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Celebrating Nnimmo Bassey @ 54

I was born into a world where evil deed is, and has become  cheapy, and good deed, like the feces of a snake, rare to come by.

Now almost all things in the data of human life have been compromised. Even  now that our human will has been so battered, so uncared for, with all the good things so smothered; pointing at a single individual who  fits into the social horizon of the ideal man becomes a leeway to  justify the logical validity that indeed, good men, in these present times, seldom exist.

However, amid these volatile situations extant in our world, there lie men whose actions, perhaps inactions, have consistently negated the pernicious  path man now toe. Put in more specific terms , men who have mortgaged their lives to the service of humanity with no commensurate gain, even at the risk of their own lives.

To accentuate a Christian  parable, men who have vowed that when they see that wounded traveller on the way to Jericho, they would not pass to the other side. One of such benevolent figures that well typifies this wishful data of human conscience is the humanitarian, Nnimmo Bassey, who turned 54 years of age on Monday, June 11, 2012.

Evangelist, architect, poet, cartoonist, ecoactivist, altruist, teleologist, deontologist, pacifist, zeitgeist, and more. Nnimmo Bassey stands for the most refined of men – forthright, good-natured, good-humoured, good-hearted, good-tempered, and of a noble sense.

For me and to all who share the brightest vision of a near-utopian world founded on easeful living, he is the perfect statute of a multicameral mind who has consistently meditated on nothing, but upon the inalienable rights of humankind and justice for the ecosystem. Nnimmo’s life, yes, is one that measures up with the indubitable saying that, ‘only the test of fire makes a good steel’.

Although, those of us in the literary divide may not fully appreciate how truly God has been using Nnimmo to win souls to his kingdom, how God has used him to touch the lives of those individuals in need of salvation.

But our sense of fancy will allow us to understand more: his architectural contributions to making places like Abuja, one of the choice destinations in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. Likewise, we cannot be so feeble-minded to appreciate the good works Nnimmo has being doing, and still willing to do in “reclaiming our humanity, our memory”. Yet, in everything else, one cannot agree less of his being at the fray in making for a healthy climate for all of humanity.

During those dark and foggy days of military rule in Nigeria, Nnimmo was fervent at standing against nagging dictatorial tendencies aimed at drowning the hopes of the common man.

At the risk of his own life and that of his family, he deployed his cartoonist mien in the pages of Nigerian newspapers in ridiculing austere tendencies created by that inconsiderate regime which sets out to shrink the people’s sense of purpose.

As an activist, Nnimmo hounded the military regime of the late General Sani Abacha during the mid-1990s with his often too rational outlook on the Nigerian situation vis-à-vis the faithless policies of that regime. Although, for this, he tasted the bitter bill of incarceration.

Bassey can rightly be fitted into those immortal heroes such as Solzhenitsyn, Ghandi, Mandela, Soyinka, Suu Kyi, Adaka-Boro, Saro-Wiwa, Cheng, and others, who are unjustly persecuted for their unflagging convictions that the rights of the common man must be pursued to a dead end.

He, like these deathless figures, can be said to amplify the conservative principles of one of Irish-born British political philosophers and statesmen Edmund Burke,  who  believes that “the only way evil can triumph over good is for good men to do nothing”.

I have known the avuncular Nnimmo for quite sometime now, but was luck out to communicate formally with him, until last December.

Admittedly, I was endeared to him through his momentous inputs to the ecosystem as seen in his poetic afflatus, achievements as Nigeria’s Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action,  ERA , an organisation he co-founded in 1993 to look into fundamental issues traceable to the environment, and as Chair of Friends of the Earth International,  FOEI. Quite candidly, Nnimmo is one of the most fascinating poets who have, in recent times, grazed the ranch of Niger Delta poetry.

Among the present Niger Delta poets of repute, such as J.P.Clark-Bekederemo, Gabriel Okara, Tanure Ojaide, Odia Ofeimun, Hope Eghagha, Ogaga Ifowodo, Ebi Yeibo, Joe Ushie, Ibiwari Ikiriko, Ebinyo Ogbowei, Peter Anny-Nzekwe, Sophie Obi, and others, who attempted to capture the Deltascape through their poetic stamina, he more than most, matches his creative visions for the environment with a more practical and a more tenable approach to resistance to ecological disasters besetting the continental sphere.

Bassey’s poetic collections, which include Poems on the Run, Intercepted,  Patriots and Cockroaches, We Thought It Was Oil But It Was Blood, and I Will Not Dance To Your Beat are not just alluring, but sumptuous pieces that have unmistakably smoothened the creative texture of Niger Delta literature, both within and outside Nigeria. A trip into his ingenious poetic flints often reveals the poet’s plangent posture on man’s ignoble state as well as the quiddity of pro-environmental consistency. His poetry, especially those written at the dawn of this new millennium, rather than romanticise nature, as did the Wordsworthian vision in Tintern Abbey, or merely bemoans a near-plundered earth, as evinced in the Osundarean vitality, The Eye of The Earth, engages in eco-terrorism as he lets out his malcontent for an ill-treated ecosystem. Chiefly in his volumes We Thought It Was Oil But It Was Blood, which clearly recaptures a moment of recognition for the Niger Delta people, and I Will Not Dance To Your Beat, whose title obviously voices a message of defiance, Bassey falters not in calling a spade by its rightful name, as he indicts neo-liberal forces in tandem with the government as culpable for the lingering ecocides in the Niger Delta region; the same way he exhibits adept knowledge for environmental matters, while mapping out the people’s will to stand against seeming distaste by any conventional means.

For well over two decades, Nnimmo Bassey has being getting his teeth into issues peculiar to our environment. Still new in our memory is his efforts at ensuring justice for the communities hit by the BONGA oil spill, which will forever remain in the annals of liberal eco-activism. Using ERA as a conduit, he invests his time and mental strengths in tackling issues which relate to man and justice for our fast wilting climate, not only in Nigeria but elsewhere in the world. In these, Bassey’s efforts have been quite commendable and matchless. Particularly, his tireless efforts in helping to assuage the issues of gas flaring and oil spills in the Niger Delta region and his  impassioned voice in advocating an alternative source of energy for almost  seven billion people of the world’s population are well received. In order to ice his unbridled vision for the ecosystem, the benign Nnimmo Bassey has written highly fascinating books.

Two of which include Knee Deep in Crude, and To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa, profound volumes which reel in his consternation for man’s exploratory activities. Outside writing books, Bassey has also granted interviews, organised rallies and attended international conferences in which he shared key thoughts on the state of the ecosystem.

It is partly for his timely efforts that ERA, for its work on environmental justice, won the Sophie Prize in 1998; and in 2009 won the Bloomberg Award for the control of tobacco; the same year Uncle Nnimmo, in what may be considered as one of the most defining moment of his life, was  proclaimed by TIME Magazine as the “Hero of the Environment”.

*Mr.  LEXY OCHIBEJIVWIE, a doctoral student,  wrote from Jeddo, Delta State.


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