Heroes of the Environment 2009: Nnimmo Bassey

My contribution to Time’s annual Heroes of the Environment issue was a profile of the Nigerian oil campaigner Nnimmo Bassey.

It wasn’t an oil spill that made Nnimmo Bassey an environmentalist. It was a massacre — the 1990 assault by Nigeria’s armed forces on the village of Umuechem, where residents of the oil-rich Niger Delta had accused the Shell Petroleum Development Company of environmental degradation and economic neglect. In two days of violence, 80 people died and nearly 500 houses were destroyed. “We woke up from a sleep and … everything was collapsing around us,” says Bassey, 51, head of Environmental Rights Action, the Nigerian chapter of Friends of the Earth.

The deaths convinced Bassey and his colleagues that they needed to broaden their efforts. “We realized that if people don’t have a safe environment to live in, then they don’t have literally any other rights,” he says.

Read the rest.