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York Univ. honours Nigerian environmentalist

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By Abraham Adekunle

UNN alumnus holds an MFR award for his environmental activism.

Nnimmo Bassey, a renowned environmental rights advocate, has been conferred with an honorary doctorate of law degree by the York University in Toronto, Canada. The Executive Director at Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) is an alumnus of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, an architect and hails from Akwa Ibom. He holds a National Honour of Member of Order of Federal Republic (MFR) for environmental activism. The honour was announced in a statement issued on Sunday by Miss Kome Odhomor, Media/Communication Lead at HOMEF, an environment-focused non-governmental organization.

According to Odhomor, the event took place on October 13, 2023, at the convocation ceremony of the 64-year-old university. The term “environmental activism” is defined as the actions of individuals or groups that protect or aid the environment. So, an environmentalist is an individual who is concerned with and/or advocates for the protection of the environment. This is what the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) stand for. Consequently, these individuals are seen in the forefront of causes like the SDGs.

Irrefutable legacy built to impact generations to come.

Meanwhile, York University is known for driving teaching and research excellence with cross-disciplinary programming, innovative course design and experiential education opportunities. It is Canada’s third-largest university, with around 55,700 students, 7,000 faculty and staff, and over 325,000 alumni worldwide. HOMEF stated that the Dean of the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, Prof. Alice J. Hovorka, presented Bassey as a candidate for the Doctorate honoris causa to be conferred by the university at the convocation.

In her citation, the professor said that as a long-time champion of sustainability and environmental justice, Bassey has built an irrefutable legacy as an agent of change to improve the lives of generations to come. She noted that Bassey, having been nurtured by a deep-rooted commitment to the environment, his journey has been one of relentless advocacy, insightful scholarship, and tireless action. In the citation, Bassey, who was born in Nigeria, commenced his professional journey as an architect, quickly transcending bounds of the built environment to emphasize the interconnectedness of society and the natural world. By this, he became one of Africa’s leading advocates and campaigners for the environment and human rights

Notion of independence has been built into Bassey’s psyche.

During his acceptance speech, which was titled “Build Solidarity, not Walls,” Bassey thanked the Chancellor and President, and the entire family of York University for the great honour extended to him. He recounted the story of how the notion of independence was built early into his psyche at the time when Nigeria was about to break free from the colonial weight of the British Empire. He also mentioned how growing up in innocence and being sucked into a season of violent secession was both disruptive and traumatic.

He recounted his horrible experiences right from the Civil War from 1967-70 to the times of authoritarian military head of state. As the country was under serial authoritarian military dictatorship and as a young adult, he could not escape being a part of the human rights and anti-dictatorship movement. In his words, the judicial murders and assault on communities were the red lines the dictatorship crossed that set him on a life-long journey of standing for environmental rights as the key basis for the enjoyment of the right to life.

Acknowledgement of activists in the global north facing similar issues.

While his journey has been mostly across the African continent and the sacrifice zones of the global south, he acknowledged the resistance and resilience of those in the global north who face similar circumstances and continue to fight for environmental justice, dignity and basic rights in the efforts to decolonize their territories. Towards the end of his speech, he said, “As I look at the hopeful faces in this auditorium, I plead that you never allow anything or anyone to steal your joy or to dim your hope.”

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