On 13 October 2023, Nnimmo Bassey, the Executive Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), was conferred with an honorary Doctorate Degree in Law by York University during their fall convocation. York University, Toronto, is the third largest university in Canada. Home to 55,000 students, including 10,000 international students from 178 countries, it has a truly international outlook.

By his confession, the milestones in Bassey’s life journey and the successes in the continual ecological battles have come from the resilience of the people and communities. He also highlights cultural production, especially poetry, as a therapeutic tool. “Through poetry, we capture the past and present and construct the future. It is a tool that exposes folly, elicits action, and provides strength even in difficult moments.”

While expressing gratitude, Bassey stated, among other things, that “Belonging to the York University family offers a layer of strength for me and my constituencies. This is indeed a time to stand together to demand justice in all circumstances, to call for an end to ecocide, to build solidarity and not walls, and to restore hope in our time. I dedicate this honor to the martyrs of extractivism and environmental defenders everywhere. The red lines the dictatorship crossed set me on a lifelong journey of standing for environmental rights as the essential basis for enjoying the right to life. It has been quite a journey loaded with inescapably fixing one’s attention on environmental horrors, some unimaginable and indescribable. While the journey has been mainly across the African continent and the sacrifice zones of the global south, we cannot fail to acknowledge the resistance and resilience of our relatives in the global north who face similar circumstances and continue to fight for environmental justice, dignity, and fundamental rights in the efforts to decolonize their territories.”

Bassey further talked about the judicial murders and assaults on communities. “The wheels of oppression at home wereoiled by crude oil and sundry extractivist activities. Capital trumped concerns for the health of Mother Earth and her children. Complaints against destroying the ecosystems and livelihoods were met with brute force. Whole communities were sacked or crushed. Oil spills and routine gas flaring pumped cocktails of noxious elements and gases into the environment, birthing cancers, birth defects, and breathing diseases, cutting life expectancy to mere whispers.  At this time, Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni leaders stood out and called for environmental Justice. Later, we learned from Saro-Wiwa’s last writings before his judicial murder that the organizing energy rose from the conviction that “silence was treason” in the face of the debilitating pollution!”

The Dean & Professor of the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, York University Alice J. Hovorka, during her citation of the renowned environmentalist, stated that Dr. Rev. Nnimmo Bassey has built an irrefutable legacy as an agent of change that will improve the lives of generations to come. “As a longtime champion of sustainability and environmental justice, nurtured by a deep-rooted commitment to the environment, his journey has been relentless advocacy, insightful scholarship, and tireless action. Bassey has mobilized and amplified the voices of communities often marginalized in pursuing industrial and economic interests on a continent bearing the brunt of colonialism and unchecked industrial-scale extraction of minerals. In an era where environmentalism was predominantly driven by Euro-Western perspectives, Bassey played a pivotal role in embedding environmental justice in global discourse, ensuring that the narrative remained inclusive and representative.” 

Hovorka stated that Bassey was considered following his continued quest to promote counter-hegemonic scholarship and activism that fully embraces decolonized environmental ideologies. “His ability to weave activism into poetry sets him apart. Through his work as a writer, poet, and educator, Bassey has not only articulated the urgency of our environmental challenges but also inspired countless individuals to stand up for the planet and its vulnerable inhabitants. Rev Bassey often says, “Art is life, the environment is life; if the art does not capture what goes on in the environment, the environment cannot be adequately protected. By mobilizing this knowledge and fostering collaboration and dialogue, Bassey has reshaped how we think about our responsibilities to future generations. Bassey is shaping a more just and sustainable world as an esteemed leader in his field. He embodies York University’s motto, ‘tendanda via —the way must be tried,’ by fostering positive and long-lasting change to benefit future generations and our precious planet. He brings a truly global approach to his work and is a shining example of what we can achieve when we commit ourselves to the greater good. He is truly right to be chosen as this year’s Honorary Doctorate recipient.”

Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) sees this honour as a push to continually tackle ecological problems at their roots and intensify the work at grassroots and global levels. With increasing extreme climate events, including wildfires, floods, coastal erosion, and other stressors, solidarity must be the watchword and organizing principle. 

This conferment from York University is the second honorary doctorate that Bassey has received. The first was from the University of York in the United Kingdom in 2019. He has won several laurels, including being named a Hero of the Environment by Time Magazine in 2009, the Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel) in 2010, the Rafto Prize in 2012, and Nigeria’s National Honour of Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) in 2014. Bassey, an architect, poet, and writer, is a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Architects (2014) and will be inducted by the Association of Nigerian Authors at its conference in November 2023.

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