It’s treasonable to remain silent in times like this – Nnimmo Bassey

Mr Nnimmo Bassey presenting his speech at University of York, England
Mr Nnimmo Bassey presenting his speech at University of York, England

A renowned environmental activist in Nigeria, Nnimmo Bassey, has called on the global community to speak up against “oppression and wickedness” in different nations of the world.

Mr Bassey, a director of the ecological think-tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, has been involved in decades of a campaign against oil pollution in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region.

He was speaking at the University of York, England, after receiving an honorary degree from the university at its summer graduation ceremony, July 19.

“We simply cannot stay silent or feign neutrality, as society falls apart,” Mr Bassey, 61, said in his brief speech before the chancellor, other principal officers, and graduands of the university.

“That is the challenge offered by education and practice at the University of York. So, we must step up today, looking at the past, and with solid hindsight, building harmonious and just future with one another and with Mother Earth, and all our relatives,” he added.

Mr Bassey said education helps in transforming the society “by empowering us to accept dissent as a true mark of patriotism and accept those who criticise us and offer solution, even when we don’t agree with them most of the time”.

Nigeria’s situation

The remarks by the environmental activist very well relate to current development in Nigeria, where President Muhammadu Buhari recently said Nigerians who criticised his administration over “isolated security challenges” were “unpatriotic”.

The Boko Haram insurgency, the herder-farmer violent conflict, and the incessant kidnap incidents around the country pose tough security challenges for Nigeria, with scores of people being killed weekly.

A violent clash in Abuja, on Monday, between the Shiite Muslims and the police led to the death of a senior police officer and a journalist with Channels Television. At least 13 people are reported to have died in the incident.

The Shiites have been protesting the continuous detention of their leader by the Nigerian authorities, despite a court ruling that he should be released.

“The classrooms of life are without walls.”

Mr Bassey said, “The classrooms of life are without walls.

“We graduate from the classroom at one point but the education continues. So, we see this learning continue on the streets, and we have to thank our children for taking the struggle of climate justice to the streets.”

Mr Bassey said he was inspired to become an activist by Ken Saro-Wiwa, the late Nigerian writer and environmental activist who was killed by the Nigerian government in 1985.

He capped his speech with an excerpt from a poem written by Mr Saro-Wiwa while he was in the Nigerian prisons.

“While the land is ravaged/And our pure air is poisoned/When streams choked with pollution, /Silence would be treason.”

Mr Bassey, known also for his campaign against genetically modified food, later on, published on his website his full speech at the graduation ceremony which he could not deliver, apparently because of time constraint.

“In a time where our foods are being assailed by chemical-based agriculture, science needs to assure us that what we eat is not eating us up.

“At a time when our water, land, and air are poisoned by wrongheaded extra-activism, we need to remind ourselves that wellbeing is not defined by how much minerals we dig up, transform or accumulate.

“What we make of our environment makes us, molds our imaginations and shapes our philosophies of life. It makes us humane or monstrous,” he stated.

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