Nnimmo Bassey

(2010, Nigeria)

...for revealing the full ecological and human horrors of oil production and for his inspired work to strengthen the environmental movement in Nigeria and globally.


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.

Contact Details

Nnimmo Bassey
Health of Mother Earth Foundation
PO Box 10577
Ugbowo, Benin City


Environmental Rights Action / Friends of the Earth Nigeria

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.

(Last update: March 2013)


Acceptance Speech by Nnimmo Bassey

6 December 2010

A tribunal for climate criminals

I stand before you today, not just as an individual but also as a representative of suffering peoples in the oil fields of Nigeria and in oil fields around the world. I stand before you, representing peoples oppressed and devastated by the unyielding claws of mineral and other resource extracting companies in the backwaters of the world. They are often faceless. But today, in all humility, I stand to salute their courage and to declare that the recognition of my struggles by the Right Livelihood Award is a clear recognition of the just cause of the resistance of the marginalised peoples who subsidise the world's insatiable lust for fossil fuels with their own blood and at the cost of their environment and means of livelihood.
I stand on the shoulders of the heroes of the struggles and recall at this time a very striking stanza of the National Anthem of my country Nigeria, which says, "The labours of our heroes past shall never be in vain." I salute the courage of Ken Saro-Wiwa and all other heroes who toed the non-violent resistance path and laid down their lives in the process. Their labours shall indeed not be in vain.
With about 60% of the world's crude oil reserves already exhausted it is stunning to see policy makers believing they can run into eternity on less than half a tank. The search for crude oil and other fossil fuels has meant increasing focus on fragile ecosystems including offshore locations, nature reserves and other protected territories.
While UNFCCC gathers the nations of the world to talk about how to tackle climate change, the real structural causes are skirted and unacknowledged. With the world running on the machines of competition and massive consumption, it is clear that we need more than one planet earth to meet humankind's appetites. It is also clear that for current levels of extraction, accumulation and consumption, ethics have to be overthrown and impunity must be enthroned. It could not be otherwise because as the world seeks cheap energy, someone has to pay for it. With regard to the fossil fuel sector, those paying the price for others to enjoy are the communities on whose territories oil is found, the degraded environments and of course the global atmosphere. 
Last year the Copenhagen climate conference ended up with an Accord that was more like a cord lashed across bent backs of poor countries. Indeed many were pressured to sign up or lose financial support. What will Cancun throw up? We wait to see.
The drive to produce more and consume more continues to promote the release of more carbon into the atmosphere, leading to the climate crisis that the world is confronted with.
The struggle to wean the world of crude oil addiction has taken many forms and shapes. Recent milestones include the expulsion of Shell from Ogoni land in 1993 to the Yasuni ITT in Ecuador where the government has proposed to leave the oil in the soil in exchange for half the value of the oil. In Africa, a growing movement of community activists are demanding that new oil be left in the soil to avoid the sort of scandalous environmental pollution and violent conflicts that the oil industry has hatched in Nigeria's Niger Delta. This demand is also being made, as a direct pointer to the way climate change must be fought: cutting emissions at the source, and sequestering the carbon where Mother Earth left it.
The world was awakened to the polluting propensity of the oil industry by the Deepwater Horizon explosion and accompanying spill in April 2010. The massive scale of the accident and the attendant media focus made it impossible for the responsible corporation to shirk responsibility. Contrast that with the case of the Niger Delta where Shell claims that an incredible 98% of the pollution is caused by third parties, principally local peoples.
The game of blaming the victim has been the style of the oil multinationals operating in places such as the Niger Delta. And such blames have not always ended in the mass media, some have led many to gross violence that have taken the lives of several people and sometimes the decimation of communities.
Climate crimes, environmental pollution and other acts of impunity will not end as long as people believe that they can assault Mother Earth and escape accountability. The preservation of the planet and the enjoyment of fundamental human as well as socio-economic rights will not be attainable until and unless the rights of Mother Earth are respected.
It is with this understanding that we applaud countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador who have already enshrined the Rights of Mother Earth in their constitutions. At the moment, a proposal is before the United Nations to bring into existence the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. Such rights would not be easy to attain in a world where relations are built or destroyed on the altar of competition and rapacious exploitation. It will take a change of heart on the part of humans to understand that just as we have rights, so does the Earth. Sustainable development will remain a mere phrase as long as people see sustainability as merely relevant to keeping their profit margins on the rise.
It is time for a global recognition that any harm inflicted on the planet directly corresponds to throwing the future of every inhabitant of the planet into jeopardy. Climate change is a clear manifestation of what can happen when a mode of civilisation is driven by factors that are clearly destructive. The fossil fuels driven civilisation has driven humanity to the brink, often termed the tipping point - with regard to the climate crisis.
The time has come for action to be taken to reverse the trend. The time has come for the world to look away from the carbon driven development path and its governing mentality. It is time to end carbon offsetting and carbon speculations as solutions to climate change. We have to see trees for what they are and not pretend that they are nothing more than carbon stocks.
The false solutions being paraded at the conference of the parties to the UNFCCC can get as shocking as when organised climate crimes are rewarded with carbon credits and cash. An insulting example is one where the World Bank plans to extend support through the carbon trade route to gas flare projects in the Niger Delta. The unethical base of this scam can be seen in the fact that gas flaring has been an illegal act in Nigeria since 1984 and there is no way the halting of an illegal activity should earn carbon credits. Except if the entire carbon trade bazaar is a scam.
It is time to say no to the pretence that agrofuels can replace fossil fuels or that they are renewable and green when it is clear that they are not. The focus on agrofuels has led to massive land grabs in Africa. This has meant marginalisation of the poor, pressures on food supplies, diversion of land from food crop production, deforestation and human rights to mention just a few. It has also been seen by the biotech industry as a crack in the door allowing them to introduce genetically engineered crops where such would ordinarily be resisted and rejected.
It is time to establish an international climate crimes tribunal as proposed by the Peoples Agreement drawn up in April 2010 at Cochabamba, Bolivia. Such a tribunal would function in a way comparable to the international court of justice where crimes against humanity are tried. The climate crimes tribunal would try any sort of environmental crime that harms mother earth and thus the right of people to a safe environment. These would be seen as crimes against humanity. Culprits to be tried would include polluters such as those in the extractive industry. It would put corporations as well as their directors in the dock for climate/environmental crimes, which are in effect crimes against humanity.
Permit me at this point to remember a man who fought courageously against environmental damage by a dangerous machinery of state and corporation. Ken Saro-Wiwa (a RLA1994 laureate) stood for non-violent resistance to erosion of environmental rights and socio-political justice. Although he lost his life at the hands of undemocratic forces, the path he charted remains the only viable option out of the Niger Delta quagmire. I salute the courage of all those who toe this path for the resolution of conflicts. I salute the suffering communities and peoples resisting destructive extraction. It is their courage that sustains our struggle.

In solidarity we march ahead and will not give up.


Short Documentary on Nnimmo Bassey

This documentary is also available in German (August 2014)

Poison Fire - a documentary

On the environmental destruction in the Niger Delta due to oil production

Nnimmo Bassey: A call to stop gas flaring in Nigeria

Nnimmo Bassey on Democracy Now!

There is a list with all videos featuring Nnimmo Bassey on Democracy Now! that can be found here.


Books by Nnimmo Bassey

Patriots and Cockroaches (Poems), Kraft Books 1992.

Beyond Simple Lines: the Architecture of Chief G.Y. Aduku and Archcon(with Okechukwu Nwaeze), Kraft Books, 1993.

The Management of Construction, Kraft Books, 1994.

Poems On The Run (Poems), Kraft, 1994.

Oilwatching in South America (Environment), ERA, 1997.

Intercepted (Poems), Kraftgriots, 1998.

We Thought It Was Oil But It Was Blood (poems), Kraft Books, 2002.

Genetically Modified Organisms: the African Challenge, ERA, 2004.

The Nigerian Environment and the Rule of Law, ed, ERA 2009.

Knee Deep in Crude, ERA, 2009.

To Cook A Continent: Destructive Extraction and Climate Change in Africa, Pambazuka Press, 2011.

Articles by Nnimmo Bassey

Nnimmo Bassey's blog



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