In this chat with an Elder Statesman, an Environmentalist, the Treasurer of Onu Ika Nigeria, an Accountant by Profession; Chief (Elder) John Ehikwe who recently bagged an Award of Excellence from the Institute of Human and Natural Resources, he spoke on his passion for the environment, cleanliness and his contributions to environmental activities in Nigeria. Enjoy reading.
Can we meet you sir?
My name is Chief (Elder) John Ehikwe, a native of Agbor Alidinma, Ika South Local Government of Delta State.
What prompted the award you recently received?
I do not know what prompted it; I only received a letter from the institute that I have been nominated for an award so they know what prompted them into doing it. However, during my citation they said that it was as a result of my role as Elder Statesman and my contributions to the environmental policies of Nigeria.
As an environmentalist, how have you contributed to the society?
I started my environmental activities in Abuja, in the year 2000.after conquering at the National level I then decided to come nearer home to continue with the activities. When I was in Britain I used to come home every year but each time I came I was disgusted with the refuse dumps especially in Lagos even in Delta State as well. That was how the environment was before I left for studies abroad; I decided something must be done, that was how the passion for the improvement of the environment came about, even though I studied Accountancy. That was how it happened. I knew that at the appropriate time, I was going to retire from active accounting to fully become an environmentalist.
Were you doing all that you have done so as to get paid or recognized?
No, it was purely borne out of passion. What happened fortunately was that when I came back from Britain the capital of Nigeria had moved from Lagos to Abuja, so I said Lagos is not a focal point to start from, I went to Abuja and surprisingly the new capital territory was becoming crowded with refuse. I took the resolution not to allow Abuja, the new capital territory to be neglected like Lagos.
To this end, I started the environmental campaign. As of that time, there was no private company in Nigeria in charge of refuse disposal; it was all done by civil servants at both Local Government and State level.
Then I started going to Ministries; Federal Ministry of Environment, Abuja. Environmental Protection Board and so on, but they were not interested; it was a challenge because nobody was listening to me. I sponsored myself to African Independent Television (AIT) and held discussions that featured Waste Management about keeping the environment clean and privatizing it. Then I used to quote Italian Language which says. “Pecunian non ollete” which means that money has no smell. I also went to Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and Radio Stations still on the private campaigns.
I did not know that people were watching me, all I needed was to convince the government that these things should be changed, they should give private people the job to do while the civil servants should be supervising the activities. At that appointed time I was given a challenge, the government insisted that there was no money to pay contractors. I decided that I would raise the money to start the job then people would pay for the removal of their waste.
That was how I got some of my Certificates of Recognition from the Federal Ministry of Environment etc. and I started attending seminars and workshops abroad and those organized by foreign organizations in Nigeria.
In the year 2004, National Assembly organised a lecture on Waste Management, comprising of West African Countries and I was engaged as a resource person at the workshop and since then people started recognizing me I became a member of Environmental Society Of Nigeria. We formed the Waste Management Association of Nigeria (WAMASON) which went to National Assembly to fight that environmental activities should be professionalized and that Environmental Engineering should be taught in universities but then members WAMASON should be setting the professional exams. We applied for that and we got Certificate and were accredited. We started around 2003/2004.
We sponsored Bills in the National Assembly that became Environmental Laws in Nigeria. When I was young I was fighting in Abuja doing all that I did then I attracted the attention of Chief James Ibori the then Governor of Delta State who requested that I come back home to Delta State and help out. So, I came towards the end of his tenure he handed me over to Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan.
I did not do all these just for monetary benefits, otherwise I would have stayed put with accountancy, as it was an enviable profession in Nigeria with money and recognition attached. I did all for passion and when the opportunity came for me to develop a business out of it I did. In most activities I carried out in the environmental sector I was not paid for it.
What do you have to say about the award?
Of all the awards I have received, this is the one I cherish most, the reasons being that I did not expect it. I was not even aware of the existence of the Institute of Human and Natural Resource and its activities. They invited me for three consecutive times but I did not appear in the first two times but they persisted, so I very much cherish the award.
What do you have to say to the institute?
I had a pleasant surprise from the institute; I appreciate them and am urging them to continue with that spirit. When one gets an award like this you know that it is on merit.
What is your advice to the general public?
When you have a desire to do something for the society do it with passion because you do not know who might be interested in what you do.
To whom do you dedicate this award?
I dedicate this award to God who gave me the strength to do all I did and also to my family who stood by me all the while.