The Mandela Garden and Suites in Asaba can arrest all tourists with exquisite panache and sublime aesthetics.
The celebrated citizen of the world, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has been there to plant a tree in celebration of the immortal Nelson Rolihlahla Dalibunga Mandela.
The lionized environmentalist and conqueror of the Sahara Desert, Dr. Newton Jibunoh, is the brain behind the Mandela Garden and Suites set up on well over 134,000 square metres of prime land within the Asaba International Airport complex.
The design of the Mandela Garden is in the shape of the map of Africa, featuring a life-sized bronze statue of Nelson Mandela.
Some 95 trees are symbolically planted within well-landscaped and terraced fences made up of hedge plants, concrete walkways, state-of-the-art restrooms, requisite parking, plus playground and park for children.
The Mandela Garden was commissioned in 2010 with members of the Nelson Mandela family, led by Ndaba Mandela, flagging-off the planting of the 95 trees.
Dr. Jibunoh in his drive toward greening the environment always has the abiding dream of planting trees.
It has been a life-long passion, culminating in the Fight Against Desert Encroachment (FADE) Wall of Trees planted in Makoda Kano in the spirited bid to arrest desert encroachment.
The plan is for Jibunoh to retire to the Mandela Garden, after his lifework, to manage it by himself.
“I will run the park for the rest of my life as the keeper,” Jibunoh told me in his Lagos Island Didi Museum office. “My family will have to come and visit me there. They know my passion. It helps that the project is situated at the airport. They can always fly in and fly out. I believe Asaba provides a conducive atmosphere better than Lagos, London or New York!”
He then added this somewhat revelatory info: “I’ll build myself a small hut where I will live to keep it.”
The lack of maintenance that almost always bedevils most Nigerian projects would not be the lot of the Mandela Garden, Jibunoh avers, stressing: “Not only will I manage it fulltime, I will put a succession plan in place devoid of governmental bureaucracy.”
The Nelson Mandela mystique is seen as an eternal legacy that is forever compelling even after the death of the Madiba.
“We have to use Mandela to inspire people,” Jibunoh says, pointing at the legend’s picture on the wall of his office. “There is no other Mandela anywhere. He gave the world all he had. He went to prison for 27 years and came out with nothing. He ruled South Africa for only one term of presidency and came out with nothing. That’s the legacy!”
“What did this man not go through in the fight for freedom?” Jibunoh rhetorically asks, shifting on his chair.
For Jibunoh, the term “Charity begins at home” was done in reverse order, for he was heavily involved in improving other places, notably the Sahara Desert and places like Kano and Lagos before returning to his home locale of Delta State.
He mentions the Igbo term and name “Nkeiruka”, stating that what is ahead is greater than the things done earlier.
An irrepressible optimist, Jibunoh believes that security challenges such as kidnapping can be solved to make Nigeria a tourist haven, starting with the Mandela Garden in Asaba.
“There are so many things to challenge the world in Nigeria,” he affirms.
He argues that he had seen it all, from the days of colonialism, through the Apartheid years and the Nigerian Civil War.
He believes that Nigeria deserves celebration for leading the charge for the freedom of Nelson Mandela and South Africa.
“We lost Barclays Bank and British Petroleum in the Mandela fight,” he says. “Nigeria was a Frontline State. We cannot now be a minor player. This project will re-establish Nigeria as a Frontline State. Our fight was not in vain. Through the Mandela Garden, Mandela will live forever! It will put Nigeria in a different platform.”
Jibunoh points at the irony that people thought that Mandela was only fighting for black Africans, only for it to be discovered at the end that the whites benefited more!
According to Jibunoh, “The whites who saw him as a terrorist are now the ones benefitting from Mandela the most!”
It needs to be that in November 2009, the United Nations General Assembly formally declared July 18 to be “Nelson Mandela International Day”.
To mark the first global celebration of Mandela Day on July 18, 2009, to wit, Mandela’s 91st birthday, a series of educational, art exhibits, fund-raising and volunteer events leading up to a concert at Radio City Music Hall on July 18, were organized by the 46664 Concerts and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Then Dr. Jibunoh kicked off the Mandela Garden and Suites initiative. The inimitable global icon Nelson Mandela richly deserves the Mandela Garden in Asaba initiated by Dr Newton Jibunoh.
The legend of Mandela can hardly ever be exhausted.