Leading Nigerian environmentalist, architect, poet and humanitarian Nnimmo Bassey has been announced as the recipient of the esteemed 2024 Wallenberg Medal.

The Wallenberg Medal of the University of Michigan is a humanitarian award given to outstanding humanitarians whose actions on behalf of the defenseless and oppressed reflect the heroic commitment and sacrifice of Raoul Wallenberg. Wallenberg, a Swedish architect, businessman, diplomat and humanitarian saved thousands of Jews in Budapest from German Nazis and Hungarian fascists during the later stages of World War II.

Nnimmo Bassey is the Executive Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), and will be the first Nigerian and the fifth African to receive the honour, following Helen Suzman (1992) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (2008) of South Africa, Paul Rusesabagina of Rwanda (2005), and Denis Mukwege from the Democratic Republic of Congo (2010).

Other previous recipients of the award include the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso (1994), Romanian-American Nobel Laureate and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (1990); American politician and civil rights activist John Robert Lewis (1999) and Burmese Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi (2011).

An outstanding humanitarian himself, Nnimmo Bassey has many more notches on his hat apart from being HOMEF’s Executive Director and a multiple award winner. He is a member of the steering committee of Oilwatch International, a network focused on the resistance of the expansion of fossil fuel extraction in the Global South.

He also chaired Friends of the Earth International (2008-2012) and was a co-recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, lauded as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’, in 2010. He also received the Rafto Human Rights Prize in 2012.

He has received honorary doctorate degrees from the University of York (UK) in 2019, and from York University in Canada in 2023. Bassey’s extensive oeuvre include recent works: To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and The Climate Crisis in Africa, and Oil Politics: Echoes of Ecological War. His poetry collections include ‘We Thought It Was Oil But It Was Blood (1998), ‘I Will Not Dance to Your Beat’ (2010), and the latest, ‘I See the Invisible’ (2024).

“As an architect, poet, writer, and human rights advocate, Nnimmo Bassey works to address root cause issues driving climate migration, environmental and social impacts of extractive production, and hunger in the Niger Delta. His commitment to socio-ecological justice connects large-scale issues of climate change, exploitation of natural resources, and political/corporate intransigence to the lives of individuals in the Niger Delta and beyond,” said Sioban Harlow, Professor Emerita of Epidemiology and Global Public Health and chair of the Wallenberg Medal Executive Committee. “Just as Raoul Wallenberg trained as an architect at the University of Michigan before bringing his multifaceted skills to humanitarian work, Bassey’s background as an architect undergirds his environmental leadership.”

Nnimmo Bassey is set to receive the Wallenberg Medal as the 30th recipient globally. He will also deliver the Wallenberg Lecture on September 10, 2024 in Ann Arbor City, Michigan.

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