Page last updated at 00:17 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Nigeria set for 'Green Big Brother' show

Newton Jibunoh in Mauratania
Newton Jibunoh says he wants the youths to become part of his "crusade"

By Chris Wade

Nigeria's most celebrated environmental campaigner is about to launch a reality TV show to highlight the dangers of global warming for Africans.

At almost 72 years of age it is a wonder he still has the energy, but with three crossings of the barren wastes of the Sahara desert already behind him, Newton Jibunoh is preparing for the most ambitious desert adventure of his life.

For his final trek across the desert, planned for the new year, he will be taking a band of 15 young men and women from Nigeria and neighbouring Niger with him.

We believe the most effective way of spreading the message is to go and speak to the communities
Chima Williams
Friends of the Earth

And he will select his travelling companions from an initial group of 50 as part of a reality TV show to be broadcast in both countries.

The show, called Desert Warriors, will be set in the ancient Tuareg settlement of Agadez - the last town in northern Niger before civilisation gives way to the sand.

There, candidates will be put through a series of tough physical and mental endurance exercises, extreme driving tests and group tasks measuring their ability to bond with their team-mates in pressurised situations.

Like Big Brother, which has been phenomenally popular across the continent, the viewing public will be able to vote for the "warrior" they would most like to see make the final 15.

Endurance as entertainment

After more than 40 years spent travelling the world explaining the dangers posed by global warming, and in particular the worsening problem of desertification in the Sahara region, Mr Jibunoh says his greatest concern remains the lack of awareness among Africans of the gravity of the situation.

A Tuareg girl in the Sahara Desert. File photo
The show will be set in the ancient Tuareg settlement of Agadez

The show is his way of spreading the word to a new generation of African environmentalists.

"The problem in the past has been getting this message to the ordinary people who are most affected by this whole changing climate - by these severe weather conditions that are affecting our food production and our water supply, even the air that we breathe," says Mr Jibunoh.

"So we're trying to bring some entertainment into it. We're trying to bring some adventure into it.

"Endurance reality shows attract millions of viewers all over the sub-region, so we've found this to be the best instrument not just to entertain, but to educate the populace about the dangers that lie ahead."

The show is scheduled to run through early December and will eventually be distributed across a wide swath of the sub-region, potentially reaching many millions of African homes.

Nigeria 'has bigger problems'

But another big problem that Mr Jibunoh says he wants to tackle is the perception amongst many Africans that global warming is the preserve of Western charities and wealthy Africans, and has no bearing on their everyday lives.

Many Nigerians don't even have fresh water, and where will people watch this programme?
Mother of four, Abuja

A straw-poll of residents in the capital, Abuja, seems to bear out his point.

"At the moment most Nigerians can't see what direct effects climate change has here, especially when there is so much poverty already," says Risi Lawal, a young solicitor.

"That's why youngsters don't pay much mind."

Although she added that she would try her best to watch the show.

A mother of four, who did not want to be named, says the programme might raise awareness.

But she adds: "For most people there are far more important problems.

"Many Nigerians don't even have fresh water, and where will people watch this programme? How many people have televisions or generators to power them?"

'Passing the torch'

Mr Jibunoh says the irony of this situation is that it is the ordinary citizens of Lagos, Niamey or Abuja who stand to be hit the hardest.

Newton Jibunoh
The people are responding positively at last
Newton Jibunoh

"They are the ones who do not have the capacity to withstand the effects of climate change," he says.

"You always find that it's the poor, the ordinary man who gets affected first, so why do you now want to leave the issues which are responsible for those problems to the elites?"

Chima Williams, from Friends of the Earth, welcomed the show saying it was another way to raise awareness.

But he added: "We believe the most effective way of spreading the message is to go and speak to the communities.

He said his group wanted to "address town hall meetings, especially in rural areas, and tell people that their actions do affect the environment, and also teach them how to cope with the affects of global warming."

Mr Jibunoh says he knows his own time is running out.

But he says that Desert Warriors is all about passing the torch to the environmental activists of tomorrow and showing young people across Africa that this is a fight worth carrying on after he is gone.

"I've taken it to the churches, I've taken it to the mosques, I've taken it to the schools and colleges and universities - and the people are responding positively at last," he says.

"No-one is able to tell when they will leave this world, but I'm hoping that before I do I will have mobilised enough environmentalists, enough scientists, enough interested people to continue this battle, to become part of this crusade."

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