Dignitaries from virtually all the walks of life defied the gridlock that enveloped the Ikeja axis in Lagos on the evening of Tuesday, June 11, 2019 to honour activist, architect and clergyman, Nnimmoa Bassey, as he became a year older.
The gathering, tagged: “Nnimmo@61: Arts Meets Environment: An Evening with Nnimmo Bassey”, was hosted in commemoration of the 61st birthday anniversary of one of Nigeria’s greats: a foremost environmental rights advocate, human rights activist of international repute, revered poet, and a philanthropist with an appetite for uplifting the downtrodden.
Besides Bassey’s wife, Evelyn, on attendance to grace the occasion were the celebrant’s friends and associates, including Mr. Odia Ofeimun, a respected poet, who doubled as the occasion’s Guest Speaker; Professor Leke Ade’ko of the Ohio State University, USA; Dr. Godwin Ehigiamusoe, the Managing Director, Lift Above Poverty Organisation (LAPO) Groups; Mr. Steve Sabbat, Publisher and Managing Director, CraftBooks; Mr Jahman Anikulapo, former Sunday Editor of The Guardian Newspaper and a culture enthusiast; and Mr Chika Chudi of the Joint Action Front.
The management and staff of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), where the celebrant is currently the Chairman, were represented, with Mr. Akinbode Olufemi, Deputy Executive Director, leading the team.
At the event, poems and poetry performances were explored to not only eulogise the celebrant but celebrate his contributions to environmental protection as well as entrenchment of equity and social justice in the country.
Akeem Lasisi, and Evelyn Chika, both journalists and poet, entertained, educated, and inspired the gathering with presentations of selected works of the celebrant.
Such works include “This is not the time to grow old”, a tittle that admonishes mankind seeking the good of the planet not to relent.
“This is not the time to grow old nor rest your oars on the pillar of the past,” the chorus says, invariably enjoining Bassey to continue his intervention on mankind and the environment.
There were two other memorable takeaways from the evening, albeit the remarkable speech by Odia Ufeimu, and the glowing tributes of friends and associates to the celebrant.
In his speech, titled “Arts, Humanity and the Search for Social Justice,” Ofeimu, former teacher and President of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), recalled how the celebrant, himself and other colleagues at ANA fought fiercely to protect the freedom of the Nigerian Press from the fangs of the late General Sani Abacha.
While Ofeimu was the President of ANA between 1993 and 1997, the celebrant served as the General Secretary of the body. The latter was at a time arrested by the dictator and jailed over his pursuit of social justice.
Speaking on the topic, Ofeimu said expression, according to great philosophers, is the only incontrovertible proof to ascertaining cognitive ability, hence the job of every artist is to continue to express, reflect and interrogate the good, the bad and the ugliness of the society.
He said such was the only potent weapon that can ignite the needed revolution for a true development across the continent.
Ofeimu, who worried about the abuse of the environment, the death of study of history of the country and its implication on development, warned of the grave consequences of the neglect of the care of the environment.
According to him, there is no two ways about it, “If you don’t take care of the environment, the environment will not take care of you. If you damage the environment, it would in turn damage you too. And that is why we have many damaged products walking about across the country today.
“The environment is essentially part of humanity. And, in accordance with creation, it is what you put into it, you get in return,” he said.
The former Political Secretary to the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo used the occasion to once again canvass for the adoption of some of the recommendations of his late boss, the sage, as the indispensable solution to the myriad of development challenges facing the country.
“Education is the key! Awolowo once said that the only way to resist the imperialist controls in Nigeria and the entire continent is to ensure that every single soul that exists is educated to the highest level.
“But see what we have today. Our leaders have relegated the place of education to the background. And that is why the country continues to look the way it currently does,” he added.
After cutting of the cake and glowing tributes his friends, the celebrant, in his speech, started with the admiration of his family, friends and associates for the occasion.
“Thank you all for sharing this evening with me. And I am short of words for the love shown to me despite the heavy traffic and chaotic environment we have.
“But, let me tell you this. Living a life of struggle has been easy for me primarily because I have a wife that can make me laugh.
“No matter how tensed the situation was, she always makes me laugh,” he said to the admiration of the wife who was seen beaming with admiration of the tribute.
Moving on, Bassey admitted to the guest speaker’s assertion that “it is true that if you don’t know your history, you may not grow as a people or a country.
“And Nigerian history has been wrapped and kept away from our children, hence the old men continue recycling themselves as the corridors of power,” he states.
Speaking on his main turf, the foremost environmentalist believes that “the environment is actually one thing that can unite this country and make the people to hold the government accountable.
“Because there is nowhere you go that you won’t see the damage (to the environment). Is it the bad roads everywhere, the potholes on the road, the erosion, the collapsed drainage and gullies, the air pollution and gas flaring across the country, there is nowhere you turn that you won’t find this environmental injustice.
“Simply put, we are living in a poisoned environment and eating poisoned food,” he laments.
By Bankole Shakirudeen Adeshina