In this interview originally from Greenhouse PR, Nnimmo Bassey speaks on the movement he helps to lead, the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF). HOMEF is a Grassroots International grantee from West Africa that tackles climate and environmental justice.
At a time when climate justice is under the spotlight, hearing from Black voices within the environmental sphere has never been more important – for there can be no climate justice without racial justice. Nnimmo Bassey, Director of the Health Of Mother Earth Foundation in Nigeria, is a crucial figure in our movement. We caught up with Nnimmo to find out more about his work resisting exploitative international corporations, confronting big polluters, and challenging racist and colonialist structures still at play.
1. Tell us, in 20 words or fewer, about your organisation – what’s your mission?
The Home Of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) is an ecological think-tank tackling the roots of environmental injustices particularly in the areas of fossil/hunger politics.
2. What drives you?
The main propelling inner drive is the quest for justice and connecting with grassroots struggles, and especially standing with marginalised, oppressed and exploited groups. A consciousness of the fact that things that have gone wrong did not have to go wrong, but for the human and corporate agencies that benefit from the misery of others and allow profit to trump the health of the planet and other beings we share spaces with. The colonisation of nature and the deep-seated problems of colonialism leave no room for inaction in the struggles against irresponsible exploitation.
Added to this is the reality that dramatic ecological changes and environmental racism are widespread around the world. This reality requires that we build solidarity across borders. Building bridges through shared stories and experiences keep the fires for the work burning. This is so because we can only be stronger when we are together. The forces of oppression are basically glued to each other by their greed and creeds. The grassroots must connect struggles, sharing tears, hopes and strength.
3. What is your greatest achievement to date?
I cannot say I have achieved anything as an individual. I am immersed in collective thoughts and collective actions. The struggles we have been engaged in, for over three decades now, always involve standing with victims. However, I can say that becoming increasingly invisible is a great mark of progress. We have to become catalysts, rather than standing as the poster images of struggles. I get particularly excited when I get to see community gatherings organise, speak and lead. That is the nearest claim to achievement that we can see. Seeing exploited, marginalised, ignored and weak social groups standing strong and confronting huge corporations and public institutions can be remarkable.
A case in point will be the resistance to the superhighway project of the Cross River State Government. It purposed to cut through critical areas of the remaining tropical rainforest in south eastern Nigeria, destroying biodiversity and displacing community people. The result of mobilisation and strong resistance mounted against this project led to its realignment and the reduction of its expanse from 10km on either sides of the road to about 75m as stipulated by law.
A second project is building what is known as the FishNet Alliance. This alliance of fishers is protecting our waters (creaks, rivers, ocean, wetlands) against extractive activities. It is inspiring to see them taking the front seat in the struggle against harmful activities, to preserve biodiversity and healthy ecosystems for the benefit of all. So far we have units in Cameroon, Congo DR, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Togo. Credit goes to the communities and the teams we work with, not to any individual. These struggles continue due to the global geopolitical power structures that assign particularly exploitative international division of labour.
4. What are the challenges you face?
The biggest challenge is an ingrained sense of entitlement built on the substructures of slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism. All these have emerged from military might and continue apace even as we hold this dialogue. So, our challenges are both local and global. The mindset substructure ensures wilful blindness of the wielders of power to the simple truth that all beings and elements on earth interconnect. They can work in harmony or they can have violent clashes. Some of those violent manifestations include the climate and general socio-ecological crises that have engulfed the world today. Is it not shameful that corporations and entities massively responsible for the vast proportion of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are at the same time funding climate denial?
The race to secure nature’s resources and externalising social and environmental costs can only be enforced by instigating conflicts, including needless warfare and thereby further weakening the already vulnerable. How can nations continue to engage in warfare, destroying lives, wreaking havoc on socio-economic structures and physical infrastructure at a time when the cry should be for the construction of resilience? The big challenge is political, and this is driven by the lust for nature’s resources and the quest for capital and power. Everything else tracks back to these.
5. What are you working on that’s getting you fired up and excited?
Everything I work on is quite exciting, although they can be depressing at the same time. The unending struggle to halt the expansion of fossil fuels extraction and burning is one. What is exciting about this is that impacted communities are becoming increasingly resolute in the opposition to ecocide in the territories. Two is the work against dependence on extreme techno-fixes as means of tackling global warming and the hunger problem in the world. These techno-fixes in the form of geo-engineering or extreme genetic engineering threaten to lock-in current power structures and doubly damage the victims. Our proposals of simple but effective alternatives, working with fishers against fossil extraction in our waters and with farmers in promotion of agro-ecology, are all quite exciting.
Creating spaces for learning is also exciting! This entails generation and sharing of knowledge from the grassroots for food sovereignty and opposing agricultural and food systems that impoverish our soils and farmers. Furthermore, our use of stories and poetry as tools in this quest is, metaphorically speaking, like icing on the cake.
6. Where do you want to take organisation next?
The vision is to be further immersed in movements and help replace failed global structures. We have to crack up and disrupt socio-ecological and economic systems that lock in deprivations, inequality and also domination. As the repression heightens judging by the high fatalities among environmental defenders, the resistance therefore must get stronger. We must own our narratives and work for a just transition that means more than a shift in forms of power, but manifests in the shifting of power to the working poor, farmers and communities. This is not a short term project. Predatory extractivism, inordinate consumption and fixation on unrestrained growth on a finite planet is not going to end easily — although the COVID-19 pandemic also shows that the current system is not iron-clad.
7. What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?
We can do a lot to make a difference in many areas. Some matters, like climate change, require binding actions determined by science; they cannot simply be voluntary actions.
Individuals actively seeking knowledge about socio-ecological problems in their communities are contributing significantly to solving problems. This knowledge helps us recognise the interconnectedness of problems and break the silos so we see things holistically. We see our political economies impact on environmental decisions and also on our health and well-being. Shared knowledge brings us diverse perspectives of well-being and even of notions of development and progress. We should as individuals be politically active and vote for leaders that have a sound environmental agenda.
Individuals can make a difference by checking their consumption patterns – in terms of energy and foods, their forms and origins. We should support local food production, and go green in terms of energy.
Speaking up and being part of mass movements are also great contributions. We should support youth groups. The future is theirs! We should help them halt ongoing intergenerational crimes.
8. How is what you are doing inspiring change in others?
The truth is that everyone wants to own their story. We see this as the fundamental base for transformation. If someone is responsible for diagnosing your ailment, the prescription and treatment may be against your best interest. This informs knowledge work, especially through our grassroots diagnostic dialogues. This approach is inspiring and also empowering. It gets people to realise the commonalities among the struggle irrespective of the disparate geographies. Lasting change is built on the basis of knowledge. This approach is broadly inspiring.
9. Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers?
There are many books I have read that have been highly inspiring and instructive. They include The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon and the autobiographical works on Nelson Mandela (A Long Walk to Freedom), Fidel Castro (My Life) and Malcom X (A Life of Reinvention). By far the game-changing book for me and which I must recommend is Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent” written by Eduardo Galeano. As the subtitle suggests, the book took on the precolonial and colonial pillage of Latin America as well as the erection of the structures that perpetuated the system whether remotely or by comprador elements. It is a provocative book with controversies, but capable of firing the imagination.
10. What do you listen to when you’re cooking dinner?
You would probably catch me humming a Bob Marley song. War; Redemption Song; Get Up, Stand Up; Talking Blues; Stop that Train; Them Belly Full (But We Hungry).
11. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Be clear about what you don’t like and what you don’t want. Refuse them. Never be crippled by the lack of clear alternatives as that could force you to accept what you know is wrong. No is a powerful alternative.
12. Can you leave us with who’d be your Eco Hero?
Ken Saro-Wiwa. Among other issues, he fought against the environmental devastation of Ogoniland in Nigeria’s Niger Delta. He encapsulated everything about non-violent grassroots mobilisation, leadership and sacrifice. He and other Ogoni leaders were executed by the Nigerian State on 10 November 1995.