Have you ever wondered who is responsible for the successful Hunger Palava campaign (#hungerpalava) that trends across social media platforms every month? The brain behind the on-going campaign is Human Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) Resource Center; an incorporated trust registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission of Nigeria. We sat down with Sulaimon Arigbabu of HEDA Resource Center at their headquarters in Ikeja, Lagos a few weeks ago, to learn more about the organization and their contributions to environmental education in Nigeria.
In the later months of 2001, a bunch of crazy men and woman (to which I reply – “crazy is good”) came together with a plan to create what has now become the HEDA Resource Center. The discussion around starting such an outfit had begun much earlier amongs these young men, who were all participants of the Moshood Abiola Vanguards for Democracy, MAVD. These discussions culminated into HEDA which fulfilled their yearning to be more participatory in issues concerning development in Nigeria. Eventually in 2004, the young men registered HEDA with the Corporate Affairs Commission and hinged the activities of the organization on their activist roots.
The leadership of HEDA has evolved over the years with the growth and establishment of the organization. Over the last twelve odd years, one of the founders has passed away while some others have left the country or gone on to other life endeavors; some within the activist space and others without. However, today, two of the founders remain fully involved in the running of the HEDA Resource Center. One of the men, Sulaimon Arigbabu, serves as the Executive Secretary of the organization and is directly in charge of the Environment and Sustainable Develop program of HEDA, through which the trust maintains relevance in the environmental space in Nigeria. The other man, Lanre Suraj, serves as the Chair of the Governing Board.
HEDA has maintained its focus on the issues that were of importance to the visionaries of the organization, while remaining relevant in today’s Nigeria. According to Sulaimon Arigbabu, HEDA is a “development organization that works on governmental and environmental issues, all from the human rights perspective.” The activities of HEDA Resource Center are centered on Good Governance (Public Accountability), Environmental Justice and Human Development; what the organization refers to as the Tripod of HEDA. Beyond the organization’s activities, HEDA operates actively with PAPPCC – Public Advocacy Project Partnership on Climate Change, a Lagos-based NGO working on Climate Change policy in Lagos, and is also actively involved in the Nigerian Climate Change Action Network. NigeriaCAN is a national platform working on shaping Nigeria’s response to Climate Change and also influence Nigeria’s participation and positions at the (The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) UNFCCC level.
The role of HEDA in the NCAN, of which Mr. Arigbabu is the secretary, is to ensure that Lagos State has a climate change policy that works. Most of HEDA’s responses to environmental issues are in form of public policy enlightenment campaigns. While focusing on Nigeria, HEDA also contributes to international discourse through its accreditation as an observer organization by the UNFCCC. Other international organizations by which HEDA has gained accreditation include Green Climate Fund and UN ECOSOC. The latest strings of programs on environment by the organization are focused on faith groups as a follow-up to an environmental forum that they hosted with religious leaders in Lagos State. Mr. Arigbabu emphasizes the need to advocate for environmental justice through faith communities and hints us on the manual that the organization is developing to communicate environmental issues to followers of Christianity, Islam and Traditional Religions. The Resource Center has also partnered with big organizations like Voices for Food Security (VFS), Oxfam and Trust Africa on its campaigns.
Hunger Palava is perhaps HEDA’s most popular campaign and one that seized the attention of celebrities, NGOs and regular citizens alike. The launch of the campaign was a tremendous success largely due to how social-media intensive it is. Hunger Palava is a branch of the Palava Series which addresses issues of food security in Nigeria. The HEDA representative excitedly discusses the birth of the food campaign and how they got so many people on board:
“When we joined forces with Oxfam, working with small scale farmers, we saw so much potential. On the flip side, so many young people are not properly informed or engaged on food issues. So, this makes Nigeria look like a whole lot of contradictions. Young people can either be active farmers, passive farmers or a voice for positive development in agriculture. It is dangerous for us that the average farming age is still 60. I met someone who needed over a thousand pineapples while someone somewhere is looking for a buyer for his pineapples; the value chain is very underdeveloped and there’s room for everyone. If we don’t act, we will have a whole bag of palava.”
When asked about the secret to the success of the Hunger Palava campaign which is still on-going, to Sulaimon Arigbabu, “We have a great team in the situation room. Hunger Palava started offline and is a monthly campaign to engage policy makers but our online approach is veritable because of the vast audience we can reach. Our team picked out the name that was catchy and engaging because no matter how rich you are, you go chop. Nobody is too sophisticated for food.” Mr. Arigbabu also encourages young people to go out and do something, no matter how small or large their sphere of influence may be. He says: “something always dilutes the spirit right before a revolution is about to happen in Nigeria…look at June 12, Occupy Nigeria and many more. I believe Nigeria needs a revolution in all aspect of public life, particularly in food production and everything else that supports the development and effectiveness of that sector.”
HEDA Can be reached on Twitter @HEDAgenda, and on their website on hedang.org.