Nigeria: Focus on Nnimmo Bassey and ERA
Nnimmo 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.
Environmental Rights Action / Friends of the Earth NigeriaEnvironmental Rights Action’s major campaigning focus is oil and the enormous damage being caused to Nigerian communities and other countries in the Gulf of Guinea (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. Nnimmo 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 often companies are slow to respond. Nnimmo believes that the costs of the oil production are far greater than its benefits so he demands that governments "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, Nnimmo and Environmental Rights Action have led Oilwatch Africa and since 2006 have led also 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
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 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 groups in Africa created a regional campaign in this area in 2004 and Nnimmo worked as an international campaigner on GMO issues from 2004-2008. In 2009, field-testing of genetically modified cassava was introduced in Nigeria, and Nnimmo now sees a big risk that African agriculture will be contaminated by GMOs.
Further activities & outreachNnimmo Bassey receives his Right Livelihood Award in Oslo. In Nigeria, Environmental Rights Action trains people on environmental monitoring and gives legal support to communities affected by environmental damage, with Nnimmo being directly involved in community monitoring as well as media training for Nigerian journalists. In addition, Environmental Rights Action hosts the secretariat of the Africa Tobacco Control Regional Initiative and coordinates the Nigerian Tobacco Control Alliance.
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. Nnimmo was named by TIME magazine as a 2009 Hero of the Environment. He is a writer of poetry as well as of campaigning and research documents.