I clearly remember the day Hamzy suggested we visit Zamfara. I was excited about going, but suddenly had a bit of cold feet, because of the crises rocking some parts of Northern Nigeria. I was also preparing for motherhood and did not want to expose myself to more toxins. I had the option of staying off the toxins, but many Bagega women can not make same choice as I did, leading to children exposed to lead poisoning and most born with deformities.
Few days later, Hamzy came back with heartbreaking stories of children whose’ lives are in grave danger, parents who live in constant fear, and possibly counting down to the death of another loved child while also holding strong to faith for a miracle. That miracle came with the release of desperately needed funds for medical care. I just had to make this first interview of my very close friend, to show how proud I am of him and to say Happy Birthday to Hamzat Lawal.
Here is how Hamzat did it.
What inspired you to visit Bagega, and why did you care?
I am an activist who advocates for change and speaks for the vulnerable/voiceless, with a passion for the well being of children. I felt it was our collective responsibility as citizens of Nigeria to amplify the voices of Bagega community by putting the situation on the front burner for the entire world to know and help decide the fate of this venerable children, whether to give them a bright future or not. Being engaged in community development project has shown that children are the most venerable and not much care is given to them. These ones are our future and possible leaders who would take over from where we have stopped.
After my visit I spoke to a couple of friends and change champions, so we decided to launch a campaign to advocate and track the remediation funds promised by the President in May, 2012. Special thanks to Oludotun Bayemi. He is a hero.
How did you learn about their plight?
I first heard about the lead outbreak in 2010 after about 400 children had died due to high lead contamination. It is really sad that our local media did not do much in putting the story out there.
How much support did u get?
It was overwhelming the positive support we got from the local community and leaders, including the Emirate council in Zamfara, the commissioner of Environment & Mineral Resources, the Zamfara stakeholders forum as well as the children who were excited when we told them about our plans to tell the whole world what they are facing and the effects of not cleaning their environment ASAP so treatments can be administered to them. For us it was important to tell the Bagega story, and create a synergy to save the lives of these children.
How did it start trending on social media and why did u think it wise involving some bloggers?
As a communication tool in reaching a massive number of people, and for a collective effort, we thought it would be a great idea to have everyone play a major role in making history by saving the children and protecting our environment. After a social media campaign by the Nigerian Youth Climate Action Network & Human Right Watch, calling on Nigeria’s President to release the promised funds for remediation (Environmental Clean Up) so those children affected by the lead poison can start receiving treatments, the reach and awareness grew tremendously and the whole world was talking about #savebagega. With thousands of people from about 78 countries signing our petition, about 600,000 on twitter that mentioned the hashtag – #SaveBagega in the last couple of months, we can always say that together, our actions count and can always save the world we live in.
Do you feel fulfilled? What would you have done differently?
I was overwhelmed by the positive approach of the Nigerians who helped amplify the voices of these children. We have been able to prove to the world that we are united to fight for a cause having the interest of our future generations and leaders at heart. We have also shown that we can use data to advocate for funds, visualize the funds & track the funds using technologies and social media tools accessible to the general public. I think this is also a wake-up call for our government to provide and protect her citizen and our environment at all time. This was a collaborative effort by people who are yearning for social change that will take Nigeria to the promise land full of opportunities. I must commend the efforts of the Follow The Money Team who worked tirelessly.
On February 11, 2013, remediation (environmental clean-up) of the lead poisoned Bagega commenced, 3 vehicles and 9 staff were received from the Zamfara Ministry of Environment to proceed with preliminary remediation activities and on Monday, February 11, 2013, testing of compounds where the remediation and medical team of Doctors Without Borders would be staying commenced.
Why must every Nigerian youth be involved in sustainable development?
The highest population of the world and Nigeria are the young people, and you cannot achieve sustainable social and developmental change without involving the young people. I strongly believe engaging the Nigerian youth would go a long way in building their capacity and inspiring them to be change agents in their various communities. This would also give them a sense of responsibility and dedication towards achieving sustainable development in Nigeria & Africa.
What are your hobbies?
I like hiking, going on road trips, playing volleyball and participating in community development projects 🙂
Thank you Hamzy aka Hamzatulayi Muntu and enjoy your birthday.
Thank you Ugochi 🙂
For more information about the remediation of Bagega, please visit
For more information, kindly contact
In Zamfara/Abuja, for Follow The Money, Oludotun Babayemi (English) +234-0-813-490-8561 or [email protected]
In Zamfara/Abuja, for Follow The Money, Hamzat Lawal (English) +234-0-806-869-9956 or [email protected]
Hamzat Lawal and Amaechi Munachi were selected by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEto represent Nigeria at the TUNZA International Youth Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference brought together 300 youth from 100 countries to discuss issue of health, environment and the outcome of RIO+20.
Photos by Hamzat Lawal.