How ERA/FoEN, others celebrated Nnimmo Bassey at 61

By Valentine Amanze

Tuesday, June 11, 2019, witnessed the convergence of activists including poets, environmentalists and human rights fighters on Oregun, Lagos.
The gathering at VIP Restaurant, Oregun, was not to herald the June 12 celebration the following day but to honour one of those who fought for the actualization of real democracy in the land.
He is Mr. Nnimmo Bassey.
Bassey, the poet, environmental specialist, activist and the director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, clocked 61 years on June 11, 2019.
The Deputy Director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, one of the organizers of the event, described Bassey as one who fought very hard to maintain a clean environment especially in the Niger Delta area of the nation, where oil polluted the environment and made life very horrible.
The event, which was titled, Arts meets Environment
An evening with Nnimmo Bassey, featured drama and poems.
It however climaxed with the keynote:
Arts, Humanity and the search for social justice, by Odia Ofeimun.
Ofeimun recalled how himself, Bassey and others started their agitation during the Abacha military dictatorship in Nigeria.
“We and other human rights groups resisted the dictatorship that over-ran the land in the 90s. Abacha killed many Nigerians. Despite the killings and arrests, we continued our agitations through writings, rallies, protest matches and others,” he said.
Besides, Ofeimun scrutinized the genesis of the underdevelopment in Nigeria, and blamed it on the nation’s colonial masters, who never understood the cultural differences in Nigeria.
He condemned the Indirect Rule in Nigeria introduced by Lord Lugard.
He said that the system made a particular tribe feel that it qualified more to rule Nigeria than the others. He also said that the colonial masters seemed to encourage the Hausa language and discouraged the development of other indigeneous languages.
“The colonial masters never encouraged the development of local arts and culture like the herbal medicine, mode of worship and many others. If they had done so Nigeria would have been like China and India, which developed with their culture,” he said.
He commended the late Obafemi Awolowo, whom he said encouraged the Yoruba language and education.
He asked: “How many novels of Chinua Achebe are translated in any Nigerian language? No. But they are in other European languages just like Shakespears’ works.”
He however noted the importance of art in the quest for social justice.
“In human societies, we tend always to hurt one another.
“It is necessary to have groups of people who consistently defend those who are being hurt by society. There is always the necessity to fight for social justice.”
Ofeimun also said that the security of human lives was dependent on the level of order in the society, adding that art could be used as a tool to maintain order.
“One way to ensure commonality between human beings is to follow ideals such as ‘Do to unto others as you will have them do to you.’ And Bernard Shaw’s version that states that ‘Don’t do unto others the evil you do to yourself.’
“Art creates a society in which people learn to relate to solve problems. This is important in the quest for social justice.
“If we do not defend our environment, the environment will cripple us as much as whatever we are crippling in the environment.”
But Mr. Yinka Oyegbile, the deputy editor, Sunday Nation, said that Bassey’s intellectual works promote sustainable democracy and social justice, while Evelyn Osagie described him (Bassey) as one of the pioneers of Clean Niger Delta.
She said: “Imagine Niger Delta without environmental pollution and oil spills.”
Osagie decried the plight of the people of the Niger Delta through oil spill and pollution while commending Bassey for pioneering clean environment for the Niger Delta.
She called on Nigerians to
rise against injustice, stressing that the sun shall rise again in the land.
The celebrant, Bassey, said that the colloquium came with deep reflection and understanding that he has a lot more to do.
“The time now that we live in is so complex and so vicious that a lot needs to be done,” said Bassey.
“This is not the time to get old, it is a call to action and a notice that it is not a time to rest.”
Bassey said that without art capturing the happenings in the environment, it would not be well protected.
“Art is a tool for environmental protection and a protected environment ensures a vibrant workforce, a vibrant citizenship and a healthy nation and a nation with a future.”
He also praised his wife for encouraging and making him laugh all the time.
Bassey is a recipient of the Rights Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize for works against oil pollution in the Niger Delta.

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