Nnimmo Bassey’s indefatigable work with national and international organisations has turned him into one of Africa’s leading advocates and campaigners for the environment and human rights.
Nnimmo Bassey’s indefatigable work with national and international organisations has turned him into one of Africa’s leading advocates and campaigners for the environment and human rights. Bassey has stood up against the practices of multinational corporations in his country and the environmental devastation they leave behind destroying the lives and ignoring the rights of the local population.
Nnimmo Bassey was born on 11 June 1958. He qualified as an architect and practiced in the public sector for ten years. He became active on human rights issues in the 1980s as a member of the Board of Directors of Nigeria’s Civil Liberties Organisation. In 1993, he co-founded Environmental Rights Action (ERA), a Nigerian advocacy NGO, to deal with environmental human rights issues in the country. Bassey was ERA’s Executive Director for two decades and still is the chair of its Management Board.
Environmental Rights Action is also known as Friends of the Earth Nigeria and is the national chapter of Friends of the Earth International (FOEI), the world’s largest grassroots environmental network. From 2008-2012, Bassey served as chair of Friends of the Earth International.
Bassey’s and Environmental Rights Action’s major campaigning focus is oil, and the enormous damage being caused to Nigerian communities and other countries in the region (Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Sudan), where oil is produced. He also works on supporting a broad movement across sub-tropical African countries where new finds of oil are being made.
Oil spills & gas flaring in the Niger Delta
It has been estimated that spills equivalent to the size of that from the Exxon Valdez have occurred in the Niger Delta every year over the past 50 years. Bassey says that there are at least 300 (major and minor) spills every year. The Nigerian Government has established that there were more than 3200 spills between 2006 and 2010. Many have not been cleared up; few lead to compensation payments. Life expectancy in the Niger Delta is 41 years, compared to 48 years nationally in Nigeria.
Shell claims that 98% of its spills are caused by theft, vandalism or sabotage by militants and that it is “committed to cleaning up any spill as fast as possible as soon as and for whatever reason it occurs”. Environmental Rights Action and the local communities blame rusting pipes and other deteriorating infrastructure and say that companies are often slow to respond. Convinced that the costs of the oil production are far greater than its benefits, Bassey demands that we “leave the oil in the soil”.
Environmental Rights Action has led lawsuits against oil companies on behalf of many communities in Nigeria for liability for damage to their people and environment.
Since 1996, Bassey and Environmental Rights Action have led Oilwatch Africa and since 2006 have also led the global South network, Oilwatch International, through which they seek to mobilize communities in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Congo (Brazzaville), Ghana, and Uganda as well as South America and South East Asia to resist destructive oil and gas extraction activities. Today, Bassey coordinates Oilwatch International.
In addition to its work on oil spills, Environmental Rights Action has campaigned against gas flaring, winning a landmark ruling by a Nigerian High Court in 2005 stating that gas flaring is unconstitutional, damages people and the environment, and must stop.
GMOs, biofuels and food sovereignty
The other major area of Environmental Rights Action’s work is GMOs (genetically modified organisms), agrofuels and food sovereignty. Friends of the Earth organisations in Africa created a regional campaign in this area in 2004 and Bassey worked as an international campaigner on GMO issues from 2004-2008. In 2009, field-testing of genetically modified cassava was introduced in Nigeria, and Bassey sees a big risk that African agriculture will be contaminated by GMOs.
Further activities & outreach
In Nigeria, Environmental Rights Action trains people on environmental monitoring and gives legal support to communities affected by environmental damage. Bassey has been directly involved in community monitoring as well as media training for Nigerian journalists. In addition, Environmental Rights Action under Bassey’s oversight hosted the secretariat of the Africa Tobacco Control Regional Initiative and coordinated the Nigerian Tobacco Control Alliance. In 2013, Bassey started dedicating more time to grow a new think-tank and advocacy organisation called Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF).
In 1998, Environmental Rights Action won the Sophie Prize for its work on environmental justice, and in 2009 the Bloomberg Award for tobacco control activism. Bassey was named by TIME magazine as a 2009 “Hero of the Environment”. He writes poetry as well as of campaigning and research documents. One of Bassey’s books is entitled Knee Deep in Crude (2009). In 2012 Nnimmo Bassey was awarded the Rafto Human Rights Prize.