few years?
Olumide: I am looking at how we can solve energy problems in Nigeria. We are talking about moving from fossil fuel to renewable energy. This is the time Nigeria needs to look at energy transition in this country. My biggest dream is in sustainable energy and our transition should involve all stakeholders so that we can save the people and save the planet.
Read more: The interview is an abridged version of the original discussion. Please read the full transcription of the interview.
This article is written as part of a storytelling series called: Symbiocene – Finding Coexistence: Earth, Water, Wind, Fire and Us, a collection commissioned in partnership with African Crossroads. The contents of the series are the sole responsibility of This Is Africa Trust, and cannot be regarded as reflecting the official position of Hivos Foundation.