Centuries ago, before our forefathers first spotted ships across the waves, kings and priests ruled over our lands. Without western democracy and its institutions on our shores, traditional rulers kept a symbiotic relationship between progress and nature. Through a system of taboos and a culture of reverence to nature, they kept our earth and waters healthy. Lagoons, rivers, lakes and seas run clear, and burst their banks with an abundance of fish. Our lands held no poisons and produced only the healthiest crops to nourish us and our families. Our air smelt sweet with the fragrances of flowers and herbs and clear of toxic pollutants. A time when animal species thrived, and many of the animals that are our totems today still existed in our forests. In those years when kings and chiefs held as one their sacred duty to earth, and sustainability was an ingrained way of life, not just a fad. 

Today our people and lands are confronted by the sharp and biting realities of climate change. The evidence of flooding, warmed oceans and unpredictable weather patterns are clear for all to see. The environmental disasters of bad waste and plastic management, as well as degradation from illegal mining, are constantly on our screens.

Yet, we as people continue to walk along with a seeming resignation to this bleak way of things. As traditional rulers, we fail as members of societies and fail as change agents when we sit back as spectators. 

The dire nature of our environmental issues calls for action. We have seen the Sahara desert grow and we have seen sea levels rise to cover entire islands. As a West African country, the encroaching desert should be a point of concern. As a country with our capital sitting below sea levels, climate action is not a matter of choice but a matter of course. 

According to the World Metrological Organization, Africa's climate has warmed more than the global average since pre-industrial times (1850-1900). In parallel, the sea level rise along African coastlines is faster than the global mean. Contributing to increases in the frequency and severity of coastal flooding and erosion, and salinity in low-lying cities.

I urge traditional rulers across our country to imagine the current challenges of our communities compounded by the effects of climate change and environmental degradation. The WHO predicts that by 2025, close to 230 million Africans will be facing water scarcity, and up to 460 million will be living in water-stressed areas due to climate change.

We are already seeing the symptoms of it compounded by our polluted rivers from illegal mining. These issues affect all of us regardless of whether we rule in mining zones or otherwise. We must keep in mind that climate crisis and migration know no borders. When one part of the country is rendered uninhabitable, the indigenes will just move to another area. This will put additional stress on already limited resources.

As allodial owners of the land, traditional rulers have a unique and pivotal role in this call to action. Who can take bold decisions on what happens on our lands if not traditional rulers? Keeping in mind that we are but custodians for the next generation, we must ensure that those to whom lands are given do not destroy them but rather preserve them for the generations unborn. I am not oblivious and naive to the financial incentives behind some of these land grants, however we must begin to think of sustainable paths to creating wealth using our lands.

Though this might be more complex than the simple paths of sale and unregulated mining and water body pollution, it behooves on us to do so. Our forefathers shed their blood and gave their lives for the lands we occupy. The least we can do is think strategically and make a little sacrifice to preserve what they won for us. 

As we recognise our role in this journey to a more climate-conscious and sustainable way of life, we recognise the immense need for a cultural change in our communities. Who better to effect cultural change and promulgate cultural norms than the very guardians of our indigenous way of life. As traditional leaders, we are uniquely placed to affect the day-to-day lives of our people in our communities. We have front row seat to what is held dear and is shunned.

We are called to remind our people and guide them towards the green paths of our ancestors. We must espouse the sustainability pillars in our culture. The younger generation must be aware of the environmental values in our ancient wisdom. 

It’s this same wisdom that must be shared with our elected officials. Traditional rulers as “perpetual ministers” have the benefit of longevity and working with multiple administrations. As political candidates visit palaces and stool houses, it must be made known to them that environmental and climate issues are priorities. That the polluted air, lands and water bodies are salient issues.

Beyond pointing out the issues, we must also offer solutions. We can lean on the wisdom of the ancestors to be partners in this fight. We must be ready to play this role regardless of previous political leanings and across multiple administrations. As long as we remain on our ancient stools and skins, we must be advocates for our environment. If we push a climate agenda and actively offer solutions, the politicians will join the cause. A cause which we cannot wait a single day more to push.

Traditional leaders cannot stem the tide of climate issues by themselves. No one person or group of people can. A crisis of this magnitude requires the involvement of entire states and communities. The power of a ruler is the people, hence it is vital that the strength of our people is harnessed to curb the causes of climate changes and mitigate the current effects.

As traditional leaders, we took oaths; oaths to preserve, maintain and protect our people. Today, like our ancestors, we are called to fulfill that oath. We have no choice but to answer the call.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.