Seeing dead bodies in Sahara desert, I thought I’d die –Jibunor, environmentalist who drove from London to Nigeria at 27

Chief Newton Jibunor is a renowned environmentalist famous for driving alone from London , UK , to Nigeria , through the Sahara desert in 1966 . He shares his adventurous experience, childhood stories and aspirations , in this interview with ALEXANDER OKERE
You were only 27 when you drove from London to Nigeria , through the Sahara desert . Were you adventurous as a child ?
Yes , I was . I think it was because what I would call an unstable childhood development. I lost my parents when I was three and ended up living with uncles and friends of the family . So , I moved around a lot and I think that must have been when the adventurous spirit started because , suddenly, I found myself living with a school teacher . When they wanted to travel , they handed me over to another teacher .
I lived in a boarding school and then , suddenly, I couldn ’ t continue. Most of the time , I wasn ’ t such a perfect boy , as it were. So , I was sometimes kicked out . That was when I found that I had an adventurous spirit in me and you know , when you get used to being adventurous , it catches up with you and holds you .
This is the longest I have gone without embarking on an adventure and I don ’ t feel comfortable . I don ’ t feel happy . I am a scientist . So , that may have added to wanting to innovate , invent and try even when I know it is not possible .
All those things were embedded in my system , though it took me a long time to find out because I found myself doing those things . It started with hunting with my uncle who was a hunter and I loved it. I loved mastering how to conquer fear . I have often said to my colleagues that any time I think back , I often remember the kind of things I did . I get to wonder how I survived but that could have been because of my adventurous nature .
You were very young when you lost your parents . Do you have any memory of them ?
I can ’ t even remember what they looked like .
Did you ever long to know who they were ?
Oh, yes . So many times when you go through difficulties , you have to resort to your parents for counselling . But when I found myself in situations like that , a few times , I got close to tears because I didn ’ t have my parents to fall back to .
Did you have relatives to consult before you took your first trip in 1966 ?
I had friends, mainly . I had a younger sister and Edith was her name . She lived with my aunt while I lived with my uncle. But she died when she was 13 and I was 16 or 17 . I was told that she went to school , came back with a fever and died . I couldn ’ t find her grave and nobody knew it. So , I started Didi Museum in her name . The name came from the way I used to pronounce her name when I was a boy because I had a speech problem . As far as I ’ m concerned , my sister lives in the museum . The first day I saw snow in the UK was the day I managed to tell myself that I would not see my sister anymore. It happened nine years after she died .
However , my first trip was from London . So , many relatives in Nigeria did not even know I was in London let alone know I was trying to drive back from London . Everybody tried to stop me; a lot of them concluded that I was just looking for a way to kill myself . A girlfriend I had at that time was told and she wrote me an emotional letter (because we had ended our relationship ) , saying even though there was nothing between us , she was concerned about the journey I was about to embark on and thought I was going to die and that it was not a very good way to die .
On the night I was leaving London , a lot of friends gathered to say goodbye and that was the most emotional scene I had ever seen because a lot of them were in tears .
Did you at that point think you would either end up dead in the desert ?
I have discovered that in adventures , you have to be ready to die . In those days , 50 per cent of adventurers came back alive . I read Sir Francis Chichester ’ s book . He was the first man to row round the world in a canoe . He talked about the near – death situations he encountered . Death is inevitable , anyway ; we all must die . So , since I knew that I would die some day , I said if I died adventuring , so be it; I must have been destined to go that way .
But when you think about succeeding in doing it, there is that joy that you have done the impossible because I must have been the first person to attempt a journey like that from London to Nigeria . That was what encouraged me.
What did your first trip change about you ?
What changed was the fact that I had to believe in myself than I did before . I did think about dying and on a number of times , I felt like caving in to what people said , including embassies that almost didn ’ t give me visas because they thought I was just going there to kill myself . So , occasionally , I thought about packing it (trip ) up , especially when my colleague whom I was supposed to make the journey with backed out . That worried me .
Whenever you set your mind on doing anything , it is good to listen to counsel. But whatever decision you make is yours . The same thing happened in the second expedition . Again , people were scared, even though it was many years after . Right now , people say I am too old ( to embark on another trip ), and there are Boko Haram , ISIS and other terrorist groups in the desert . But there will always be (security threats )

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